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Don't lose your temper until AFTER shul Feb. 4th, 2012 @ 09:55 pm
I got annoyed at a Chabad siddur today. Well, okay, no, the siddur itself was mostly fine (except it has all of pesukei d'zimrah in the wrong order, but only if you're used to the order in a standard Ashkenazi sidder, but that's besides the point).

No, what annoyed me was the section in the back with useful Halachot. Before I get started, it's not what you think.

There was a section on laws for Shabbat that was surprisingly short, but was only meant to cover "Things that people may do, but that some Rishonim say are assur, so you should avoid so as not to commit a terrible sin" (I'm paraphrasing, but that's the gist).

Okay, no. That's not how this religion works. Say it with me people, "There is no such thing as a category that is permissible, yet should be avoided." Which is not to say that there is no such thing as a chumra. Chumrot have their place (yes, I seriously believe that), but a chumra is, by definition, accepting the halachic interpretation that ends up requiring more, either asking you to do more, or asking you to refrain from more. That is what a stringency means! It is an alternative to the equally valid interpretation that requires less.

Which means that if you follow those rishonim who hold that whatever it is is assur on Shabbat (something involving a fly in the soup, though without a single mention of the backstroke), then you are not allowed to do it. If you don't follow them, then whatever it is is completely permissible. There is no halachic category for "most rabbis say its okay, but a few don't, so just in case, I won't do it."

It's like any other legal system. Until the law has been decided here, on Earth, at the hands of scholars, there is no answer yet. Halacha comes into being with its own pronouncement, much like the outcome of a court case is unfixed until the jury gives its verdict. And once the verdict is given, that is the Halacha for that rabbi (and for the person who asked the rabbi in the first place). If that is not your rabbi and your rabbi says something different, then the halacha is different for you. The fact that, for example, I rip toilet paper on Shabbat and you are careful to use tissues is a matter of difference in interpretation but, because we are both relying on well-reasoned halachic sources, neither of us is wrong. What would be wrong would be for me to say that my rabbi says it's okay, but just in case he's wrong, I won't rip. I can disagree with him and believe he's actually wrong, that's different, but I cannot agree with his reasoning and go against it "just in case" as if there is some giant book in the sky with "the real answers" and I have to hedge my bets. The "right" answer is the answer one comes to after careful study and understanding of the case. End of story. To pretend, like the authors of this siddur do, that there's a "just in case" when it comes to Halacha is absurd.

Of course, one COULD choose to fervently believe that, faced with the possibility of being lenient or stringent, one must always be more stringent. The Talmud has a word for such a person: Idiot.

I know, I'm preaching to the choir. But what are friends for, if not to listen and nod their heads when we need to rant?

On a completely unrelated note, the frat across the street has been playing music since 3 this afternoon. It's been mostly contemporary pop, though, at around 4:30, the usual program was interrupted by speakers blazing the theme song to "Rugrats".
Current Mood: aggravatedaggravated

Dec. 2nd, 2011 @ 09:03 am
I understand that weird dreams happen; God knows I've had my share of them, but I spent my entire dream last night trying to remember the words to all the verses in Maoz Tzur - no sensory content, just trying to remember all the verses and my brain was so preoccupied with this, IT WOKE ME UP in the middle of the Purim verse because it could not figure out what came after Agagi ben Hamdata.

I finally remembered the rest of it, sitting in bed and decided to sing it through because, at a certain point, this felt like an accomplishment. It was then I realized my brain hadn't really kicked in because I COULD NOT REMEMBER THE FIRST VERSE. No, seriously, I forgot the words "l'cha na'eh l'shabeach" I actually had to haul out the siddur and look it up (well,the siddur lives on my desk, so I could do this without getting out of bed, but still).

Really, brain? Really?
Current Music: "Like a Rolling Stone" ~ Bob Dylan

Why I Hate Freud Oct. 3rd, 2011 @ 10:57 pm
The topic is "phantasies" and what people fantasize about. But since people hide the fact that they fantasize and what the content is, how do we know if they fantasize and what they fantasize about?
"[T]he victims of mental illness...are obliged to tell their phantasies, among other things, to the doctor by whom they expect to be cured by mental treatment. This is out best source of knowledge, and we have since found good reason to suppose that our patients tell us nothing that we might not also hear from healthy patients." (Freud, "Creative Writing and Daydreaming")

Spot the logical fallacy.

Once again, I'm reminded why Freud is studied primarily as a philosopher of the mind rather than as a psychologist these days. And the literary critic in me is interested in the exploration of the creative mind and Freud himself as a, dare I say it, creative writer. The psychologist in me wants to cry (and is mildly curious why I speak about my brain as if it was run by little people sitting inside my head, disagreeing with each other - if you've been watching Doctor Who this season, I'm prepared to bet you have the same image in your head right now that I have in mine.)

DovBear Post Sep. 21st, 2011 @ 08:11 pm
So the following was the first quote in a post by DovBear:

“Orthodox Jewish couples are taught, once they get engaged, to have phenomenal, shout-out-loud, swinging-from-the-chandelier sex.” - Shmuley Boteach

If you're interested in the responses he has, feel free to check out the post - DovBear

Orthodox Jewish couples SHOULD BE taught...
I'm fine with the premise, but there's a huge gap between what you think ought to be done and what currently is. Yes, I think every kallah class should have at least one session devoted to the following.

1 - Sex. It's not Insert Tab A into Slot B. (If anyone's bored, I would love to see the illustrated wordless IKEA instructions for how to have sex. Which leads right into...
2 - Foreplay. (Note, this is the ONLY time when sex comes before foreplay). Not only is is mutar (permissable), it's a chiyuv (required). As a corollary to that, depending on your level of frumekit (no good translation), you may have spent the last 12 years being told that sex, genitalia, and pleasure is icky. Now would be a good time to get over that.
3 - Your partner does not read minds. Tell him/her what you want, what you don't want.
4 - Practice. Like most other things, the more you do it, the better you become (assuming, of course, you're following rule 3. Making the same mistake the second night in a row doesn't help anyone).

Hmm, anything else I should add?

Sep. 19th, 2011 @ 06:06 pm
I've started a "Liz in California" blog.

I'll post here every time I update it, but I'm not actually going to crosspost here - I'd prefer comments related to that blog to show up there and this to remain LJ focused.
Whatever it is I do with LJ.

Without further ado, http://jabenami.wordpress.com/
Go forth and read.
Other entries
» (No Subject)
The award update, a.k.a. "So some of these books were really good and I wanted to share why".

