Aug 29

First Observer production night

Tonight is / was the first production night of the NECC Observer, the student newspaper of Northern Essex Community College. I’m here for my third (fourth?) year, and am the copy and web editor. About half the people are new. So far, I think this is the best batch of new people we’ve had.

And that’s good, because we’re doing more this year than we’ve done at any point in my time here before.

First big thing: we’re getting a website. It isn’t live yet, but is going to be at www.observer.necc.mass.edu.

It’s going to be running on WordPress, which is convenient. But I’ve got no experience with editing other people via Wordpress, and I’ve discovered a new and exciting potential problem: stories go through three or four stages of edits a night, usually right on the InDesign file — so it’s not going to be convenient to get the most-edited version of the story up on the web.

Another exciting challenge is that we’re going to try to get content up on the web regularly, which means delayed publication on the paper, but it also means getting stories online ahead of the issue they’ll be printed in, as well as getting up stories that won’t make it to the paper at all.

The other thing we’re doing is getting a Lawrence Editor.

NECC has three campuses: the Haverhill campus, the Lawrence campus, and the Riverwalk campus, which is also in Lawrence. But the Observer’s press room, and the entire journalism program, are both in Haverhill. So, historically, we’ve done a profoundly bad job of covering things going on in Lawrence.

We did a little better last year, but this year we’re attempting to put ourselves on the spot and devote a whole page every issue exclusively to Lawrence content.

Usually, a first production night runs till about 10 p.m., or much later. It’s 7:45, and we’re basically done — just finishing some last details. So I’m optimistic.

Aug 28

I’m developing a cautious interest in the Bluetones

On today’s episode of “Yo, Is This Racist?” comedian & guest Gaby Dunn talked about her experience with white male comedians failing to live up to basic standards of moral decency. She said,

I don’t think I can support white men doing anything in entertainment wholeheartedly, the way I’d want to, now — because who knows what they’ll do later.

It’s with that sentiment in mind that I’ve been conflicted about getting into the Bluetones.

Like — I really like their music. Slight Return is becoming one of my favorite songs.

But, I haven’t listened to their discography exhaustively. I haven’t really paid attention to all the lyrics in the songs I have listened to. I know barely anything about the artists themselves. Like, I don’t even know their names.

What I’ve seen so far is in that uncomfortable borderline space, where I really like a lot of their music, but some fair chunks sound like they could be interpreted charitably or not — songs like Carnt Be Trusted, I feel like I’d need to know more about the singers’ feelings about women in general and about the subject of the song in particular before I could tell if they’re being creeps or not. And Sleazy Bed Track — the first track of theirs I heard, off the Scott Pilgrim vs. the World soundtrack — all it has going for it in defense is that the title acknowledges that its plot is sleazy.

But I don’t know if they’re singing about asshole dudes because they think it’s important to point out that those kinds of behavior are awful and should stop? Or if they’re exactly those kinds of assholes, and subscribe to the popular logic that if you acknowledge that you’re being a douchebag that’s basically the same as not being a douchebag in the first place?

And I know the only way I’m going to get answers to these questions is by continuing to invest time and energy into exploring their work, which I do want to do, because I’m really enjoying it so far. But when it comes to cishet white dudes, it can kind of feel like taking a deeper interest is like playing a game of minesweeper: the asshole receipts are out there, and the further along I get the bigger a disappointment it’s going to be when I stumble on them.

So, Mark Morriss, Adam Devlin, Scott Morriss, Eds Chesters and Richard Payne (I looked their names up): if you’re reading this, and any of you are racists, sexists, misogynists, homophobes, transphobes, transmisogynists, abusers, or otherwise awful, let me know, okay? It’ll save me some time.

Oh! And same goes for Blur, who I’ve also been listening to a lot lately.

Aug 27

(No title)

it’s been a long day, it’s 10 at night and I am not feeling well. I don’t have anything to blog about or the energy to come up with new content. (I just deleted three paragraphs about a dream I had when I realized it was incredibly boring.)

