November 14th, 2006


The Lieberman Flip, redux

Remember my recent comments on the Lieberman Flip?

Surprise, surprise, this morning there's an AP wire story saying:

WASHINGTON -- Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut said yesterday that he will caucus with Senate Democrats in the new Congress, but he would not rule out switching to the Republican caucus if he starts to feel uncomfortable among Democrats.

The Flip just went from long odds to near even odds. Competing softball investigations, tangled subpoenas, and all the political cover the President needs to get through the next two years. The GOP is working him hard, very hard. (He's also been very vague about any possible oversight investigations that might be undertaken by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which he will chair...not encouraging even if he caucuses with the Dems.)

Thanks, Joe -- your statesmanlike legacy is building ever stronger. And thank you Connecticut, too.

Writing the other

I've meant to mention this since WFC. We had a panel on Regional Variations in Fantasy, with Fiona McIntosh (Australia), Neil Williamson (Scotland) and Holly Phillips (Canada), moderated by me (United States). One of the issues which came up was using native (ie, First Nations, Native American or Aboriginal) tradition in writing fantasy. The response to that was fascinating.

Paraphrasing quite a bit, Fiona said she wouldn't dare, that she'd wind up with her throat slit if she tried. Holly was less emphatic but offered a very similar answer. Neil and I were both somewhat boggled.

Why aren't we allowed to write about Aboriginal or First Nations matter? If writers only wrote about their own cultures, literature would be fairly boring. I don't perceive that Aboriginal or First Nations writers are forbidden to write about Ango-European culture. Far from it, I should think. I can (and do) cheerfully appropriate other cultural traditions in my fiction all the time, including Native American on occasion.

The only explanation I see is Colonialist guilt, which seems to me to be exactly the sort of thing writers are supposed to tackle, not avoid.

Please note that I'm not being disingenuous about the legitimate political and social issues surrounding native cultures in the Anglosphere. I am not ignorant of those factors. Rather, I'm fascinated with the idea that we, as writers, should view some (or any) traditions as forbidden. There are some subjects which are very difficult to write about (child sexuality, for example), but that list is fairly short. In my worldview, it doesn't include cultural trespass.

What's your take on writing the other, and what might be forbidden? For that matter, what subjects are forbidden, or should be, and why?

ETA: To be clear, I am keenly aware of the social justice issues inherent in the power imbalance between cultures. The narrow question is this: is social injustice sufficient reason for writers to remain silent?

ETA 2: To be clear about something else, this is not a material problem for me in my writing at the moment. Rather, I am fascinated by the values collision this problem represents. I don't happen to think it's resolvable, but I am interested in how people think about this. Because writerliness is interesting.

A bit more on writing the other

Hmm, me and third rails. My post on writing the other has ignited a bit of heat in comments. I was IMing with one of the commentors when I happened to observe the following:

"SF is can write about anyone if you give them funny noses and change their names"

Much like Swift or Rabelaise with their satires, is specfic the place to dig into difficult topics today? About the other, or otherwise?

I think it should be, but for the most part does not. fjm's Glorifying Terrorism is an excellent example of challenging the forbidden, but generally we don't.

Am I wrong? What's the most difficult specfic you've read, or written?

Auctionlet Update

If you are an auctionlet donor and you have not yet sent me photographs or descriptions of your item, if it's possible to do so now, please do. (I realize some things are not photographable, or in some cases, ready to be photographed.) As to description, whatever you want to say which will make it most appealing to a bidder. I'm reachable at jlake(a)

And thank you very much.

Tech help

A year or so ago davidlevine helped me figure out how to echo all my incoming and outgoing email from my shell account (Pine) to my gmail account. My incoming is still echoing properly via my .forward file, but as of the last few days my outgoing doesn't seem to be, even though I still have a bcc: definition in my Pine mail header. Does someone here have the time to help me sort this out?

