Cartoon: What Racism Is(n’t) About


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This comic strip deals with the tendency of white people to argue that their personal purity of heart is the essential subject to focus on when the subject is racism.

And this is a tendency I entirely understand! I’m white; I know that emotional/denial place is so easy to jump to. Plus, we’re all humans, and being human tends to overlap a lot with being self-centered.

But it’s a knee-jerk reaction we should resist. And maybe cartoons like this one will help whites like me remember to resist.

****

A bit of trivia about the making of this cartoon: As I think I’ve mentioned, I recently turned fifty. And, technically, I have been working on this cartoon since my thirties.

You see, I write more cartoons than I complete. Very often, when I write a cartoon, I’ll decide that it’s not good enough to draw – but there’s still a seed of an idea there that I believe can work. In those cases, I’ll leave the cartoon lying around in a folder labeled “unfinished.” Every now and then, I browse old ideas in that folder, in case my brain comes up with a way to make any of them work.

So, in September of 2008 (so I was 39 and 11 months old), I made this layout for a cartoon. (I think I must have been in a hurry – you can see that I just cut and paste the same minimalistic lollypop-stickfigures from panel to panel).

I remember, when I wrote this strip, I thought “that” was a pretty devastating final line.

But when I looked at it again, a few days or weeks later, it just seemed too obscure to me, and might leave some readers scratching their heads. Would the theme – that the white character was entirely self-focused, ignoring what’s going on with the Black character – come through?

Plus, the comic strip was so static.

So it just sat in my “unfinished” file for an entire decade. I was too fond of the idea to throw it out, but never had an idea for fixing it.

Until I did.

The idea – “the comic strip starts out entirely focused on the white character, a metaphor for his self-involvement, and the view gradually widens until the reader can see what he’s ignoring” – is pretty simple. But I like it, and I’m pleased I waited a decade for it rather than drawing my original conception for the cartoon.

(Of course, now that I’ve said that, someone will tell me they think the original version was better. That’s always how it goes. :-p )


Transcript of Cartoon

This cartoon has four panels.

PANEL 1
A middle-aged white man, balding, with glasses, a van dyke beard and a v-neck long-sleeved tee, is speaking. He’s in a park, with trees and grass. He holds one palm out in an “explaining” gesture. This is a fairly close shot, mainly showing his head and shoulders.

He is facing towards the left. An unseen person off-panel, on the right, responds to him.

WHITE PERSON: When you say I’ve benefited from racism, it hurts my feelings.
OFF-PANEL PERSON: Racism isn’t about your feelings.

PANEL 2
The camera backs up a bit, but the other speaker is still off-panel. The white guy closes his eyes and puts one hand over his heart, as if he’s swearing a vow.

WHITE PERSON: In my heart, I don’t even see color!
OFF-PANEL PERSON: Racism isn’t about what’s in your heart.

PANEL 3
The camera has backed up enough so we’re seeing the white guy from his waist up. We can also see, just barely in panel, the head of the other speaker, who is a Black man. They seem to be walking The white man is holding up a forefinger to make a point, smiling, and looking ahead rather than looking at the Black man. The Black man looks stressed and is sweating.

WHITE PERSON: My intentions are good!
BLACK PERSON: Racism isn’t about your intentions.

PANEL 4
The camera has backed away enough so we can see both characters from head to toe. The white man, still looking ahead, is making another “explaining” gesture as he walks. The Black man is bent over double as he walks, due to the enormous boulder he’s straining to carry on his back.

WHITE PERSON: Well, if it’s not about my feelings, my heart, or my intentions, then what’s left?
BLACK PERSON: Do you even hear yourself?

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Race, racism and related issues | 3 Comments  

Cartoon: Centrists and Civility


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The challenge in a cartoon like this – which really has to be ultra-simple to be effective – is to find ways to make the art worth looking at despite being so simple. So I worked on trying to make the figures seem active and alive, and to really vary their poses and costumes. Hopefully it worked!


Transcript of cartoon

This cartoon has three panels, plus a small additional “kicker” panel underneath the bottom of the cartoon.

PANEL 1
This panel shows three well-coiffed white people – they could be politicians, or pundits on TV – on the right side of the panel, facing towards the left side of the panel. They look angry and are speaking with hostile expressions. There is a large caption superimposed over the image.
CAPTION: RIGHT
WHITE GUY: Cattle don’t get to keep their kids. Why should immigrants?
WHITE GAL: Teh law should protect elections from Black vot- I mean, from illegal voters!
OTHER WHITE GUY: George Soros paid scientists to make up global warming!

PANEL 2
This panel shows two lefties, dressed like college students or protesters, on the left side of the panel, facing towards the right side of the panel. They look angry and are speaking with hostile expressions. The woman’s race and ethnicity is ambiguous, the man is Black. There is a large caption superimposed over the image.
CAPTION: LEFT
WOMAN: $#%*! those people!
MAN: They’re terrible hateful bigots!

