Worldcon (Part the Third)

Worldcon is a big place.

Okay, so it’s not as big as a Dragoncon or a Comicon, but there’s still several thousand people rattling around a convention center. Sometimes they hole themselves up in rooms to listen to people talk about nearly everything under the sun, some things that orbit it, and yet even more exotic and cosmic ideas. Worldcon is amazing for the diversity of its programming. But when you get there, you’re handed a paperback-sized volume with all the programming for the convention. So how the heck are you supposed to find somebody in that warren of panels?

Well…they could post their location on Facebook.

This is how I caught up with my friend Doug Berry, a guy I’ve known since my alt.callahans/#callahans days. He posted a picture about how he was sharing a room with Joe Haldeman. I consulted my handy paperback program guide, found the room number for the panel in question. I headed for the land of panel space, being held in a different area than I had spent most of my time that day. Since I had not been to this part of the convention before, I wandered in confusion until I could orient myself to the programming space layout and then parked myself in front of the door of the room the panel was being held in.

Sure enough, Doug came out shortly after, and it was good to see him. We talked a little about his new job — captain of the crosswalk, helping students cross safely — before we worked our way out of the crush and Doug had to go cover the protest as a roving reporter for the con newsletter. Before he left, though, he gave me the room number to the panel his wife, Kirsten, was hiding in for the next hour.

Ah, the protest. I didn’t spend any time watching it because, to be honest, I thought it was a bit dumb. Most of it was instigated by a guy trying to make a name for himself in certain political circles, using his ban from Worldcon as a way to howl about how he was being oppressed by the system. Of course, the common smear when you can’t find anything else to use is to call your opponents pedophiles. I suppose that’s because it’s one of the last few groups in society that most people agree is bad — so using it is a way of calling your opponent pure evil. From there, it’s not hard to move to some very dark places for humanity.

Thus, it amused me when I heard later that the protest was basically a dud, with few people protesting or counter-protesting, and the cops standing around being bored as hell in the meantime. It seemed fitting — Worldcon protests ought to be about the lack of flying cars or a colony on Mars or something science fictional, not this mundane stuff. Thus, I’m glad I didn’t give it much of my time.

Instead, I got a turkey sandwich and headed back to the fanzine lounge to have lunch. It was also a way to kill a bit of time before Kirsten’s panel finished. Besides, food is important when you’re attending conventions — keeling over for lack of blood sugar doesn’t do much good for anybody. The turkey sandwich was okay — it was a little dry but acceptable for convention center food.

I’m glad I went to the fanzine lounge to eat lunch, though, because in the middle of my sandwich, I looked up and saw John Hertz. I love John, and he’s been sending me his fanzine in the mail lately. So I told him that I’d been getting his fanzines in the mail, and that, yes, I’d submitted a fanzine to the WOOF distribution this year. Then we had a talk about fanzine fandom, some of the issues I’d had with it, and then he told me that he admired my writing and would like to see more. More than anything, this meant a lot to me.

I haven’t written much lately. Some of it is simply that I haven’t had the mental space with everything going on in my life. Some of it is my own head playing with me — sometimes it’s hard to write when my depression is telling me that nobody cares and my anxiety is telling me that if it isn’t perfect, it’s crap. And some of it is my own lack of attention, both deliberate and non-deliberate.

I’ve done a lot of work in the last year to combat the depression and the anxiety. I still have both, and I probably will always have both. But I can work with them to lessen the effect they have on my life. Sometimes, despite all the techniques I’ve learned, it’s hard to believe that I’m actually good at things. Thus, it helps to hear from others outside of me, people I admire, to tell me that I’m not that bad at the things I do.

One of John’s quirks is that he’s not overly fond of this Internet thing. So he’s probably not going to see this until I convert it to fanzine form and get Rhyme & Paradox #2 out into the world. That said, John, your words meant a whole damn lot to me and were part of the reason this Worldcon was so damn special for me.

Geez, this was just one day! But it was a very eventful day, as you can probably tell. We’ll just have to save the unicorn farts for another post.

Series:
Worldcon (Part the First)
Worldcon (Part the Second)
Worldcon (Part the Third)
Worldcon (Part the Fourth)

A well-placed word can change the world

“And sin, young man, is when you treat people like things.”
–Terry Pratchett

If I learned absolutely nothing else in high school English (disclaimer: I learned a lot in high school English), I DID learn that words have meaning and thus the potential to shape the world. I haven’t always applied this knowledge for good, but it’s always been in the back of my head.