Because, let's be fair, I should wait until I've gone up further than from 7-9 out of 27 before having the temerity to post an update. Technically nine and a bit, I started Hannu Rajiemi's "The Quantum Thief" (and then promptly got distracted by "Inside of a a Dog", lent to me by my mother. It's an animal behaviorist's look at how dogs think...at least, how we would get at how we think dog's think).

Anyway, read stuff:

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin.
Take it as given that the plot is good, the characters are well developed, the world is three dimensional and that it's overall, a well crafted book. Got it? Now, there are two reasons I find it to be particularly special.
The first reason is that, in this story, Jemisin actually did something new with epic fantasy. In a field that tends to draw jointly from Tolkien and the Middle Ages for its source material, Jemisin's world and conflict feels unique. Her attitudes and approaches towards sweeping world conflict seem to stem from the 20th century, not the 15th. And this works because she's not trying to recreate a medieval world and doing it badly, but creating a fantasy world with wholly different underpinnings that relates to our culture on a different level.
Which brings me to point the second - Jemisin has written a good post-colonialist novel. (Yes, darlings, I did just type that sentence). It's a novel that actually encounters race and conquest and subjugation in a meaningful manner, one that embraces dialogue on the subject and allows the topic of colonialism to be present without being heavy handed and didactic. Of course, one of the ways in which she did this was by being an excellent storyteller. The story in 100K is robust enough to support its metatextual implications and I've found most poco literature collapses under the weight of its own diatribe. Jemisin's series (book two is already out and is just as good, it's called The Broken Kingdoms) grows stronger from the inclusion of post colonialist ideas and conflicts.
So yes, highly recommended.

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
For those of you who have never read Kay before, his speciality is research. He does a ton of it. His novels are set in fantastical versions of real places and eras and he recreates our history through the lens of fantasy. "The Lions of Al Rassan" is set in a version of medieval Spain and dramatizes Muslim/Christian/Jewish conflict, with some magic. Tigana is set in Italy and looks at the city-states, and so on. Under Heaven is a fantasy set in a land very like China during the Tang dynasty. Except it has been fictionalized, given something of a fantastic flair and separated from the source material just far enough for it to straddle the line between historical fiction and fantasy.
As fantasy, it is a great, sweeping epic of a story about empires and individuals and how the lives of both intertwine. As history, it is a meticulously detailed and rich evocation of a time and culture different than our own. As fiction - well, he's also a damn fine writer and, despite the length and occasional density of the prose, a great read.

Current count of Hugo, Nebula and Locus nominees (The Locus is divided into four categories - science fiction, fantasy, first novel and young adult. * means it already won in that category)
Read:
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin (Excellent) (H/N/FNL*)
Cryoburn by Lois Mcmaster Bujold (Really Good) (H/SFL)
Feed by Mira GranXt (Excellent) (H)
The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Good/Really Good) (H/SFL)
Kraken by China Mieville (FL*) (Really Good/Excellent)
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (Excellent) (FL)
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (Not Bad) (FNL)
Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones (Really Good) (YAL)
I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett (Really Good/Excellent) (YAL)

Unread:
Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (H/N*/SFL*)
The Native Star by M.K. Hobson (N)
Echo by Jack McDevitt (N)
Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks (SFL)
Zero History by William Gibson (SFL)
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (N/FL)
The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross (FL)
The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe (FL)
The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer (FNL)
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal (N/FNL)
The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (FNL)
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (YAL*)
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (YAL)
Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (YAL)
» Your Weight and Fate on Earth
Re the title - anyone else remember the Magic Schoolbus books, with Ms. Frizzle (who, I kid you not, looked like my 6th grade English/History teacher)?

But that's almost completely irrelevant to the topic at hand. A bit of background - while looking into info regarding ph.d. programs, one of the things I started looking at on Grad Cafe was what grad students wear, particularly when they are doing things like meeting professors for the first time and taking campus tours.
I discovered that there's actually a pretty impressive world of style blogs out there that are maintained by women in either academic or somewhat business casual settings and who think about what it means to dress well, to have style (ranging from the approaching-runway-zaniness to the I'm-9-months-pregnant-and-this-maxi-dress-is-the-only-thing-that-fits-me), and to mediate between feminism's rocky relationship with style and culture's equally rocky relationship with the female body. I think it's fascinating.

Anyway, one of the topics that keep coming up are, of course, issues of weight. Questions of judgement (like saying "she shouldn't be wearing that"), questions of self-perception (What does it mean to feel fat in an outfit?) and questions of other people's perceptions. (When, if ever, is it okay to comment to someone's changing body shape?)

Which, of course, plays into my relationship with body shape and how bad we are, as a culture, at dealing with others' body shape. For someone like me, whose body runs towards a heavier build and curves (at least where my lower body is concerned, though I have been warned that none of my shirts will ever fit right ever again once I decide to begin the spawning process), being told I look skinny is meant to be a compliment, being told I've put on some weight is something said primarily by family members who are trying to convince me to get rid of it again. Another one of my friends has the opposite problem. When people tell her she's lost some weight, they mean they can use her as the biology lab skeleton - it's a not-so-subtle hint to gain weight.
Of course, there's this underlying assumption that what we are asking of our bodies is easy. "Just eat more." (Yes, that would be a lovely idea, except I seem to be running a low level fever for a week and can't, thank you very much). And my favorite "Oh, I have this great diet, you just...(Insert fad here). What people inevitably fail to grasp is that making your body weight do what you want is highly individualized, extraordinarily dependent on your own mind and that's leaving questions of genetics out of the pictures.
Look, I'm not saying McDonalds for four meals a day is a good idea. I'm personally in favor of Michael Pollen's attitude (eat food, not too much, mostly plants), but part of why I like it is because it's infinitely adaptable. Not too much is a relative term and really means not too much, given your particular levels of metabolism, activity and needs. Eating food is something I can agree with (it tastes better, for one thing). Plants are a bit trickier, because we, as a dumb government, tend to subsidize crap rather than plants. But the point, wherever it went, is that diet, both in terms of what one eats and how one regulates it, is way the hell more complicated than people think.

