Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Movin’ Out

I’ve had my blogger account here for long enough now that I feel I can be trusted with a blog. You know, clean its cage, take it for walks, feed it, take it to the vets when it’s not well...

So, I am now moving out of the Den in the Living Room, and over to Looking Up at the Sky, which is my very own dot-net (dylanfox.net).

I’ve been cross-posting to there from here for the past month or so, so it’s not empty. It’s also got a brand new post up there giving a special, sneak, advance look at the ToC for Steampunk Magazine #7.

Reset your RSS and go have a look!

Saturday, 27 February 2010

The Ugly Truth About Wimmin

I came across this article in The Times about the 'secret lives' of women. The lives they live in their heads that they never let their partners into. Everyone needs a personal psychological space, and I respect that. In fact, I wholly endorse it. I wanted to read the article, though, because talking to a reporter gives people an anonymity they would not have otherwise, and that gives them a chance to be honest in a way they simply couldn't be otherwise. I wanted to learn about these secret female spaces, so I could better respect them.

But boy... did I learn.

It turns out all those ugly stereotypes are true and women really are disingenuous, manipulative, emotionally vapid harpies with obsessions about sex, shoes, lying and... well, anything but their 'soul mates'.

Don't believe me? Here are some choice quotes... (Oh, and the article was written by a woman, so this is all straight from the horse's mouth)

If they’re looking to regain self-esteem, the first place they look is sex with someone new.

“It was brief and very intense. It filled a gap in my life, and what it highlighted for both of us [he was also married] was how terrified we were of losing what we had with our spouses. I am so glad that my husband never found out, because the damage would have been immense. But then I wonder sometimes whether he suspected and turned a blind eye, that he knew everything would be all right between us as long as I didn’t confess, that it was something transient.”

Some women would rather have affairs than tell their partners that they want more in bed, believes psychoanalytic psychotherapist Jenny Riddell.

Ruth, 43, deliberately initiated a one-night stand when she was abroad for work. “I had been married for ten years to my first boyfriend, and I think I just wanted to prove that I could. It made me feel wonderful, because I had never had that experience before.”

"And how terrific when the crush dissolves, as it inevitably does, to feel the innocence of one who has done nothing more than commit adultery in her heart."

Or take Susanna, 34, who works in human resources. She has been married for years, but is enjoying a series of erotic e-mails and texts with a man she would never consider actually having an affair with. “I have to turn my phone off at night; I can’t sleep because it is so exciting. I need this, because I know I met my husband too young. I love him and will be married to him for ever, but I need this kind of exciting distraction.”

Few men realise just how much their partners sigh inwardly at male stupidity – and then discuss it with their female friends.

Women tell blatant lies about any mishap that might reinforce female stereotypes – crashing the car, buying new clothes. “He has absolutely no idea how much I spend on my hair, and if he did, he would be horrified,” says Clara, 40, who works in publishing.

Many working women (myself included) keep a running-away account, often secret, a sensible precaution when experience shows that men cannot necessarily be relied upon to support us. I know how much money my husband doesn’t have, and he knows that I have money in a separate account. But he will never know how much, because we might need it for something far more important than his Arsenal season ticket one day.

“He gets cross when I buy organic apples. So I put £200 a month into this account so that I can buy all the little luxuries that I want – like strawberries out of season, or expensive make-up – without him noticing. I want that freedom to be able to spend money frivolously, but I also don’t want that to be a sticky aspect of our marriage.”

“Men are so simple. They think we are complicated and devious, but they don’t think to ask us what we want, and we don’t say,” says Clara.

I used to think all those love songs were about men and women,” a new mother told me for my book Life After Birth. “But it is only now that I understand how all those words are really meant for your child."

“If he were killed in a car crash, I’d be more worried about how it would upset the children. I could cope with my grief, but I am not sure I could cope with theirs.”

There is a big difference between hiding an ongoing affair, where you have fallen out of love with your partner but can’t bear to end the relationship, and the casual fling, which was unfortunate, but didn’t mean anything. Not every affair needs to be confessed, particularly if your prime motivation is to appease your own guilt.

And what about their sample?