Thus I have to look askance at President Trump’s tweet of June 19th, quoted below:

There is a lot of interesting rhetoric going on in this tweet, but the specific bit I would like to call your attention to is in the second sentence, where he writes the phrase “pour into and infest our Country”. The verb “infest” is commonly used to describe vermin, such as insects and rats. However, Trump is not using it to talk about vermin, he is using it to talk about people. To employ such a verb against people is language that is used to dehumanize people and see them as subhuman. As time goes on, if a certain segment of humanity is seen as subhuman (or not human at all), one may find oneself willing to let them die — or worse, killing them outright.

In short, it is the beginning of a call to genocide. Nazis reduced Jews to vermin, as well, and Hutus reduced Tutsis to ‘trees’ and ‘cockroaches’ in the Rwandan genocide. Both language choices made it easier for the former party to not see the latter party as human when it came time to kill them.

The above is an example of Nazi propaganda. This one is rendered in Polish and aimed at Polish Christians. It reads, very simply: “Jews are lice; they cause typhus.” This is another point to the word ‘infest’. We exterminate vermin because they are a health hazard to human beings. Also, the other verb in that phrase, ‘pour into’ has connotations of things that just keep coming, almost like ants. Hmm.

What the Nazis did, what the Hutus did, and what Trump is doing here is called eliminationist language, and it’s not acceptable. It’s not acceptable to turn a human being into a lesser creature or an object, ever. Once you start thinking this way, once you accept this worldview, it’s not hard to leap from one set of humans to another, forgetting their humanity and eventually your own.

I don’t care if you think Donald Trump is the best thing since Sputnik, this sort of language is attempting to create a worldview. We’ve seen what lies at the other end of that worldview — suffering, violence, death, and cold, callous indifference. Don’t ever go there.

[This essay was adapted and expanded from a Facebook post I made earlier this week. Also, if you liked this post — or even if you didn’t — you might like my post “On Patriotism“.]

Image header: CC-BY-20 Steve Johnson; Poster image courtesy United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Black & White 5: Staving Away the Darkness

The thing I most like about Christmas is the lights. I like the symbolism. This is the time of year when the darkness presses most closely against us, swallowing up ever larger parts of the day and replacing it with chill night. The lights seem, to me, of being a way of shouting our defiance against the darkness. They say that even at the worst, we know the light will come again, that death will give way to life once again.

One of the things I’d like to do someday is to sit a solstice watch, starting from sundown and waiting all night, the longest night of the year, for the sun to return. It’s never worked out for me, but it’s something I’d like to do.

These particular lights have meaning for me. We’ve had the snowman for a very long time — I remember that he used to sit on the roof above the garage. He’s colorful, which is something that is missing from black and white. Then there’s Santa’s sleigh and the reindeer. And last, curled in front of the oak tree is the little Christmas trees.

I love coming home at night when the lights are all on. It feels like a beacon, calling me home.

et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non conprehenderunt
And the light shineth in darkness: and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:5)

(LJ/Dreamwidth readers: The crossposter I use for both these services does not attach the featured image, so you will have to click through the link at the bottom of the post to see the image.)

Prior Entries:
Black & White 1: My Buddy
Black & White 2: It’s What’s for Dinner
Black & White 3: The Platform
Black & White 4: Chairs

The West is Big, y’all

There’s something Kevin Standlee​ said in a File 770 thread (it’s about halfway through the comment) that I wanted to do a little expounding on. Family and folks who know the area I grew up, bear with me, as none of this is going to be all that unusual to you. What I am about to quote came up in a discussion about whether Spokane was close to Seattle.

In my experience, a lot of people who haven’t actually lived on the US west coast think everything here is in the same place. Disneyland is just outside of San Francisco. You can see the Space Needle from Portland. A few minutes you can reach on neuropathyhelp.co and obviously everything in the same state is within a few miles’ of everything else.

Kevin knows what he’s talking about — he and I grew up in the same general geographic area, although that area is about 150 miles in diameter around my hometown. My hometown is a small Western city that has the distinction of being one of six control cities on Interstate 5 (the other five are all major cities you’ve probably heard of).

From my hometown, it is approximately an hour and fifteen minutes to the nearest state university. The next one is about two hours fifteen minutes. The other state university in our third of the state is about three hours away over a mountain pass. And my alma mater, in a major metro region that holds most of the sports teams we root for in my little city, is about three hours away, if you’re pushing it and not stopping.

