Ooh! Ooh! Shiny Shiny New Show!

I just watched the first episode of “Killjoys” on Netflix.

(Don’t worry; a review for a one-hour show is sure to be shorter than a review of a show that ran for eight season… right?)

Mild spoilers to follow!

Like Firefly? Like Joss Whedon (ie clever dialogue, strong female characters, exciting plots)?

This is the show for you.

The opening scene actually echoes the opening scene of Buffy, with a woman appearing frightened but ultimately being the strongest and most capable person around. (In Buffy, it’s Darla; a vampire – echoing the overall show theme of “fun cheerleader type is absolutely NOT the victim here”.)

The main girl (Dutch) of “Killjoys”, and her platonic BFF are bounty hunters. She is his boss.

Points for a cool job and setting (and the connections to Firefly are self-explanatory).

Then BFF boy (er… I’m not good with names) has a secret. Although he should have told Dutch right away, his reason for keeping it secret make sense. In fact, although certain narrative beats are to be expected, they’re all nicely done and the characters’ motivations and decisions are all fundamentally reasonable and intelligent. (As a writer I admire the challenge of having the characters’ situation constantly worsen WITHOUT the characters coming off as stupid.)

So the very first major plot point (the secret) already works on two levels – there’s tension between the two leads, and there’s tension in knowing that there’s a larger and more dangerous plot in the making.

Then there’s another bounty hunter with the same problematical kill order. Once again, it works on two levels. First, it’s bounty hunter vs bounty hunter (all the more delicious for the fact that Dutch clearly knows the other bounty hunter, and immediately goes and talks with him – I adore friendly enemies). Secondly, it’s a kill order that Dutch doesn’t want to fulfil, so now not only does she need to defy either her boss or her moral code (and partner at the same time), but she also now needs to actively protect the man who should be her target.

A third main character is introduced, and he is just as fascinating as the others, and is immediately emotionally entangled with both Dutch and BFF boy in a deep and complicated way.

And of course there’s a love triangle. Because Dutch and the BFF are so, so very close; closer than most marriage partners… but they’ve never been romantic. That suggests one of them is almost certainly desperately in love with the other; so in love they can’t say a word because their life would be ruined if the other person stepped away from them. Perhaps both of them are in love, and unable to risk saying so. We’ll see.

And of course the third character means there’ll be a love triangle. Sooner or later. And in this show, it will be done so well that I can’t wait to see it develop.

There’s one tiny, elegant moment when the third character and Dutch are at a party. Dutch is in an AMAZING dress (if I didn’t know I was attracted to women, I’d have found out today) and the third character checks her out… while wearing a hidden camera, which is feeding back to the BFF. The BFF tells him off in a way that could be either an extremely brotherly feeling for Dutch… or he could be the one suffering through (probably) unrequited love. I need to know how he feels! And her! And the other one!

Then there’s yet another character who is clearly very important, and very deadly, and has an extremely complex relationship with Dutch. He has power over her… and she has power over him (which she definitely wishes she didn’t have). It’s not clear if he hates or loves her, but it’s almost certainly both. There is a perfect moment at the end of the episode when we see this fantastically strong character collapse into a frightened little girl without a word spoken. And we already know she’s right to be scared.

I actually noticed the music of the show (in a good way, because the emotional mood was so delicious), which I almost never do. And even in that moment, with Dutch’s necklace, there’s another source of tension (internal moral tension this time, which is ALSO linked to the Third Main Character Guy and his past and his decisions).

So, in conclusion, we have three very compelling characters in compelling relationships with one another, and with an incredible array of challenges and secrets and enemies. I am so stressed out! I already care so deeply for all three main characters.

Almost every scene and plot beat does at least two things at once (purely from the script; the visuals, world-building, etc are all delicious too). That is simply wonderful to see, and it motivates me to strive to write so well. In fact, I’m writing this blog to analyse some of what was so clever about the show.

It also motivates me to immediately watch all ten episodes, then rock back and forwards in the foetal position until I get the rest. Then more. Then more.

As of this moment, this is my favourite TV show. Ever.

 

Edited to add: And yeah, bad stuff happens in this show… but not really. There’s supposedly an attempted rape in the opening scene, but it would take a very green viewer to think for a second it was really going to happen.

Then there’s the enslaved cage fighter… who still has all his pretty pretty teeth.

And of course the opening torture scene, with no blood and plenty of quips.

Edited after seeing the second episode: Haha! Someone did lose a tooth this episode, but of course it was just a bit character and a baddie, not one of our beautiful boys.

This isn’t a criticism! In its own way, “Killjoys” is just as much a safe & charming drama as “Gilmore Girls”, despite all the murderin’.

 

I’m hazy on copyright law, so in lieu of a proper show pic, here’s something from my own image collection.

 

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Another beautiful woman who happens to be a cold-blooded killer.

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Review of Gilmore Girls: yes, all of it

I recently watched the new “Year in the Life” Gilmore Girls mini-series. (It’s on Netflix.)

Then I had to go back and watch all of “Gilmore Girls”, from the very beginning to the very end.

Yes, there will be spoilers here.

There were three really awful things in this show that I love:

  1. There are a bunch of jokes about homosexuality (and, in the final season “Summer” episode, a bunch of jokes about fat people in swimmers). From memory, this was the era when things changed fast in TV. Just mentioning gay people, especially joking that “I” (whoever “I” is, in context) might be gay, was a little bit pro-gay at the time. On US TV shows, just acknowledging that gay people existed was a bit of a big deal. On Seinfeld, men leapt away from physical contact, then said, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” But… Gilmore Girls is meaner, and it ages very badly. So, after all my attempts to defend the show, I have to admit: it really sucks, and makes me wince every time (and there are a lot of times, unfortunately).