PANEL 3
This panel shows a white man and an ethnically ambiguous woman, both facing towards the left with scornful expressions. The man is making a “stop that, get away” hand gesture towards the left; the woman has her arms on her hips. There is a large caption superimposed over the image.
CAPTION: CENTRISTS
MAN: Tsk! Why must the left be so uncivil?
WOMAN: Do they want Trump re-elected?

SMALL KICKER PANEL BELOW THE BOTTOM OF THE STRIP
This panel shows the leftists glaring at the centrists, while the centrists smile back.
CENTRIST WOMAN: We’re only saying, both sides are equally bad!

Posted in Cartooning & comics | 122 Comments  

Fake Funeral! Monday November 5th! Tell Your Friends!

(This is sort of a sequel to a fake wedding done in 2008).

The date of the fake funeral has been set! It’s November 5th (by curious coincidence, just a week after my 50th birthday). You’re invited, so please come! And bring your friends! Or, really, bring anyone who is reasonably unlikely to violently attack me or the church building. I’m not fussy.

What’s a fake funeral? Just what it sounds like. We’re going to pretend to put on a funeral. It’s sort of a role-playing game; everyone plays a part, and together we’ll throw the worst funeral of all time. (You can make up your own character, or have one assigned to you.)

The funeral will take place in downtown Portland, at The Old Church (corner of SW 11th and Clay, Portland, OR), at 7:00pm. A brief and (I hope) disastrous reception to follow.

Post questions in the comments, and email me if you’re coming!

Continue reading

Posted in Mind-blowing Miscellania and other Neat Stuff, Whatever | 13 Comments  

A Workshop I’m Leading and Two Reviews of “Words For What Those Men Have Done”

I’d like to share two things from my writing life that I am excited and happy about.


Writing About What You Are Afraid To Write About @ The Ollom Arts Festival

  • When: November 14th, from 6-8 PM
  • Where: One Art Space, 23 Warren Street, New York, NY 10007
  • How Much: $20 (buy tickets here)
  • More Info: info@ollomart.com

From November 10th through November 15th, Ollom Art will be holding its 2018 Festival, the theme of which is “The Hole Project: Mining Portals of Vulnerability.” This year’s festival explores the real and “metaphoric holes in our…bodies and our psychic selves through installations, artistic creations, workshops and panel discussions.” The festival opens with a gala fundraiser on November 10th from 6 to 8 PM, which you can learn more about and for which you can buy tickets here. The money we raise will help to fund Ollom Art’s “Art Heals” workshops. These workshops will be held “across the country [with the goal of reaching] out to communities…and collaborat[ing] with local artists to help demonstrate…how art can open channels” to healing from trauma.

I became involved with the Festival because, as a survivor of childhood sexual violence, I have experienced firsthand how making art can contribute to healing. My workshop, which is called Writing About What You Are Afraid To Write About and is for writers of all kinds and at all levels of experience, will explore strategies you can use to put the thing or things that scare you into words—even when you don’t want to say exactly what it is—and to see that kind of verbalization as an act of hope. I hope you will consider attending, or that you will pass this information on to someone you think would benefit from this kind of workshop. Here’s the full description:

Why write about something you fear? To name it and, in naming it, to gain control over it. To learn how not to be afraid. Or, perhaps, to learn how to live with fear. Why try to make poetry from your fear, to make it beautiful with words? Not the straightforward loveliness of surfaces, but the beauty that puts us in touch with the full depth of what it means to be human, that does not force us to choose between it and ugliness, but rather allows us to experience both beauty and ugliness as they always already exist within us, and in the world around us. Why? Because while a poem may pronounce judgment on what we fear, it does not judge us for fearing it. Poetry is not politics, and it is not therapy, but finding the words that will make your fear beautiful is an act of hope and, therefore, of a kind of healing. In this workshop, we will explore strategies for bringing that hope and that healing into our lives and our work, whether as poets and writers, or as people who simply want to find ways of saying what they haven’t, till now, been able to say.

If this interests you and you’re in the New York City area, I hope you’ll consider coming. If you’re not interested or able to attend, but you know people who might be, I hope you’ll consider passing this information along.


Two Reviews of Words For What Those Men Have Done Have Been Published

Two reviews of Words For What Those Men Have Done have been published since the spring of this year. The first, “Those Words, Those Men,” by Sarah White, was published in American Book Review. The second, by Pramila Venkateswaran, was published on The Enchanting Verses. Aside from the fact that both writers had nice things to say about my poems, what makes these reviews stand out for me is that they are the first ones, of either of my books, to speak plainly, more or less explicitly, and really thoughtfully about how I deal with the theme of sexual violence that runs through my work.