I promise to not do this again for at least, like, two months.

Aug 26

So close to done!

So today I sat in a Papa Ginos for 3 hours, ate an entire large pizza, and worked on my novel.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before? But I’m hand-writing this whole draft on yellow legal pads. I did the same thing with ( the first draft of this novel | my first novel ) and it worked pretty well, because it really forces the “You can only move forward” feeling that I think is necessary sometimes when writing. The most back-up editing I allowed myself was brief margin notes on the current and previous days’ writing, and, once, cutting the last two or so sentences from the previous day in order to move forward properly.

I’ve just gotten past the climax of the novel, and I think at this point it’s fair to say that it’s definitely the third draft of my first novel, not something new. The story didn’t end up taking me to new and unexpected places, it continued all the way through to be what I intended it to be: a restructuring and tightening of the plot of the previous draft.

(That included: changing who the main character was, who the villain was, what their relationship was, cutting whole characters, arcs, institutions and settings entirely, and adding a lot of cool new stuff that I’m really excited about, including superheroes, an underground city, and nonbinary people with magical plant powers.)

And the climactic scene ended up playing out pretty close to exactly how it did last draft.

After that part, in the first and second drafts of this story, there were just a couple pages of “This is what the heroes did after that,” and barely a reference to what happened next to the character who clearly should have been the main one.

So, I have no idea how the next chunk of the story is going to go. I am officially off the map. But, at least, I should be able to finish this draft before the start of the semester.

Aug 25

running out of memories?

I had a nightmare the other night that my little brother had turned into some kind of monster and was creating a sort of wintery post-apocalyptic hellscape evocative of World War I imagery in which I had to fight to survive, and, hopefully, prevail over his destruction.

After getting over the terror, when I woke up, it was actually pretty reassuring.

Right now I’m working on a draft of a novel into which I’m pouring a ton of my anger about the circumstances of my childhood and early adulthood, and the people I ought to have been able to trust, and by whom I was instead threatened, gaslighted, and occasionally physically harmed.

And I’ve had what I know is a kind of anxiety writers I admire would recognize (because they’ve talked about it) — The fear that there’s no more story in you after this one.

It barely even begins to make sense, but I’ve been afraid that I’m going to use up all the sad in my life, write one good book, and then never be able to accomplish anything written down again. So it was a pretty reassuring experience to have a nightmare reminding me that there are yet-untapped avenues of pathological fear and mistrust in my mind.

Aug 22

semi-laws

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about this article, I Got Myself Arrested So I Could Look Inside the Justice System. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about this passage:

But in between the important cases, I found myself spending most of my time prosecuting people of color for things we white kids did with impunity growing up in the suburbs. As our office handed down arrest records and probation terms for riding dirt bikes in the street, cutting through a neighbor’s yard, hosting loud parties, fighting, or smoking weed – shenanigans that had rarely earned my own classmates anything more than raised eyebrows and scoldings – I often wondered if there was a side of the justice system that we never saw in the suburbs.

I know this isn’t really news to anybody, or groundbreaking legal philosophy or anything, but it’s really important to spend some time sitting with the question: what does it mean for a society to have laws of which everyone, or almost everyone, is guilty, and which are prosecuted selectively?

Cory Doctorow talks about this in one of his talks, Authors@Google: Cory Doctorow,1 describing black market laws in the Soviet Union — since the legal markets sometimes sold nothing but forks, to survive you needed to buy food on the black market. Therefore, everyone was guilty of using black markets. Therefore, if anyone with the authority to arrest anyone wanted to arrest anyone at all, for any reason, they could — and the transgression doesn’t have to be illegal, because they can just charge them for using black markets.

He compared that to piracy laws, that have allowed the entertainment industry to target disruptive programmers and musicians — whose behavior was totally legal — for illegal downloading, which everybody, or almost everybody, is guilty of.

In the video Don’t Talk to Police, (which I recommend,) Officer George Bruch of the Virginia Beach Police Department tells a classroom “I can follow a car for however long I needed to and eventually they’re going to do something illegal.”