2. In general, Rory and Lorelai have a medium-level case of “main character syndrome”, ie, they are frequently selfish and awful, but the audience still loves them because they’re the hero of the show. Their main character syndrome is worse in “A Year In the Life” (season eight?), probably mainly to add drama and humour…but they’re pretty awful people. (Especially to Rory’s boyfriend of TWO YEARS, who everyone forgets the second he leaves the room. It’s played entirely for laughs, but it does feel a little like how Rory and Lorelai often treat men badly. Oh yeah, and Rory’s sleeping with Logan – who is engaged – the entire time.)

3. The infamous “last four words”. The writers were too impressed with their own structural cleverness. There’s a saying “Kill Your Darlings” which means that the parts of a story a writer is most fond of should probably be cut. This is sooooooo one of those times.

For those who don’t know (spoooooooiiiiiiillllleeeeerrrrrsssss) the last four words are:

Rory: Mum?

Lorelai: Yeah?

Rory: I’m pregnant.

The writers have been holding on to this ending for literally ten years. Structurally, it’s fascinating. But also horribly depressing. And also kind of pointless. And also very, very unsatisfying. We don’t even get to hear how Rory (or Lorelai for that matter) feels about it. Which, in a show that is all about discussing life moments, is deeply disappointing.

Looking around the interwebs, there’s a lot of discussion about how the writers could have been even crueller, making Rory fall pregnant during/immediately after her graduation. It looks like that’s what they actually wanted to do, which is just. . . eauch!

Are they trying to say that we’re all doomed to repeat the mistakes of our parents? What a bummer message for such an upbeat show!

So Rory doesn’t have a relationship or a job, but at least she’s 32 rather than 16. And she gets on with her mum and step-father, so she has an excellent support system in place. She’ll be okay.

The fact I have to think through “Will she be okay?” shows what a dumb ending this is. It’s not a cool, edgy ending. It’s a question mark where there should be a full stop (or at least an ellipsis!)

I was comforted by the mainstream fan theory that “Logan = Chris, and Jess = Luke”. Since the writers are so proud of their structural prettiness, that makes perfect sense, and it tells us the rest of the story: Although Logan is the father of her child, he is too weak to be Rory’s life partner. Jess, however, still loves her and always will. He and Rory are intellectual and psychological equals (now that Jess has grown up), and will eventually find lasting happiness with each other.

Despite its slightly repetitive nature, I’d love to watch that show. In my head, THAT is the end of the story.

Why do I love Gilmore Girls so much? 

It’s fun and funny. That’s pretty much it – but that’s plenty! It managed to stay fun and interesting and funny throughout, which is considerably more than many shows manage. Nothing truly awful ever happens. It’s perfect escapist TV and I’m sad my binge is over because there are very few shows that are so purely enjoyable to watch.

My current self (as opposed to my past self, who was younger and more innocent) can’t help noticing that this is a show that is led by women – two female leads (three, counting Emily), and is very much a success because of the writer (and producer?) Amy Sherman-Palladino. So it gets extra kudos for that.

It’s hard to watch sometimes, when I see characters I love heading directly for pain, but the show has an almost evangelistic fervour for “Life experiences”. The most blatant example is that both Lorelai and Lane say (regarding Rory’s attraction to Jess, who is clearly a jerk at that stage), “She’s 17. She has to fall for a bad boy.”

Uhh….no. That’s not true at all! My philosophy as a teen was, “Why get into an obviously doomed or unhealthy relationship?” and although it was often very, very hard to resist attractive men that wanted to date me, I really didn’t need to go through the pain to figure out that a man who compulsively lied wasn’t going to be good for me.

Having said that, it’s true that bad experiences have value in terms of personal growth, and that fact makes the show very satisfying. Especially when it comes to relationships, which in the show (as in life) is where the greatest mistakes tend to happen.

Lorelai and relationships

So Lorelai dated Chris when they were teens, and when she fell pregnant Chris did the expected thing and asked her to marry him. Partly because she was 16 and partly because it was what her mother wanted her to do, Lorelai bolted in the opposite direction. She came to Stars Hollow, found work despite being a teen single mum, and ultimately became a functioning adult. For the entire period between Rory’s birth and the beginning of the show, she chose to be virtually celibate. She had rules. Those rules definitely protected Rory (and Lorelai, for that matter).

The show begins with 16-year old Rory and her 32-year old mother in Luke’s diner. Luke is clearly a close friend, and clearly in love with Lorelai, who is clearly oblivious. He is a flannel-and-baseball-cap wearing guy who has a base level of charming crankiness but clearly also has a heart as big as Stars Hollow. Fundamentally, he doesn’t always handle his emotions well, but he’s steady as a rock. Lorelai has ambitions; he does not. (That’s morally neutral, but they are clearly very different people.)

It’s interesting that the very first scene is Lorelai and Rory both getting hit on by the same guy. This is a neat plot device for introducing the “teen pregnancy” backstory, but it also accidentally foreshadows the idea that men are a disposable commodity. Yes, the guy is a bit of a creep – but I don’t generally find rejection funny, so there’s a tiny twinge there for me when the guy becomes a punchline.

Lorelai quickly falls for Rory’s English teacher, Max Medina. He is a smart, kind, intelligent man and he never does anything truly bad. Lorelai resists the attraction for a while since he’s Rory’s teacher, but in my opinion he IS worth breaking her “rules” for, especially since Rory isn’t a baby any more. The situation is awkward and mistakes are made, and Max and Lorelai try to solve the problems by getting engaged rather quickly.

