leahbobet: (gardening)
1) "Soon Love Soon," Vienna Teng

2) Sonnet: Against Entropy, John M. Ford


I will add to this list as time permits. And I would love to see what you'd add to it.
Okay. I'm ambivalent about speaking on this topic for a variety of reasons: I have for years had a personal policy that I don't touch most contentious SFFdom issues in an online format, for a variety of reasons that also don't need going into right now. That's been the right decision, personally, for me. It still is.

But I'm going to give this one a go because there's something, complex and convoluted, that's worth saying here. Please lend me some forbearance for how I get that convolution and complexity on paper. I'm tired, and a little upset, and I'm at work besides.

In brief: novelist and SFF critic [livejournal.com profile] glvalentine was followed and sexually harassed at this year's Readercon, and posted about this series of incidents, and reported them to Readercon's convention committee under their zero-tolerance policy. The convention issued a two-year ban instead of the policy-mandated lifetime ban, which is upsetting a large portion of the SFF fan and pro community.

They also identified Rene Walling as the harasser. He's a Quebec-based conrunner, micropress publisher, and bookseller. He's very supportive of Canadian authors, and has been supportive of me and my work in a genuine and enthusiastic way. He's someone I quite like.

This is...well. It doesn't need saying that this is a problem.

We have, I think, largely two modes for people in our heads a lot of the time: People we like are good people who do good things -- important to our own sense of identity, because if we like bad people, well, it says something about us. People who do bad things are bad people, and we do not like them. And I think a lot of the community conflict around cases of boundary violation, whether they be sexual harassment, or to do with sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, and so forth, stems from the idea that the violation of those kinds of personal boundaries is classed as one of the worst Bad Things, and so we get emotionally a little stuck. It's either consign (and yes, the word I want is consign) someone we like to Bad Personhood, or find some way to lessen the act: minimize, deny, excuse. Say that no, they're remorseful; or it wasn't so bad as all that. Prevent the alternative.

To the recipient of the harassment (and no, I do not want to say victim), that reaction is a lack of support. It's I don't believe you. It's the violation of your boundaries doesn't matter.

Either way, something rips in the community. Either we're turning on someone previously liked and respected, or we're perpetuating a truly awful victim-blaming culture that rots the community on the inside.

I am not excusing this dynamic. I am not saying those choices and consequences are weighted equally, by any means. But I'm saying I understand how it is that people get stuck.


Last night I had a long discussion with Dr. My Roommate about this article on how we socially categorize rape and react to rape victims; or, more to the point, on how other people in the conversation where it was linked found it a hard and unnerving read.

I didn't find it unnerving in the slightest; I couldn't understand why other people did. Being an awesome Dr. My Roommate devoted to the pursuit of science, she read it to see, and did find it disturbing, and tried to describe that reaction for me. Her best guess: it unnerved not just because it talked about terrible things happening to people who weren't, in the end, able to effectively prevent them, but because of the last few paragraphs, describing a sexual assault on the author:

Nothing about the act was violent. I wasn’t afraid of him. I wasn’t in pain. It was terrible nonetheless.

I fled into the bathroom and locked the door. He knocked and told me to come out. He asked what was wrong. There was a large, long mirror above the sink, and I had to see myself in it, crying and pacing, until I finally sat down to escape it. I tried to hide the tremors in my voice. I said I was fine but could he please leave? No, he would not. No matter how many times I asked or told him to leave, he would not. I had to come out of the bathroom and I had to be with him, let him hug me and hold my hand. I had to play the part of the consensual lover, the girl who had some type of flighty breakdown but allowed herself to be comforted by the older man.

"It really throws me," she said, "that people who might rape you or hurt you are not necessarily people you can see coming. They might be really pleasant and charming and blend into the social group. They can play by the rules to everyone else's eyes. You can get blindsided."

This didn't bother me. It didn't unnerve or upset me. Because, well, of course people can be perfectly charming and wonderful and valuable in one element of their lives and inflict horrific damage on others in another part. I grew up around someone who was exceedingly affable professionally and the worst kind of horrible to their family. It's not good or okay; to me it's just not news.

"People are complicated," I said, trying to get this out. "And bad things happen. That's part of the world."


So, this morning I'm in a position to eat those words, or stand behind them, although standing behind a statement like people are infinitely complicated is not really a thing that comes with instructions and an allen key for easy assembly.

I'm not going to take the position that I will stop attending Readercon if this decision isn't reversed. Realistically, that would be an ultimatum for me, and not a statement of boundary. Readercon is still my favourite con, with my favourite conversations, full of many of my favourite people. I'm going to keep attending. That's a given.

I am not going to take the position, even inside my own head, that I hate Rene. I don't. Maybe that reflects poorly, or weirdly, on my moral structure. I have not for a second disbelieved that the actions happened as reported; people don't make this shit up. I am disappointed and thrown and chagrined and hurt by his actions, but there's a lot of mileage between like and hate. People are capable of being simultaneously a positive force in certain people's lives and an exceedingly negative force in others', because people are complicated. Our reactions to them should maybe not be expected to be binary either. This is not about teams.