This makes me happy not just because I believe my work deserves that kind of attention, but also, and more importantly, because I hope it represents a small contribution to developing a full-throated critical vocabulary (because we certainly don’t have one now) with which to talk about literary depictions of sexual violence against men and about how the repercussions and consequences of that kind of violation in men’s lives are represented and understood within our culture.

I always appreciate when people respond to my work by thanking me for my vulnerability, or praising my courage, and I especially value those times when fellow survivors, both men and women, have come up to me after a reading and thanked me for giving voice to something they have not yet found their own words for; but I am also aware that those responses, sincere and valuable as they are, make me and not what I’ve written the focus of attention, and that this focus makes it easier not to deal with the issues that I think my work explores surrounding sexual violence against men and what I sometimes call male survivorship—issues with which our culture is still only in the very early stages of grappling.

The women who wrote these two reviews like my work. Even if you don’t, I hope you will consider reading what they wrote, because the conversation their reviews could help to start is an important one for all of us to have.

Posted in Writing | Leave a comment  

Cartoon: Doctors and Fat Patients


If you enjoy these cartoons, you can help me make more by supporting my Patreon. A $1 pledge really helps!


If you hang out for any time among the “fat acceptance” crowd, you’re going to hear the same thing again and again: Fat people talking about going to doctors who refuse to treat what’s wrong, or fail to even diagnose what’s wrong, because they can’t see anything but the fat.

Quoting a story from The New York Times:

Part of the problem, both patients and doctors say, is a reluctance to look beyond a fat person’s weight. Patty Nece, 58, of Alexandria, Va., went to an orthopedist because her hip was aching. She had lost nearly 70 pounds and, although she still had a way to go, was feeling good about herself. Until she saw the doctor.

“He came to the door of the exam room, and I started to tell him my symptoms,” Ms. Nece said. “He said: ‘Let me cut to the chase. You need to lose weight.’”

The doctor, she said, never examined her. But he made a diagnosis, “obesity pain,” and relayed it to her internist. In fact, she later learned, she had progressive scoliosis, a condition not caused by obesity.

My comic strip is silly in its approach, but it’s a serious problem, and one that can make fat people reluctant to visit doctors even for urgently needed health care. And even if we do go, if we wind up with a doctor who only sees the fat, we may not even get the care we need.

For this cartoon, I drew closer to normal human proportions on the figures than I’ve usually been drawing lately. Or, as I privately think of it, drawing “Calvin’s parents proportions” versus “Calvin proportions.” The reason for going “Calvin’s parents” in this strip is pretty simple; it’s sort of hard to make characters clearly thin or fat when drawing those huge-head-tiny-bodies figures.

Over the years, I’ve found that comic strips about discrimination against fat people are the least likely to be accepted by editors or picked up for reprints. So this is definitely a strip that I couldn’t be paid to do if not for my Patreon. Some of the things the internet makes possible are really cool.


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has four panels.

PANEL 1
The panel shows a doctor, with thick-framed glasses, neat shoulder-length white hair, and holding a clipboard, in an examining room talking to a patient. The patient is wearing striped pants and a square-collar short sleeved blouse, and has her dark hair in a bun. The patient is sitting on one of those patient examination tables they have in doctors’ offices.

The patient is using her right hand to hold out her left arm, which is not connected to her body, to show it to the doctor.

Important: The doctor is thin, the patient is fat.

The doctor is calm; the patient is also calm, but also concerned.

DOCTOR: Hi, I’m doctor Douglas. What seems to be the problem?
PATIENT: I woke up this morning and my arm had fallen off.

PANEL 2
The doctor, still speaking calmly, is looking down at the patient’s body. The patient, still holding her detached left arm in her right hand, looks a bit annoyed.

DOCTOR: Hmmmm…. First thing, let’s get you on a diet.
PATIENT: A diet? To reconnect my arm?

PANEL 3
A shot from behind the doctor, looking over the doctor’s photo at the patient. The patient is now quite angry, raising her voice.

DOCTOR: Your weight is the real issue here… How many times a day do you eat fast food?
PATIENT: I’M HERE ABOUT MY ARM!

PANEL 4
The doctor, now alone, sits at a desk in an office (desk lamp, degree on wall, books on a shelf). The doctor is typing on a laptop, and looks peeved. Above her, we see words in the air showing what she’s typing.

DOCTOR (writing on laptop): “Patient was uncooperative…”

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Fat, fat and more fat | 6 Comments  

Repost: Notes Towards a Discussion of Male Self-Hatred

(I originally posted this in 2012, but a conversation I had recently with some of my students made me think of it. I still think it raises some interesting questions, and so I am reposting it now.)