What brought this on? Weight fluctuations, of course. This is not a let-me-share-my-body lj,* so we'll skip the underlying me bits and get straight to a particular comparison of two attitudes. masteraleph and I are at my parents for the weekend. My grandmother came over for friday night dinner and, pretty much the first thing she said to me when she walked in the door was "Ahh, you get slimmer every time I see you. This is the levana_b I remember, skinny and not wearing a hat. This is my granddaughter." (Take it as a given that my grandmother, who does not own a computer, used my real name.)
I looked at my mother, who had her "If I ever turn into this kind of person at 79, please do the decent thing and shoot me" look on. But, as my dad always points out (well, it is his mother), she's 79 and she's not changing.
Leaving aside the bit about the hat, which is due to her profound and poorly hidden antipathy that her grandchildren are religious, what kind of culture do we live in where it's okay to say something like that!? Ever!? To anyone!?
Acts of judgement like that are an imposition of your view of ideals on someone else and seem to imply that they should be the way you want them to be, irrespective of what they want. Look, I will be honest, I like being told I look good. I like being complimented and I like the fact that I've gotten more compliments about how I look in the past two months than I have for quite a while previously. Yes, I like getting complimented, who doesn't? But I get more than a little disturbed when I start to think about what those compliments are doing and how they're functioning. It seems we only compliment people on their looks when they're taking specific actions to conform to social norms. Compliments have become the provenance of those who wish to enforce a standard of beauty.
I want a new system. I think everyone should just act like my dad. (I have thought this for most of my life). Now, you have to understand, my dad is a huge proponent of healthy living. He bikes 20 miles at least four times a week, does not eat red meat or that much dairy (he's lactose intolerant) and cares very much about how he lives. But that's his life and how he relates to his own body. For as long as I can remember, every time I've come back to this, my parents' house, when he comes in from shul on Friday night and sees me dressed up nice(ish) for Shabbat, he tells me I look good. Whether it was right after I'd come home from camp, where I tended to lose weight, or a visit home from college, where I tended to gain it, he always told me I looked good. And he was sincere and honest and meant it.
For everything anyone has said to me, over past few months or even over the past couple of years, I don't think any compliment has meant or will mean more to me than when he says "Big kid! You look good."


*Some of you, I assume, are curious anyway. I have, in recent months, been getting annoyed at my personal abilities. I wanted...I still want to be the kind of person who can run 5k no sweat, who can do long, intensive bikerides...in short, someone who can demand quite a bit from her body and whose body will say "sure, let's give it a go." So I'm trying. I can run 4.2 miles, with my only walking breaks being right after I drink (and one obnoxious hill), I can bike 12 miles easy and am now working on my speed. In short, I'm pleased because, while this is just a start, it's a start. Of course, making demands like this on my body changes it and all people see are the changes. They don't see the part that's most important to me.
I admit, I am shallow. My weight matters. My appearance matters. This isn't purely about power and achievement. But if I keep redirecting my gaze towards what I want to matter, maybe one day it will be.

» The Limits of Self Identification
Do they exist?

This has been on my mind recently, in a variety of ways, and in dealing with a variety of people. Since most of you (more or less) have a good idea what my life is like and the places where I am likely to encounter such questions on a regular basis, I don't want to use the particular examples that have brought me back to thinking about the groups into which people place themselves and the degree to which I am willing to accept that identification.

So I will borrow an example from my college career, from when I was informed that I was not a feminist. This was a bit of a surprise to me, given that I do consider myself to be a feminist and I believe very passionately in the ideas of respect, empowerment and creating a world in which not just women but people are not endangered by a power structure that silences them. (Yes, as far as I'm concerned, that's a part of feminism).

However, as far as this person was concerned, I was an Orthodox Jew who was not willing to denounce the misogyny in her religion and throw out her beliefs in favor of this person's view of what it meant to be feminist. My self-identification was irrelevant because I did not fit into their* mold of what it means to be feminist.

Obviously, one very quickly sees the problem here. Working from disparate definitions, we were unlikely to reach a conclusion, which is why I smiled and more or less ignored them for the rest of the semester.

Now here's example number two, also from my past. There is a longstanding argument on a certain side of my family about what it means to be a good Jew. Certain people, who are the human equivalent of a kosher style deli that serves slices of ham but only on rye bread, self-identify as good Jews and want recognition along the lines of YJINMJBYJIOK (Your Jewishness is not my Jewishness, but your Jewishness is okay). I disagree. I do not think it is possible to be a good Jew without being a Halakhic Jew. I think it is possible to be a good person and I think that's certainly better than being a bad person. But no, G-ma (as my sister so lovingly says), just because you want our approval doesn't mean you're going to get it. You may self-identify as a good Jew, but we do not identify you as such. We reserve the right to be right and consider you wrong.

Now, world at large and at small, what is the difference between the two circumstances? (Nothing - I'm right in both of them).

Does it really come down to a question of whether I am judging or being judged? Or is there a fundamental difference between something nebulous (damn, savant1984, you have ruined that word for all time) like what it means to be feminist, and something concretized, like what it means to follow Halakha? Or is Halakha only concretized because I have spent more time thinking about it? Are questions of what is beyond the pale for Halakhic Judaism easier for me to mentally adjudicate because they are questions currently being asked inside and outside of the community?

Now I could make the "Halakha is God's definition of what it means to be a good Jew, so I'm not relying on my own interpretation, but on His." I'm fairly sure that the argument of "We answer to a Higher Authority" lurks somewhere in the back of my response, but I also think that's incomplete, both because the other side can just as easily borrow the same rhetoric and then the argument is exactly where it was before, AND because I do firmly believe in Halakha as having divine origin, but also as being set down, decided, framed and reframed by centuries of people practicing it. So I am relying on a broader community's definition rather than my own...all well and good if you agree with them. Does that mean I have to submit to the judgement of the community? Actually, I would argue that the answer is yes when the system also relies on the behavior of those who create, enforce and practice it to define itself.

But then you are still left with the basic problem that, from the perspective of the judge, someone who wishes to align themselves with an ideology/way-of-life/identity is, in some way, rejecting the tenets of that ideology/way-of-life/identity. And, from the perspective of the judged (you have no idea how close this was to be judger and judgee respectively), they are being told that their interpretation of the world is just not compatible enough and they have to either change how they see themselves to fit their behavior or change their behavior to be allowed into the group.
This isn't always a bad thing - someone who identifies as a Democrat, but who holds quite Libertarian views might be better off pushed in the direction of Libertarianism. But what about someone like me, who believes that she is a feminist and will not let go of either her feminist or religious identity? And then how can I look at someone else, who draws the line differently, and tell them that their identity is wrong?

Sorry, Grandma, I'm going to do so anyway.

*As noted in previous posts, I see no problem with using they, them and their as the gender neutral pronoun. If Austen can do it, I can too.
» The Obligatory CSA Blogpost
Because all the cool kids are doing it. :)

But wait, you say, you didn't sign up for a CSA. How can you do a CSA blogpost without a CSA?

