Elizabeth Bear's Blog
April 5, 2016
In the dream, I'm Jennifer Walters (otherwise known as the Savage/Sensational She-Hulk, esq.), and I'm standing in a big open room in a government office type building with Wonder Woman and another female super hero. (I don't remember who the other one was. Yes, it must be a Marvel/DC crossover) It must be the '80s, because I'm complaining about how NATO gets all the good superheroes (Captain America, Superman) and the Eastern Bloc nations are stuck with losers like The Red Scare. (Who was a very tongue-in-cheek Tick villain, so it must be a Marvel/DC/NEC crossover, come to think of it.)
A ruckus starts up outside. Sounds of combat, car alarms. I Hulk out, and try to run and jump through the window to get down to the fight. (We're several stories up, but hey, that's just an opportunity in the dream for an iconic superhero action crouch landing!) But for some reason, when I hit the window, instead of shattering, it stretches around me elastically and sort of snaps me back. Wonder Woman grouses about the "goddamn superhero-proof glass" on these new government buildings. (NB, I don't think Diana would actually say "goddamn.")
I say, "No problem," and run through the cement support instead. It's like running through thick yogurt: it just kind of pushes out of the way. It's good being a Hulk.
I jump and land. As I look up, I see a sprawling superhero battle. I also see workers engaged in wrapping the building I just exited in another layer of superhero-proof glass, which looks like a giant roll of that shipping cling film they use to palletize stuff.
That's when the phone woke me, alas.
When I related this dream to Scott, he said, "I am picturing the building after this fight is done as an enormous pile of concrete rubble held together by 'goddamn superhero-proof glass.'"
April 3, 2016
In other news, Scott Lynch and I will be appearing at the KGB Bar in New York City (that's in the East Village) at 7 pm on April 20th. I hope to see many of you there!
Also, I'm working on sorting out new webhosting and a site design for elizabethbear.com. Yes, I know it's down. I've had some hosting issues, and in the process decided the whole thing had gotten unwieldy and needed a revamp. In the meantime, you can find me here, at my patreon, and on twitter.
Now on to the meat of the thing. Imma show you something!
This is my Fitbit's resting heart rate data for part of February through today. So what you've probably noticed is a steep decline from a high of 87 (which was February 18th, the day we actually got the final, formal mortgage approval... five days before our closing) to a low of 59, which was the day after I got my stuff moved, March 22nd. So that's a drop of 28 beats per minute over the course of a month, roughly.
Also I had pneumonia. Did I mention that? It's much better now, and I'm trying to get some cardio conditioning back, since the terrible foot is also behaving better. Let's hear it for cortisone shots. What a difference.
Anyway, it turns out that that level of stress plays havoc with your ability to get anything else done. I've barely written a word so far this year--one short story and a nonfiction piece on Frankenstein for a new ASU edition--and then there's the recovery period. And the recovery period from the con I was at last weekend.
Anyway, I'm starting to get myself untangled from myself, as it were. I have been thinking about how to open a short story and a novella, both of which I started in the wrong place while I was too stressed out to do my job to the best of my ability, and now I have to go back and unpick a lot of stitches. Still, there are no wasted words.
Sometimes I think that one of the things that separates a professional from an amateur is the willingness to just pitch something that isn't working out and start over from scratch. I throw out so many things. Some of them I'm sad to see go, but what I replace them with is almost always better.
Hope all of you out there in radioland are keeping well.
March 30, 2016
As a point of travel etiquette, I think it would behoove just about everybody to adopt the following checked-luggage protocol:
For the love of Mike, people, stand back from the luggage carousels. (Unless you are disabled in some way, in which case do what you gotta do.)
Stand back. Make a wide ring. If everyone did this, then you would have adequate space for everybody to stand, and adequate visibility to spot your luggage coming down the conveyor.
When you see your luggage, I promise you you will then be able to step forward at your leisure, check the tag, and retrieve your bag without having to fight through a scrum. And then leave.