In Kayak Morning, Roger Rosenblatt writes:

The literature involving fathers and daughters runs to nearly one thousand titles. I Googled. The Tempest. King Lear. Emma. The Mayor of Casterbridge. Washington Square. Daughters have a power over fathers, who are usually portrayed as aloof or mad. The father depends on his daughter and he is often isolated with her—the two of them partnered against the world. It is a good choice for writers, this pairing. It may be the ideal male-female relationship in that, with romance out of the picture, the idea of father and daughter has only to do with feelings and thoughts…. A girl may speak the truth to her father, who may speak the truth to her. He anchors her. She anchors him.

Rosenblatt’s book explores his grief at the untimely death of his own daughter, Amy, and this passage, in the form of a short-hand literary analysis, mourns the relationship he had with her—one that, for him, was clearly about a kind of truth-telling that only happens between men and women when the possibility of romance does not exist. Rosenblatt’s grief is his own, and I would not presume to suggest that his relationship with his daughter was anything other than what he says it was. His assertion, however, that the father-daughter pairing is a “good choice for writers” because it allows us to deal with issues between the sexes solely in terms of feelings and thoughts, without the messiness of romance, gave me serious pause. It’s not that I think he has mischaracterized the father-daughter relationships in the works that he cites—it’s been long enough since I read any of them that I simply do not remember—but rather that, in a male dominant culture, and we still live in such a culture whether we like it or not, the father-daughter relationship is never only about feelings and thoughts. The daughter’s body and how she uses it—in sex, in marriage—and how that reflects on the father as a man, on his reputation and the reputation of his family, is always already contested ground.

♦◊♦

I doubt most people in the United States see the father-daughter relationship explicitly in these terms any more, though the custom of giving a bride away on her wedding day is an echo of it. Still, it’s important to remember that there are immigrant subcultures in this country—and think, also, of the Christian institution of purity balls—where it is still a father’s duty to manage his daughter’s sexuality, at least until she is appropriately married. In my own life, where fathers have been conspicuously absent, these attitudes have manifested themselves most obviously in the assumptions people make about my relationship with my sisters. Or, more specifically, what they imagine my relationship with my sisters should have been like when we were younger. I am thinking specifically of how most people react to my story about the time I walked in on one of my sisters, who was sixteen at the time and should have been in school when this happened in flagrante delicto with her boyfriend.

I did not care that she was having sex, but the circumstances in my family at the time—she is six years younger than I am—meant that I did need to confront her about playing hooky. So I closed the door to her room and asked her and her boyfriend to get dressed and come out into the living room. I waited for a couple of minutes, but nothing happened. I knocked again, receiving this time a muffled reply from my sister, as if she were sick in bed and my knocking had roused her from sleep. I opened the door and there she was, alone, with the blanket pulled up around her neck. “Where is he?” I asked.

“Where is who?”

“Michael. I saw him.”

“Michael? No. No one else is here.” Her voice cracked as if she had a horrible sore throat.

“Come on. Don’t bullshit me. I know what I saw.” I started to look around the room and eventually opened her closet, where I found Michael trying desperately to disappear behind the clothes that were hanging there. It was hard not to laugh at him, but I didn’t. I just asked again for them to come out into the living room. When they did, I told Michael to go home, that my sister and I had to talk, and I will never forget the look of surprised relief and gratitude on his face when he realized that I was not going to beat him up. He even asked me, “You mean you’re not going to beat me up?” That made me laugh out loud. I told him no, why would I. He said thank you and he left.

More often than not, the people to whom I tell this story, and it doesn’t seem to matter how old or young they are, are as surprised as Michael was that I simply let him leave. When I ask them why—since the idea of beating him up never even occurred to me—they always give the same answer: She was your little sister. It was your job to protect her. And if I ask them what they think she needed protection from, they tell me, From guys “like that,” by which they mean, of course, exploitive, sexual opportunists who tally the women they have sex with by making notches in their bedposts and bragging about it to all their friends. But why should I have assumed that Michael—a decent guy, a guy I liked, a guy my sister clearly trusted—was “like that?” Okay, so maybe you didn’t have to beat him up, but you should at least have put the fear of God into him, just to keep him honest.

Honest about what? I ask.

Well, they say, you wouldn’t want your sister to get a reputation, would you? You wouldn’t want him, or anyone he told, to think your sister was just giving it away, right? And most, but not all, leave the next question unasked: You wouldn’t want your sister to think it was okay to give it away, would you? Clearly, it was not her boyfriend from whom my sister and her reputation really needed protection.

But there you have it: Because I was her older brother, these people seem to think, my sister’s emerging sexuality was my problem, not out of concern for her health and safety—and even then it really wouldn’t have been my problem—but because if I did not keep a watchful eye on her she might have undeservedly acquired the reputation of or, worse, actually become, a “slut.”