Sarah, 35, Company manager;
Helen, early 50's, travels abroad regularly for work;
Evie, 45, married to her childhood sweetheart for 25 years, 2 children, finacial difficulties;
Ruth, 43, abroad for work;
Caroline, 45, an architect;
Susanna, 34, HR;
Pat, early fifties, local government;
Clara, 40, publishing;
Carmilla; earns a small fortune in the City of London;
Joanne, 40, lawyer;
Ah, I see the white, upper-middle class career-type is well represented. Which is good, because it's a known, proven-by-science fact that they can speak for every woman, everywhere. Such a representative sample also rules out the possibility that the similarities in their views and experiences might be down to similarities in their circumstances and lifestyles, rather than solely due to their sex.

I think the best bit has to be the quotes from actual, real women on pages 3 and 4.

Thank you, Murdoch press, for bringing the truth! I'm so glad that the truth, once again, panders to my insecurities and reinforces my sense of entitlement. I'm really grateful you're here to protect me from a world where I might have to think and challenge the assumptions I hold about people who aren't me!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

We had to walk up hill both ways, too

I remember, back when I was in class 7N (for those disinclined to maths, that would make me 12/13).  As part of an exercise in... something, we had a grid of dots which he had to join up.  The dots we used, and the order we joined them up in, were uncovered by means of some maths.  The end result was supposed to be a polar bear.   Half-an-hour into the class, everyone was joining up the dots and making their bears.  I wasn’t.  I’d been fighting and fighting and fighting and I just couldn’t get it.  I had a round hole, and I was clutching a square peg in my hand.  I put my head on the desk, and started to cry.  It wasn’t the only time I’d cried in class 7N, just one of the first occasions that springs to mind.

The Daily Fail had an article about a new set of psychological conditions under consideration for inclusion in the ‘psychiatric bible’.  I was initially sceptical of these new conditions because--as far as I understand the medical system in America--there’s a very cosy relationship between those who decide if something is a disease or not, and those who make drugs to treat the disease.  Maybe that’s just hearsay, I’m really not in a position to judge.

Then I started thinking about Autism, ADHD, Aspger’s, and some of the things mentioned in the article like Intermittent Explosive Disorder.  None of these terms were in the public consciousness when I was at school.  You were a slow learner, or you were badly behaved.  Either way, you were expected to take responsibility for your actions.  Why this sudden rush to label all these things and throw drugs and treatments at them?

And what long-term good is sticking labels on these kids going to do, anyway...?  What if people had been aware of these sorts of things back when I was a kid as they are now?  Would I have been diagnosed with something? 

Might I, possibly, have been given the help and support I needed to function in society?  Would someone have sat me down, talked through these things with me, convinced me I wasn’t irreplaceably broken and given the tools for me to make a decent life for myself?  Would someone had done all that for me when I was 12, instead of when I was 27 and there was an awful lot more damage to undo?

So maybe the doctors aren’t just stickling medical labels on bad parenting or excusing naughty children by giving them disorders.  Maybe if a bit more of this sort of thing had been going on when I was a kid...

There’s no sense in wishing to change the past, of course.  I don’t think these conditions are necessarily labels or pigeon holes.  They’re just a way of saying, ‘ah, so that’s how your brain is working... that’s fine, this is the set of tools you need to deal with the world’.  Call it ADHD, hyperactivity or possession by witches, it don’t matter.  What matters is that someone sits down with you, tells you you’re not broken, gives you the tools you need and the support you need to learn how to use them.

Monday, 22 February 2010

A rather nebulous discussion

So... what's up with these Nebula Awards I keep hearing people talk about?

You mean people like Jason Sanford and Rachael Swirsky?

Yeah, well done on the name check. It's not like you know these people personally...

I follow their blogs, okay? It's good enough. Anyway, the Nebula Awards. Their given out every year by the Science Fiction Writer's Association of America--

Hang on, who are they?

An association of American science fiction writers.

Thanks, Captain Obvious. What do you have to do to become one?

You've got to live in America and be a professionally published author.

Right. So about their award...

Yeah, it's given out to the best science fiction or fantasy published in the United States during the previous year. There's five catagories: Novel; novella; novelette--

Novelette? What the crap?