I find that like [livejournal.com profile] vschanoes said about her own experience with convention sexual harassment, what I ultimately want is for this not to have happened. I want the orderly emotional house of two weeks ago.

And I'm not going to get that, because Rene harassed Genevieve, and that's just kind of how it is. While I sympathize with the desire to make decisions on the basis of what was, and how much we liked it, and how maybe that world could exist again, I don't feel like I can. We live in this world, not the what-if one. We have to set our personal boundaries, and our community standards, based on here.


So all that being said? The position I'm taking is this:

Rene is someone who has done good things in my corner of the world and been good to me. In this case, he has done a very bad thing -- an emerging string of them. The fact that I am not willing to label him A Bad Person at this time does not negate the fact that the things he did are not acceptable in our community, by convention policy and social agreement, or negate the fact that other members of the community deserve to have the violation of their boundaries taken seriously.

So as much as it upsets me to lose the conversation of someone I have in the past enjoyed, and as much as I wish this wasn't so?

I think Readercon needs to extend that lifetime ban. And I hope sincerely that they do.



Mar. 12th, 2012 12:44 pm
Because Above is starting to get them, and I've been neglecting.

Several reviews are appearing all over the internets.

There are also some official-like reviews:

VOYA (under Editorial Reviews) says, among other things, that it's "a challenging book, and much of the onus is placed on the reader, but teens willing to invest the time will find themselves rewarded with a multilayered tale that speaks to universal needs and desires."

I've read the Kirkus review, which will be available right over there on Thursday.

And a starred review from Publishers Weekly, calling it "heartbreaking, romantic, complex, and magical".

But so far, this one? Is my favourite, because of this bit here: "I took this as a commentary on how we treat the homeless and the mentally ill – or just anyone who doesn't fit into our idea of what a good society should look like. This story really moved me and it really made me want to do something!"

That is what a book should be able to do.

So yes. Now we're all caught up, and I can go have my lunch.
So, this.

A blurry cameraphone picture, yeah. Of Above, on the shelving cart at the bookstore, taken tonight after work, as [livejournal.com profile] cszego e-mailed me this afternoon to let me know it is in. The Canadian release date is March 1, so that's par for the course, pretty much (Americans wait until April).

[livejournal.com profile] sandwichboy owns the first copy ever. [livejournal.com profile] dolphin__girl owns the second.


This is the thing in my head right now.


Officially: Guys, here's the thing I made. It has been, bar none, the beautifullest trial of my life.

I hope it speaks, if and when you listen.
(I'm surprised. I didn't think I'd have anything to say about this.)

I am not a great observer of Valentine's Day. I'm single at the moment, and mildly scorched from my most recent escapade de coeur*, and just a little generally work-overwhelmed besides, these days. The plan for tonight was to go down to Queen and Ossington to see one of the guys from Tokyo Police Club and one of the guys from Born Ruffians play a set, but I got home and I was tired, and Dr. My Roommate was tired, so we called the whole thing off, and instead I have been curled up in my bed with a cup of spicy cherry tea, reading fiction.

Life is very busy these days, and so far for 2012, very demanding. Carving out the space to just read a whole book, cover to cover, was like being given a precious gift of quiet; an internal reprieve. For the first day in what probably feels like longer than it practically has been, I had a rest.

So that was the last Valentine's Day of my twenties.

I want to say I do not get the anti-Valentine's stuff. I feel like there was a lot of it this year, and I don't know if that's just the circles I move in, or I'm sensitized to it, or what. I can't say that: I do get it, in a lot of ways. I get lonely too. I would have enjoyed having a lap to rest my head in while I read that book tonight, and an idle kiss or two between pouring cups of tea.

Thing is, thing is; and there is always a thing, because otherwise I wouldn't have taken to my keyboard, if there wasn't a thing.

There is a danger, I think, that in rejecting being told how to love and enjoy, in rejecting what can feel like pressure and proscription and judgment, we go too far and reject the idea that really, to love and enjoy is generally a really nourishing thing to do; that in trying to wriggle out of the trap of that dominant social narrative owning us, we go all the way to the other side into anger and active rejection, and then it just owns us from the other direction. Or, in less fancy talk: All the people on my Facebook talking about how much Valentine's Day sucked were still grouped under "X many posts about Valentine's Day" when I hit the newsfeed.

I don't know what point I'm making here. Perhaps it is that love is not all, but it's not nothing. Perhaps that active, defensive rejection is not escape, but can turn into a different kind of bondage. Perhaps that you can, when you're about to turn 30, just spend the evening reading a goofy political novel and drinking tea under your comforter, and the shrieking voices that would have something to say about that and what that means, who that means you are, don't and won't actually matter if you legitimately are where you want to be.