Easy. I stole my mother's share. I had her permission, though - she and my father are in Amsterdam this week, so I got half of last week's share and will be picking up all of tomorrow's share (err, tomorrow).

So let's get started.

Dramatis Vegetablae

1 bunch Swiss Chard
5 large zucchini
6 small carrots
2 kohlrabi
3 yellow onions
2 cipollini onions
Dill

Act 1 - Thursday
Swiss Chard and Leek tart from smittenkitchen.com
I love leeks. I love chard. I love the combination of milk and eggs in a buttery tart crust with yummy vegetables. I also love the fact that I had a disk of pie dough from the last time I made quiche so this was really minimal effort. (There's a slight difference, usually, between pie and tart dough. I didn't care).

Act 2 - Monday
Scene 1 - Tuna Salad with Dill and Pepperoncini also from smittenkitchen.com
I've been dying to make this salad for months. My attitude towards tuna these days mostly consists of "mayo is boring and not all that tasty" so having something with crunch, flavor, whole grain mustard and pickled spicy peppers was about as delightful as you...well, I might imagine. Also, all of the ingredients, except for the dill, are kitchen staples of mine (yes, even the pepperoncinis) so all this meal required was the purchasing of bread for masteraleph who likes such things.
(Alright, full disclosure, I was out of scallions. I substituted very thinly sliced red onion and it was fine).
Scene 2 - Pasta with Creamy Swiss Chard sauce (and there are cipollinis in there too) from somewhere on the internet
I was lured in by people who clearly possessed malfunctioning taste buds when they reviewed this recipe. It wasn't a bad recipe, and it definitely had potential, but the chard and the pasta just didn't come together. Bad food is unfortunate, but just not good enough food really frustrates me. Ahh well, you live and you learn.

Act 3 - Tuesday
Scene 1 - Zucchini Bread/Muffins
Well, there are 12 muffins and one loaf pan of bread because I only have one muffin tin and was too lazy to do this in batches. Zucchini bread is just one of those great things in life - the deliciousness of a sweet muffinlike desserty thing with the knowledge that "it has zucchini in it! It's good for me!" What powers of self-deception...oh, hey, look, a muffin!
Scene 2 - Zucchini Latkes from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
Well, he doesn't call them latkes. He calls them vegetable pancakes. That is a lie. They are latkes. They are scheduled for tonight's dinner.
EDIT: And now they have disappeared into the deep, dark recesses of my stomach. Where they belong. I can't believe I'd never thought to do this before. masteraleph and I disagree slightly over whether they are AS GOOD as potato latkes or even better. I'm voting for the latter. They're a little creamier inside.
Scene 3 - Broiled tofu with carrot ginger miso sauce also from Bittman
I love carrot miso flavored things. They make me happy. These are the second half of tonight's dinner, which I will start working on as soon as I finish this blog post. I may update later with my actual opinions on the food.
EDIT: Also very successful. Broiling tofu is the best way I've discovered so far to cook the stuff and the dressing is just one of those great food combinations. And I have leftover CGM dressing, which I will now be looking for ways to put on everything! Here's hoping that tomorrow's CSA has some nice lettuce.

Epilogue
Pickled Kohlrabi, recipe kindly donated by shirei_shibolim
They'll be ready in a week or so, which means they may end up playing a part in next week's dinner performance.

I still have some zucchini (did I mention they were huge? they're huge), some carrots and half the dill left, but I shall find a use for it. Never fear.
» Feed
As part of my "Read ALL the things!?" that are novel length and have been nominated for the Hugo, the Nebula or the Locus this year, I just finished Feed by Mira Grant.

I would have gotten to it sooner if I hadn't been put off by the fact that a) I'm picky about my horror insofar as if it's horror, I usually don't read it and b) Mira Grant is also known as Seanan McGuire and writes urban fantasy under that name and I don't read urban fantasy (unless it's by an author who...oh wait...is up for or wins the Hugo/Nebula/Locus).

I'm not a literary snob. Okay, that's a lie, I am a bit of a literary snob, but not so much of one that I would refuse to read a book if it doesn't get an award. But I need a way to filter through the massive amounts of books that get published in order to find the good ones. So I read reviews and check out recs by authors I admire and crowd source. Awards are a form of crowd sourcing the question of "what should I read next?"

Also, and while this is not always true, it is often true, books that have been vetted by the award process tend to be better written, overall. The style is slightly better, the authors are more capable when it comes to language, they are doing something interesting with either form or content or both. And a book is exciting, but it is also a risk. I have a certain amount of time that cannot be recaptured. Any given book must convince me that it's a good enough use of that time. Life, as they say, is too short for bad books.

Which was why I wasn't going to read Feed - it was zombie horror stuff and not my usual fare and I had other books waving "pick me, pick me!" from the shelves. And then it was up for the Hugo, at which point it moved into the category of "ooh, well written zombie horror stuff" and was suddenly on my to-read list.
It jumped up when it happened to be the only book in my hometown library on that list and I needed something to read over Shabbat.

It was brilliant. It was also not horror, at least, not in the way I think about horror. I was certainly horrified at some of the occurrences, but it's not horror unless it's the monsters that scare you. Feed isn't about what the zombies can do to you. It's about what the people can. It's a book about liberty and safety and what it means to be free and tell the truth. It's an allegory of post-9/11 America and what we, as a people, have lost and are losing when we submit to fear mongering (our own humanity, perhaps?).
It is also a very good story. If it were merely a metaphor (and I have this theory...okay, rant, that the zombie and the vampire are always metaphors. However, in the hands of a talented author, they are both metaphor and reified figure), then I probably would have agreed with it, but would not have enjoyed it half as much as I did. She blends fast-paced and well thought out (if a bit predictable at times) storytelling with a powerful, though not overpowering message. Her tone is a bit young and amateurish, which perfectly reflects the twenty-something blogger in whose voice the story is told. It was un-put-downable (except when I had to put it down and go to two weddings) and well-crafted and I loved it. I am rarely this pleased to be wrong.

Current count of Hugo, Nebula and Locus nominees (The Locus is divided into four categories - science fiction, fantasy, first novel and young adult. * means it already won in that category)
Read:
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin (Excellent) (H/N/FNL*)
Cryoburn by Lois Mcmaster Bujold (Really Good) (H/SFL)
Feed by Mira Grant (Excellent) (H)
Kraken by China Mieville (FL*) (Really Good/Excellent)
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (Not Bad) (FNL)
Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones (Really Good) (YAL)
I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett (Really Good/Excellent) (YAL)

Unread:
Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (H/N*/SFL*)
The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (H/SFL)
The Native Star by M.K. Hobson (N)
Echo by Jack McDevitt (N)
Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks (SFL)
Zero History by William Gibson (SFL)
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (FL)
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (N/FL)
The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross (FL)
The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe (FL)
The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer (FNL)
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal (N/FNL)
The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (FNL)
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (YAL*)
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (YAL)
Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (YAL)

So...7/23? Library, here I come!
» Whine Rant Bitch...
Except, you know, not about anything in particular.

