Tag Archives: ruminations

RaceFail and assorted interweb fuckbiscuitery

Sooo, RaceFail. Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe you haven’t. In a nutshell, it’s a huge debate going on, mostly on LJ, between people involved in SF/F. It seems to have turned into an industry vs fans thing, but I’ve given up trying to label it. 

It started off being just about ‘writing the other’, then it turned into a giant mess with valuable bits of insight here and there. Mostly it’s just a mess, though.

I’ve been wanting to post about it for a while. It started in January, and it’s still going on. For a long time, I wasn’t sure what to say. Racism is bad? Duh. Racism is really bad and it sucks that half the time, people don’t even realise they’re discriminating? That’s better, but it’s still got a worryingly high duh-quotient.

What really opened my eyes was an entirely different debate I got involved in. It was regarding mental issues, and I got extremely angry. I hardly ever get angry nowadays, so yeah, this is something that really gets under my skin. 

The part of the discussion that really opened my eyes, was when someone tried to equate the suffering of someone with these issues to that of someone without these issues. Of course, these people can suffer the same amounts, but not in the same way. I didn’t feel I was able to make that clear to other people.

Then it dawned on me. That’s exactly the point that I wasn’t getting in the whole RaceFail thing. 

There were plenty of posts and comments in that giant crumbly fuckbiscuit that essentially came down to, ‘Hey POC, stop whining because other people suffer too’. Sure, other people suffer too. There’s a whole lot of suffering in the world, and it’s not limited to people of a specific ethnicity.

But you know what? If you’ve got the privilege of being white, you’re never going to know what POC feel when they’re discriminated against just because they don’t look white enough. You might have experiences that are just as awful, but they won’t be that experience.

With that realisation came another: this is what was meant when people said that some individuals were trying to make it about themselves. The discussion is about people not being treated with respect, it’s not a competition to see who’s suffered most. It’s about combating discrimination, not trying to tell those who feel discriminated against to stfu because omg, this privileged person has suffered way more than you.

Because of how I felt last night, I’ve become extremely aware of my own privilege, as a straight white woman living in a Western country. I think that’s an extremely important step towards becoming a fairer person. When you have the privileges I do, it’s easy to forget that hey, there are people with different experiences, and not everyone has it as easy as this. 

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s ignorance, especially when I’m the one guilty of it.

ETA: I’ve made it about me, I’m an idiot. My apologies to anyone I may have offended with this short-sighted and frankly stupid post.

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Hello, my name is Leah

And I am a language snob.

I got called one the other day, and I have to admit, I think I am. I really do think it’s important that people with the opportunity/ability are able to spell and apply grammatical rules.

I think language is a big deal. Not only because I love to read and write–that’s just me, I know that. But the thing is, nowadays, a large part of the average Dutch/English speaker’s daily communication is text-based.

No, I don’t think perfect spelling and grammar is vital to casual communication, but I am constantly surprised by the fact that this constant exposure to text does not help, or at least stimulate a lot of people’s language skills. Neither does the fact that now, when you can email people your CV or motivation for applying for a job/grant/whatever, it is vital to make a good impression with what you write.

Yes, I realise that a lot of people are too lazy to spell properly. But time and again, I see people who don’t realise that they’re making fundamental mistakes–misspelling common words, or even conjugating verbs incorrectly. 

I tend not to comment on individual cases, so I don’t find out if the person in question suffers from dyslexia. But, really, what are the chances of so many people having that perfectly valid reason?

I know that it’s stupid to get annoyed by something like this. And yes, this very likely does make me a snob when it comes to language. But I still don’t think language is rocket science, and that it’s ridiculous that people (with no valid reason for having problems with language) who’ve had the privilege of getting an education can’t spell five-letter words.

Then there’s the fact that I’m also something of a prescriptivist when it comes to language. I like rules. I know language is something that is constantly evolving, and so it’s futile to wave a dictionary around and shout that everybody’s doing it wrong. When it comes to language, change is inevitable, and, I think, beneficial. Sure, the new orthography or grammar might seem jarring or flat-out ugly, but in the long term it’s making it easier for the speakers of the language to communicate, which is the whole point of having a language in the first place.

So, doesn’t this cancel out the fact that I think proper spelling is important? After all, isn’t that essentially just clinging on to the dictionary for dear life?