And that doesn't mean I have to say And what of it?, and that doesn't mean I have to pretend that it makes me perfectly happy to not have that lap to rest my head in, that kiss here and there, a pair of knees tucked up behind mine like a glove. It doesn't. I miss that. I want it and feel the lack of it, and human emotion is not some either/or, binary, side-taking exercise.

We can want those things, and not have to be Unhappy People for wanting what we don't presently have. And we can spend Valentine's Day evening with a book, and feel meltingly content with it, without stacking it up, measuring-stick, against some other place or person we were Supposed To Be.

Because here is where we are, and the only real choice, in the moment, is whether we're going to be happy or sad in the place we're at.

I guess that's what I wanted to say.

*Yes, I have escapades, and escapade is usually the right word for the job. I don't often mention them. Neither a gentleman nor a lady kisses and tells the whole damn Internet.
leahbobet: (gardening)
So: stuff afoot! Here's some!

1) You may or may not be aware of [livejournal.com profile] magick4terri, an LJ-based fundraiser to help writer, artist and editor Terri Windling through a serious financial crisis. I've never met Terri, but her work in establishing urban fantasy, in creating a distinct aesthetic, in creating a space for certain kinds of art and fostering it at Endicott Studios has been a huge influence on what I do, and how, and has been crucial to tons of friends and our community.

So. I've posted an auction item here -- a signed, personalized first edition of Above to be delivered the second I get hands on one, as well as any bookmarks or swag that accumulates -- and if you're interested in bidding, go to. There's also some fantastic, droolworthy stuff being offered, so taking the time to browse it is, well, time well spent.

2) The YA Scavenger Hunt, organized by author Colleen Houck, is on from December 1 to 4th! She's corralled a whole bunch of YA authors into creating a scavenger hunt for your delectation, featuring not only a bucket of extra and secret material for a whole lot of awesome upcoming releases, but there are also fabulous prizes. Every author has a piece of secret content and a link to the next person on the hunt, and if you collect all the words marked in red and enter the contest before December 4th, you could win those fabulous prizes we mentioned up there.

My featured content is for author Lisa Nowak, and everything's at the website. The secret content for Above is...out there in the internets. Being secretive. Waiting to be caught.

3) The December Ideomancer has hit the wider Internets!

Our final issue for 2011 speaks on a winter topic: connection, and isolation, for the months when we here at Ideomancer headquarters are hemmed in most by the snow and dark, and reach out most to each other for light.

Michael John Grist’s "The Orphan Queen" shows, slantwise, the terribleness of isolation and the terrible bravery it takes to conquer it; Ken Schneyer’s "Neural Net", one of our first pieces of hyperfiction in much too long, echoes through its intertwined structure the ideas of withdrawal, and love, and hiding from the world; and Erica Satifka returns to our pages with "Signs Following", a soft, edged story about faraway places and the things we will do when our ties to both friends and universe are threatened.

Poetry from Mary Turzillo, Brit Mandelo, C.G. Olsen, and David C. Kopaska-Merkel dips from relationships to houses to black holes, all places to be alone together, and as always, the usual book reviews.

We’d also like to note another staff departure: Marsha Sisolak has been a part of Ideomancer since 2002, as a junior editor, then publisher, and then the aesthetic eye behind the art that goes up with every story and poem we publish, and after almost a decade in the small press coal mines, she’s moving on to focus more on her own (excellent!) writing. Thank you, Marsha – you’ll be missed!

As usual, we hope you enjoy this quarter’s issue, and if so, please consider dropping something into our tip jar. Ideomancer relies on reader donations to pay its contributors for their excellent fiction and poetry, and even five dollars makes a big difference.

So, consider yourselves all announced. Me, I'm going to get some lunch. Happy internetting!
September 22, 2011 Progress Notes:

Light (bad working title)

Words today: 200.
Words total: 2500.
Reason for stopping: That took over four hours, which is ridiculous. And Dr. My Roommate is home, and has offered to liberate me from my bondage so we can go get food. And I'm going.

Darling du Jour: The thrum of water rustled, gathered around her planted feet.

Mean Things: Losing your last escape hatch, for real this time. That thing where she told herself that nobody would ever find out. Ha ha ha ha--*ahem*.
Research Roundup: N/A.

Books in progress: Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science-Fictional Universe.

It's fighting me today: everything that looked solid yesterday now feels dead and flat, although [livejournal.com profile] hawkwing_lb kindly assures me that's probably just my burnt-ass brain. It is true that I have spent a possibly unhealthy amount of my precious vacation days in a tee-shirt and pajama pants, in front of this computer, circling and picking at words.

I really need to get out of the house tonight.

In other news, Sunday's volunteer excursion was written up by one of the smaller newspapers, and I got quoted pretty reasonably, considering how spoken language and written translate between each other.

And I'm off for dinner. And perhaps an adult beverage afterwards.
September 19, 2011 Progress Notes:

Light (bad working title)

Words today: 275.
Words total: 1350. No, it doesn't match. I frogged a couple paragraphs.
Reason for stopping: This is what happens when you stay up late watching all-night deputations to Council's Executive Committee. Such are the wages of municipal nerdery.