ETA: kadath pointed me to the answer. Gmail had begun spam filtering mail from myself. I searched the spam box for messages from me, marked them all as Not Spam, and it seems to have learned not to do this anymore.

tillyjane and I had lunch at the Two Brothers Cafe & Grill, at the corner of SE Belmont and SE 39th Ave here in Portland. It's a new place, serving Bosnian food. I've recently eaten at Pogacha in Bellevue, WA, which serves Croatian food, while tillyjane had eaten at the Drna Daisy in Astoria, OR, another Bosnian restaurant, so we were curious what they had here.

Like a lot of very new, low-budget restaurants, the interior finish out was a tad eccentric, as was the table service -- the waiter/cashier was a very friendly young man from Sarajevo who knew his food. The menu is largely regional, as promised. We ordered the cream cheese dip, the ham and cheese crepes and the chevapi. The dip was blend of cheese, bell peppers, onions and garlic served with a cornbread. There wasn't nearly enough bread for the amount of dip, but it was quite tasty. The crepe was large and rectangular, with a nicely finished pastry component, filled with ham, cheese, tomatoes and spinach and dusted with powdered sugar. It was good as well, albeit a bit less dominant than the other two dishes. The chevapi were little meat rolls (think tubular meatballs) of highly spiced beef served on a grilled pita with sour cream, onions and a Bosnian relish called ajvar.

The food was reasonably priced but not cheap. We over-ordered a bit, and had a $21 tab. I found it very tasty all the way around, with the chevapi my favorite. I'll be going back. If you live in the Portland area and are willing to support a family restaurant with cuisine outside the usual suspects, it's worth a visit.

Recursion alert

There's an interesting discussion of the concept of when writing can be "good enough" on arcaedia's blog. Worth going to read the comment thread there, and I may add my own thoughts later here. (For those just tuning in, in addition to being a thoughtful, erudite human being and very good company, arcaedia is my agent.)

As that thread originally budded off my post on quitting, we shall shortly be forming a spinning black hole of LJ recursion.

Oh, wait, too late...

Ethiopian magic scrolls

For those of you who were subject to my recent tooth-gnashing on the subject of Ethiopian magic scrolls, a very nice curator from the Pacific Science Center has called me back.

The scrolls in question date from the eighteenth, nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries, written in Ge'ez, the Ethiopian liturgical language. They are known as "taelsaem."

Auctionlet update 2006-11-14

As of now, donations for the holiday benefit auctionlet for my Neighbor are now closed. Many thanks to everyone for pitching it. As mentioned before, scarlettina will be managing the auction via eBay, details to be announced here as the time approaches. We're anticipating kicking the auction off Monday, 12/4, with shipping for the winners in time for the holiday gifting season.

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Still building the gallery, but for now l'll feature khaybee's Collapse )

Keep the auctionlet in mind for your holiday gifting needs. All proceeds will go to a Christmas gift fund for the Neighbor to use for herself and her grandchildren.

How do you know when it's good enough

As mentioned earlier, some great stuff down thread at arcaedia on how do you know when it's good enough.

I have two aphorisms that cover this, and like much that can be found within my mentatarium, they are mutually contradictory.

No one cares about your work more than you do.

The writer is the worst judge of their own work.

I am cheerfully capable of integrating two mutually contradictory ideas into my head on a running basis. (That's pretty much the definition of being human.) However, I think knowing when it's good is really a question of knowing when to stop mucking with it.

My theory on this is pretty basic. My first draft voice is my strongest voice. Rewrites are for actual boogers, minor line edits, fix-it notes, and to close plot holes. Polishing is the death of voice, for me. (There are rare exceptions to this in my process, for stories with serious breakage.) I improve as a writer by writing new stories, not by niggling at existing stories. So how do I know when it's good enough?

First, by not expecting perfection.

Second, by not plotzing with the manuscript any more than necessary as a general rule.

Third, by writing another story and seeing if I got better.

It's a rare writer who improves their voice by polishing. Write more, and get better that way. You acquire new inventory and have more fun. Besides which, self-editing can be the most justifiable form of cat-waxing.