Crowding the carousel down not actually make the guys in the back load your luggage onto the belt faster. And you cannot actually get your luggage until it is on the belt, did you know that?
Crowding the belt also slows down your ability to get your damn bag, because you can't see it coming. You have literally nothing to lose by being polite and taking three steps back.
Also, do not step in front of other people waiting for their luggage unless you actually see your luggage on the belt. Seriously, it's rude. It's probably even ruder than reclining your chair on non-overnight flights.
If everybody were to work together on this, and adopt it as a standard of behavior applicable to all, it would lower checked luggage irritation by a median of 45%.
March 8, 2016
If you want to do a thing, do it now, or as soon as feasible. Because there might not be a later.
If it is a complicated or expensive or hard thing that takes many stages or has a steep learning curve, start working on the parts you can work on while you can work on them, then move on to the next thing. Accept that there will be a lot of failures along the way, and that you can come back from nearly any mistake that doesn't involve making a left turn in front of an oncoming semi. Concentrate on yourself and what you can do, and don't rely on other people to fix things for you, even though you might love them or they you. (This doesn't mean you can't love friends or family or partners. Friends and family and partners, in the long run, are the thing other than Useful Work and Adventures that make life worthwhile. Well, all that, and a really nice coffee and tea kit in the kitchen and the skill to use it. But that last thing isn't terribly expensive unless you make it be.)
But to succeed at a thing--a job, a relationship--in the long term, the thing is: You Must Commit, even though commitment is scary. And commitment is scary because once you're in you're in. It's not bobbing around close to the shore, paddling with your feet. It's both feet and swimming as hard as you can out where the rip currents and the sharks are, where the water turns blue.
You can't hold back because you're afraid of getting hurt: you have to accept that you are going to get hurt, and put your hand in the fire of your own free will.
It's like climbing. You can make sure you've got good ropes and a belayer you trust (you SHOULD make sure you have good ropes and a belayer you trust!), but there's moves you can't make unless you're willing to risk falling. I'm not saying follow your bliss off a cliff, in other words: part of being prepared and committed is having the right kit, whether it's money in the bank for the lean times when starting off as a freelancer, or a partner who supports your work, or being young enough that starving in a cold room for a few years with pneumonia is romantic (I have the T-shirt!).
That's why it's scary. It's scary because you are taking an actual chance.
But: things don't work out the way you want them to if you just kind of drift along seeing what will happen. Nice things might happen! ...but they didn't, for me.
Basically, what I figured out was that I had to be a protagonist if I wanted anything to happen, and part of being a protagonist was accepting that I might fail. And then have to deal with that failure. And that if I didn't do it I would more or less inevitably fail, but I could pretend to myself that it wasn't because I wasn't good enough and that I didn't know why.
Seeking success, in other words, meant letting go of a layer of ego defense.
This realization directly led to me having the career I always wanted, and doing pretty well at it.
It also led to me having the best relationship of my life. I wish I'd learned it when I was sixteen, rather than twenty-nine, but I had some things I had to work through first.
So that thing you want to do? Assuming it’s not illegal or immediately fatal? Do it now.
February 22, 2016
If I am a guest at a convention you are attending, or simply a fellow attendee, and you feel that you have been harassed, intimidated, or that your boundaries have been trampled or ignored, please feel free to ask me for support, help, intervention, or just an escort to a safer area or backup on the way to talk to convention or hotel security.
If you do not feel that you can stick up for yourself, I will help. I will be a buffer or a bulwark if necessary or requested.
Just walk up to me and ask for Leverage, and I promise that I will take you seriously and I'll try to make things better.
February 19, 2016
Representation is important because everybody needs to see themselves reflected in art. It's validating. It tells us we have a right to exist. And more than that, it tells other people we have a right to exist. And the important thing is not that any one artistic version of a member of an under-represented or habitually erased group is perfect, because it's impossible for any single character to adequately reflect the experiences of an entire group of people.