Darling du Jour: Three blackened dots along the inside of her left forearm, where she'd hugged a century-old girder and the massive iron rivets pressed hard into her skin.

Mean Things: The kinds of bruises that are going to make even strangers want to ask who's been hitting you. Sleeping 48 hours straight and not knowing where those two days went.
Research Roundup: Construction of 1920s buildings; how dark bruises on your neck actually get.

Books in progress: Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science-Fictional Universe.

I am trying this in present tense. Nothing seems to be objecting so far.

The fun volunteer gig of Sunday was indeed fun: I spent the afternoon alternately manning the Not Far From the Tree info desk and helping wash, chop, grind, and press apples into cider at City Cider, at the Spadina Museum. Let me tell you, working on a demo of cider-pressing under a big blue sky and apple trees, with a nice crisp breeze and music, chatting with the other volunteers all afternoon? That is not work in the slightest. That is hanging out and playing with a cider press.

Also we got to drink some of the leftovers. The benefits cannot be overstated.

Today was rainy and crappy from dawn to midnight, so today I slept in, stayed in, and puttered around the house. Potato salad and honey walnut cake got made. Apple rings will come out of the dehydrator in the morning. Ideomancer duties were done. Three (3) author interviews/guest posts were written up and dispatched, and some receipts filed, and most of my inbox cleared. And then I got sucked into watching Council and there went the rest of the evening, but it was still and all a reasonably productive day considering I never got out of my pajamas.

Tomorrow there must be out: there is some extra yarn to exchange, and a new bedside lamp to buy, and other little things. Vacation continues to be more productive and less stressful than dayjobbing. There's a moral in that, I suppose.

To bed.


Sep. 4th, 2011 04:46 pm
leahbobet: (bat signal)
Over the past few weeks I've been thinking about inspiration.

(No, this is not a writing post. It is a post about the things we do with our hands.)

Jack Layton -- for the international readers, the leader of the (social democrat) New Democratic Party and the current federal official opposition -- died abruptly of cancer two weeks ago. The response was solid national mourning: my very political Twitter friends posted their personal Jack stories; publishing people linked articles and eulogies; my very apolitical suburban upper-middle-class relatives talked about him in an almost puzzled, off-balance way at a family funeral last weekend, like people who'd lost a tooth and kept worrying at the gum. People who didn't like this mostly demonstrated enough sense and class to keep their mouths shut and respect everyone else's mourning.

There was a state funeral, and a lying-in-state at both the Parliament buildings in Ottawa and City Hall here, where he served for many years as a very active and visible city councillor. I went to the visitation with friends, and waited an hour and a half in line to pay my respects at that flag-draped coffin. [livejournal.com profile] commodorified, who was in town though I did not know it, inadvertently started a tribute they'll be talking about in the history books. We left chalk. It was almost the definition of a community experience: the vast iceberg of a whole city and country groaning and shifting together. Everyone drawing a little closer.

He left a letter. It was his last public act. It's called A Letter to Canadians, and was released shortly after his family announced that he had passed away.

You should read it, but here's the important bit:

...consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

I am not politically partisan, both by personal inclination and professional obligation, but I believe in those words. They took me in the chest and made me cry at my desk for the loss of a person I'd never met. They are good words, and I say that in the way Beowulf keeps repeating þæt wæs god cyning. Yes, they confirm my worldview to a certain extent, and one must always be a little careful of that. But they are good words. They are right.

I want them so very badly to be right.

It's been a week. Things go back to normal. They do, and they don't.

But this is a post about inspiration.

I don't know why it's faintly embarrassing to say that paragraph inspired me, especially when it came from someone who was often cited as being close in the vicinity of inspiration: down the block or right next door. I want to twist to avoid the word. I want synonyms, waterings-down, elisions.

Possibly it's terrifying.

It's the same root as respire and spirit; Latin spirare. It means "to breathe". It means to have something put its lips to yours and fill your lungs or soul like a sail.

There is, I think, a particular courage inherent in being willing to be inspired: being willing to take someone else's words into you, breathe them into your lungs, and let them animate your arms and legs and heart. To hear someone else's words and change your life is a ceding of a certain kind of control, and it's frightening, and brave: it puts you on roads you didn't plan to walk to places you've never been, and some of them can be trying and terrible and dark.

They demand willingness to devote yourself passionately to something bigger than you, and nebulous, and chancy, and like all passions, bearing a terrible risk of heartbreak. And many of us, in pursuit of ways to never fail, are perfectly willing to make a very bad tradeoff, and never try.

It does not mean agreeing with everything the speaker ever said or did. That's role model, not inspire, and I remain very against role model on the grounds that it's sloppy critical thinking. But it means picking your stars, and orienting yourself by them, and then throwing yourself into space by their light.

(Yes. Throwing yourself into space.)