Lorelai suddenly panics and breaks up with him the day before the wedding, and from then on the story is, “I wanted to love him, but I just didn’t.” (stupidest reason ever? why yes)

She even kisses him several months later, which is spectacularly selfish.

This is a relationship that hurts both Rory and Max quite badly.

In experiential terms, this is Lorelai letting down the walls she’s built up in the 16 years since she fell pregnant. She screws things up very badly, but I have a tiny amount of sympathy given that she needs to learn how to fall in love as a grown up and a mother.

The second major love story is, of course, Chris. It’s clear from the start that Rory loves him and that Lorelai has learned from experience that he can’t be relied upon even to show up for one of his daughter’s major life events. Would things have been better if Lorelai had married him at 16? No. She made a brave and difficult choice, and deserves credit for the fact that living on her own really was better than living with either Chris or her parents.

But then it seems Chris really has grown up. He has a steady job and has switched out his motorbike for a car. For a moment, Lorelai and Chris are finally both in the right place to have a mature relationship………. and at that exact moment, Chris’ ex-girlfriend calls to say she’s pregnant.

He can’t fail another child, so he leaves Lorelai and Rory and goes to be a proper father for the first time (which is a very good thing, because the ex-girlfriend snaps and leaves one day, making him a single father – a structurally beautiful/tragic moment that works very well).

Much later, he becomes very wealthy and helps pay for Rory’s education (a good thing to do, but not actually something that required long-term maturity). When Luke and Lorelai get together (and Lorelai’s parents deliberately attempt to break them up) he is a selfish jerk, and it quickly becomes clear that he still has the weak nature that he had as a teenager. They finally get together, but he’s insanely jealous of Luke and keeps pushing Lorelai to move the relationship forward quickly due to his fear of losing her. They even get married – a clearly stupid decision, and it hurts Rory since they didn’t even tell her beforehand. In some ways they’re living the dream, living together with their two children at last – but it’s not right. Chris knows it, and Rory knows it, but Lorelai is ignorant. She’s so convinced they’re meant to be (after twenty years, I’d probably make the same mistake) and is definitely on a rebound from Luke too. The relationship ends, relatively amicably, but in “A Year in the Life” Chris’ role in the story is further clarified when Rory goes to see him, telling him she’s writing a book. He says, “Please don’t make me too much of a villain.”

That line tells us that he IS the villain. He was a pretty awful father, and then very nearly caused Lorelai and Luke’s relationship to fail forever. Like most real-life villains, he didn’t mean to cause harm; he was just selfish. It’s good that he knows it, and won’t cause more harm. He’s working at a desk, representing adult responsibilities. It’s quite likely he’ll eventually have a healthy adult relationship of his own.

Luke

As I said above, Luke is a good man. There’s a lovely subplot where he listens to self-help tapes and then finally asks Lorelai out (then promptly gives the tapes to Jess, since he’s now “done” and Jess needs them to learn how to communicate with Rory).

Then there’s Luke’s daughter. She shows up as a weird & brilliant 12-year old that he didn’t know existed. Luke and Lorelai are already engaged (and already dealing with a big emotional load because Rory has been arrested, sentenced to community service, and has left Yale AND moved in with the grandparents). Luke quickly builds a healthy relationship with his daughter (it’s beautiful when he fights to keep her and wins against the odds), but there’s a lot to process so even when Rory gets her life back together he isn’t truly ready to get married (but is clearly still heading in that direction).

Lorelai feels more and more sure that the wedding is off, and finally gives Luke an ultimatum. He’s utterly thrown, so she breaks up with him. Since it’s their second break-up, she sleeps with Chris in order to make sure the breakup is real. THAT certainly ends a relationship.

The next day Luke shows up with his truck packed and ready to elope – but it’s too late.

Although the relationship should not have ended (and, indeed, they get back together at the end of season 7, and finally marry in season 8 after living together about 10 years), it’s reasonably understandable (unlike the Max Medina thing).

This is the canon, long-term relationship, and I’m glad.

Luke’s daughter:

The mother of Luke’s daughter should have included Luke in their lives from the beginning. He missed so much, and that is a tragedy. She is a weird and brilliant girl who is mature enough to seek out Luke on her own and then decide on her own to continue having a relationship with him. She and Rory are great sisters, and when she’s 22 and Rory is 32 both are struggling with the weight of expectations versus reality. Rory helps her, and is pretty much the perfect sister. I like that, and I hope Luke’s daughter finds a path that’s right for her. (Side note: Rory wants to be a journalist and Luke’s daughter probably wants to do something science-y. Both are very hard jobs to get, and very low paid. Luckily Rory knows a publisher, and both are connected to very wealthy people. I choose to assume they’ll be fine.)

Emily:

I love it when Emily and Richard get back together after their separation, and I also like how Emily ends season 8: she’s dating a nice man, gotten a job for the first time, and has built a “family” with, oddly enough, her maid. The final scene sees her alone and happy, with the rest of “her” people asleep. She doesn’t seem to be invited to the wedding, but she and Lorelai have moved past the pain of Richard’s death.

There’s no doubt that Emily and Richard always loved Lorelai (and of course Rory) but were too controlling to have a healthy relationship with them. They’re villains, but they’re also heroes sometimes. Both are very compelling characters.

Lane and her mum, and Lane:

My absolute favourite storyline is the way Lane’s extremely strict mother gradually grows to respect Lane’s choices (but remains her very fierce self as well – as an ally rather than an enemy).