And we’re big enough to be a control city — that’s the one the signs point to as the next destination — on the major north/south artery of the West Coast.

A couple other thoughts. I live in Sacramento now. A friend and I once drove from Portland to Sacto, getting out of the car once. It took us eight hours. Another time, I had to drive to pick up somebody in Los Angeles — the Hollywood area, to be precise. Mom and I left Sacto at 4:30 AM. We stopped for gas once and breakfast once, but we still didn’t make it to his place until 11:30 AM.

One last thought. California numbers its freeway exits by miles travelled, starting with 1 at the southern end for N/S roads and the western end for E/W roads.

The actual little town I grew up in which had the security services from ADT, just south of the minor city I describe here, is exits 667 and 668 on Interstate 5. At that point, there’s still another hundred odd miles to the Oregon border.

The West Coast is big, y’all.

majestic

Fiddling around this morning with the phone and discovered how to set the camera in black and white mode. I kinda like this — there’s a solemn majesty in it.

As an interesting compare and contrast, here’s a color photo of approximately the same scene I took just prior:
Skyscraper in colorPhoto by retstak

Yah, I think I like the black and white one better.

a light in the darkness

Candles at church, by me

I’ve been doing a lot of wheelspinning lately as I try to figure out something. I haven’t figured out much in the way of conclusions because I haven’t had the time to pursue threads all the way out, but there is one thing that comes to mind.

Ignore all that ‘must co-opt pagan holiday’ stuff that caused the birth of Jesus to be moved to the bleak midwinter as opposed to the more logical late spring that all the trappings of the story hint at, and look at it from a different perspective. As a storyteller, there is no better time of the year. The world is at its darkest in the days around the solstice, so much so that we light our homes with blazing electric lights to chase the darkness away. And metaphorically, isn’t that what the Christchild story is? Bringing light to a dark world?

The story demands the change.

Anyway, that’s one of the threads I’m still trying to follow to its conclusion; I may or may not continue to blog about it.

But for those who celebrate it, Merry Christmas! And if you don’t, may you have a good day today as well.
Don’t let clogged drains stress you, call Sydney emergency plumbing today.

embrace the suck

Success, by Kevin Thoule as found on Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

So I got whacked between the eyes with an epiphany today.

It started yesterday, actually, but it didn’t quite completely come clear until today. I was reading a book on probability and how people are notoriously bad at it (The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow) and his last chapter is a bit about taking risks and why it’s sometimes important to do so — and one of the things he said was, yeah, random chance means you’re going to end up with a lot of failure, but just as streaks happen when you flip a coin, there’s always the random chance you’re going to succeed. If you don’t take the risks, you minimize your chance of failure, but you minimize your chance to succeed as well.

But it didn’t really hit me between the eyes until I was writing an email that I’ll send out to the region tomorrow. And in it, I was talking about the point of NaNoWriMo — it’s not so much about writing a novel as it is about throwing caution to the wind and doing something crazy. It’s about allowing yourself the right to suck and the right to fail, because both are hard. But if we fear failure, how can we find success? If we don’t do something because we’ll suck, how can we transcend to awesomeness?

It is that simple: in failure, we find success. In sucking, we lay the ground for becoming awesome.

I got a piece of this last Sunday when I went to the Night of Writing Dangerously. I said it myself in the post I wrote: I thought to myself that I was going to fail at reaching fifty thousand words that night. And I was going to feel miserable. But then I embraced the fear, embraced the suck, shoved the worry to the back of my mind. And what happened? I got my 50k and I rang that bell and it WAS AWESOME.

So, I’m going to stick my neck out a bit more. I have a final and a project due a week from Tuesday, and I’m going to use the time beyond that to (a) update my resume and start throwing it at jobs, (b) pick up a bit of C# with the goal of being able to contribute (even minimally) to projects at work by 1 Feb, and (c) get that fanzine together that I’ve been talking about.

Now it’s your turn: Tell me what you plan to do to embrace the suck and do something scary.

An Alexander day

I swear, Mondays account for 53 and three-quarters percent of all my extensional crises. This was another bad Monday.

Anyway, to explain my topic, it comes from the children’s book Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day, in which the main character contemplates several times about moving to Australia. I’ve thought about it too, and so really shaky days are Alexander days. And today was just one of those days.

