You keep asking why your work is not enough, and I don’t know how to answer that, because it is enough to exist in the world and marvel at it. You don’t need to justify that, or earn it. You are allowed to just live.
― Becky Chambers, A Psalm for the Wild-Built
The end of NaNoWriMo
And I got less blog posts done than any time since I started this blog. Is that kind of funny?
Somehow all of November seemed to be time spent planning for the Christmas holiday season. I’m pretty exhausted from all the prep, honestly, but we are closing in on the end. Some ornaments to buy, cards, last gifts ordered, last travel plans to settle. Maybe by the end of the week I’ll be lucky enough to have everything but the cards filled out.
But while I wasn’t scheming, more novel prep work happened. Huge swaths of worldbuilding was done, and the plot seems pretty general right now but what I have was enough to figure out the genre. Now I need to work on more plot specifics, adding in genre scenes and conventions as I go.
I stopped working on it entirely the week before Thanksgiving, as there was too much real life stuff to do amidst some weird health issues (that turned out to be me getting better and my body rejecting the drugs and supplements I’ve been using to limp through life for the past couple years).
It’s time to start working on it again, and it feels weird getting back into it. It’s starting to feel a little scary real, and I’m finding it hard to sit down and focus. Even working step by step like I am, I still feel like I’m not smart enough to pull off what I want this story to be.
Oh well! Too bad for me. Time to work anyway.
But the links
I’ve had so many links build up in the intervening weeks, most I haven’t had time to read. So here there are in no particular order to get them out of my personal space:
To assert by his talent, the rights of any citizen in any society: the right to work, to be maintained while working, and to share the product with all who wanted it. The rights of an Odonian and of a human being.
Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed
Where did I go
All last week I physically felt worse and worse and worse until on Friday I finally figured out I might be having a reaction to a medication I’ve been on since spring.
Turns out, I was right. It’s kind of a good thing; I was reacting to it because I don’t need it any more. My body has resumed making enough of what the medication is because I’m eating in a way that supports it. Hey! What a great concept.
So I am feeling infinitely better and am ready to jump back in.
What am I doing
That’s what I was asking myself for all of this morning. I sat down to work after a week of being all over the place and was more than a little lost.
So after lunch I sat down determinedly and put together a process flow for myself using Notion. Now every morning I will sit down to a daily checklist that will lead me through setting up my work for the day and track it effectively so I don’t forget where I am or what I am supposed to do next. It worked extra great and I’m actually pretty happy with what I managed to get done in the 2.5 hours I had left of the day.
I know creatively is supposed to be spontaneous and all, but if I don’t have any idea what I am supposed to be spontaneous about, it doesn’t go well at all.
As it turns out, I’ve figured a huge chunk of my worldbuilding, which is literally the first time in my writing life I’ve been able to say that. As a recovering pantser, this sort of thing has never happened. I’m really loving how figuring this out is putting up a lot of guiderails as to what this story can even be about. I don’t have to try to narrow down my plot from all the possibilities in the universe; only the plausible ones that could happen in the world I’ve built.
Which means, after a few housekeeping tasks of getting the physical information into digital reference notes, I get to move on to plotting.
My worldbuilding took about a month. That’s way too long for a short story, but I’ve decided to make it up to myself by committing to write a number of stories in this place, because it’s already super interesting to explore and I bet I can think of lots of characters to write about in it.
Some interesting links
I’m not doing a bunch of research these days outside what I need for my story (and my continued health). So here’s some interesting links I stumbled over, with little commentary:
People discriminated very carefully then between administering things and governing people. They did it so well that we forgot that the will to dominance is as central in human beings as the impulse to mutual aid is, and has to be trained in each individual, in each new generation.
Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed
Secret night writing
I’ve always loved writing at night after my hubby has gone to bed. The house will be dark and quiet, and it feels like I can write anything because no one will see. As if every single person in the world can see my writing during the day and is quietly judging it! It’s a silly hang up, but I still feel freer to write down anything and everything for a new story in secret.
I’ve taken ~45 mins the last two night to write little fragments of the story I am working on. I don’t know if I will even use them for anything, but the sheer creative joy of just building the ethereal sandcastle that a story is feels lovely. It’s hard, because I keep running into things that I haven’t figured out yet, but it does make me want to figure them out even more!
I knew my story would begin with a short travel from the main character’s home to the main setting, and I decided my MC lives in Minnesota. I assumed MN would have flooding in the climate change of our future, and just wrote off that idea. I checked The Facts today, and I am right: What Climate Change Means for Minnesota.