It's been six months since my grandmother died. She left a letter for each of us too. Mine was not polished in the way political rhetoric is: either because of the times, or possibly my great-grandfather's views on women and education, my grandmother never got halfway through high school. But it was honest, like the one I linked above. It was good words, and true.

She told me that she would be there for me, and that good things would happen; questions would be answered in their own ways. She told me to always smile.

I take that as one of my stars too. I carry it in my lungs.

This can be read, I suppose, as an argument for activism. It's definitely an argument for living an engaged and deliberate life. It could also be an enormous arrogance and intrusion: to have someone else speak, and expect you to twist and alter your life and all your careful plans.

What I think I'm asking here is for you to take courage: to not shrink from that word (that task, that challenge) or minimize it. To reject the cynical, slowly or altogether, raise sail, and fix, one by one, your stars.

It's terrifying, yeah. Space is cold. Jumping is the kind of thing that always tends to make my knees lock.

But it's the most natural thing in the world, too. It's nothing but breathing.

Breathe in.
August 24, 2011 Progress Notes:

"Shine a Light"

Words today: 300.
Words total: 550.
Reason for stopping: Getting sleeeepy.

Darling du Jour: Ismat and Zain are cousins. They have the same fine hands. Neither of them has lost a finger yet. Their hands are too important to the rest of us.

Mean Things: Cutting people's fingers off. A certain lack of mobility.
Research Roundup: Popular Sri Lankan names; chestnut varieties in Toronto.

Books in progress: Catherine Bush, The Rules of Engagement.
The glamour: There is all the thunderstorm in the world tonight. It's been going for over two hours. Also, I think I recreated Bird's Custard, but with real food instead of cornstarch and crap.

That clear, lucid, clean horror-fiction prose? It's hard.

I have a lot of things to say right now -- about politics, about friendships, about grief and inspiration and a lot more -- but they haven't quite organized themselves verbally just yet. There may be essays pending, or fiction, or hectic action. There may not. Stay tuned.
May 13, 2011 Progress Notes:

"On Roadstead Farm"

Words today: 350.
Words total: 1300.
Reason for stopping: Decent round number, and it's late.

Darling du Jour: He was full-grown if not long to it: a man of twenty-four or five, and strong in the forearms and legs. He wasn't going to take no from a girl too field-browned to be pretty and too small, even after a full season of weeding, to throw him bodily off the kitchen porch.

Mean Things: Trying very hard to keep things together, and not quite making it, and knowing it.
Research Roundup: Malting techniques; cultivation of barley. It disturbs me that most of the top hits I found on this were for some online farming game. We're so screwed for the apocalypse, kids.
Books in progress: Alissa York, Effigy.
The glamour: Dayjob, dinner with a friend, and then a walk home through the kind of warm, fat evening rain that makes you not mind so much that you're walking in the rain and getting damp.

A second song has attached itself to this story. Funnily, I never really liked the original Rankin Family release of this; I found it kind of fatuous and melodramatic. This version is sung by two friends-of-a-friend, recorded in PEI somewhere. One of them is dead. He killed himself last fall, aged 31, which is why the track was posted and how I know about it. He has a beautiful baritone voice. My friend mentioned he was about 18 when this was recorded.

I never even close to knew this guy, but the song isn't fatuous anymore.

Have a listen, even if you don't like folk. It's a little piece of someone's immortality.
In March 2011, I am living in the Annex, on the first floor of a hundred-year-old Edwardian with noisy upstairs neighbours and iffy water pressure. It is perfect.

I have just finished the copyedits on my first novel, which is now going to typesetting at a publisher I didn't think I could aspire to; by midwinter my book will be in those school book fairs I loved so much as a kid. At work, I've just been promoted into the next job classification; as high as I can go unless I want to work evenings. And I don't: For someone who's been an introvert all her life, I spend an awful lot of time at concerts and readings and out at dinner and attending artsy social media geek sorts of parties. I pissed away my early twenties working 60-hour weeks to keep a roof over my head, and I've spent the last year and change resolved to make up for that now that my job and income are stable. I've had my heart broken more times in the last year than I have in the five before that, and I'm surprisingly okay with that, because it means I'm actually using the muscle again. I am planning to buy a bike.

I spend a lot of time stretched too thin, overbooked, and very tired.

I have never been more engaged with the world around me, in all its little details and oddities. I have never felt more alive.


In March 2001, I am 18, and I am a mess. I live in North York with my boyfriend, who scooped me up and moved me in four months before, after a familial falling out so severe that I can no longer live under the same roof as my parents and what at this time feels like a death blow to my chosen career (classical voice performance; yes, I was going to be an opera singer). I have my high school diploma, but I've left school one OAC credit short of a university admission application, and I'm in no real state to care about that yet; I'm so much a mess that I have no concrete idea of how messed up I am and will not for years. Ironically, this month I have found out that for my other four years of academic and extracurricular excellence, I've been named a National Book Award recipient. Later, this will get me admission at the university of my choice in under a week.

