Jul 31

I want to talk about music but I don’t know how to talk about music

I’ve written before about having been too embarrassed to get into music in high school – I found out a couple years ago that all my friends were into all the same bands as me, but I was too scared of getting viciously mocked for my taste in music to ever admit I liked anything other than The Beatles, which is safe.

It may be a consequence of that, or it may be that I just don’t have any kind of real music education, but I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about songs for which I have no vocabulary or context.

This is Ana Ng by They Might Be Giants.

It came out in 1988, and is about the absence of a relationship between two people who’ve never met, on opposite sides of the globe.

And I want to talk about the guitar in this song, so bad, and I have no idea how. Like, the best I can think of is that it sounds like the guitar track from a different song, that’s almost this song, but the beats are lined up in different places — like two songs were written with the same template, to the same length and with the same chorus and bridge structure, but then the guitar from Ana Ng was thrown out and the guitar track from this other song was put in. And it’s perfect, because it’s incongruous and unbalanced and still totally makes sense in a way that feels like it shouldn’t.

By the way, those brushes broke. My hands are covered in ink now.

inky hands


I don’t know if it’s because they suck or because I was so pissed off at my family that I broke them while I was trying to fill them up. I also don’t know if the ink I got would bleed less on paper other than watercolor paper.

Jul 30

Covered in bees

Not me. My car. This afternoon, my car was, for some reason, covered in bees. Probably 25-50 of them. I really wish I had taken photos.

I nearly called out of work today, because my car was covered in bees. I’m scared of bees. I’m scared of most bugs, honestly, especially any that have caused me pain. The bees on my car didn’t seem overtly hostile, but they weren’t inanimate. They reacted to my presence. They moved around.

I was late to work. I had to go and get my partner to help. I had no idea what I expected her to do, honestly. The solution she came up with was to get in the car herself (she is much braver than I am in many ways) and drive it around the parking lot until most of the bees had come off. I was able to brave the last three or so, which came off on the highway.

I’m pretty sure none made it into the car.

I think they were there for shade — my car and the car next to mine were both covered, and they were both in the shade of a large tree. I parked very much in the middle of the parking lot at work, away from trees. Still, I’m a bit afraid that when I go out to my car, it’s going to be covered in bees.

Unrelated but Charles Stross recently held a competition on his blog, the winners of which (there would be 5) would receive a signed copy of his new book, The Rhesus Chart. The competition began and ended weeks ago, and was in no way related to any of today’s events.

The object of the competition was to come up with a reason for a disciplinary hearing at The Laundry, the UK’s supernatural secret service. I was one of the winners — number two, in fact. My entry was:

Unacceptable number of bees.

Jul 29

Inking pens

I just read this post, about refillable brush pens, by Jonathan Case.1 Consequently, I’m buying a set of Pentel Waterbrush Pens.

These pens are part of a category of art supplies that I had no idea existed. I was looking, not for them, but for better options in felt-tip brush pens, because my favorite ones come in a small range of colors, are very expensive, and one of them is out of ink, and the new ones I just bought don’t suck, exactly, but are markedly disappointing in the context of the other pens.

I will report back with the quality of the new pens, probably on Friday.

  1. By the way, his name sounds familiar, but I don’t recognize any of his comics’ names, so if he’s known for being a massive asshat or abuser or something let me know and I’ll remove the link and named reference.

Jul 28

So I guess I have an OTP

I watched the first Captain America movie last night, and so today I’ve spent a ton of time thinking about the Avengers and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I realized, on the ride home from work today, that I ship Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson really hard.

A tumblr I follow, Fandoms and Feminism, has spent a fair amount of time on the subject of why Steve Rogers should be bisexual, and there are a lot of awesome bi!Steve headcanon posts under her bisexual Steve Rogers tag. There have been some pretty long posts that I can’t easily find right now about Rogers being from a place in NYC that at the time he was there would have been an epicenter of gay culture. Some folks have pointed out that Sam and Steve’s relationship in Winter Soldier is played beat-for-beat like a romantic comedy. And Samuel L. Jackson has said that Chris Evans is the first LGBT Captain America.

I realized the particular importance of this ship, to me, today, because on my drive home I was thinking about the possibility, however distant, of the new Avengers movie next year featuring a canonical relationship between Steve and Sam, and I got choked up. I literally almost started crying.

For the record: my other OTP is Felicity and Oliver in Arrow.

Jul 25

People being blatantly contemptuous of their own format while asking other people for money

So in the past couple days, I’ve had to deal with:

A strike that isn’t a strike, in which workers are refusing to (a.) form a union, (b.) call what they’re doing a strike, or (c.) actually ask for the things they want.

They’re demanding that the recently ousted CEO be returned to his position, because he prioritized benefits, career opportunities for low-level workers, and profit sharing. Now, they’re not-striking, not for any of those things, but just to demand that guy’s job back. And there have literally been commentators, including politicians, talking about how great it is what they’re doing, because ‘it’s not about getting benefits, it’s not about greed, it’s about loyalty.’