No. There is a time and a place for linguistic innovation, and that time is not office hours, and that place is not where formal interactions are to be found.

The evolution of language is just like any other kind of evolution: slow. Really, really slow. It’s not like a Tyrannosaurus shat out a chicken one day. Until ‘nite’ is accepted as a better spelling than ‘night’ (I have to agree with that–I might think the old spelling is prettier, but the new spelling makes much more sense), people who use ‘nite’ and other informal variants are going to look like they can’t spell, which affects the way other people view them.

Anyway, those are my current thoughts on why it’s important to be able to spell properly. If that makes me a language snob–well, so be it.

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Fiction is better than real life

I just got back from seeing The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I took Leonoraaah out, my treat. It was her birthday yesterday.

All through the movie, I kept thinking about The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson. When I read that book, I felt like it gave me a fresh perspective and a healthy (and much-needed) dose of optimism.

This movie did the same. I won’t bore you with what I loved so much, because you just have to see it for yourself. But I feel like it’s put me on the right path again.

The past few weeks–no, scrap that, months–I’ve felt lost. I’ve been a very small person living in a very big and very confusing head. I’ve been erratic, especially socially (sorry friends who’ve not heard much from me), and I’ve been stuck in a huge rut.

It might sound stupid, but I really fell in love with this movie, like I fell in love with The Gargoyle. Seeing something so beautiful, that makes me feel so happy, both in general and about myself and life, it is a bit like developing a sudden and intense fascination or crush.

I’ve always found it easier to fall in love with stories than with people. I’ve been falling in love with stories all my life, though never quite as strongly as now. I could have a horribly disfiguring accident after holding a firecracker for too long and still count the amount of times I’ve fallen in love with a person on a single singed hand.

Anyway, I feel energised and hopeful. Hopefully this’ll help me get back to my old, more sociable and optimistic self.

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Monsters that scare me

Everyone has something they’re scared of when they’re little, right? Whether it’s that dog you’re convinced is out to get you, or a certain room, or the thing that is obviously living under your bed even though your parents don’t believe you and try to pacify you with stupid stuff like ‘he can’t get you if you keep your teddy bear with you’? 

I had that with two things. First of all, it was aliens. Yeah, the little grey men with the freakishly big eyes. I read a few books about alien abductions one time when I was about seven or eight, and it scarred me. I went through this whole period where I had to have Big Ted and Gerald (two cuddly toys that were as big as me) sleep on either side of me so that the aliens couldn’t get me. If I heard noises outside, it was a space ship hovering there. (In my mind, the aliens were polite enough to wait till I fell asleep before doing their gruesome experiments on me.) 

All that stopped, thank goodness. It’s not let me go entirely, though. Sometimes it’s all too easy to imagine creepy little guys from outer space come running at me from the dark room I’m about to leave behind to go to bed. And typing that sentence made me a little nervous.

The second thing I was terrified of is, if it’s even possible, more embarrassing: dead Japanese people. I dated a huge geek in my teens, and we spent a lot of our time watching Asian horror movies. The one that really messed with my head was Ju-On, the one that The Grude was based on. It reinforced the horrible image in my head that had been planted by the Japanese Ring movies (only the original and the prequel, the others sucked). I don’t know what it is about fragile women with lots of black hair contorting their bodies jerkily, but it’s enough to make me scream like the wimpy girly-girl that I am.

Again, that stopped. I almost miss those times, though. Now the monsters that keep me up at night are much worse because they’re real, and everyone has to deal with them. Everyone in the past has had to deal with them, too, and there’s still no magical remedy. It’s not a case of keeping your eyes closed as you put your bike in the shed at night, or keeping Big Ted and Gerald close. 

And that’s why I like writing about monsters. It’s like dealing with real life, but with protective gloves on. I’m not writing about being afraid of my family dying, I’m writing about zombies. I’m not writing about being afraid of what the bloody point of it all is, I’m writing about shoggoths. And I’m just not writing about aliens, because they still sort of scare the shit out of me.

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Ashamed?

I’m currently sitting in the university canteen, working on the same essay as I was yesterday. I’m actually doing the analysis now, and it’s going a lot better than I initially though. I’m at 1700 words, and I’ve only done one of the six points of analysis I need to. I’ll probably have to kill a load of decorative, typically Leah-like language once I’m done, but alas, so be it.