The people with whom I have these conversations usually try to avoid using that word, because they are afraid it will offend me. Or, to be more precise, because they are afraid I will suddenly feel the need to defend my sister’s “honor,” even after all these years. Yet it’s not really, or at least not only, my sister’s “honor” that they think I should be worried about. Inevitably, when we get to the point in the conversation where they realize that they’re not going to change my mind, that I truly do not think there was anything wrong with my sister having sex, they get down to where the brass tacks really are. What kind of a brother were you, anyway? What they mean, of course, is What kind of a man are you?, and their logic is not so different, really, from the fathers and brothers who murder their daughters and sisters in so-called “honor killings”—and, just to be clear, there is nothing honorable about them—because even the hint of female sexual impropriety is a stain on her and her family’s reputation that only her death will remove. Granted, no one has ever suggested that I should have killed my sister, but they clearly think I should have seen the fact that she didn’t “keep her legs closed” as a threat not just to her, but to myself as well.

Unlike the logic that seems to hold in so-called “honor killings,” however, where the existential threat to family (read: male) honor is embodied by the woman, the threat in this case—at least as perceived by the people I have these conversations with—was embodied by my sister’s boyfriend. His “success” in having sex with my sister, in getting around the protection they tell me I should have been providing for her, is clearly something they see as a stain on my honor that only some form of violence against him would have removed. The fact that I chose not to commit that violence, or even to threaten it, is bewildering to them. How could I have let Michael get away with something so serious?

♦◊♦

I realize I am being reductive here. In fact, the threat to male honor in cases like this comes from both the man and the woman, which is why the male partners of women murdered by their families in so-called “honor killings” are also often killed or beaten; and I have completely left out of this essay the ways in which women—mothers, aunts, sisters, cousins—are expected to preserve this male honor by policing other women’s sex lives. It’s not that the layers of complexity here are not worth writing about. Rather, it’s that these layers of complexity tend to obscure the relationship between the men whose job it is to demonstrate their manhood by protecting their family’s honor (in this case, me) and those whose job it is to prove themselves as men by doing whatever they can to get around that protection (my sister’s boyfriend).

Leave aside, for example, the fact that there really are guys “like that” and that it is possible for an older brother to sniff this out about his younger sister’s boyfriend before she does, and consider the conversation I might have had with my sister in order to get her to stay away from Michael. You don’t understand what guys are like, my part in this discussion would go—and it’s a part we have seen played in movies and TV shows over and over again by countless brothers or fathers, cousins or friends—but I do understand, and I am telling you that when it comes to sex you shouldn’t be so trusting. Sometimes the man who speaks these lines will explain what he means in more detail and sometimes he will not. In each case, however, he is asking the woman to whom he is speaking to recognize that, because he is a man, he is more of an authority on men and male sexuality than she is. Moreover, in doing so, whether he realizes it or not, he is admitting that this authority comes from the fact that, even if he himself is not “like that,” he nonetheless has first-hand knowledge of the truth behind the assumption that most men are. After all, in this way of seeing the world, being “like that” is part of what being a man is all about, and so it is inescapably part of every man, even if he consciously lives his life in opposition to it.

There is, in other words, a kind of self-hatred operating here. Had I tried to protect my sister in the way I have just described, or even if I’d resorted to the violence so many people seem to think I should have used, I would also have been trying to protect her from a version of myself, or at least from the kind of man I knew I was supposed to be if I’d followed the traditional, stereotypical manhood script. To put it another way, whatever beating Michael up would have meant to him and my sister, it would also have been a denial of my own complicity in that script’s definition of getting sex from women as proof of manhood. So, if you understand this story not from the perspective of my relationship with my sister, but rather of my relationship with Michael, it becomes a narrative that is less about the sexual double standard—though it is of course also about that—than it is about men’s internal experience of manhood and masculinity as an identity divided against itself. On one side is the man we are (traditionally, stereotypically) given permission to be with women who are not our mothers, sisters or daughters; on the other, the man whose manhood depends on protecting our mothers, sisters and daughters from what that permission means to all the other men who are not us. To be both those men at the same time, in an integrated way, seems to me impossible—which raises the question of what forms masculinity might take if it were truly unmoored from a notion of manhood that requires us to hate a part of who we are.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments  

Open-Hearted Generosity at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference

Last weekend, I went to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. I was honored to be there as a presenter, and I taught workshops on Breaking the Rules and Detail & Image. I also had two blue-pencil sessions where folks scheduled appointments to talk briefly with me about short excerpts of their work. It was a nice opportunity to give people comprehensive line notes (which we almost never get to do in a workshop setting) while having time to interact one-on-one.

I really like teaching, and working with new writers is one of my joys. I like being able to bring something new, and hopefully helpful, to someone who’s looking to learn. I had a great time being able to do that for and with a bunch of enthusiastic new writers who were everywhere in their abilities from totally nascent to break-in ready.