Lane has this awful storyline where she has sex for the first time when married, and it’s a terrible experience that turns her off sex……and makes her pregnant. With twins. She says to Zach, her partner, that she spent her whole life trapped by her mother, then she broke free…and now she’s trapped again. Shortly after that, Zach gets a great musical opportunity, and she encourages him to take it – going on tour for months while she’s left alone with the twins.

So…she was right?

In the future the band is still playing, which is excellent—but they don’t mention touring, and they do mention that Zach now has to wear a tie to work. I sort of like that, because they’re still playing (which is where the true joy is) but they don’t seem to have gotten anywhere with their art (which hurts, but is realistic).

Way back in season 7, I was waiting for her to start enjoying sex, but that storyline was never mentioned again. So… is she a stay-at-home mum to two boys in a sexless marriage featuring a shared, failed dream?

It’s probably not that grim. Being a mum actually goes well with a lot of the artsy professions (odd hours and working from home), and the boys are definitely old enough now that touring is possible. Given that the band made $9000 from a tour organised by Lane’s mum, there’s plenty of opportunity for them to earn at least some of their living from music. And I’m sure the sex is just fine. And Zach is clearly willing to sacrifice his dreams for Lane, and is an active and involved father.

So all’s probably well in the Lane household (which still, amusingly, includes Brian – who is also a great babysitter), but I feel like the writers forgot Lane.

Lane’s mother is a stereotype in some ways, but the fact that she’s specifically Korean (rather than more generically Asian) helps, and I find the stereotype affectionate (and detailed) rather than offensive. That may change with time or perspective (I’ve been to South Korea, but I know very little about it except that there are a lot of Christians who have a reputation for pushiness…so, just like Mrs Kim).

There’s an odd line in season 8 when someone says, “Hey look! There’s Mr Kim!” and Lane waves at her father. I don’t think he was ever mentioned or seen before that instant, which makes me feel like it was some kind of fan service. But it raises more questions than it answers. Mrs Kim was clearly a single mum, so was she divorced or widowed? Is this Mr Kim her ex-husband, or Lane’s step-dad?

This, more than anything, makes me want another season: MORE LANE, and more of all of her family.

Rory’s romances:

Dean is just not her intellectual match, and everyone except Rory knows it. (He’s no dummy, but he’s not an intellectual like Rory, and he can’t move through several layers of society like she can*.)

I hate him forever for every aspect of his first marriage, especially him marrying someone when still so very in love with Rory, and of course for sleeping with Rory (not just once, but continuing until she breaks it off).

I hate Rory for sleeping with him, too. And I hate Lorelai a little for just saying, “Talk to me before you have sex” rather than, “Sweetie, your body is going to mess with you. Big time.” and teaching her how to resist temptation and make good choices when every instinct is saying, “Sleep with him right now now now!”

Jess is clearly desperately in love with Rory, and her intellectual equal. But he’s a jerk, and Rory is definitely influenced by his less stellar qualities. He dates another girl just to mess with Rory which is obviously not okay. Rory is a worse person because she likes him. When they’re going out, Jess is unreliable and incommunicative (which he continues for some time after they break up too). In the end, Jess does grow up into a decent human, loyal friend, and (finally) Rory’s true equal.

It’s clear in the final season that he’s utterly in love with her, with the same friend-zoned devotion that Luke showed towards Lorelai.

Logan is charming and generous and a risk-taker (which Rory needs a bit of). He grows up a LOT during the show. He learns to be monogamous; he leaves his father’s business; he faces up to his (big) financial mistake; he stops acting like a drunken college kid (mostly). Like Chris with Lorelai, he is devoted to Rory but circumstances aren’t right. Like Chris, he proposes because of expectations (Chris because Lorelai is pregnant; Logan because college is over and marriage is what you do next – worse, he proposes publicly without having talking about marriage with Rory), utterly failing to understand the girl he loves (Rory loves him too, but isn’t ready to settle down).

Like Chris, Logan is weak. By the time season 8 rolls around, he is back working for his (somewhat evil) father, and is engaged to a woman his father effectively chose for him. He’s also cheating on his fiancé. Despite all that, he’s still a loyal and helpful friend to Rory—but their friendship has soured into something that’s just wrong.

He and his friends give Rory a beautifully fun night and morning, ending the relationship in a way that’s both conclusive and friendly….and she gets pregnant.

So, Chris/Logan are the rich, privileged, weak men who make great friends but aren’t mature enough for the women they love.

Luke/Jess are the lower-class but business-owning men who aren’t fabulous at communication but are working hard to be good men – and succeeding. They ARE, in the end, mature enough and smart enough for the women they love.

Luke and Lorelai’s relationship

I really liked how Luke and Lorelai actively worked on their communication skills way back in season 6, and improved their relationship as a result. I completely understand how (in season 8) Lorelai feels she’s too selfish to make Luke happy—and how Luke actually is completely happy, and doesn’t understand why Lorelai is stressing. My own real-life marriage is between a high-maintenance, spirited, driven woman and an extremely calm and steady man. I cried a bunch in season 8, and just loved that whole storyline.

I was a little worried when Lorelai AGAIN proposed and AGAIN rushed into marriage – but a wedding is all about the friends and family, and I was fine that L&L effectively just ticked it off their to-do list.

Rory’s career

I like it that the “genius” Rory, who was so full of promise, has had some notable writerly successes, has several irons in the fire, and is ultimately not sure where her next paycheck is coming from. That’s life.

I like that she’s writing a book about her life (especially since we know Jess will publish it). It’s great therapy, and I think she needs to go through that to “find herself” in much the same way middle-aged Lorelai had to run off into the wild to find herself. It’s something spirited women in particular need to do periodically in life.

As a writer, I REALLY like that Jess wrote a book that got published by a small press and DIDN’T make him a million dollars. I like that even when he was running the publishing company he was living upstairs and barely scraping by.