I'm working at a hippie/Indian stuff/Eastern/whatever store at Yonge and Bloor, and have vague notions of trying to move down into the city although I don't know how it can be afforded. I've left both friends and hobbies in my old neighbourhood, along with most of what used to define me in the ecosystem; I don't feel like I belong with any of it anymore anyways. I don't know who I am. I don't know where I'm going. I have always had some idea of where I was going, even if it was someone else's idea grafted onto my own head and my own wants, and I am not admitting it to myself in this day-by-day existence I'm leading, but I am terrified.

I have not yet started to write fiction again, and won't for three months. Writing is something I used to do when I was a kid because I had no friends. I grew out of it.


In March 1991, I am eight and shy and taciturn, and there are all these things floating around in my head. There's a kids' word processing program on the hand-me-down family computer, something from my father's business that he's passed on to us. I have taught myself to touch type, and I use it to write my stories down. All my stories are four pages long, because the document size the program creates is only four pages. When I start what I consider my first long-form work, even though it'll only top out at novelette length, I will write it in chapters of four pages each.

I'm good at school, but I'm bad at people. The teachers all love me, but it's souring a little since we started homework and I've immediately not wanted to do it; it's cutting into my reading and writing time. I have recently got huge red-framed glasses for the nearsightedness, but this is not why I get picked on. I spend a lot of time in the library, reading Agatha Christies and Susan Coopers. I spend recess in the back field behind the schoolyard, inspecting wildflowers and the ornamental bushes pushing wild through the chain-link fence from the backyards on the other side, and pretending myself a magic kingdom. The boy I've known since we were babies, my best friend, has recently distanced himself. I'm friends now with a girl who lives in midtown, exotically far away for me, in a house next door to her grandmother's. We pick chives from her grandmother's garden and eat them raw.

I don't know if I'm unhappy or not at this point. I don't honestly have much basis for comparison.

Under the covers at night, I turn on my flashlight and read my kids' almanac, naming the constellations and matching them with the names in the pantheons two chapters ahead. At eight years old, I am going to be a chemist. Or an astronomer. Or an archaeologist.

Someday, later, I am going to be something.


In March 1981, I don't exist yet. Not even as some cell division. And so of course, at this point? Everything's possible.
Today [livejournal.com profile] thesandtiger and I went to the One of a Kind show and goofed around and bought a bunch of fancy stuff for about twice what we told ourselves we'd spend, as is the tradition of our people. I didn't document the craft show haul last year, but we will rectify that shit today.

-- Hairclip for one friend who will, I think, love it.
-- Small hand mirror for another friend as a part gift.

-- A bottle of maple sugar. I plan to do wicked things to baked apples with this.
-- Two vacuum-sealed bags of Indian candy, aka candied salmon. I, um, already ate one.
-- Two jars lavender honey from Prince Edward County.
-- Two bottles apple cranberry vinegar.
-- One bottle honey vinegar. Yes, that's vinegared mead. It's amazing.
-- One container maple salt, because I finished the container [livejournal.com profile] dolphin__girl gave me for Christmas last year and I like putting it in my bread.

Base personal spoilage
-- Another of those hand mirrors, because it was adorable and I needed one, or a compact or something, to keep in my purse.
-- Three fridge magnets from the same place. One has a little cartoon pufferfish on it and says "Breathe". Hee. Also, a requisite "Make Art Not War" one, because I am still at least 18% hippie and my household should reflect this.
-- Two absolutely breathtaking shirts from Yasmine Louis, who I bought a hoodie from this spring which I love with all the love in the wide world. I even wrote a post at Make Awesome Sauce about her, back when that project lived and I was blogging for it. They are beautiful and I love them and I think I fangirled her embarrassingly.
-- A hat from Lilliput, because clearly hats were something that were in severe deficit in this house. It is one of those ones that are like newsboy caps with the brim out front, but not so round and flatter, and it is a lovely dark purple felt. It makes me look trendy and sharp and rakish and awesomely disreputable. Lock up your bespectacled hipster menfolk, Internet.

There were a couple other things we tried on -- dresses and the like -- which were nice, but weren't $200 (or whatever) nice, and a lovely green ring I didn't go back for after all, and beeswax candles I just plain forgot to pick up, and I was sort of hoping for something feathery to put in my hair. Also sort of failed at holiday gifts for friends, which is always our cover story for going to this thing, but still. This was a serious and deeply respectable haul.

The other thing with going to the craft show? Anything preserved or knitted elicits this automatic Let's see if I can make that reaction from me now: I look it over, counting stitches, checking on construction, inspecting the fiber. And mostly, on the theoretical level, I can make most of this stuff; it'd just be time and work and patience.

And then I want to. I want to knit and knead and pick out words for poetry so bad my hands twitch.

So I am home, surrounded by goodies, and deeply inspired to make: make food, make hats and gloves and sweaters, make paper, make seedlings, make words. And this is why I love going to this thing, aside from the regular stereotypes about girls and shopping: the work of our hands is kind of amazing. All those people living off, fully or partially, the work of their hands is amazing. And even if it's a little thing, at this time of year, it holds back the dark.