See, the funny thing is, it turns out that people of color and queer people and women and genderqueer people and disabled people... we're not types. We're not categories. We're individuals with certain characteristics and we may have very different attitudes and philosophies and relationships with those characteristics.
So, saturation matters. We need a lot of stories with different kinds of people in them, and not just a token stereotype, one per book or movie or TV show.
And actually, finally seeing yourself as a protagonist or a significant character in art is a tremendously empowering experience. Seeing yourself reflected makes you feel real and noticed, and it's important.
Finding yourself in a story for the first time is like looking into a mirror and seeing that, at last, you exist. You take up space and you are real. It's incredibly exhilarating just to know you're not alone. Not the only one. And that other people see you and acknowledge that you are real.
I think a lot of straight white guys don't understand this because they have never not seen themselves. They have no experience with being marginalized, pushed out of the frame, unpersoned. There's five or ten white guys to every black guy or woman, and let's not even talk about the representation of queer, trans, Asian, Latino, or disabled characters... or any other even more vanished groups.
And if you haven't never seen yourself, it's very hard to understand how disempowering it is for other people not to see themselves in art.
So they don't get why people get excited to find a character they identify with, and might like a book or a movie just for that reason. It's not political correctness; it's not pushing an agenda; it's not judging a story by whether it reflects one's politics. It's being happy to find a place where you feel welcome and understood.
And that's part of what everybody looks for in art. It's just harder for some of us to find it, so when we do, we get even more excited.
Black people are not used to seeing futures on TV where they just exist. Women are not used to seeing worlds where we make up 51% of the fictional population. (We make up 51% of the real world population, so why is there exactly one woman with speaking role in some entire galaxies?)
And those men who are very used to not just seeing themselves, but dominating entire narratives--well, some of them are really great about it, once they notice what's going on. Some try to fix it and make room for everybody.
But some react defensively, angrily: some see it as chipping away at their space when other people get some too. Rather than realizing, "Hey, this feeling of there not being a place for me hurts. Maybe I shouldn't do it to others!" or thinking, "Hmmm, maybe this thing isn't for me, but there's stuff over here that is for me!" they angrily oppose the existence of the thing that challenges what they perceive as their right to exist.
It's just that for the rest of us, it feels like they are insisting on their right to dominate the conversation. Even in corners where nobody asked for their opinion. because we were making our own fun.
The thing is, art is a big tent, and it expands to include everybody. It's not a zero-sum game, especially in the current era of easy content flow around the traditional gatekeepers. The existence and success of Karen Memory does not mean fewer sales for Pat Rothfuss (and Pat knows this: he's enormously supportive of other writers.) It means, rather, that fantasy appeals to a wider range of readers--and a lot of them will like both.
It's also an unfair burden on the marginalized to expect them (us) to carry all the water of representation. I believe in reading widely, challenging my own default narratives, and reading stories by writers who are not necessarily speaking to or from my comfort zone. I believe in supporting writers who have come to science fiction through nontraditional routes or from nontraditional backgrounds. But I also believe in presenting diversity in my own writing. Because the world is diverse, and in writing that I am just writing the world I experience.
The true world.
So if you're feeling nervous that you might never get to be in the spotlight by somebody else, don't be. At the very worst, you'll have to share it, perhaps. Or we can set up a lot of spotlights and shine them around.
I believe the future has a lot of different kinds of people in it, and it will expand to make room for us all.
In other news, hey, closing on the house on Tuesday. Other productivity today included getting all the utilities set up. This was a long road, and I'm really glad we're coming to the end of this portion of it. There's still moving two people to handle, of course, but that's a problem for a different day. As is a quantity of rather elderly beige carpeting and some wallpaper and paint...
February 18, 2016
One of the things I've realized that I need to work on in order to develop a healthier relationship with my job involves certain toxic aspects of the professional writing/publishing culture that I've done an overly good job of internalizing. And I'm trying to scrape it out of my soul, because in the long term it winds up being the opposite of productive when dealing with a creative career.