I want to have an argument with someone. Problem is, I want to have an argument with someone who will fight nobly and eventually lose in the face of my supremely rational and obviously superior wisdom. (All of you who were wondering why the hell I'm going into academia probably just figured it out.)

There's no point in being opinionated at yourself (I tend to agree, for one thing. And I'm always right). Where's the Monty Python argument clinic when I need it, anyway?

Possibly this is a side effect of paying attention to the news - every time someone does something I disagree with, I would like to confront them and explain to them clearly and cogently why they are wrong and what they should do next time, as if that will be all it takes for them to go "Aha, I see, I have been in darkness my whole life, but now you have shown me the way towards reasonable behavior and resolution and I will go and fix everything. Thank you for enlightening me".

This, by the way, is why I never went into therapy (among many other reasons). You cannot fix people, especially by telling them where they're wrong. It's not even your job to remodel them to fit with your ideal mold (see NYTimes Mag for this week for a fascinating example). But oh is it tempting.

I miss school. I miss going in once a week, armed with the assigned readings and having animated discussions with people about possible meanings and what's going on and how things connect. The beauty of literature is that it has this multifacetedness to it; other people's conclusions may not agree with yours, but their approach can enhance your overall understanding of the story. Books are layered and complicated and interesting because of it and being right is fun because it opens up discussion rather than closing it down.

Sometimes I think next year can't come soon enough. Then I remember the downside of moving to California and have to go give masteraleph a hug.

Oh, life.
» (No Subject)
It rained yesterday. I woke up, after having slept longer than 5 hours for the first time since Sunday (time zones. They flummox my body's clock, which is already several minutes late and occasionally prone to going Sproing! without warning), and there was the massive grey blob looming over the scrubland north of מודיעין. "Nahh," I thought to myself, "That's impossible. We get scrubby wisps of clouds this time of year, not looming rain-clouds." Then the thunder sounded, with that long rolling boom that either reminds you of a train going by or a drummer having a bit too much fun being ominous. Then it poured for about 10 minutes. Ben, M.K. and I were incredibly puzzled because this DOES NOT happen. It never rains after April in this country (except when it does, which happens about twice a decade). It was weird...

Then, of course, the day got lovely and sunny and 15 degrees cooler than the day before, which was part of the lovely. (Friday was a massive, short heatwave, with temperatures nearing 100. Also bizarre.). Today seems to be doing much of the same. It makes me wish I could stay another week. Or four months.

I've grown fond, over the course of this exceedingly short trip, of the non-touristy bits of this country. I mean, I did go to the Mediterranean beach in Tel Aviv on Wednesday and the Midrechov on Thursday (and guess which one of those I came home from looking like a tomato. Hint - it wasn't the beach. Actually, it was a tomato that had been wearing a bandana so there's this charming line right where my widow's peak is of very pale skin and then the rest of my face is fading from red into tan and beginning to peel. Yes, I'm a charming sight at the moment.). But I also wandered around Bar Ilan and its environs and Modi'in and there are all these people here and they're just doing ordinary people things (in the case of the latter, this includes breeding like rabbits - M.K. and I were the only women in shul who lacked either a child under five or a gestating fetus. They say Modi'in is a growing city; they aren't kidding! At least we were also the youngest there by a few years, so it's less OMG!SPAWN). But these suburbs are nice. Like really nice! I admit, the five minute walk to Holy Bagel is a plus (which reminds me - the things they name stores around here are hilarious! You get stores where they just grabbed whatever English word they could find and slapped it on. In one day, I passed "Oral for Men" and "Snatch Tattoo", the former of which was in B'nei Brak and seemed to sell men's clothing.), but there's also just the appeal of being around ordinary people (well, not TOO ordinary, they are my friends after all) just living their lives because this is their home. This isn't where they vacation, its where they settle down, and take out a mortgage and raise kids (see previous comment regarding rabbits) and take them to the playground and fret about what they're doing at night. (M.K. said, and I really like this, that there's a group made up of a bunch of different parents from around the city who take turns being "on call" at night and if teenagers call them, they will come and give them a hand if they get into any trouble and, under no circumstances, mention it to anyone else, especially the kids parents - it's mostly so that if they have a bit too much to drink and can't get home, they don't have to do something stupid out of feart of their parents finding out. I think it's brilliant)

My point, which was buried somewhere between (or in) the parenthetical remarks, is that being here and being a part of people just living their lives is such a different experience and one I don't think I had noticed and certainly had not been able to appreciate when I'd been younger, even when I'd lived here for a year. It's very cool and I'm going to miss it.
» Thesised
Let me first state that, as much as I appreciate the ease that is the NYU "Special Project", it is a bit of a joke. If it doesn't have chapters and it doesn't need to be defended, it's not really a thesis.
That's probably why they call it a special project.

But I finished mine and handed in the ridiculous hard copy that the department wants on file AND the digital copy that my professor (who is currently on vacation :) ) gets to grade. 35 pages of my writing, 23 pages of appendices.

Now all I need to do is show up at my final class at NYU, talk about the research I did for ten minutes (10 minutes for a 35 page paper with graphs? Are you nuts?) and hope the fact that I am COMPLETELY ditching graduation does not make a difference regarding my actual diploma.

It's not that I don't care about getting my Master's. I do, but I see it as a step on the way to what I actually want to do. Also, what do I need a set of Master's robes for? In four years (please God) I will get shiny Ph.D. robes and the floppy velvet hat and, maybe, if I'm very good, one day they will let ME carry the official school mace at a commencement ceremony.
» David Sirota and Why He's Wrong
http://www.salon.com/news/osama_bin_laden/index.html?story=/politics/war_room/2011/05/02/osama_and_chants_of_usa

So his first point, that cheering USA! USA! is the wrong response is a questionable assertion anyway, given that things should never be wrong merely because they make you uncomfortable. And his analogy to this being the execution of a condemned criminal and we are the aggrieved family is apt, in its own way, though I think it would be a better analogy if he spoke about this as the capture, given that the problem with Bin Laden was not so much that he was alive, but that he was at large. For anyone who was made profoundly uncomfortable by living in NY after 9/11 and having the bedrock of their existence tugged out from under them, this is a celebration because it means, (on admittedly a more symbolic level than literal) that we are safe again. He can't hurt us anymore and THAT'S what I think is sparking so much of the euphoria. He can't hurt us anymore.