Longer than a short story, but shorter than a novella. You know how these Americans like to sub-categorize things. Anyway, shut up and stop interpreting me. So, novelette, short story and script.
You can talk again now.

Fantastic. So, who get to decide who gets what?

Rule 12 (f): Only Active members in good standing shall be eligible to vote.
What's that look on your face for?

I'm just wondering why I should care. A bunch of Americans voting on which of a bunch of American fiction is best. I mean, power to them making a space for their own culture and all, but as an Englishman living in Wales, why should I support a cultural juggernaut which is stomping on everything in it's path?

Okay, firstly, it's not just fiction by American authors. It's fiction published in America. The difference is important. Secondly, don't tar everything with the same brush. Sure, McDonalds and Hollywood are killing indigenous cultures like it's going out of fashion but you can't then turn around and say, 'everything American is bad'. Like you said, they're making a space for their own culture, they're not actively stomping on anyone else's, and they've got a lot to offer the world. Plus, what's the population of Wales?

According to Wikipedia, about 3 million.

And the population of the UK is about 62 million. Know what the population of the US is? 308 million. So that's why an award voted for by a bunch of Americans is important. By head, they make up a huge proportion of the international community. It's like asking why anyone should care what the Conservative party think. Sure, they're just one party in Parliament, but they're a very big party. And it's not like those 308 million are all white, middle-class Christian Republicans. 79.8% self-identify as white compared to 92.1% in the UK, and that's just skin colour.

Okay okay, so I can't vote. I can't take part. But I should probably watch, right?

You know, if I trot that line out, in that tone of voice, during the World Cup this summer you're going to smack me in the face.

Yeah... fair play.

And when authors get nominated, they tend to put their stories up for free so people can read them. And by people, I don't just Americans, either. That's good for everyone.


So, we're sorted?


I'll take that as a yes. Or are we going to have an argument about this?

Fuck that, let's get pizza.

Shit yeah!

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Erm... Parentsplaining?

FWD/Forward has a very good, succinct discussion of 'splaining.  I like it, because the discussion directly relates the concept to using your position of privilege to take away someone else's power of self-expression.  In short, it's a man using his position of privilege to tell a woman her experiences of being a woman are less worthwhile than his opinions on what it's like to be a woman, or a temporally able-bodied person telling a disabled person that their opinions on disability are more valid that the disabled persons experiences.  A classic example is a minority being told by people who aren't part of the minority, 'You've got no reason to be offended by that'.

I've seen it used in a more general way, to refer to when a person of privilege assumes their opinions on anything are of more value then the opinions of a person they are privileged over.  The guy telling my friend how to start her motorbike, for example.  It's a definition I have a few problems with, because it's a bit vague and woolly and open to interpretation.  If I was speaking to a female writer, for example, and made suggestions on how she could improve her prose, she could accuse me of mansplaining.  Until she knows that I dedicate a lot of my time to perfecting prose, she would probably have every right to think that.  Conversely, a female who doesn't write could tell me how to improve my prose, and there would be no portmanteaux for that.

Something I've heard parents say a lot is, 'you don't have children, you don't understand, you have no right to tell me how to raise my children'.  It really, really gets my back up.  Underlying it seems to be an assumption that when you become a parent, you are automatically granted access to a special set of skills and knowledges that only fertilizing an egg or forcing a baby out of your vagina can give you access to.  I mean, maybe that's true.  When you decide to raise a child, maybe you're automatically granted a few levels in parenting.  Evidence seems to suggest that you learn to raise children the same way humans learn everything else, though:  Trail and error; and imitation. 

If I were to tell a parent that they shouldn't treat their child like x, y or z, it seems that I would 'splaining to them.  Me, with no personal experience, telling someone who does have personal experience how to do it better.  To an extent, I totally agree with that.  I wouldn't assume I could change a nappy or give a child a bath, much less tell a parent how to do it. 

There's a line somewhere, though.  If I saw a mother smacking the crap out of her child in a restaurant, I'd feel morally obliged to step in.  I also think that raising children on a diet of deep-fried pizza and chips is wrong, and I wouldn't feel unjustified in telling parents they should introduce some fruit and veg into their children's diet.  If parentsplaining can, in fact, exist, then only people who are parents themselves should be allowed to work in child protection services. 