On the meaning of social and cultural roles in storytelling
Meanwhile, now that it is daytime, I’m looking into social vs cultural roles. Is there a difference? Honestly, what is the difference between society and culture?
Man you have to know a lot to write a story that is so infrequently taught…..
“Society is a group of people and culture talks about the rules and instructions within a society that guides people and teaches them how to live.”
Why didn’t anyone just say this to start out with
“Culture refers to the ideas and things that are passed on from one generation to the next in a society.”
“Culture includes many different things like: knowledge, beliefs, values, language, customs”
So what I think they are saying here, for example, is that the collective we in America decided at some point that all children should be educated. That is an idea, a belief. That cultural belief is expressed in our society through the institution of public education. Right? I think.
Ok. Now, how does that apply to social vs cultural roles?
This page seems to imply that cultural roles are a subset of societal roles. (It thinks that gender, social differentiation, bio-sociological, and specific roles are each subsets of societal roles.) I guess one way to look at that is that everyone plays the social role of student when they are young, but a general American student in middle school role isn’t anything like the cultural roles of a Hebrew School student or a Chinese school student. Or even possibly football player in middle school.
Ok, wait. These roles are starting to sound like stereotypes, aren’t they? I see I’m not the only one to think that.
Members of social categories defined by attributes such as sex, race, and age occupy certain types of social roles much more than members of other social categories do. The qualities that define these roles become associated with the category as a whole, thus forming a stereotype. In a vicious cycle, this stereotype then hinders category members’ movement into roles with different demands because their stereotype portrays them as well matched to their existing roles but not to these new roles. This vicious cycle has important implications for stereotype change. Given the difficulties of producing enduring change by directly attacking stereotypes in the minds of individuals, a more effective strategy consists of policies and programs that change the distributions of category members in roles, thereby changing stereotypes at their source. If the vicious cycle is not interrupted by such social change, observations of category members’ typical social roles continually reinstate existing stereotypes.
Well that’s a super interesting distraction. Not helpful for today, but possibly when working on the individual character level.
Anyway. This research has made me rescind my initial thought that roles flow from one another like a river. Overlapping Venn diagrams are a better representation, but (like always) I still want to create some overarching structure about how many roles a single person can be connected to. There is this image:
Ok now that I understand roles better this diagram is actually super helpful. Let’s clear this up even more with various insights from around the Intarwebs:
Ideas about culture become cultural roles that the individual is expected to act out. A culture could be a sports team, their fans, a church, a college, a religion, an ethnicity, a “race,” a book club, “BreadTube,” a retirement community, a country club, etc.
Social roles change based on profession and relations. Individuals practicing different professions, such as teaching, nursing, plumbing, social media influencers, celebrities, have different roles to fulfill. I believe relations in this sense includes family roles.
Situational roles are knowing how to behave in specific instances, like how to be a customer in a fast food restaurant vs Ruth’s Chris, or what to do as the witness to a car crash. How to call a cab in New York, or knowing how much to tip and when.
Gender roles are roles we are expected to play based on our gender: mother, father, trans woman, etc.
Bio-sociological roles is kind of vague? It seems to be roles based on beliefs about how humans should interact with the natural world and natural systems. It’s too bad it’s so vague, because this seems like solarpunk bread and butter right here.
In a different but parallel vein, works by Tim Ingold and Gisli Palsson, for instance, have pointed to the necessity of a dissolution of the ‘conventional divisions between body, mind and culture’ (Ingold, 1999). A recent collection by Ingold and Palsson (2013), nicely summarizes this novel biosocial approach that challenges the reductionisms of sociobiology and cultural constructionism alike (dissolving the pole of nurture into nature and vice versa, respectively), and puts forward an integration of ‘the social and the biological … ontogeny and phylogeny, organism and context, being and becoming’ (Ingold and Palsson, 2013: 243). The biosocial: sociological themes and issues.
Oooooooooh, I see now. Bio-sociology is about challenging the idea of tabula rasa, that human interaction is the only thing that forms culture or identity. This idea incorporates biology into the picture of human behavior. Well, that’s much less exciting, and honestly will require way too much delving into theory to worry about overly much while I’m still getting a handle on the bigger picture.
So part of the problem here is that when you analyze the idea of “culture” it seems very static, like our modern assumptions about living in a small town in Eastern Europe in the fifth century. Everyone knew each other, there was little travel or other exchange of ideas, and everyone’s roles were set around them like cement, never changing. But in reality (then and now, most likely), culture is constantly updating itself, re-interpreting itself, being modified one way and then another and then back again by individuals and groups. Sub-cultures thrive and stagnate and die and are reborn. There might be agreement on the rules of a culture, but likely there isn’t. How dark does your skin have to be to be Black? Can you go out without makeup? Is aggression a male trait? Does our congregation welcome and perform gay marriage?