Now, to get to actually being annoyed at the article, because I can disagree with Sirota's opinions, but he's factually wrong in some cases.
"This is bin Laden’s lamentable victory -- he has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed. In other words, he’s helped drag us down into his sick nihilism by making us like too many other bellicose societies in history -- the ones that aggressively cheer on killing, as long as it is the Bad Guy that is being killed."

I'm going to quote a classic American movie, one that we have no qualms showing our children, from quite a few years ago. "Ding dong, the witch is dead! Which old witch? The wicked witch! Ding dong the wicked witch is dead!"

Now, whether you are of the opinion that the munchkins SHOULD have been celebrating in the streets (and whether the coroner needed to produce the long form death certificate), the idea that we celebrate the downfall of those who have hurt us is an idea entrenched in American culture. This is how we have been taught to think for nearly 80 years at least. This is not a new phenomenon and, quite frankly, this one is probably one of those cross cultural things, in which most people throughout history and going on today celebrate the downfall of their enemies. To talk about this as something "other societies" do is to vilify a fairly natural response to hearing long awaited news that is meant to herald the end of a threat. Or the beginning of an end. Bin Laden, for many, was not a person, but a symbol of a danger and the celebration that he no longer is one reflects what it means to be a human being.

Now, I'm not going to make the frankly stupid mistake of assuming that because something is innate and instinctual, it's automatically good and positive, but I think that choosing to claim that our natural responses are actually inculcated into this culture by another's who we despise is insulting in that he ignores reality in favor of polemic. We are human. We celebrate victories. Sirota, you may not like that aspect of what it means to be human, and you may see the battleground differently, but don't try and take part of who people are and other it. Accept it, encourage others to rise above it, to find a way to celebrate not the death of a man, but the promise of a future with fewer deaths, but don't pretend that it's something bestowed on us by another. This is who we are.
» Because the cookies are baking..
And my oven is itty bitty and I only have one passover baking sheet, so stuff takes time, but not enough time for me to go off and do something productive.
And I've already watched the first episode of Game of Thrones and of Doctor Who.

On the bright side, I'm pinning down my problems with Matt Smith. (I liked the opening episode, I was intrigued by it, Matt Smith still irritates me - there, that's all I'll say regarding 6.1). He bothers me because I am convinced he is trying to be funny. 9 and 10 (who are my comparisons), especially 10, never gave the impression they were trying to be funny. They were odd and said crazy things and amused me to no end, but that was because who they were was inherently funny to an outsider and while they did occasionally joke/do silly things, it was because they as the Doctor found those things funny. I always get the impression Matt Smith is grinning at the camera and waiting for laughs and that bothers me. He's performing and it grates against my nerves.

Game of Thrones was pretty. Also, a lot of tits. Good lord, television has come a long way. I'd say I didn't remember this quantity of naked women on screen ten years ago, but I was also fourteen ten years ago and wouldn't have known anyway. I don't object on principle, but since I find the male body more attractive than the female body, I was disappointed at the lack of naked Jaime Lannister (who, someone said, looks like a young Nathan Fillion, but blond). But we'll see. I hope. I read the first book over first days of Passover, because I wanted to watch the HBO series and couldn't if I hadn't read the book (because I knew it was based on a book in a genre I read, so there's a chance I'll want to read it, ergo I HAVE to read the book before watching the series). And I wanted to watch the series because it has Sean Bean in it. Simple logic.

I was surprised, on reading the books, at how familiar they felt. They reminded me of Sharon Kay Penman's historical fictions, rather than fantasy novels, which I believe was what Martin was aiming for when writing the books. Anyway, he succeeded in creating a fantasyland with a far more historical feel - not merely the trappings of Medieval Europe, but the full setting (which makes the nytimes and slate articles about how HBO is showing fantasy, how silly and puerile and eww! even more ridiculous). It probably also feels like SKP because both have a tendency to kill off their characters on the theory that when you're telling a story that spans a King's lifetime, a hell of a lot people are going to die. Whether or not you like them. (Regarding SKP, my favorite book of her's is "The Sunne in Splendour" which is about the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III and made me forever a Richard sympathizer). Anyway, I enjoyed the books, even if I wasn't blown away by what they were doing - it's a good idea and I may have been more impressed had I read them when they came out (well, maybe a bit after they came out. The sex would have gone way the hell over my head), but I feel like the idea that fantasy can be integrated seamlessly into the "real world" and that real world settings can have fantastical elements (rather than the creation of the mythical land that amalgamates convenient fantastical elements...C.S. Lewis is terrible about anachronisms, and even Tolkien, who cared very much about creating a pre-modern society in certain cases, managed to fit the Shire and Gondor into the same time...but he was interested in creating a mythologically accurate story, not a historical one) is one that was brought into non-children's fantasy over the past two decades.

It also probably helped the rise of Urban Fantasy, for which I'm not sure I can forgive it (well, it was a factor). I was having this conversation about two weeks ago with mellifluous_ink and last week again with masteraleph (amazing what talking to people who agree with you will do) and basically came to the conclusion that if it's marketed as Urban Fantasy, I don't want to read it. There are exceptions and I'll get to those in a minute. But, in almost all cases, I've found that if the goal of UF is to take the fantastic and bring it into the mundane world in order to make the mundane seem fantastic, all it ever really does is make the fantastic mundane. The idea that the magical, the mystical, "the vampires, demons and the forces of darkness" are just like us is something that inherently bothers me. I don't like the fact that most urban fantasies presume that the creatures who have, throughout history been thought of inherently different and apart and inexplicable and, quite frankly, awesome in the traditional sense of the word, are reduced to fit into an overly humanizing, ego-centric worldview that refuses to allow the incomprehensible to be just that. It loses its extraordinariness.

That being said, there are plenty of stories that deal with the ideas of magic/the fantastic/the amazing as set in the world as we know it and I love them. Diana Wynne Jones was (damnit, I nearly wrote is) a master at allowing the fantastic slide perfectly into the world and fit while still retaining its majesty. Her re-imagining of the ballad of Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer into one story remains one of my favorite books of all time despite it being set in what was then a contemporary setting. My point is, she has a knack for recognizing how magic does and should fit into a story and often allows it to slide behind the human conflict or play into it - it's fascinating because it's magic, but our attention isn't drawn to the fact that there are witches, but to the sixth graders who use these accusations to create a witch burning. The magicness of the story fits because it is inherently part of the world and never gets shoved to fit in a way that creates awkwardness.