It was a busy time, and I’m still recovering from one of those winter illnesses that kicks you in the sinuses (followed by a sinus infection that kicked me in the sinuses), so as fun as it was, I also had to spend a lot of time in my room sleeping. I didn’t manage to get to any of the other writers’ workshops, which was unfortunate; I’m sure there were many amazing things being bandied about while I was buried in my blankets.

For instance, some of the other presenters from the field of science fiction and fantasy included: Nalo Hopkinson, Cat Rambo, and Mary Robinette Kowal. Some of the romance royalty was there, like Diana Gabaldon. There were people representing most genres of fiction, from mysteries and thrillers, to literary novels, to memoir. If nothing else, I have a great reading list.

Also, the key note speakers were really, really excellent. When does that happen? Daniel Heath Justice in particular made me cry on the first day, talking about the need for people to stand up for themselves and their narrative space, even when the world can be hostile. We need transformative narratives, as he put it; we have to fight the disfiguring ones with our own language of compassion.

The most striking thing about the conference–the thing that made it stand out from anywhere else I’ve been–was how strong the spirit of open-heartedness and generosity was from everyone. Agents, editors, and experienced writers all seemed to come to the event with respect and care. From what I saw, the new writers were treated as equals and adults–not in the sense that everyone had equal experience, but that everyone was of equal worth, and had something to contribute to the world.

It’s easy for cynicism to infect an environment like this. It’s so hard to break into writing, and so hard to maintain a writing career. The endless, circling stress of that process can make people sharp and defensive. There are enough new writers who act creepily entitled or overbearing that some professionals are quick to put up their shields.

All of this can be reasonable behavior, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes, the need for defenses are stronger for women or other sociological minorities; I can’t count the number of times that some resplendent, experienced author I know has been steamrolled by someone who thought “that woman” couldn’t possibly have anything to contribute. (That multiple Hugo Award-winner is probably a fake geek girl.)  Industry professionals like agents and editors also need space to talk about the wearing parts of their business sometimes, and blowing off steam isn’t always, and doesn’t always have to be, elegant or graceful. People can make unreasonable demands on their time and energy–like the overeager folks who used to contact an editor friend of mine over OKCupid to ask for special favors.

But the barriers of defensiveness and cynicism sometimes go up when they do more damage than good. For some people, they lapse into cruelty and mocking, where professionals can try to salve their own insecurities by denigrating new writers who are striving with open-spiritedness and passion. They may perceive new people as burdensome–not even in the sense of competition, but just that their very nascence and optimism can feel weary to someone who’s been struggling for a long time. And some professionals are just assholes of one stripe or another, just as every group of people has its asshole members.

In an environment where a lot of people are defensive, angry, and cynical–for good reasons or bad–it can spread to everyone. It can become a kind of palpable “spoil-the-barrel” energy that puts everyone on guard.

The Surrey conference was the opposite. The administrators established an atmosphere of open-hearted generosity which reflected through everyone. The agents and editors were eager to find new clients, and also to help nurture new ones. The professional writers treated the new ones like colleagues, not supplicants or intruders who would have to prove themselves worthy before being given respect. The new writers were excited and respectful of the professionals’ time and experience.

I think one thing that really helped foster the positive environment was the expectation that presenters join the attendees for meals and announcements. It got everyone used to being around each other, and reinforced that we were all in it together as people at that conference, sharing the goals of telling stories and making art.

Anyone can have a worthy story to tell. Everyone seemed to have a strong sense of that, and to respect it.

I think the administrators also chose carefully–and wisely–presenters whose native inclination is to come to new people with warmth. My experience of the colleagues I already knew who were there–Cat Rambo, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Nalo Hopkinson–bears that out. They’re all excellent teachers who are thoughtful and kind, and excited by teaching and learning. I can only aspire to match their generosity.

I rarely think that networking qua networking is useful. I generally promote the idea of just going and doing things you like, and meeting and helping people as you go. This convention felt like an exception–a space (at least partially) made for networking, which was also a space for kindness.

Of course, I only saw part of the conference, and of course what I saw was influenced by the fact that I was attending as a presenter. There may well have been grumpiness and cynicism, and broken hearts and tears, that were out of my frame of reference. There probably were; nothing goes perfectly for everyone. But from where I was, the conference was exceptional in its warmth and generosity of spirit, and I’m lucky I got to participate.

Posted in classes, conventions, Essays, Events, Surrey International Writers Conference, Teaching | 1 Comment  

Cartoon: Border Deaths


If you’d like to support the making of these cartoons, you can do that at my Patreon. Even a one dollar pledge helps a lot!