Almost nobody doesn’t speed. People drive recklessly. People forget their seatbelts. People forget to signal, people tailgate, and so on. Nobody drives legally — which is how tongue-in-cheek offences like “Driving while black” emerge. Cops can pull over whoever they want, and, it turns out, they mainly want to pull over people of color.

White people, myself included, routinely rely on the common sense of authorities that, while an act might be technically illegal, enacting the proscribed punishment would be absurd. We grow up assuming that everybody can rely on that common sense — that the system as it’s written has its problems, but they’re resolved by the reasonableness of the humans with good intentions that are responsible for enforcing it.

People of Color, LGBTQIAP+ people, and other groups of people who are Othered by the mainstream of society don’t have that protection to the same degree as mainstream, cishet white people.

And, as we’re seeing in Ferguson, Mo. at the moment, it works in the other direction, too. When a white cop shoots an unarmed black teenager while he’s running away with his hands up, then keeps shooting after he’s on the ground and dead, then prevents the family from identifying the body and leaves him in the street for hours, it suddenly becomes common sense to a lot of Americans that, since being a cop is scary, it’s not really reasonable to go through the procedure of taking away that cop’s gun and investigating him. That ambiguity about which laws are really fair to apply manifests in defense of the white cop who used excessive force and murdered a black teenager.

This is a big part of what Thoughtcrime was about in 1984. It wasn’t just the criminilization of beliefs and expressions of belief — it was the existence of a crime of which everyone was guilty, so that in the eyes of the law, no one can reasonably defend themselves. That way, the police can do whatever they want. No one can possibly feel safe to stand up against them; although, as long as you’re not planning on it, it’s pretty easy to feel like you aren’t guilty — because no cop in their right mind would arrest you.

  1. This section starts around 20:30, but for full context start at 19:00.

Aug 21

I’m pretty excited about Frankenstein, M.D.

(Episode 1) (Episode 2) (Episode 3)

This is the new show from Pemberley Digital, the company that brought us the groundbreaking Lizzie Bennet Diaries. (Also, the company that was brought to us by the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Isn’t the internet neat?)

I’m super excited about this show, because — well, because I’ve watched three episodes, and I’m super excited about it.

I was really into the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I think they did an awesome job capturing and modernizing Pride and Prejudice, and keeping up with it was a genuinely fun and exciting experience.

Consequently, I was pretty bummed when I felt less engaged in Welcome to Sanditon, even though Gigi was one of my favorite characters in LBD, and I couldn’t even muster enough interest to keep watching Emma Approved into double digits. (As it happens, I also struggled to watch the movie version of Emma end to end. It ended up being really good, but I think that story naturally engages me less than Pride and Prejudice; I feel I have a lot in common with Lizzie, which I expect is a common experience among book nerds.)

So I’m not just excited to have a cool new series that looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun, and a faithful adaptation of Frankenstein — which I still haven’t gotten around to reading, but which I know isn’t quite the same as the pop culture version of the story.

I’m also excited because I enjoyed liking LBD, and being a part of that community and this new kind of media, vlog-retellings of classic literature. I’m glad I’m going to get to do that again.

Aug 20

The Girl In The Road

Africa is the new India, after India became the new America, after America became the new Britain, after Britain became the new Rome, after Rome became the new Egypt, after Egypt became the new Punt, and so on and so fourth. Now we’re back to Punt.

That’s how Monica Byrne describes the movement of cultural centers throughout history in her novel “The Girl in the Road.”

I had never heard of Punt before. It was an ancient kingdom, which at some point was contemporary to Egypt. It’s part of the bits of history that just don’t get taught, I guess. Clearly it’s important, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never even heard it referred to.

This is one of my favorite things about science fiction — learning new bits of information that are minimally emphasized, if at all, in the narratives of 21st century America, but which could be drastically more important in another context. And, in particular, reading SF about perspectives that are marginalized in 21st century America. “The Girl in the Road” follows the stories of two women, one Indian and one from northwest Africa, both travelling through a world that thoroughly does not revolve around Europe or the United States of America.