There are also authors who can write Urban Fantasy I will read. I will read anything Neil Gaiman writes because I find his styles to be worth reading on their own. His ability to shift voices and tones astounds me and the way he can tap into the archetypes behind every genre he goes for is amazing. (To be fair, I hated Anansi Boys, which just goes to show that no author will please a reader 100% of the time). Same with Robin McKinley, whose book "Sunshine" is about vampires and the relationship between a human and a vampire, except so well done and so obviously cognizant of what it means to try and relate to something other...which goes back to my original point. The vampires in "Sunshine" are OTHER in a way that no novel since Dracula or even before has captured. She manages to bring them into our world without humanizing them.

As for Buffy...well, what can I say? I'm a sucker for Whedon's dialogue. But that's pretty much it. For example, I could not get more than halfway through book two of the Dresden Files and I only got that far because James Marsters was narrating. Ditto for Cassandra Clare's "Mortal Instruments". These are two examples I can think of off the top of my head, not the sum total of my reading experiences. I think it's just a manifestation of world-building I don't like that seems to crop up most often in these types of stories.

Oh, hey, cookies are done. Back to work, I have a whole nother type to make.
» (No Subject)
Passover, that time of year when my life turns into hyperbole and a half. (Yes, you too can clean ALL the things. I want an icon saying "mopped the floor like a motherfucking adult").

My counters are tin foiled, my leaven is sold, masteraleph and I only burned ourselves once each on the 12 qt. pot of boiling water. (He managed to burn his foot. My husband is talented...and should probably wear socks).

God, every year, I wonder why we all collectively lose our minds and every year I find myself doing things like dusting the molding. No one eats off our molding. No one bakes off our molding. Why now, when i have legitimate things to do, like cleaning the oven with caustic chemicals, am I vacuuming the molding?

At least the holiday will actually START tomorrow and then I can not worry. Then again, I've already declared all the Chametz to be as ownerless as the dust of the earth, so even if it's here, it's not mine...except the 15 year bottle of dalwhinnie with one shot left. That's mine.

Here's to an uneventful first days with my family...oh, screw it, here's to my siblings not killing each other too messily.

And thus, we bid farewell to the last of the liquid Chametz.
» Writer's Block: Teenage dream
If you arrived at your front door and saw your first love standing there, what would you do or say?


"You're real!? I could have sworn I invented you by amalgamating every fictional hero I had a crush on between 1997 and 2002."

I'd say something involving the phrase menage a trois, but masteraleph would kill me flatter than dead.
» Eulogizing those you've never met
Something I realize the media has been doing for quite some time.

One of my favorite authors died on Friday night. This was not unexpected, as I do try to keep abreast of her writing (and follow, either by blog or by twitter, several of her friends) and knew she had lung cancer. Her name was Diana Wynne Jones and, if I had to make a list of the three writers who most influenced me as a writer, a reader and a person, she would be on it.

It feels strange, to mourn the loss of someone you've never met, because you're not mourning them per se. When a friend dies, they leave "a person-shaped hole" (a quote from Robin McKinley, who is one of those aforementioned friends and would probably be on that list of mine if I extended it to four - For those curious, it's Tolkien, Bronte, Diana Wynne Jones, Robin McKinley and then Phillip Pullman, roughly in that order.). When a favorite author dies, they take something more amorphous, leaving a hole that is, in many ways, less agonizing than the death of a friend, but that is also harder to identify and pin down. Frustrated hopes is an odd term for it, but it fits. All those stories in their heads that had yet to be written down are gone and can never be. No one can write another Chrestomanci novel or elaborate on the further doings of the Wizard Howl. There will be no more Magids. I don't think I realized, until I hit my traditional Saturday night "So what's happened in the world over the past 25 hours" and read the news, how much I had been expecting there to be another book, one of these days. And in realizing that there wasn't going to be one, I admit I felt betrayed by the world - that it would be so cruel as to allow an author who had not yet told all her stories to die. As if the laws of nature owed it to me in particular to keep all my favorite authors alive until they had no more stories left to tell. Arguably, if one could not die until one had shared all one's stories, some of us would live forever.

But we don't. People die. And the rest of us go on. I did not know Diana Wynne Jones, except as an author. But for the profound affect she had on me as a child and as an adult, I will make myself be grateful that she lived and wrote and not simply cry over the fact that she no longer does and no longer can.
» Stuff on the Brain
1) The illusion of accessibility provided by the internet is weird. I'm not talking about the fact that I have friends I've never met, some of whom live (and some who lived) across the country or across the Atlantic. That is actual accessibility. Correspondence without face to face speech is not a new phenomenon, merely one that has become far more common and convenient.
I'm talking about (mostly) authorial presence on blogs, facebook and twitter - the way that authors who I admire and who not only have managed a successful career out of writing, but also do it well respond to tweets or blog comments. This is far different than writing an author a letter, because that never really leaves the realm of author-reader. But conversations over twitter, when authors are saying things about their personal lives, thoughts, dogs and you respond, create this sense of two people in contact. But it's really our online personas in contact, or rather, a tendril of my online persona in contact with theirs. While dialogue flows both ways, information mostly spreads from them to me. Robin McKinley knows nothing about me, (well, other than that I read her books and blog) but I know quite a bit about her.
This is why I can tag her in a tweet that begins "In his flat in Bromley, drunk Cthulhu waits knitting," because I know she is learning how to knit at the moment and am following the trials, travails and tangles of it.
But the fact that she mentions me in a reply wondering what Cthulhu is, in fact, knitting, fosters only the illusion of connection. She knows no more about me than before, I know no more about her.
What has just happened?
And while the urge to fangirl-squee (yes, it's a verb) when this happens does strike, I wonder why. Yes, my favorite writers are awesome (they are my favorites for a reason), but it's not as though they know who I am now.
Writers are, apparently, supposed to have an online presence and be more accessible. But what does that mean in terms of how I relate to them? Are they more accessible or is this part of the illusion of contact?