But in order to define roles for a story, they have to be pinned down. Even if they are in flux, the ways in which they are in flux need to be defined so that the change (or failure to change) will be clear. Also the role itself, if it is different from roles today, has to be clear and well-explained to the reader. So this is one of those ways in which story is very much a representation of reality, and not able to fully embody the messiness of life and people.
If to respect himself Kimoe had to consider half the human race as inferior to him, how then did women manage to respect themselves–did they consider men inferior?
Ursula K LeGuin, The Dispossessed
It’s been a week
That I think I’m starting to recover from. I pretty much dropped the writing ball while I tried to get my head around and work through issues surrounding what my nutritionist wants me to do and the cruft I’ve kept in my head over the years from a thousand different diets.
Working through lots of assumptions and things that I was taking as fact and generally re-arranging my perception on what healthy eating can look like was all-consuming, fatiguing, and painful, mentally and physically.
I’m feeling better now, and I think I’m eating better too.
I’ve mentioned a couple times now that I’m working with a nutritionist, and if you would like to know more about that, she is a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, and you can find out their methods here. I like her philosophy because I don’t believe in demonizing food groups, I need to get rid of more inflammation, and I need to rebuild my gut microbiome after 5 solid years of antibiotics, antimicrobials, and anti-virals to wipe out bad bacteria, parasites, and viruses that were fueling chronic fatigue and IBS.
Thinking through typing
While I was on break from story crafting, as it were, I was having a thought about my next step in worldbuilding. Now that I have the physical environment mostly down, it’s time to work on Element X, as N.K. Jemisin calls it, or the speculative element. I’ve thought about it a little over the last week, and I was feeling overwhelmed. But I’m coming back to it fully this week, and I’m realizing that my brain is trying to work on Element X and culture at the same time. And I’m getting frustrated when I can’t fit the pieces together right because they are both still in flux.
It’s actually really hard to take story crafting piece by piece, because breakthroughs often give me pieces of the whole puzzle, not just the parts I am looking at. Which is inherently fine, but frustrating when my conscious brain thinks it’s all that and tries to meticulously think out the whole story at once. That’s not how logical thinking works! Poor conscious brain, thinking it needs to show off that it’s as good as unconscious brain. I need to remember to focus on one thing at a time and just enjoy the scattershot breakthroughs as they happen.
(And of course, those breakthroughs only happen because conscious brain is so good at focusing and researching and thinking things through. Harnessing Apollo’s horses is a real PITA.)
…true hope is ultimately a bold choice full of power and agency. It’s true that no one can escape crisis. It comes for each of us in numerous forms, whether personal or societal, but in crisis there is also incredible opportunity to draw from the strength of humans of the past and to persevere long enough to inspire someone in the future.
Today’s post is all about the researching for my new story-in-progress!
Preparing coastlines for the future
I’m worldbuilding for a short story, and really digging into how to save our coastlines from rising seas and increasingly worse storms was an incredible shock. It’s all about managed retreat and habitat rehabilitation. Many of the solutions local governments recommend (hardening, raising buildings) pretty much make things worse.
Once again, really researching this has been eye-opening. I’ve assumed trains of some sort are the best plan, but coastal flooding over train tracks make them impractical. We can keep raising the tracks over and over, but…why? There are better ideas out there.
After being very uncertain of my worldbuilding next steps, I took N. K. Jemisin’s advice and made a map. That was super helpful, for some reason, so I also researched flooding, and found this great tool the state of Rhode Island has created to map our ever-approaching doom!
While it’s outside the scope of my story–I think–it’s super interesting to me that local governments are seriously thinking about climate change, and their plan, instead of managed retreat, appears to be to just continue adapting to more and more water. I don’t know if that’s really viable, but it is interesting.
The weird part is that it seems to just be an interview with Chris Hedges. At times we watch Hedges speaking, and at other times we watch sometimes random, sometimes artsy, and sometimes germaine video images instead.
…the Humanities at their best are about teaching people how to think, rather than what to think. They’re about teaching people to challenge assumptions and structures. The discipline of the Humanities is subversive–it’s meant to be subversive.
You grew up beside him, toymaker. Did he ever fall to the boasting sickness, the Choking Glory? Or daydreams and nightmares dropping into his lungs?
Phyllis Ann Karr, At Amberleaf Fair
No nifty links or learnings today. I tried to go gluten-free starting today for two weeks on the advice of my nutritionist. Breakfast went horribly and I just want to give up! I just might…..at least for today.