And, a Kickstarter campaign that opens with a video about how kids these days spend too much time at computers (know your audience, right?) only offers two reward tiers under $100, and only offers thank-you notes for them. I think you had to pledge $250 or something to get a T-shirt.

I have been annoyed.

Jul 24

Trans magic

In the story I’m currently working on, magic is a cultural force — that is, fields of magical ability grow out of specific cultures and subcultures. I’m doing it this way for two reasons: One, because it’s an alternate-present real-world setting, and this way magic can’t be an organized, industrialized, capitalized system, so it break the implicit world building of just having most of the real world intact; and two, because this way the use of magical abilities or magic-species things as a metaphor for representation can’t ever be done without having actual, real-life representation.

So, my protagonist (a trans woman) just met one of the ‘earth children’ (name possibly to be changed later) — a subculture of teenage nonbinary people, who mostly know each other through the internet, and who are mostly homeless, having been kicked out of their homes when their magical status became undeniably evident. The earth children, around when they would normally have gone through puberty, grew and matured in a more-or-less androgynous way, and acquired earth or plant-like characteristics.

The earth child my protag, Zooey, met is called Hollyseed, and sie grows a fine, dark, long grass instead of hair. Other earth children I have in mind are a kid with patches of bark on zir arms and chest, a kid with stone-like skin, and a kid with soft bioluminescence.

There are, or are going to be, other kinds of trans, queer, LGBTQIAP+ and MOGAI magics, but apart from the earth children all I’ve come up with so far is strong disguise magic for kids staying in the closet. Anybody got any other ideas?

Jul 23

The Contemporary Foxwife, by Yoon Ha Lee

I’ve started listening to short stories again. After a long period where I found myself failing to pay attention to them every time I got in my car, I had given up on audio fiction for a little while. But now I’ve come back to it, and that’s good news, because I want to strongly urge all my followers to go read or listen to “The Contemporary Foxwife,” by Yoon Ha Lee, on Clarkesworld.

Because it’s adorable.

Not that there’s nothing in it but adorableness, but it’s kind of a platonic-magical-romance story with strong themes of the struggle of retaining cultural identity within a hegemonic culture.1 And it takes place in the distant future, and in space.

Also, there’s a nonbinary character! Osthen-of-White Falcon (whose name I thought was Austen through the whole story, because it was audio — I only just discovered it isn’t) is the roomate of  Kanseun Ong, the protaganist. They are really well written, and not at all made out to be entirely defined by their gender.

Again, the story is “The Contemporary Foxwife,” by Yoon Ha Lee, and it’s available for free as text or audio at Clarkesworld Magazine’s website.

  1. Note: I’m white, so I’m very much speaking from outside the realm of experience of clashing with European ethnic identity.

Jul 22

The sun should be illegal

It’s so hot out. I can’t express to you how hot it is out right now. Like, it’s so hot out that I’ve been inside, with air conditioning, for the past 10 minutes and I still can’t think about anything but how damn hot I just was. How much residual heat it feels like there is, still sitting there, in my ears and under my skin. I don’t know. Maybe I have a fever or something. It’s 85 degrees Fahrenheit right now, where I am. Is that hot? I’m sure there’s someone from some other part of the world (probably Texas) who would tell me that it’s basically winter for them at this temperature.

I don’t know if I’m also really tired (pretty sure I am) or overwhelmed from work (maybe a little bit) or hungry (I’ve had a loaf of bread and some ice cream today) or thirsty (I’ve had three cans of coconut water and nothing else) but the heat right now is like the camel was one piece of straw away from breaking and you threw on a whole nother bale. (Does straw come in bales? Is that just hay?)

And I spent all day calling business professors about the strike at Market Basket. My article should be out tomorrow, I might link it. Basically, it’s exhausting to try and write fairly and evenly about my feelings on a consumer boycott (read: lots of folks loudly recommending that individual people go shop somewhere else maybe, but nobody organizing clear, specific methods of getting folks in poverty the food they need so they can join in) and a worker definitely-not-a-strike-nope-nosiree-don’t-use-the-’S'-word-here, all entirely focused on getting a rich guy his job back, because he generally leans towards giving the employees benefits.

And it’s too freaking hot out.

Jul 21

Disorganized thoughts on place

Yesterday I had one of those moments where you notice something obvious and it feels like a mind-blowing revelation. I was hanging out in my friend’s office, thinking about whether to leave and go to Barnes & Noble for a little bit, not really wanting to be there anymore, or be in my car, or go back to my house, which is 20 minutes away from there and is unpleasant to be at, when I realized all of a sudden that I literally always have to be in some particular physical place.