2) The winner for the best use of the Catholic mass outside of actual services goes to "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". Yes, the Disney version.
I've been listening to the Original German Cast Recording over the past few days. And while I am tempted to allow this to devolve into a rant about how it is criminal that this has not been brought to Broadway yet. Now that The Little Mermaid is closed, WHY hasn't this opened?
Right, not ranting, I remember.
It should be noted, I speak about five words of German (maybe ten now that I've figured out a few of the words from the recording...though I did have to google why the gargoyles were wondering if Quasimodo was Stärker than they were - I assumed it wasn't because he didn't ditch night shiur and they did :) ). It doesn't matter. Of course, it helps that I have the original movie soundtrack memorized, but still. In some ways, the music is even better when I can't parse the individual words. The singers' tone as well as the music's becomes more important and more breathtaking.
This may be a side effect of my love for Alan Menken's scores and the fact that, with the possible exception of Tim Rice who can make anyone's music sound good, even Andrew Lloyd Webber's, Menken has never worked with a lyricist since Howard Ashman who has done justice to his work.
Although, from what very little I can hear, Michael Kunze is up there.
But I don't think it's just Menken here. There's something about this style of music, reminiscent of the gothic at its finest, that works far better than more traditional showtunes at being, well, musically epic and able to stand on its own. The movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame was decidedly flawed. It spent too much time trying to be funny and an acceptable kids movie and ignored the fact that it was a Gothic drama and needed to focus more on the bombast and drama, not the goat.

3) Speaking of Hunchback, the one thing Disney did get right was that they mostly avoided vilifying the woman for being attractive. Frollo's obsession with Esmeralda's beauty is ALWAYS portrayed as his problem, not her's. It's interesting, because one could argue that she is punished for being attractive, but in a way that blames the power structure responsible for it, not the woman. It's the male gaze that is evil, not female beauty.
And how often do we see that in current culture, where the vampire who cannot resist the female form is the ultimate hero (I'm not strictly blaming Twilight here, it just makes a convenient metaphor)?
Speaking of the male gaze, has anyone else noticed that all three main male characters are attracted to Esmeralda (the good, the bad and the ugly, yes I know)? One wonders about that.

4) There is no fourth thought. There is no Ms. Zarves.
» Fanfic and Me
I have a strange relationship with fanfiction, both as a reader and as a writer. Now, I shall attempt to analyze it. I am speaking for myself, despite any broad generalizations that might show up, this is all really just my jumbled opinions and thoughts because I need to be putting words onto a page at the moment. If you disagree, feel free to (I know masteraleph does, we tend to rehash the merits of fanfiction conversation about once a year).

1) As a writer - I firmly believe in the importance of fanfictioning: telling anew a story that grabbed you in some way. For some people, that's an internal retelling - when they're bored or distracted or lying awake at night, they lose themselves in a familiar story, a story that grabbed them somehow and that they want to make theirs because it speaks to them. For some people, that impulse is in a rewriting, rather than a rethinking. But I consider it vital food for the imagination to find the character or story or scene or world that speaks to you.
Whether you publish your internal fanfictioning is always an interesting question and tends to depend on your own view of it. Is it a story you want to inhabit as your special thing or is it one you want to share? Or is it both? Is it a writing exercise or an imaginative outpouring? Or both? Categorizing fanfiction is difficult because it has so much behind it.
All of these reasons are, of course, also reasons NOT to write fanfiction. If you tell yourself stories, sometimes, its your own stories you want to tell. There are plenty of authors who got their start in fanfiction as they learned to tell stories and then expanded their repetoire (or not. Some of them still suck).
Now, why I rarely write fanfiction. I have three criteria, all of which have to be met, before I am induced to write fanfic for a given story. The story must speak to me - in terms of world, plot and/or character, grab me and change me somehow and bring me into its world. And the story, as it stands, must be incomplete. I need to have something to add to the story. And, finally, I need to be able to write in a voice that fits with the story. If I cannot mimic the voice, I will not write fanfiction. There is very little that fulfills all of these criteria to the degree that I feel compelled to write about it, mostly because most books that are good enough to latch on and never let go are complete, somehow, and don't seem to need my help. That's the reason I was never tempted to write fanfic for any of Robin McKinley's books (and because she has expressed numerous times that she wants neither fanfic or fanart for her work, which I respect). They are complete. They are wonderful, but they are done. The story is told and I could never tell it in her voice. Same is true of Diana Wynne Jones. She's too much her own writer for me to want to interfere. With Tolkien, it's similar, except there it's a matter of feeling comfortable playing in his massive world. I was perfectly happy to rethink certain elements of LOTR because I was clearly a better choice for Aragorn than Arwen was. But the imaginative, self-fulfilling fanfiction differs from the written one in that I believe written fanfiction must follow the conventions of a regular story and not of an internal fantasy. Both have their place, and my life would be much poorer without those delightfully ridiculous fantasies. Thank God I never wrote most of them down, I was a seriously weird kid. Then again, who wasn't?

2) Reading fanfiction - There are a few fanfic authors whose stuff I will read, all of whom write for Disney. Disney movies tend to meet my three criteria in a way that nothing else does. Harry Potter did, but I've lost interest in the actual story a while ago, which makes fanfic a bit uninteresting. But Disney, especially Disney Renaissance era stuff, is excellent, incomplete and is open enough in terms of voice that there are many available. I don't read much (that's a lie - I have four different library cards and I'm studying English Lit. I don't read much fanfic is what I meant), and what I do is mostly stuff I've already found because I cannot handle sifting through the crap for the diamonds anymore. It's the same reason I no longer pull books off the shelves at the library, but take recommendations and read reviews and check out which authors authors I like like (Go on, read that sentence again. I'll wait. Yes, I deserve to be shot for it), because I can't deal with bad writing anymore. I almost regret not having read more as a teenager, when I could read indiscriminately. Now I have taste. I would not go so far as to claim it is GOOD taste, but I know what I like. That's a whole nother post.
My point, wherever it was, is that I rarely read fanfiction because I am obnoxiously picky. And I rarely write fanfiction because most of the ideas kicking and screaming around my head are yelling that they have a world in mind and a character and a plot and then I look at them and say "oh, really?" and some of them say "Yes! Except I'm not sure where it goes" and others say "No, but I have an AWESOME first line!" and others say "Ish, but wasting these characters is criminal" and then the story sorting hat (which is worn inside my head) looks at me and says "can't you write a single story without evil parents?" And I say "Yes! That one! One parent is good!" and the voice shakes it head and reminds me that, as the daughter of a therapist with psychoanalytic training, I might want to wonder about these implications.
My brain is too busy trying to work through the stories in there now, it doesn't want to go back to fanfiction just yet. But the next time I need a break, I have a thought or two.

I feel like I should apologize for the above drivel, especially if you read it. Sometimes getting the thoughts out is more important than getting them coherent.
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