So I am feeling tired and achy after severe tummy troubles, and it’s time to kick my worldbuilding can down the story road–November 1 is getting ever-closer. I was very stuck on Friday, but talking to my husband helped me sort a few things out and have a few new ideas to try to throw at this story.
Interestingly, I found that while worldbuilding a story set in the future I keep trying to build a nice neat timeline so that I can trace everything new in the story back to today’s present and how it grew out of the now. But I don’t need to do that for a short story! I can just make the world look the way I want it to look because I want it to look that way.
I need to be more assertive in my worldbuilding. Make it so! I hadn’t realized this was part of my problem with finishing stories. And the more I think about it, the more I think I might be working against my own nature a bit. I’m a big picture person–not in that I can’t get into minutiae, but to understand the small bits I need the overarching view first. That might be why I am getting frustrated. Well, brain, the overarching view is going to have to be the theme, not The Made Up History Of Humankind mInute-by-minute starting from right now.
As a clear blue sky waits for rain, so too shall I wait for you.
Yilun Fan, “Speechless Love,” Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation
Unfortunately found out the way things really work
Yesterday I thought and thought about my Solarpunk Story #1 theme. I had a couple vague, barely there ideas about what could maybe happen in the story. I was thinking about committees and bills and laws and voting and technology.
I did a little researching on participatory democracy (or direct democracy) compared to representative democracy. I had the stunning thought that voting is incredibly binary–it’s yes or no and that’s it. No nuance when citizens vote on a local referendum or when representative vote on a law.
The nuance, then, is all about who is in the room when a bill / proposition gets crafted. Which made me think. Who is in the room? I think it can be anyone, technically, but usually it’s the representative and probably lobbyists? Right?
In all, these copycat bills amount to the nation’s largest, unreported special-interest campaign, driving agendas in every statehouse and touching nearly every area of public policy.
The investigation reveals that fill-in-the-blank bills have in some states supplanted the traditional approach of writing legislation from scratch. They have become so intertwined with the lawmaking process that the nation’s top sponsor of copycat legislation, a member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, claimed to have signed on to 72 such bills without knowing or questioning their origin.
For lawmakers, copying model legislation is an easy way to get fully formed bills to put their names on, while building relationships with lobbyists and other potential campaign donors.
For special interests seeking to stay under the radar, model legislation also offers distinct advantages. Copycat bills don’t appear on expense reports, or campaign finance forms. They don’t require someone to register as a lobbyist or sign in at committee hearings. But once injected into the lawmaking process, they can go viral, spreading state to state, executing an agenda to the letter…
Copied bills have been used to override the will of local voters and their elected leaders. Cities and counties have raised their minimum wage, banned plastics bags and destroyed seized guns, only to have industry groups that oppose such measures make them illegal with model bills passed in state legislatures…
Model legislation has flourished as gridlock in Congress forced special interest groups to look to the states to get things done, she said.
Great. I mean, it helped me refine my theme in a burst of rage-fueled clarity, but….ugh, that’s gross. If there is a way to game the system, someone will eventually do it.
(Which is what I really wanted my theme to be, but solarpunk is about optimism, so I had to dig deeper….)
Winter is approaching and while it’s still pandemic-y out there, I suspect I will be going Outside more than last year’s winter. Having just moved here at the beginning of the pandemic, I really don’t have appropriate winter clothes.
I really hate shopping for clothes, and everything in plus size seems to be all exactly what I don’t want to wear and / or exactly what will make me look the most horrible.
But this rise of cottagecore and shops that want to purvey it might save me. Here’s a couple link-filled articles I found:
I want my clothes to be simple and easy to clean, but I am also sick of my shirt-and-jeans look. I also don’t want TOO many ruffles. We’ll see where this goes, I guess. (Probably right into dark academia, but we’ll see!)
Her visor was close up against her face, a sleek glass pane across her eyes. The prism technology and coating on the visor made it anti-reflective, obscured the AugR display from the outside, and disrupted face-detecting software. There were cameras on the front and back, so I had a full 360-degree view of the world around her head. (She had buzzed her long black hair off to avoid obscuring the camera’s view.)
I took a moment yesterday to put together a timeline in Notion of exactly how this writing process is supposed to unfold if I only have a month to write a short story.
I know that in school I only had about a week and a half to turn in a short story. Maybe that was why they were so bad. My upfront figuring out process seems to take a lot longer than fumbling around in draft after draft, although I actually seem to get somewhere using it. I really really hope I can pull this off.
On to step 1: Figuring out a theme, and what the main character will learn over the course of the story.
In a hurry
Clearly, I have a lot of work to get to, so my blog posts will be a lot shorter through the month of October.