After President Trump said (of undocumented immigrants) “these aren’t people. These are animals,” Eugene Scott, writing in The Washington Post, pointed out that there’s a long and ugly history to the political dehumanization of oppressed groups:

Referring to marginalized groups as subhuman has been a way dictators  have justified the abuse of those groups. This happened with the Jewish  people during the Holocaust. It happen with the Tutsis during the  Rwandan genocide. And it is happening with the Rohingya people in Burma.

Trump, as usual, does not speak alone. When, researching this cartoon, I read the comments section of articles about the suffering or deaths of undocumented immigrants, I saw many comments referring to immigrants as “animals.” Calling undocumented immigrants animals is a way of justifying the indifference to their deaths which has become all too common in America.

Immigrants are coming, and they will keep on coming. Nothing short of the total economic collapse of the US, combined with enormous economic growth in Mexico and in the central American countries, will change that. (And if that happens, plenty of Americans will be looking for ways to move south). Increased enforcement, and building walls, cannot stop the economics driving immigration. What it can do, however, is force undocumented immigrants to take ever more remote and dangerous routes into America. And when that happens, people die. By the thousands.

This cannot be an acceptable policy outcome for us.

But some people want immigrants to die. The group No More Deaths, also called No Más Muertes, released a video showing U.S. border patrol agents destroying drinking water that No More Death volunteers had left in the desert to give crossing immigrants a better chance of survival. (Almost immediately after the video’s release, The Border Patrol arrested a No More Deaths volunteer.)

The agents aren’t legally required to destroy lifesaving food and water – in fact, they’ve been officially ordered not to, although I doubt that order is effectively enforced. They’re doing it because they want people to die.

The tragedy of deaths on the border – and of the towns who are overwhelmed by the number of bodies, many of which will be buried without ever being identified – was suggested as a topic for a cartoon by patron Tomas Sanchez, who is thanked on the sidebar of the cartoon. Thank you, Tomas, for all your support – I really appreciate it!


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has six panels.

PANEL 1
Two men are walking through what looks like a hilly park. The man walking in front has a high hairline and glasses; the man walking in the back is bald with a goatee. The man in back is wide-eyed and looks distressed.

GOATEE: Over seven thousand immigrants have died int eh desert trying to cross the U.S. border. Seven thousands!
GOATEE: Some town morgues are overwhelmed by the sheer number of corpses!

PANEL 2
Glasses has stopped and turned back to face Goatee. Glasses has his arms crossed; Goatee has his arms extended, palms up, in a supplicating fashion.

GLASSES: So what do you want, an “open door” policy?
GOATEE: Maybe! Or if we have a closed door policy, design it to stop our closed door from causing thousands of deaths!

PANEL 3
A shot from behind Glasses, looking towards Goatee. Glasses has a hand upraised in a “stop!” gesture; Goatee has put one hand on his cheek and still looks wide-eyed and distressed.

GLASSES: Well, I think we should get stricter. If more of them die, that’s not our problem.
GOATEE: But these are human beings!

PANEL 4
A close-up of glasses, looking stern and angry, one forefinger raised.

GLASSES: That’s where we disagree. I don’t think of them as human.
GLASSES: They gave up their claim to being human by disrespecting our laws!

PANEL 5
Same shot as the previous panel, but now Glasses is transforming like a wolfman; he’s grown fur, his ears have gotten pointy, his nose has pushed forward into a snout.

GLASSES: When people act uncivilized, they stop being human!

PANEL 6
A long shot shows that Glasses has now almost fully transformed into a dog-like creature. Goatee is raising his hands defensively and backing up.

GLASSES: These are animals, and if they die I don’t grrrrr growf! GROWF!
GOATEE: Er…

Below the bottom of the strip, there is a quote.
“These aren’t people. They’re animals.” –Donald Trump, May 16, 2018

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Immigration, Migrant Rights, etc | 55 Comments  