So Gilmore Girls is that rare creature: fiction about writers that is reasonably realistic.

My own first novel is actually my 15th (that’s fifteen years of novel writing without getting published!) and is published by a small press (meaning it’s not stocked in every single store, and isn’t advertised much at all). Fortunately my interactive fiction pays more, because being a novelist isn’t easy (nor is making a living as a writer of Interactive fiction, but IF is much better-paid overall). I think you can forgive me for hating it when a fictional character sits down, writes their first book, and is swimming in cash and accolades six months later. Hah!

 

Well, I’m finally finished my Gilmore Girls binge + debrief. Perhaps I can get some real work done now.**

 

*Luke hates being around rich people, but he can handle himself.

**Hah!

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“Stormhunter” flounders as Satalyte falls to Earth

Most small publishers stop running within two years. Which is not surprising, when you consider that the large publishers make a loss on the vast majority of the books they produce. It’s the occasional bestseller keeping everyone afloat. People just don’t read enough books.

With that reality, small publishers deserve more credit rather than less. They know they’re probably going to fail. In my experience, publishers are greater dreamers than writers—writing, after all, costs very little.

Satalyte Publishing accepted my novel “Stormhunter” some time ago, but ultimately has just decided to close their doors. It’s not an easy choice, but I became friends with the couple running the show, and I’m glad they were smart enough to step away from their beautiful dream before it became a nightmare.

So, the fate of “Stormhunter” is once more a blank. It certainly eased my concern that I have SO much paid writing work to do already, and that “Heart of Brass” is safely published and in the hands of readers all around the world.

Despite an unfortunate end to our professional relationship, I have gained several good friends and quite a bit of useful knowledge from my journey with Satalyte. The publishing house is no more, but those friendships will last forever—and all the more because of a shared experience of grief.

Like many small publishers, Satalyte deliberately published the kind of books that are excellent, but not considered “marketable”. They made publishing better forever, and I’m grateful to them as both reader and friend.

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Little Miss Helpful

For those who aren’t up to date on their classic picture books, “Little Miss Helpful” is about a person who’s always trying to help people and ultimately makes their lives much, much worse. One of her friends is sick and trying to rest, so she shows up to help. She wakes him up over and over again in the process of attempting to clean for him (destroying his kitchen in the process), and ultimately both are injured and I presume the friend gets pneumonia and dies. (I’m extrapolating from the fact that he ends up in a pond.)

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(Pictured: An unrelated children’s picture book.)

So this week I’m struggling to accept the fact that an introverted kid who is not mine doesn’t get to sit next to her best friend (aka my kid) six hours a day (but is still able to play with her multiple times a day). Her mum is long since over it but I’m still in overprotective mode.

Today I have a brand new drama that also fits the “Felicity Banks clumsily attempts to help a person/people who would be much better off if she didn’t bother” narrative.

The oversimplified version—also the version that I’m emotionally responding to—is that I wanted to write a story with a protagonist who was disabled, in part because that’s one of the many groups suffering from Trump’s power… but it has become clear that I’m not smart enough to cause more good than harm.

Like most oversimplifications the above is not entirely true, but has an element of truth in it. It was mostly a structural issue that caused me to need to drop that particular aspect of my protagonist. Still. . .

It’s hard for privileged people to learn how privileged we are. It doesn’t matter how many advantages you’re born with, life is hard. Stuff happens. And when someone points out that an aspect of their life is harder than yours, it hurts. It feels like your own struggles are less legitimate. When you’re trying to remember whether “gay” is still a insult or not, and then you find out that intersex is a thing that you also need to understand and learn about, it feels like people are just taking offence no matter what you do.

Those feelings are knee-jerk reactions, and they’re not actually true. There’s a really thoughtful article about emotional exhaustion here.

So yes, privileged people also have struggles. But part of being a decent human being is to get past that knee-jerk “Arg too hard!!” reflex and realise that it’s vitally important to acknowledge other people’s struggles, and to use what power we have to help others.

I’ve been passionate about discrimination against people who are LGBTIQ since before I knew that one of those letters applied to me. I’m a Christian and have felt since my teens that Christians treat gay people and Muslims poorly—which is exactly the opposite of what Christian behaviour should be. But even thought I’m disabled myself, I’ve never fought for the rights of people who are disabled. (Partly, if I’m honest, because I’m still coming to terms with it in my own body and mind… after fifteen years.)

The term “Social Justice Warrior” is an insult, but since Trump was voted in as US president the world is badly in need of exactly that kind of warrior to mitigate the damage he is doing to pretty much every vulnerable minority group anyone can think of.

 

When my daughter found out about Trump, she gave up her allowance for months so she could donate it to kids and communities in the third world. I thought about what I could do and realised that financial help and/or things that involve me leaving the house (like protest marches) are rarely an option. But I still have a working brain (sometimes) and I have two powerful resources at my disposal: my imagination, and my readers. If I write interesting and diverse characters, it will help all of my readers to understand and empathise with people who are different to them. And it won’t feel like work.

I can’t earn a living wage; I can’t walk or stand or march without pain; I can’t vote in US elections; I can’t run to Nauru and singlehandedly gather up all the innocent children and bring them safely home with me; I can’t roam the streets making sure non-cisgender people aren’t getting beaten up; I can’t teach manners to Islamophobic trolls; I can’t stop Australian politicians from stoking racist fears in my own country—but I can write.

