Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Experience of Diversity (and the blindness of privilege)

Last year I made a vow to myself that I would only read books written by authors who were not straight white men. By and large, with two explicit exceptions, I was successful in my goal. And I learned a bunch of things.

The first (and most important) thing I learned is that my reading habits were already moderately diverse; I made a list of ten of my favourite authors and nine of them were women, so I didn't really have to give up on anyone that I was particularly invested in.

The second thing I learned was that my "historical read" list is actually pretty white/straight/male, though; I often go back and read a book again for comfort's sake, to go over familiar territory and comfortable writing and try and find something new or at least interesting. That means I haven't been doing a bunch of rereading and that led to...

The third thing I learned, which is there are a LOT of non-cishetwhitemale writers in SF, both historically and especially currently. Just looking at the last two years of Hugo winners was a good starting point, but I've also been involved in a queer SF/F book club and that has been really eye-opening in terms of the depth of the bench where authors are concerned these days.

The fourth thing I learned, though, is that I am still blinded by privilege. I have a book by an author that I absolutely adore; it's Not Your Standard Fantasy Setting and I was very engaged and involved in the characters and their plights. The second book also features a female protagonist and I went on and on about how cool she is and how much agency she has, especially as a middle-aged woman (which is not by any means a standard protagonist in fantasy). What I managed to completely miss was that the internalized misogyny of the novel and the characters within it, with a bunch of implicit and explicit sexualized violence hanging over the heads of all the women in the book. Truthfully, I thought I was aware of that sort of thing, and I try to be careful about recommending work with troublesome aspects, but I was just completely blind to it. Which, yes, is a Privilege that comes from being a man and not having to deal with that sort of thing basically all the time.

The good news is, my friend called this out to me, and I've been able to reexamine my experiences and get better at seeing things I didn't see before. And there are lots and lots of authors and books that don't include that sort of background radiation in their stories.

So I'm going to follow my vow of 2014 with a vow of 2015: to read more diverse work, including more work by non-white authors, and try and read at least some work in translation (The Three-Body Problem, I'm looking at you!). And I'm going to try and be a better curator for my book club. Because those peeps be awesome, yo.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Day 40: Agnus Dei

A thing that I like in music: switching instruments. I love listening to Andres Segovia playing Bach's Cello Suites on a Flamenco guitar. I really enjoy Two Cellos playing pop music, or Apocalyptica doing Metallica songs on a string quartet. I think a version of Danse Macabre for violin, viola, and cello is one of the best versions of that tune I've ever heard.

I am also a big fan of human voice music. From the traditional choir a cappella and Jewish cantor, to barbershop quartet, to Tuvan Throat Singing, to Pentatonix,]; music that humans make with themselves alone (solo or in groups) makes the hair on my arms stand up. I love it unabashedly and unapologetically.

So in steps Samuel Barber. In 1936 he writes what is possibly the most haunting piece of American Classical Music of the 20th Century, and in 1938 Arturo Toscanini records it with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. It's a big hit, and cements Barber's early career as composer par excellence. And then, in 1967, Barber recomposes it, this time as a choral piece using the text of the prayer "Lamb of God" in Latin (because everything is prettier in Latin).

So that's Agnus Dei, which is heartrendingly beautiful. It's one of my favourite pieces of music.

Obligatory Youtube Link: http://youtu.be/UR-wEbZqT1c

Friday, February 06, 2015

Talking Through The Problem

So we were in raid chatting it up like one does when one is waiting for stuff to get going, and a friend of mine was talking about how on their podcast they were asking listeners to call in or email with which fandom they'd like to live in and why. Many people mentioned their favourite universes: Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, even World of Warcraft. And I tossed out Gilmore Girls.

Yeah, that was the reaction of many of my friends, too. "Gilmore Girls? The TV show about the mother and the daughter?" Yes, that show. Exactly that show. That's the universe that I'd like to live in. Seriously. It's awesome there.

It's pretty clearly a post-scarcity universe, since no one ever pays for anything or does any sort of work that they don't want to do. I mean, Lorelei manages a hotel and works pretty hard, but given the size of the house she lives in it's pretty clear that the money thing isn't really an issue (I mean, the crazy cat lady and the jazz musician live in a house next store and there's no clear indication of what they do or make).

But that's not the real reason I want to stay there (though post-scarcity societies are inherently more ideal). The reason I want to stay there is that nothing terrible happens. I mean, there's plenty of conflict and everything, but in Star Wars or Star Trek or places like that, there's all of this huge dangerous conflict where people get blown up and killed and shoot people and deal with tons of trauma. I mean, yeah, it's exciting or whatever, but there's a constant fear of death (even though in many of the universes there's ways to get better from being dead). Many of the problems presented in the various universes involve shooting stuff or sometimes blowing things up.

In Gilmore Girls, though, the problems are still big and still important, but nearly every problem is solved by talking it out. Sometimes it takes more than one try (or even more than one episode), but the solution to problems is communication and consensus. And everyone talks fast and is clever and funny and there's no bad people, just people with different points of view.

I like Gilmore Girls. And if I had a chance, I'd like to live there. I mean, who wouldn't?