Like, going from A to B? Gotta be in all the places that constitute the path between them. Going to sleep? My body literally stays there, just laying around, for like eight hours. Don’t want to be where I am right now? Got to pick a whole nother place to go and be, instead.

I’ve been thinking about the sensation off and on all day. It reminds me of my depression, years ago, when I was unmedicated and in a more hostile environment. There were times where the feeling that I was feeling was “I don’t want to be here,” but there was no possible solution to it — like, I couldn’t imagine that there was any place in existence that I would want to just go and be.

Topics surrounding this theme have bothered me for a long time. Like, my home town doesn’t have any places in it that are public property. There are some parks, sure, but they all close at sundown, and they’re full of nature, and exposed to the elements. Every other public-ish space is owned by a company, and you’re only allowed in it under the condition that you at least feign an active interest in giving the place money.

And I think about it when I’m reading a lot, too. I’m pretty sure the thing in a story that can make me feel the most awful without causing me to put down the book is when it opens with establishing that a disenfranchised character has some kind of safe, loving, protected home, and then at the end of chapter one it’s destroyed, and they spend the rest of the book both homeless and mourning the loss of their home.

I don’t have any kind of point I’m building to, here, and I’m almost out of time before I have to clock in at work. So, here are some other topics I’m just going to throw out in case I get the chance to pick up this thread again later:

  • How do spaces online differ from physical spaces? How can I discuss this difference without collapsing into digital dualism?
  • What do I actually want in a public space, apart from “They aren’t constantly trying to get you to spend money?”
  • Vague prompt: the relationship between this concept of ‘space’ and the concept of ‘property.’ Maybe look into Georgism.

Jul 18

Thoughts on the latest Snowden interview, via the Guardian

Here’s the interview, “I spy: Edward Snowden in exile,” on the Guardian’s website. The excerpts are in order of their appearance in the post.

He feels the world has got some things wrong about him, but even so he would rather not correct the record publicly. He was exasperated to be marked down as a conservative libertarian, for example (he is, he says, more moderate than has been reported), but declines to be more specific about his actual politics. It would simply alienate some people, he believes.

I’m really curious about Snowden’s political beliefs, but I’ll take ‘not a libertarian’ as kind of a win.

Snowden doesn’t like the haystack metaphor, used exhaustively by politicians and intelligence chiefs in defence of mass data collections. “I would argue that simply using the term ‘haystack’ is misleading. This is a haystack of human lives. It’s all the private records of the most intimate activities, that are aggregated and compiled again and again, and stored for increasing frequencies of time.

Bolding mine. This was just a great line.

“Many of the people searching through the haystacks were young, enlisted guys, 18 to 22 years old. They’ve suddenly been thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility, where they now have access to all your private records. In the course of their daily work, they stumble across something that is completely unrelated in any sort of necessary sense – for example, an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising situation. But they’re extremely attractive. So what do they do? They turn around in their chair and they show a co-worker. And their co-worker says, ‘Oh, hey, that’s great. Send that to Bill down the way’, and then Bill sends it to George, George sends it to Tom, and sooner or later this person’s whole life has been seen by all of these other people.”

Just in case anyone was unclear: the sharing of nude photos found in people’s private files is not a hypothetical awkward possibility of NSA surveillance, it’s a common, routine part of the job that all of the real people who do that job take part in.

“What last year’s revelations showed us was irrefutable evidence that unencrypted communications on the internet are no longer safe. [...] Journalists have to be particularly conscious about any sort of network signalling; any sort of connection; any sort of licence plate-reading device that they pass on their way to a meeting point; any place they use their credit card; any place they take their phone; any email contact they have with the source. Because that very first contact, before encrypted communications are established, is enough to give it all away.” To journalists, he would add “lawyers, doctors, investigators, possibly even accountants. Anyone who has an obligation to protect the privacy of their clients is facing a new and challenging world.

I nearly emphasized almost every line in this quote, but I settled on the one that was the reason I copied it over here.

He cites the German Stasi as an organisation staffed by people who thought they were “protecting the stability of their political system, which they considered to be under threat. They were ordinary citizens like anyone else. They believed they were doing the right thing. But when we look at them in historic terms, what were they doing to their people? What were they doing to the countries around them? What was the net impact of their mass, indiscriminate spying campaigns?”

This one in particular just struck me in a really stark, horrifying way. In context of the earlier statements, that the NSA is collecting things like private photos, that metadata is extremely easy to use to draw out a lot of information, and how easy it is for people to walk out of the NSA with data they aren’t technically authorized to take — even if you believe that the government wouldn’t use that kind of database to target closeted LGBTQIAP+ people or people with unpopular religious or political affiliations, which they definitely already do — it looks very, very possible for a differently-motivated individual to hand over life-threatening information to hate groups.

So, that’s one of the things I’m grateful for about the Snowden leaks — that the person who walked out with all that information didn’t post it on 4chan.

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