The canteen is pretty empty, but flocks of girls come and go, chattering and giggling, which is quite distracting. (The male students are of the silent and brooding variety, which is distracting in an entirely different way.) In order to drown out the inanity, I’m listening to some tunes.

On a whim, I put on Unplugged in NY, by Nirvana. I haven’t listened to Nirvana properly in years, and I’d forgotten how much I like this album. Why hadn’t I listened to it for so long?

Shame. That’s it, basically. I got embarrassed when I thought of the fact that I used to really like Nirvana. Oh, dear, at one point I was an angsty fifteen-year-old girl, how very dare I.

In my first proper literature seminar, I was too ashamed to admit that I like horror fiction, even though my tutor was a self-proclaimed horror buff. Up until last year or so, I stuck to a uniform of boring jeans-and-jumpers. (No offence to people who always wear jeans and jumpers; it’s just not my style.) Now I constantly talk about Lovecraft and King, I wear my almost exclusively greyscale skirts and tops, and I wear my nerd glasses. I’ve also got my ‘I want to be Neil Gaiman’ hair going on.

If the quiet, broody guy sitting on the benches over there found out that I was listening to Something in the Way, I’d probably still blush a little, but I’d get over it. The thing is, at a certain point, I realised that it really doesn’t matter if you like ‘immature’ things like angsty rock music, pulpy books, or kooky clothes. And no, not just because I also like highbrow stuff. 

Sure, I can give you intellectual reasons for liking the stuff I do, and I can counter any accusation of tastelessness by pointing out that I’m also a lover of ‘fine literature’ and ‘proper culture’. I can read Latin and everything.

Liking certain types of media or culture doesn’t say anything about you as a person. I am not the fifteen-year-old bucket of angst that I was when I first listened to Unplugged in New York. Taste and expressions thereof do not determine  your personal worth, nor does it say anything about your intelligence.

Some of the smartest people I know like ‘low culture’. Some of the biggest knobs I know swear by ‘great literature’.

I’m still glad I’m listening to Nirvana using headphones, though.

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Lit theory: more than just pretentious tosh

It’s actually useful pretentious tosh.

As I was trudging through the trappings of Marxism and Lacanian psychology, I came to a useful personal insight.

One of the things suggested by the myriad articles I’d read was that I am constantly presented with ideals that I believe will make me feel happy–whole, if you will. However, this won’t be the case, because it’s part of the human condition to feel a constant lacking of something you can’t quite put your finger on.

According to Freud, we feel this lacking because when we’re tiny, we discover that our mum doesn’t have a todger, but that’s neither here nor there.

Anyway, we constantly try to find fulfillment through the achievement of whatever the ideology we’ve been interpellated by tells us our desire should be: a perfect relationship, a perfect figure, a fantastic paycheck.

But, apparently none of that will work. Because this feeling of something not being quite right is part of the human condition.

And, well, apparently we’re never going to be happy until our mothers start sprouting family jewels.

It’s comforting to know that, until sex-reassignment surgery is a damn sight cheaper, this feeling of ‘not enough’ is normal.

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My own unreliable narrator

Some of the people who read this may already know, but I’ve got exams coming up. In fact, I’ve got one in fourteen hours from now. (Yes, I just got back from the pub. Shh.)

It’s all literature, which makes it a little more bearable. One of the novels I had to study was The Good Soldier by Ford. It’s got the best kind of narrator: one that’s unreliable, but not clearly so.

The great thing about The Good Soldier is that it’s so damned real. The narrator constantly forgets or remembers things, or changes his mind on certain matters. He begins the narrative loving his late wife, and he absolutely despises her by the end. Also, he tells us things without even realising it–the readers all know that his wife is having an affair with his best friend, but he is somehow oblivious.

And that’s what life’s like, isn’t it? We’re all bloody oblivious to things, or we see things that we want to see. Each and every one of us is the unreliable narrator of our own lives.

In fact, when you think about it, there’s no such thing as a reliable narrator (if we exclude 3rd person omniscient, naturally). All we ever get are versions of reality. We never get the actual thing. Never. Not in our own lives, not when we’re told stories by our friends or our great authors.

But this is getting very Platonic, so I’m going to quit. Beer and philosophy rarely mix.

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