Part of it was triggered by getting money out of my bank account to pay for gas, and realizing I have ten dollars to get me through a week and a half after the gas was accounted for. That wasn’t happymaking at all. Of course, this is a common lament these days not just for me but for everybody. It means, at least for me, that once NaNoWriMo is over, I need to just start throwing resumes at anything that comes up that might even remotely have anything to do with what I do, even if it means relocating to a far away city. I’ve given up hope that the company I currently work for will offer me a full time job at all, and I’m just barely making it on what they pay me.

Of course, the long term cure for some of my big issues is to move out from my parents’ house, so I don’t have to justify half the stuff I do them. But that’s neither here nor there, and frankly, I’m just barely scraping by with the bills I have, and if I save anything, Social Security will crack down — they already have, which makes a tenuous situation that much worse. (It also makes it impossible for me to take on other part-time work to try and get a bit of spare change — health care. But I’ve been over that rant before.)

And then to top it off, Monday night is the night of my SQL class. Now, generally, computer classes don’t bug me, but this one for some reason does. And I think I figured it out. Not only do I shut down when faced with instructors I can’t stand, this guy’s teaching style and I don’t match well. He provides notes, but the notes aren’t helpful if you have trouble paying attention in lectures. And that’s how I learn — by seeing, and by doing. And well, really, we haven’t done much. So it puts me in a jam about studying for quizzes and tests. I think I’ve studied well enough and I get blown out of the water.

On today’s quiz, I guessed like heck and then spent the rest of the time doodling xkcd-esque stick figures all over my exam. When I handed it in, I offered a strange smile to the prof. Dunno what he’ll make of it.

Anyway, tomorrow’s gonna be a working day, so I’m trying to get some rest.

NaNo count holding steady at a bit over 18.5, but Monday and Tuesday != good writing days.

I hate spammers and other flotsam

I deliberately set the blog to email me when new comments are made. There’s three reasons for this madness:

  1. That’s the way LJ comments are handled, and I’ve liked being able to see them
  2. It allows me a quick response if there’s a comment that needs to be handled in a particular fashion
  3. It allows me to see when I’m getting whacked with a load of spam

In regards to point #3, it did that job well, as looking at my mailspool showed me that last night’s post had been hit by several spammers overnight. I don’t know why Akismet failed so badly, but it leaves me in a bit of a dilemma. I want to leave trackbacks on so that I can see when blogs are linking me, but most of the spam that gets through the defenses is trackback spam. And I really wasn’t overly happy clearing out that mess today.

Anyway, it’s just a point. Spammers are lower than scum and will be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.

***
If you haven’t guessed, it’s not only NaNoWriMo month, but because I am absolutely totally and completely out of my gourd, I’m also doing Blog Posting Month. So that means one a day of these things every day in November. Of course, I could cheat and give you my cumulative word count every day, but that hardly seems fair.

So I’ll guess I’ll turn this over to those of you that actually read this thing on a regular basis. What would you like me to address? I could use some ideas for days when I can’t come up with my own. Feel free to drop them in comments.

***

As I mentioned before, I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year, like I do every year. And the last couple years, they’ve been doing a fundraising event called the Night of Writing Dangerously over in the Bay Area. This year’s event is the night after my birthday (yep, November kid) and I’d kind of like to go this year. Especially since the other November event in the Bay Area I’d like to attend is at the Breadbox Stanford this year, and tickets will be impossible because Stanford’s capacity has shrunk majorly.

The problem with going to the Night of Writing Dangerously is that I need to come up with $200 as a donation. Now, I’m all for giving money to the folks at NaNo HQ, because they do some marvelous work at encouraging people to write (particularly kids – I love their Young Writers Program). Also, they make my life easier when it comes to organizing the region. But, $200 is out of my range this year.

So this is where I turn to y’all. If any of you wants to (note that you do not have to, these are hard times for everybody and I’m doing this as a longshot), I’d love for you to donate some money to NaNo so that I can go.

So if you want to help, you can donate here. If you do, I appreciate it. If you can’t, well, I understand. These are hard times.

It would be nice to go, though.

Anyway, word count is at 5703; am going to try to get to 6000 before I got to bed tonight. Other than that, nothing exciting is going on.

a quote fraught with meaning…

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

–T.S. Eliot, from Little Giddings

This one is going into the quotes file.

Anyway, consider this a thread for open musings. What’s on your mind, folks? Comment away, either here or on LJ.

I may have more to say tomorrow, despite the May death march.