One of the best things…

One of the best things about coming to WisCon is that I immediately have a thousand things I want to talk and write about, because the ideas are just bubbling here. Unfortunately, I forget most of them by the time I get home, which I think means I should keep better notes. Here are some of the bits and pieces I've been thinking about:

  • People keep asking how I am, and I tell that I'm still unpacking, but I'm good, and getting better. That's really how I feel right now; that there's still something of a weight on my shoulders (a literal one, I think -- Kevin says that I'm developing a hunch, and both Ben and Alex keep randomly rubbing my shoulders, which I think may mean that I look visibly tense), but it's slowly lightening.

  • It was truly wonderful half-listening to Ben play with my kids, especially Kavi (while I cleaned and packed). He had them laughing uproariously, and he actively participated in storytelling with her, which I should do more often, because they were clearly having a fabulous time, and she was so happy to have an adult totally focused on making up totally surreal stories with her. Which, y'know, I would like to do more of, so a good reminder to me that the cleaning can wait a bit.

  • I was telling Ben in the car ride up (before his fascinating explication of Jewish history and his long debate with Alex re: Alex's...umm....strong views on Christianity) that the past five years, age 35-40, I've felt oddly selfish. From 20-35, most of my energy and time was focused on writing and thinking and participating in community (plus, okay, a fair bit of sex) -- once we had the kids, and then with the house renovation, I've been sort of swamped with personal/family-directed needs. And that was my choice, and I'm glad I did it, but I've also felt sort of guilty about it. Ben phrased it well, that I felt that I was failing in my duty as a public intellectual. With a few notable exceptions (the week following my race posts at Scalzi's blog, and my WisCon GOH speech, both of which I think I did a good job with, and maybe even this post about my usage of the n-word on a panel), I've been mostly absent from the broader public sphere, as even my blog got taken over with photos of broken windows and pretty fabric and such. It's been bothering me, this self-focus, but hopefully all of those family/home demands are easing now, and I can go back to my other work. Which will hopefully be more interesting for you too.

  • For example, here's a random thought that's been bugging me: tragedy -- why is there so little real tragedy in contemporary American literature?
    From Aristotle's Poetics: "purification" (catharsis)[*]: tragedy first raises (it does not create) the emotions of pity and fear, then purifies or purges them. Whether Aristotle means to say that this purification takes place only within the action of the play, or whether he thinks that the audience also undergoes a cathartic experience, is still hotly debated." (

    Perhaps especially in genre fiction, it seems to me that there is very little pure tragedy being written, which makes me wonder why? Are readers no longer interested in a cathartic experience? Do publishers select for happy endings / ambiguous endings / etc.? I can think of some examples of what I might call societal tragedies -- the work of Paolo Bacigalupi comes to mind, and perhaps China Mieville. But I don't think it's quite the same thing. Still thinking about this. It makes me want to try to write a real tragedy, though, even if no one will want to buy or read it.

  • I've been fretting, off and on, that even when I write genre fiction (mystery, science fiction, fantasy), I keep writing about Sri Lankan women (often poly). I was worrying that I was in a bit of a rut. But then I ran across this, from Yoon Ha Lee, "I used to write in white futures and white settings, because I was emulating what I saw in the sf/f that I had grown up reading. In the past few years, I have consciously tried to write stories that break away from that, whether they're stories that specifically draw on my Korean heritage or stories that are more generally non-Western in tone. I'm pretty much prepared to do this until someone tells me that there's a glut of Korean-flavored sf/f being published in English." Ha! That last line makes me feel better. From WisCon Chronicles, vol. 5: Writing and Racial Identity, which I bought at A Room of One's Own last night and have been devouring ever since. Great reading.

  • "If a man wrote a love story during the wartime, he wrote a 'war' story; if a woman wrote a love story during the wartime, she wrote a 'love' story..." That is so, infuriatingly, true. Argh. Thanks to M.J. Hardman's student Chun Huang for so brilliantly encapsulating that phenomenon in a single sentence. (WC vol. 5 again)

  • "In English order matters. That which comes first is considered "better" in some way....I wrote an editorial...titled "Why We Should Say 'Women and Men' Until It Doesn't Matter Any More," the point being that until the sexes are no longer ranked, speaking in this fashion (which is perfectly possible in English) is one small way of helping to bring about a nonsexist world. It is quite surprising how much difference it can make, and how difficult it can be at the beginning, and how often editors / teachers will change what you have written: women and men, girls and boys, she and he, Eve and Adam, etc. Try it." It kind of freaks me out how much it mentally bothers me, hearing those phrases reversed from the standard. I keep wanting to 'fix' it, in my head. Something to work on! Both this bit and the previous are from M.J.'s essay on the Russ Categories, which was a great reminder for me -- I'd read her "How to Suppress Women's Writing" a long time ago, but had mostly forgotten it, and I think I should re-read it. It's in one of my boxes somewhere.

  • Yesterday, Candra Gill did a great job reading aloud Russ's "When it Changed," and I almost cried. Both because the story is brilliant -- angry and heart-breaking and darkly hilarious, and because I am so sorry that Russ is gone. A great loss. And to connect to previous, I would call this story a tragedy. I suspect a lot of Russ's work would fit into that category.

8 thoughts on “One of the best things…”

  1. I’ve noticed that a lot of people like certain genres these days. They like historical fiction. Or *really* bloody murder mysteries. Or the “Amish love stories”.

    At least in Farmington, at any rate.

    Although Charmington may be the exception.

  2. Your comment about tragedy is really interesting, at least to me. I am wondering whether you consider the Dune series to be ultimately tragic. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land is also a tragedy, in my opinion. Most tragedies of Sophocles, say, do not end with the feeling of utter and all-encompassing despair that Shakespearean tragedies so often do. In this way, Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death is a more recent example of a powerful tragedy, even as there is hope in the aftermath of tragedy, on a scale that rivals both Shakespeare and Sophocles.

    So I question whether tragedy is really absent in our literature nowadays.


  3. I should, of course, add the disclaimer that I am a fan of literature, not a literary scholar, so if my observations above seem silly and trivial, or downright wrong, I make no apologies, but also no claims of extreme erudition.

  4. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    To clarify, I’m not saying there are no examples — there definitely are some. But why are there so few? Consider that a significant proportion of Shakespeare’s plays were tragedies — why isn’t a fourth of our current literary output tragedy?

  5. I find it interesting when different people describe a couple in different orders — are they Fran & Ed, or Ed & Fran? Does it depend which of them you met first, or what?

  6. Re: tragedies, I have two conflicting observations:

    a) Really? No tragedies? I’m in a “literary” book club (Nabokov is an agreed-upon favorite author, the closest they can come to “genre” is _Never Let Me Go_), and almost every book? Depressing as heck-all.

    b) “The problem with Americans is that you want a tragedy with a happy ending.” The Bartender in the short film “Surviving Desire,” directed by Hal Hartley. Worth watching.

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