And this got stealthily profound, so I'm off to start some bread and clean the bathroom with the radio up loud, because there is entropy to fight, in that implacable way one does.
Okay, dudes, listen up.

Alyssa Smith is one of our newer slush readers at Ideomancer. Her house burned down last night.

Today while she was at work, she got a call from her landlord saying that her house was on fire. By the time she got home, there was nothing left. Literally, nothing. Her beloved pet birds, her family heirlooms, her books and clothes and furniture and brand new iPad, all gone. Her roommate likewise lost everything. The buildings on either side of hers were gutted too. Their best guess is that the fire started in the basement, right underneath Alyssa's bedroom, and spread astonishingly quickly. (News coverage here with video of the fire and the burned-out building. Quite horrifying. No reports of human deaths or injuries, which is kind of amazing given the scope of it.)

Right now the Red Cross is putting her up in a hotel. She thinks that will last about a week. After that, she's going to couch-surf until she figures out whether she wants to wait three months for her old place to be renovated or try to find a new home. Until she's settled, she doesn't need donations of stuff. What she needs is money so she can keep herself afloat for the next couple of months and eventually replace some of the things that were destroyed. She does have a job and income, but she'll need to take time off work to deal with all of this. She had tried to get renter's insurance and got stuck in the labyrinthine bureaucratic process, so she has pretty much no recourse except for those of us who care about her.

[livejournal.com profile] rosefox has set up a donation fund to help. If you have a couple bucks to throw into it, I'd personally be much obliged.

leahbobet: (milk?)
Via [livejournal.com profile] sdn on another platform, Hipsters on Food Stamps: They're young, they're broke, and they pay for organic salmon with government subsidies. Got a problem with that?

I'm not sure what this post is going to be, exactly. I'm not pointing this out to slapfight with it and the 400+ comments it's engendered; not really. I could point it out to dissect its rhetoric (ew, hipsters! Bad people doing a thing we find bad!) or assumptions (artsy neighbourhoods are actually rarely that because they're expensive; often, it's the other way around) or to talk about the sort of financial slut-shaming behaviour evident in the comments, the kind that people get into when it comes to the taxpayer's dollar. The attitude that public money = my money and therefore I have a board-of-directors vote in how you live -- that you aren't winning at poverty unless you're demonstrating you're really, really sorry for being poor -- is a really ugly one, but we've covered that around here before. These are all valid angles on it, but not really what I'm feeling today.

What I want to talk about today is food.

I did a really good shopping run in the past two days; cut loose a bit, because I cleaned out the fridge to the bones before going to Arizona and I had nothing fresh in the house, and besides, it's spring. Four kinds of nice cheese (jalapeno havarti, gloucester with stilton, mouton noir, asiago) and goat's milk and Mediterranean yogourt and dolmades; antipasto shrimp in oil and sundried tomatoes and purple grapes and pears; dried mango, figs, a pomegranate, walnuts, red peppers, and four trays of fresh-made sauerkraut and mushroom pierogies; sliced roast beef and pine nuts and strawberries. The first thing I did Monday afternoon was start fresh bread: honey and buckwheat flour.

That's how I eat: mostly -- if only incidentally and accidentally -- vegetarian, fresh, local where possible, and well. I like food. I like it in theory and practice. I get joy out of planning menus for other people that work, despite allergies or preferences, in the way some people enjoy cracking an engineering puzzle. I grow some of my own vegetables in the summer, I lust after urban chickens, and I cook.

Hell, even making that list of all the stuff I have in my kitchen right now made me feel really, really good.

The thing is (and yes, here's the thing), food is a lot of things that it's not; it's a marker and symbol of a lot of things about a person above and beyond putting calories in to keep the engine running.

As Roger Ebert pointed out in his Nil By Mouth (which you should read if you haven't. Right now), food is community on a fundamental level. It's the first step to a certain awareness and respect of another culture: eating a Japanese or Moroccan or Ethiopian meal kicks you out of your own headspace a little, into how a Japanese or Moroccan or Ethiopian person conceptualizes eating, living, comfort. Food's also an expression of our weird, patchworked personal cultures: my ultimate comfort foods are lokshen and cheese because my Jewish mother made it, egg-in-the-nest because my blue-collar grandmother made it, and miso soup because I have lived every day of my adult life in downtown Toronto. Food is love. Some feminist theorists argue it shouldn't be, that that link needs to be decoupled, but too bad. Food is love.

You can tell things about a person's cultural background, geographical background, class background, and who they conceptualize themselves to be by what they'll go for when they're feeling stressed. You can also tell things about their politics and worldview by where they'll get it, or how.

Food is also like books in one crucial way: it is not an interchangeable commodity. One does not equal the other.