Aug 19

wildly optimistic daydreaming

 CGPGrey recently pointed out that employment as a mechanism for distributing resources is unsustainable — we’re, like, a couple years away from huge segments of employment being no longer things that people do.

Watch the video. It’s the second time I’ve linked it so you know it’s important.

In the podcast he co-hosts, Hello Internet, he pointed out that this change is coming way, way faster than we tend to assume — in many states, laws allowing for driverless cars to start taking over for people driving cars are not just in the works: they are passed, and kick in next year.

Not figuratively next year, like people say “Today things are X, but Tomorrow they will be Y.” Literally next year. 2015.

I don’t feel like being depressing in this post right now, though. So instead of talking about how horrible it’s going to be in the space between: (a.) corporation owners getting virtually all of the money because they’ll replace all of their wage earners with single-payment robots; and (b.) the government finally taking that money away from them and giving it to the unemployed, because if they don’t it defeats the purpose of having currency in an economy1; I want to talk about how great it’s going to be after we solve the problem of how we could possibly manage, as a civilization, to distribute our abundant resources to the people in that civilization.

Advantages of systematic unemployment:

  • An end to sleep deprivation: everybody’s lives are radically improved by no longer being constantly in a state of zombified mental strain
  • Better food: let’s be honest, the only reason anyone ever goes to McDonald’s is because they don’t have the time for better food. People could cook for themselves, plan meals, make more adventurous choices with eating, host dinner parties, and cook for all their friends. Cooking is a fun hobby! When people have the time for it and can get ingredients it’s likely to improve everybody’s quality of life.
  • Free time: I got lost trying to calculate how much free time a person has now, but it’s somewhere short of 8 hours per weekday, 16 hours per weekend-day. That’s great, but if you’re sleep deprived most of the time, and you only get that free time after spending a sleep-deprived day doing sub-optimal work, you’re going to be very tired in that free time. Not only does free time just about double if you don’t have a job, but the quality of that time is improved.
  • Decreased stress: Jobs cause a lot of stress. You know what else causes stress? Poverty. Poverty causes tons of stress. People in poverty functionally all have a debilitating chronic illness that is their financially induced stress. But if civilization is set up to provide for people who can’t earn the living to provide for themselves, that source of stress goes away!
    • In case you skipped the video, (go back and watch it, but) this is important: soon, people are going to be unable to provide for themselves, not because they can’t do a job, but because they can’t do any job better than the robots that also do that job, and especially can’t do it cheaper.
  • Education: If there’s basically no job training you can enter that’s going to be productive anyway, why not go to school for stuff that interests you? People could, if provided for, become way more informed about politics, sociology and science, the arts, basically anything — huge areas of human endeavor could be opened up to people who would otherwise never have been able to devote that time and energy to those endeavors.

Now, granted, none of this is going to happen. Based on the trajectory of American politics as they exist today, we’re at like 99% likelihood of just completely disintegrating as a country instead of taking any action that remotely resembles a child’s fridge drawing of what they think they heard somebody say about communism, which rules out any political action that suggests things might be okay if less than 112% of the population has a full-time job.

But, in the hypothetical world where compassion and humanity enter into political discussions, robots taking over for all the jobs is going to be so cool.

  1. protip: money’s for facilitating the exchange of goods and services, not a way for a small group of people to keep score.

Aug 18

All my anger and frustration in a sphere of uniform density on a frictionless plane

I wrote a post here about what’s going on in Ferguson, Missouri, but it was self-indulgent and self-centered so I deleted it. Then, WordPress failed to save all the progress on my second draft.

Central point: here are links to my Tumblr, where I’ve been tagging everything I’ve found about Ferguson.

Ferguson tag, for stuff directly relating to Ferguson in particular

I’m white tag, for issues of race in general, including the two (at least) other incidents of cops murdering unarmed and surrendering Black men and one attempted murder of a Black woman, since Mike Brown was murdered.

Older posts «