Some of that is a competition thing: "Writer X turns in three books a year and I'm a slacker if I don't, too!" And that's not great, honestly, and the sheer pressure to produce isn't great, either, and doesn't necessarily lead to good work. One has to think up new things to say between books, after all, or one ends up writing the same book over and over again. No use in that.
I think there's a certain bravado of culture among may writers that is actively toxic in a lot of ways. And it's tied to the NaNoWriMo kind of mode of "produce a bunch of stuff really fast, lather rinse repeat" pressure, and also the "THIS JOB SUCKS AND WE'RE WARRIORS FOR DOING IT" thing. It's this weird Puritan machismo in suffering.
I mean, you don't learn to write well by turning out 50K in a month once a year. It's the two pages a day or whatever that get you there. Constant practice, as with any art. And mammals don't respond well to punishment for performance. If we do a thing and the result is horrible, we generally avoid doing that thing again.
So when we punish ourself for performing by setting ourselves unreasonable goals and having impossible expectations and never acknowledging our successes? Cue anxiety and avoidance behavior.
Seriously. From now on, if I get some writing done, I'm not going to bemoan how insufficient my effort was. I'm going to have a piece of chocolate instead.
If you work for yourself and your job sucks, it might be because you have a shitty boss. Or it might be because you are suited to different work than what you're doing.
I have literally dig ditches for a living (and mucked out stalls, and done several other extremely physical and occasionally nasty jobs), and I suspect most of the people who are like "hur hur sure writing isn't hard, try digging ditches," probably have not done both. The thing is, they're both hard. Digging ditches is physically exhausting and can be quite painful, especially in hot or cold weather. But while it's meticulous work (This surprises people who haven't done it, but ditches are dug for reasons, and those reasons affect the way they slope, or how the sides are shaped, and digging ditches does in fact involve a certain amount of work with a plumb line and a level. These days they probably use lasers.) it doesn't necessarily use a lot of executive and creative function the way writing does.
Writing requires mental rest.
Digging ditches requires physical rest.
And I'm totally talking about myself here, because I absolutely have fallen into the anxiety-driven must-produce thing.
And you don't build a career by SUFFERING THROUGH THE AWFULNESS. That's different than having the discipline to get your work done.
(Comments are turned off because I am traveling and don't have time to moderate.)
February 6, 2016
I was asked what I published last year. And of course I'm having server/host issues, so I can't go check my trusty website, which is what I would normally do.
...which is probably why I am being asked, come to think of it.
So! A list, a veritable list! A list, I say!
An Apprentice to Elves (with truepenny)
"The Heart's Filthy Lesson," Old Venus, Dozois and Martin eds
"And the Balance in Blood," Uncanny
Short Stories, 2015
"In Libres," Uncanny
"Margin of Survival" The End Has Come, Adams and Howey, eds
"The Bone War," The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
"Skin in the Game," Future Visions
February 3, 2016
Well, it seemed to be getting better slowly. And then I danced on New Year's Eve and the next day I couldn't walk. I'm a pretty tough girl, and I was in so much pain I had to hop to the bathroom.
So, to make a long story short, I saw an orthopedic surgeon yesterday, and there's very good news: the x-rays are fine, and there's no tendon or bone damage requiring surgery. What I do have is very, very tight calf muscles, which is probably half the fact that I live and run in a really hilly goddamned place, and half that I got slack about my yoga practice starting last year.
The calf muscles pull on the Achilles tendon and the plantar fascia, causing... excruciating pain in my foot!
So I got a cortisone shot (Jiminy Christmas, that hurt. I had one in my bum shoulder before and it was no big deal: this one was fucking agony) and a PT routine, and permission to resume exercise and activity as my pain levels permit.
Er. Once I'm over the pneumonia. You know.
If the PT doesn't work, he says, they can surgically lengthen my calf muscle. So... I think I'm going to try to pick up the pace with my yoga practice.