When I was in my early twenties and poor enough to qualify for food stamps, poor enough that I would steal rice out of the cooker at the restaurant where I worked in order to get a second meal into the day, I still paid ten bucks a tub for parmigiano reggiano. We were eating a lot of pasta at the time; pasta was cheap and wasn't full of bad shit, the kind of preservatives and chemicals and high sugar content that makes my body and brain chemistry go apeshit. The generic Kraft or grocery-store parmesan extruded byproduct tastes like nothing but salt. I hated the way it tasted without a little cheese. A lot of people would look at that expense and find it silly, but a very little of the good stuff, stretched and thinned to last, was a thousand times better than all of the bad stuff I could eat.

That cheese was my treat. It was my treasure. Whenever I cracked it open and rationed some out, or managed to score a tote bag full of fresh fruit and vegetables in Kensington for $12, or just got something to cook and the time to do it in those years, I was chasing entropy out of my life. I was reasserting a little bit of control. I was doing something small that was good for me, that made me happy, in a space where very little I could do or say was going to stop the way my life was spinning its wheels. Ten bucks of high-end parmesan cheese a month kept the strictures of civilization in my life, kept its walls still standing and intact.

Food is also self-expression and dignity. Food is the most basic and vital thing you can do for yourself, your basic self-reliance. You decide what you will eat, and you go get it and cook it for yourself with your own two hands.

And maybe we are back at the notion of poverty and sufficient shame. Because the only reason I can see for a person to want someone to eat like shit, to remove their ability to express their culture and geography and class background and politics and worldview and self-concept, is because of the idea that all poor people are the same; that self-expression, dignity, and self-reliance are a privilege that comes with money; that if all poor people don't act the same, they should be made to.

We live in the first world. We are rolling in resources; more than we reasonably deserve.

Seriously. There's no need for that shit.

I have a job with a salary now; have for a year and a half. Keeping my fridge stocked is no longer a concern, although I'm still psychotic and anal about wasting food and probably always will be, and I still wear my jeans until they fall apart and my socks until they're more hole than sock.

I did, however, make a rule with myself about food: You can have anything you want. It doesn't matter how much it costs. I buy any grocery-thing my little heart desires, now, and am forbidden to feel guilty about it. I buy dried mango and figs and pomegranates and walnuts and four trays of fresh-made sauerkraut and mushroom pierogies.

I also give to the Daily Bread Food Bank, every month.

And I don't waste food.
It's -9 C in Toronto tonight; with the windchill, it feels like -15 C. I came home this afternoon huddled down in jeans and sweater and my big wool pea coat, scarf and hat and lined gloves, and my knees were still freezing by the time I made it the four blocks from the office home.

Those of you who caught the prior post know that Peter Watts, whom I like and respect and count as a friend, was detained, beaten, and pepper-sprayed by US border guards while trying to cross back into Canada; while coming home. When he was released from custody on the other side of the border, it was "coat-less and without a vehicle, in a winter storm."*

Let me tell you a little story about the cold.

In 1990 in Saskatchewan, a 17-year-old boy named Neil Stonechild was found frozen to death in a field outside Saskatoon. He had last been seen, handcuffed and bloodied, being packed into the back of a squad car.**

Ten years later, two more Native men were found frozen to death outside the city in a single week. A third came forward with a story of being driven around outside the city by the police and threatened. There was a public inquiry. Two police officers on the Saskatoon force were ultimately charged and lost their positions.

There's a name for this thing. It's called a starlight cruise.

I found out this story from a CBC documentary in 2003 or so. [livejournal.com profile] matociquala was over visiting. It had long, lingering landscape shots of the frozen prairies; the very epitome of winter.

I started crying and I couldn't stop.

See, here's the thing about living in a cold-weather society. You stick together, because you have to: it's you against the winter. That is, on a certain level, the basic division of life. That's where the concept of the Wendigo comes from. A wendigo is famine, starvation, greed; the insatiable need to eat until you eat the members of your own society. Wendigo are creatures of the cold, the North. They are supernatural, but a human being can become one, if they resorted to cannibalism.

A wendigo is what happens when human beings turn away from their own and throw in with winter.

These are the worst sins of a cold-weather society, the ones that are irredeemable: siding with winter. Feeding off your own. Taking another person as prey, or leaving them as prey for the winter, in jeans and a shirt with no wool coat or scarf or hat; with no lined gloves and no transit home, knowing full well what the winter does.

These are the things that scare me.

I will not be travelling to the United States for the forseeable future.

leahbobet: (gardening)
From the garden this evening:

Also, I started knitting my first pair of socks today while at [livejournal.com profile] cszego's, where we had our Canada Day lunch/picnic thing/hang around and eat and chatter party. They are purple and green and lovely. I have already messed up the toes a little, but this just means the toes will be a bit pointy.

This evening, there will be farmer's market cherries and revisions.

Since today is the first day of the rest of your life second half of 2009, I think that's a pretty good halftime show.
Today was bad.

I thought of asking you guys to tell me something good, but...I think what might be better?

Do something good.

And then come back and tell me about it, please.

Doesn't have to be immediate. You all know where I live.

Thank you.

November 2016

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