Open Thread and Link Farm, Human Tower Edition

  1. Who Decides When Pain is “Intolerable”? – Brute Reason
    “‘Not all pain is intolerable’ means acknowledging the fact that some pain is intolerable, and any way you slice it, you have people other than the patient determining if their pain is tolerable or not.” Thanks to Mandolin for the link!
  2. If You’re Worried About Free Speech, Stand Up for Prisoners – Pacific Standard
    “The shuttering of a prison debate club shows the precarious nature of free-speech rights among American inmates.” I think that prisoners – along with sex workers and undocumented immigrants – are the people in the U.S. whose free speech is most often suppressed. But the issue gets almost no attention from mainstream free speech pundits.
  3. “Free” Tablets Are Costing Prison Inmates a Fortune – Mother Jones
  4. The Callout : NPR
    This episode of the “Invisibelia” podcast is about the “callout culture” in the hardcore music scene in Richmond, Virginia, and more generally about “the role of pain in making social change.” To me, this story is about the problem of having a set way of dealing with transgressions (something all communities need), but no set way for anyone to come back, and no distinction between minor and major transgressions.
  5. What is restorative justice? A practitioner explains how it works. – Vox
    “{The process invites truth-telling on all sides by replacing punitive approaches to wrongdoing in favor of collective healing and solutions.”
  6. What are we teaching boys when we discourage them from reading books about girls? – The Washington Post
    I’ve seen the same thing happen with my books; lots of boys read my books, and lots of parents assume boys won’t.
  7. This film – of how a complex shot in a TV show was choreographed – is amazing. I recommend watching the right half only all the way through, with the sound off, and then watching the left half with the sound on.
  8. Why the Democratic Party has to “fight dirty” if they want to beat the Republicans – Vox
    Suggestions include breaking up California into seven states and packing the Supreme Court.
  9. The Socal Affair in Context.This 1997 paper by Stephen Hilgartner has some interesting discussion of which scholarly hoaxes are seen as credible and which are not. (Hint: It has nothing to do with how rigorous the hoax’s methodology are.)
  10. All the men who never assaulted me – Vox
  11. Billionaires Are the Leading Cause of Climate Change | GQ
    A crucial example – maybe the most crucial example – of how our democracy is broken.
  12. Female Supreme Court Justices Are Interrupted More by Male Justices and Advocates
    “What our findings additionally suggest is that there is no point at which a woman is high-status enough to avoid being interrupted.”
  13. Tyrannosaurus Redesign 2018 — Saurian
    “We are proud to present our results: what we believe to be the most accurate Tyrannosaurus rex reconstruction ever. Here’s a look into the design process and research that went into this massive project.” And the current thinking is: no feathers!
  14. This Is How Sex-Trafficking Panic Gets Made : Reason.com
    “One hundred and twenty-three missing Michigan minors were found during a one-day ‘sex trafficking operation,’ the New York Post reported… What the associated articles fail to mention for multiple paragraphs is that only three of the minors are even suspected of having been involved in prostitution.”
  15. I’ve been watching the animated show “People Watching,” and so far it’s good. Very talky, very focused on social anxiety.
  16. The gender studies fakery (“Sokal Squared”) doesn’t help – it hinders (and it’s meant to) – Ketan Joshi
  17. How members of the ultra-rich are preparing to survive the collapse of civilization.
    “What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader? The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival.” (I’d like to credit the person I swiped these links from, but I lost the tweet, sorry.)
  18. Free Busing: A Way to Combat Global Warming | Dean Baker on Patreon
  19. It turns out Taylor Swift isn’t alt-right; 4-chan is despondent.
  20. A defense of “A Feminist Glaciology Framework.”
    Jeffrey Sachs argues that this much-maligned paper was actually making reasonable arguments that, whether or not one agrees with them, should not be out of the bounds of what we’re willing to think about.
  21. Photos found at: Human Towers in Catalonia Rally for Independence and Catalonia’s 36-foot-tall Human Towers Look Even More Amazing from the Air
    “If you’re not there, or if you don’t do your part, the castell will fall. It’s a really special feeling.”

Posted in Link farms | 45 Comments  

Surrey International Writers’ Conference

This weekend I’ll be in Vancouver (BC, not Oregon) at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Here’s my schedule, if you want to come to any of events or just say hi.

Fri Oct 19, 2018

12:45pm – 2:15pm “Meet and Mingle Luncheon” This is supposed to be a good chance for guests and attendees to meet and chat, so you should feel free to come up and say hi if you see me!

2:15pm – 3:30pm Breaking the Rules Workshop. This is the convention version of my online Breaking the Rules class (http://rachelswirsky.com/rules/)

3:45pm – 5pm World Building panel with Nalo Hopkinson, Cat Rambo, and Stephanie Stein, moderated by Mary Robinette Kowal.

5pm – 6:30pm Socializing at the hotel bar. Come say hi!

 

Sat Oct 20, 2018

10am – 11:15am Detail & Image Workshop (http://rachelswirsky.com/detail/)

12:45pm – 2:15pm “This Day We Write Luncheon” Another chance to come chat.

2:15pm – 3:45pm Blue Pencil Session This is where you can make a 15-minute appointment to have me read and critique 3 pages of your work (for free!). https://www.siwc.ca/blue-pencil-cafe/

5:30pm – 7pm Book signing. If you would like to buy a copy of my collection Through the Drowsy Dark, there will be some for sale at the conference. I’m also happy to sign loose paper or bookplates!

 

Sun Oct 21, 2018

11:30am – 12:45pm Second Blue Pencil Session

12:45pm – 2pm Closing Lunch. I may have to leave this one early to get ready for my trip home.

If anyone here is going to be at the conference and want to hang out, let me know!

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