Here is a music clip (technically an ad for last year’s Paralympics):

 

 

I watch this all the time. It’s one of the greatest music video clips ever made. I actually have a real-life problem with Louisette being jealous of people with physical disabilities because of this clip (specifically, she wants to have either one leg—so she can do a kick-ass hopping high jump—or no arms so she can be an awesome drummer). I have to keep explaining to her that if she wants to have the amazing abilities of these musicians and sportspeople, then she has to train like they do.

Unlike most inspirational stuff (which is nauseating at best, and insultingly incorrect at worst) this actually works for me. I know that every single person in this clip has thought, “My life sucks! I can’t do anything! My body is holding me back from the life I want to have! This is so unfair!” at least once. I’m technically disabled physically, but my depression usually bothers me even more than the physical side, so getting told to look on the bright side or cheer up (by healthy, not-depressed people) often actually means, “Stop bothering me with your pain.” The clip above makes me feel good with the music, and means more to me than any other song because every person in it still has big parts of their life that suck. It hits the exact right place between pity and awe (both of which are foolish reactions able-bodied people often have to people who are disabled, ie “Oh, poor you!” or “Wow, you’re SO brave!”). Actually, people who are disabled do have unique challenges, but they’re also just… people. (There’s an interesting article about the social pressure to be the “perfect” disabled person here.)

The clip cleverly erodes the patronising pity I might feel towards people who are physically disabled in various ways. There really are certain elements of physical disability that are wicked cool. These are my two favourites:

  1. Prosthetics. The whole field of prosthetics is evolving so quickly that it’s incredibly exciting. Those curved “running legs” sportspeople use are actually faster than normal legs. There are other prosthetics that also do certain things better than nature. I’m with Adam Hills (who, incidentally, has one leg): Instead of calling people “disabled”, he says we should call them something that reflects how freaking cool their bodies are. Hills suggests “mutants”. Like, X-men style. Obviously that’s not going to happen, but there’s truth in the comedy.       Now that I think about it, I actually had a one-legged romantic interest in “Scarlet Sails“, just because piracy does rather lend itself to non-standard body shapes. She even has a slightly-awkward sex scene due to my remembering Adam Hills talking about how he always needs to remove his prosthetic leg before sex. And in “After the Flag Fell” the main character almost certainly loses an arm—not just because steampunk lends itself to cool prosthetics, but because he’s an actual historical figure who lost an arm due to a battle wound.
  2. As a failed linguist (literally; I failed my second semester at uni) and a retired cross-cultural missionary (also literally; for ten years I worked towards a career in Indonesia teaching English etc to kids in the slums), I’m fascinated by the deaf community. Sign language is such an interesting set of languages, and the community itself is just that: a community. A lot of deaf people who could have their hearing restored through technology choose not to, because their deafness is as much a part of their culture as breasts are to a woman (As a breast owner, let me explain: So what if I’m not breastfeeding and never will? So what if my breasts require expensive specialised clothing and constantly get in the way? They’re mine and I’d be VERY upset if they were removed).

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(Picture: Would YOU waste time looking at her wooden leg?)

So as I was working on the outline of an interactive story, I had an idea. I could have the reader choose a disability for the protagonist from three options:

  1. Someone with a double above-the-knee amputation. This is a significant disability in the real world, but in my world the character lives in an enormous floating city (influenced by, among other things, the Bajau people, a refugee people group who live almost entirely on water and have extraordinary abilities as a result) so I wanted to write that they had the usual prosthetics (cosmetic, running, practical, “shorties”, etc) as well as a prosthetic tail that makes them look like a real-life mermaid—including a superior swimming ability. I’m already jealous of this character’s ability in my mind, despite the fact that they’d also have significant disadvantages.
  2. Someone who is mute. Originally I wanted to write a character who was both deaf and mute, but a writerly friend pointed out that not being able to describe sounds would cut back on sensory immersion (a vitally important aspect of writing; my writing isn’t good enough to make up for it) so I toned it back. The protagonist’s city is made of transparent spheres, and getting from one to another is slightly awkward. I’d already designed it as a place where everyone uses sign language every day to chat through the glass during that awkward transition from one sphere to another. As I was thinking about the real-world deaf community, I developed my setting into a place with a large minority of deaf-mute individuals (not such a surprising thing, given a recessive gene for a condition causing people to be deaf-mute, combined with a relatively small population). That way I could develop a whole bunch of different and complementary sign languages (slang, trading, one-handed, something specifically for talking underwater, something specifically for the protagonist to talk privately with their best friend, etc). It would be such an interesting and fun world! Languages are fun! I’m also borderline bilingual (Indonesian) and have lived in Indonesia with Indonesians for six months, and observed firsthand the way language changes the way I thought about things.
  3. A phobia of deep water. This is actually one of my own (extremely numerous) phobias (making research a breeze), and of course would be very difficult when the protagonist lives in a floating city. Unlike depression, it’s specific enough (and has so little effect on my actual life) that I could write about it without getting depressed myself (I’ve written a story about the real-life experience of depression, but it’s…well, depressing). Although I wouldn’t recommend an anxiety disorder to anyone (duh), it DOES have the positive side effect that I deal with fear every day, so when something really scary happens (like having a baby, or having Chris in hospital with a rare disease that is both incurable and potentially paralysing or deadly… yes, that happened; he got better) I actually handle it quite well. It also means that the character would adjust more easily to the time they spend on land (the Bajau people get badly landsick, and so will my non-player characters—but less so if they choose option #3).

So now that everyone is dying to read my nonexistent book, here’s why it probably isn’t happening:

Good intentions are not the same thing as good results. Obviously, my aim is to write a positive, enjoyable, interesting story that also gives people with certain disabilities a chance to play a character who actually shares that aspect of their life. And a story that helps people who don’t have any of those conditions to feel that classic “oh they’re just like us” moment that we all need to have about… well, everyone who is not our physical & psychological clone.