If parentsplaining can exist, and people without children can tell parents that drying your child with a cheese grater is wrong, then parentsplaining is qualified.  Those without personal experience can tell those with personal experience they're doing it wrong under some circumstances.

Perhaps parentsplaining can't exist.  Perhaps parentsplaining can't exist because parents are the socially accepted norm, and are therefore in the position of privilege over the childless.  Perhaps the fact that demonstrable harm is being done to a child is a pretty clear and unambiguous line that doesn't exist in other instances of 'splaining.  Perhaps the fact that children are a disempowered group themselves means parentsplaining isn't comparable to other instances.  Perhaps it's the fact that being a parent is--a lot of the time--a choice, while being a woman, or disabled, or of colour isn't that makes the situation different.

Clearly, I don't understand 'splaining yet.  Before I can understand and assimilate a concept, I need to boil it do to its quintessential essence and watch the vital parts twitch and move.  Then I can slowly, carefully, put the variations back in.  This is just me thinking aloud here, fiddling with my Bunsen burner, my test tubes and my Petri dishes.  Why do I need to write a blog post about it?  Because I need to write about things to examine them.  Prose is my laboratory.  And I'm posting it in public because, I dunno, maybe someone else will find it useful.  Plus, of course, I've got a ego to placate...

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

My idea of Heaven

It would be a roomy room with an open fire and bookshelves heaving under more books than I could read in a life time. There would be a rug, and a spiral staircase leading up to a balcony bedroom. There would be pens and paper.

The best part would be the bed. It would be large, covered in soft white sheets and soft white pillows. They would always be clean and fresh, and it would always be slightly cool when I climbed in. And, when I climbed in, I would feel tired enough to go to sleep.

There are lots of necessities I don’t like being shackled to in life. Eating, for instance. If I could never eat again, that would be fantastic. I could just have a meal once in a while, just for the pleasure of eating. But having to do it so damned much? It just isn’t worth it for the pleasure I get out of it. I look forwards to the day of food pills and protein injections. Washing is another thing. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I keep myself clean. It’s just a process I have to go through every couple of days. Scrub the dirt off and get on with the day. It’d be great if I could get rid of that, too.

But sleeping... There are times when I think I could quite happily spend my whole life asleep. Actually being asleep is great, but so is falling asleep. That bit where your mind wanders randomly and you’re not to sure what’s real and what isn’t.

I’ll tell you what it feels like: When I’m dozing, or falling asleep, or sleeping, it feels like my mind is free. Free from society, free from what other people expect of it, free from my body, free from my own expectations and desires and hang-ups.

Maybe sleep is like everything else. Maybe it’s the scarcity of it that makes is so valuable, and if you have an unlimited supply of it then it becomes worthless. But in my trans-humanist future where you can free yourself from the shackles of physical necessity, I’m going to be keeping hold of sleep.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

A Question of Ethics

It must surely be a bizarre and twisted world where 'No Win, No Fee' solicitors are a force for good in the world.  While the intention of the laws they exploit may have been intended for the benefit of mankind, they are cultivating the greed and lack of personal responsibility which is the cancer of our age.

And then there's The Bastards.  Everyone, I'm sure, has at least one in their lives.  They are people who seem to operate without any moral compass, any sense of empathy for their fellow human beings, any poetry in their soul, any sense of wonder.  They are small, petty people, frustrated with their own powerlessness who stamp on anyone around them as hard as they can in compensation.  People with tight, closed, scared minds, the sort of people who say, 'I'm not being racist/sexist/homophobic, but...'  They may change, because everyone can change.  But it would probably take a night-time visit from three ghosts, a meeting with a messiah, and surviving a major, world-changing disaster to crack that shell of theirs.  And possibly the most frustrating thing with these people is that you are never, ever going to be in a position to hand out some just deserts.

(In my life, the majority of Bastards can be found in middle-management.)

Now, for the ethical question of the day.

Can you see what it is yet?

Lets say a Bastard deals you personal injury.  It's painful, and means you lose money because you have to stay off work.  And that's not to mention the hospital visits, costs of prescriptions, taxis, social isolation, intense itchiness.

Now, is it ethically viable to use a No Win, No Fee company to wring as much money out of them as possible?