However.

One of the places I started my research was in the “Choice of Games” forums. “Choice of Games” is a hugely influential American interactive fiction company. (I am not associated or affiliated with them in any way; but I’m a huge fan and a Hosted Games author several times over.) They work hard to be inclusive, and it shows. The forums are a friendly, welcoming, helpful, and diverse place. I have accidentally stepped on people’s feelings there in the past (again, helping where help was not wanted) and people took me aside privately, and politely taught me how to be a better person. I was also forgiven by the people that I hurt.

I have genuine friends there that have made my life better, plus a really cool arch-enemy (you can read about him in the special features of Starship Adventures), and even someone I’ve since met in real life. Some of them are very different to me in various ways, and some are very similar (poor things). But I knew that I needed to research deafness, muteness, and the lives and feelings of amputees in order to write about them in a way that did more good than harm. I also knew that my research needed an extra layer: I needed to find at least one beta reader from the groups I was trying to represent. They would pick up on dumb mistakes I made. The forum was the perfect place to start looking for those beta readers.

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(Pictured: Not a suitable beta reader.)

So I started a new topic, called something like, “Looking for beta readers who are deaf-mute or double-amputees”. I winced as I wrote “deaf-mute” and “double-amputee” but even someone with one leg has a very different life to a person with both legs amputated, so I needed to be specific.

Within 24 hours people had already replied telling me they’d thought (based on the title) that I was deliberately trolling the forums, and an admin had changed the title (with my belated blessing) to be less offensive.

So as quickly as that, I screwed up. Alarm bells began ringing, and they continued ringing as various people talked to me via the thread, communicating (gently) how very uncomfortable they were that someone so ham-fisted would be writing such a story.

I immediately googled the terms I’d used, looking for less offensive words to mean “deaf” “mute” and “amputee”, while also asking the people in the thread. I found that the correct words are (wait for it) “deaf”, “mute”, and “amputee”. I also found that it’s preferred that people put the “person” first, ie I should say “A person who is deaf” rather than “a deaf person”. But clearly the title I used for the forum topic was still deeply offensive.

So I’m already at a loss. How can I write about this set of disabilities when it’s apparently not okay to say the words aloud? Someone (rather brilliantly) suggested that hey, it’s a fictional world, why not make up words? The only problem is that I then have to explain that “sffhuiwe” (or whatever…) means “deaf”. So we’re back to square one.

I have since worked out that (a) The thing that’s offensive is that my attempt at brevity made it seem like the disability was the most interesting part of the character, which it definitely isn’t, and (b) It’s easy enough to describe the actions of the characters without using any of the words that may be offensive to some people.

Now is a good time to mention that Australians have much more casual manners than Americans. It’s actually something I love about Australia. I find it more honest and open and straightforward… but I’ve run into trouble at least once before because people thought I was being rude when I thought I was being friendly. So that complicates matters, especially since the vast majority of my readers are from the US.

In the meantime, someone I deeply respect (especially in the field of interactive fiction) pointed out that if I had the reader choose one of those three options, it was structurally saying that all three options (I called them “quirks”) were comparable. Which is just not true (even though it’s true within the story).

So that’s almost certainly the nail in the coffin for my “pick a quirk” idea. Which is sad, but a far better fate than having me write 200,000 words that made the world worse.

So that’s what I’m crying about today. I really wanted to represent disabled people in fiction, but my own limitations (and privileges) make it a terrible idea.

Having written all the above, I’m no longer sure that giving up is the right option (even though it almost certainly is) so I’ll think some more, and talk to some more people, and make my final decision after that. But before I make too much of a nuisance of myself.

Well, probably.

As always, the questions that matters most to me is, “Will this cause harm?” but the second most important question is, “Will it make the story better?” It’s clear to me that these aspects of a fully realised and interesting character absolutely DO make the story better. That’s not an easy thing to give up.

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One-Quarter

As I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room today, I realised something.

My job as a parent is to love my kids and help them grow up to be vaguely functional, content, and decent adults (to the extent that is possible). John Scalzi recently wrote a lovely post on his daughter’s 18th, opening with:

Here is a true thing: In the grand scheme of things, I’ve only had three things I wanted to do with my life. The first was to be a writer. The second was to be a good husband. The third was to make sure that any kid I had made it through their childhood without want or fear, and knowing that they were loved. When I was younger, I figured if I could manage those three things, then at the end of my days I could leave this planet with a content heart.”

As you know, dear reader, Louisette just turned five. She is a schoolgirl now, not a baby or a toddler or a pre-schooler or even an “under-five”.

If you consider adulthood to fall around the age of twenty, then my vital task of being the mother of this particular child is already one-quarter finished. Obviously I’ll still be Louisette’s mother after that, but we will both be adults – equals – and, I hope, friends.

Five and a bit years ago, Louisette opened her eyes for the first time.

Now she walks and talks and has opinions and best friends and flaws and skills and dreams. She is herself; different to anyone else in the world.

Another five years, and she’ll be ten. Tall and long-haired, and showing the first signs of puberty. Ten year olds can have intelligent conversations with anyone. They’re smarter and better than most adults, to be honest. When I taught K-10 Indonesian, it was the ten-year olds that I liked the most.

Five years after that, she’ll be fifteen, and utterly different. She’ll have a much better idea of who she is and who she wants to be. She’ll be well past puberty; wearing bras and flirting with boys. Maybe even dating (ugh! no!). She’ll have secrets from me—important secrets. She might barely speak to me at all. She might be learning to drive, or deciding where to apply for her first job. Any movie I can watch, she can watch with me.

Five years after that, she’ll be twenty. She’ll be her own creature more than she is mine, even if we still share the same house. She’ll probably already have at least one serious heartbreak behind her. She can think rationally about marriage, and will know whether she wants children or not.

Five years after that, I might be a grandmother.

All that in the blink of an eye.

 

Time for another collage! Stat!

 

 

 

 

That final photo was taken by http://thorsonphotography.com.au at the National Arboretum.

And I’ll end with another great quote from another great author (in this case, Pamela Freeman*), who is a facebook friend of mine (I knew her before she was as famous as she is now) and said, “Here’s another weird thought: she might be a quarter of the way towards being adult, but it’s the most important quarter. You’ve laid down positive brain chemistry, taught her how to love and how to think, and whatever you’ve done now is likely it: even puberty won’t shape her brain more than you have already done. I find this both scary and reassuring.”

Writers make the best facebook comments.

Since I seem to be quoting writers today, here’s some Tolstoy: “From the child of five to myself is but a step. But from the newborn baby to the child of five is an appalling distance.”

Which is more or less what Pamela Freeman (and various psychologists) said, but in Tolstoy’s inimitable style.

*She writes a bunch of different genres from historical drama to glorious fantasy to children’s books. I just finished reading the second “Princess Betony” book with Louisette, a chapter a night (and freely altering the scary bits to be less scary).

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BFFs torn asunder

I had a minor medical procedure today which I had to fast for (what, including chocolate??? Noooooooo!) and it was also Louisette’s last day of holidays before Kindy, which included a special appointment to meet her teacher and look at her new classroom (all very lovely).

I really like the school, the teacher, etc etc and I’m beyond excited that my little distraction is starting a whole new phase of her life.

The epic collages continue…

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(The big photo was taken by http://thorsonphotography.com.au)

But actually right now I’m mama-bear FURIOUS.

You see, the daycare centre next door to the Kindy has been Lizzie’s social hub since she was literally a year old. I actually got to be one of the educators in her room, back when it was just eight kids. There are a small number of kids who’ve gone through the whole daycare centre with Louisette, year by year.

Two, to be exact.

And one of them switched days after that first year, so although the kids still think of each other as best friends, they’ve barely seen each other since then.

Which leaves one. Let’s call her Helen.

Helen is an extremely laid-back individual, who even at the age of one would look at the rest of us dancing with a sweet little smile that said, “I ain’t doing that.” She’s also a freaking genius. When we were gently coaxing our one-year olds to say two-word sentences like “Big Dog”, Helen would say things like, “On the weekend I went swimming with my Daddy.” (Which I remember because I asked her what she did at the pool and she said, “Bubbles.”)

She almost never cried or complained, and I’ve actually never seen her hit another child (I’m sure she has at some point, but rarely). Over the years we became good friends with her whole family, and even coordinated swimming lessons with them.

Helen was having weekly swimming lessons for ages before we joined in (very excited that Louisette could scrape into the same class as Helen). After the lessons, we’d play in the public pool. I’ll never forget the day when Louisette was jumping into the pool from the edge (like usual) and Helen jumped in too. Her parents were over the moon – she’d never jumped in before.

When Louisette is bossy, Helen either wanders elsewhere or goes along with her idea. When Helen is reluctant to do something, Louisette leads the way.

I love both kids so very much.

So of course, being an ex-teacher at the school on top of everything else, I spoke to quite a few people about whether Helen and Louisette (and the other girl) would be placed in the same class. Everyone said that of course close friends would not be separated.

Louisette and Helen have had every adult in their life go ON and ON and ON about Kindergarten for months. They’re both happy and excited about it, but have also shown their nerves in different ways. They’ve both been reassured over and over that they’ll be in the same class.

So we show up today, and HELEN IS IN THE OTHER CLASS.

I’m a (non-practising) teacher, so I do understand that stuff happens, and that every parent is obsessed with their own kid. I’m sure that a lot of thought has gone into the way they divided up the two Kindy classes.

Still.

I cried a bunch, and spoke to the department head (and then also to Louisette’s teacher- not because she decided the classes, but to let her know what was going on). They both assured me that the two Kindy classes will do a bunch of stuff together and blah blah blah. Yes, that’s nice. That will be enough that the girls probably won’t consciously realise that we broke our promise to them. A promise that gave them security for the biggest life change they’ve had so far. But I know that neighbouring classes don’t truly play together; they build different identities around their differing classes. I know that I broke my promise to my daughter, and it isn’t a small matter at all. And I know that these two girls could have complemented each other through the entirety of their school careers, through tricky teenage years (literally the reason we picked this particular school) and beyond. But the colleague of mine who separated them may have put their whole lives on a different track.

So, like I said, I’m furious.

I have told Louisette that she and Helen are “neighbours” (Helen’s mum has told Helen the same thing). Both girls are fine, really.

Helen’s mum is reasonably calm—we both really admire one of the more-recent-but-still-very-familiar girls who is in Helen’s class, so hopefully that girl and Helen will grow closer so Helen can have a same-class BFF who’s worthy of her.

Of course I’ve rambled on too much about this, so I need to start a new entry to actually talk about Louisette.

There’s still a chance that the classes will change and Louisette and Helen will be together. But this is a new phase in these girls’ lives, after all—and the biggest change is that their school will now see more of them than their parents, and make more and more decisions that alter their lives and futures. For better or worse.

 

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Two-fifths of TJ

Sick of excessive scrolling through literally hundreds of pics, I’m gathering some of TJ’s baby pics here. It’s two-fifths of TJ because they’re only from his first year, and he’s now two and a half.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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