That Dream Where I’m Not Crazy

It’s been happening everywhere – people’s bodies found at home, at their offices, at restaurants, their brains and hair and blood spattered over every surface, as though they had just burst. The worst part is that the group claiming responsibility is, on the one hand, so disorganized that they have members who don’t even realize that they’re part of a terror cell. How do you feel if you’re a high school kid whose mom has asked her to carry a package to band practice, and that package contains cash, fake documents, or bomb components? Sure, that kid has heard all the rhetoric, but she’s too young to fully appreciate that blowing people up rarely helps anything.

I stumble on something that resembles a Tupperware party. The hostess has brought in a large aquarium with sand strewn with big, fake-looking plastic clams and treasure chests. The aquarium is full of actual sea water, and the guests are pulling things out of the water and opening them to see what prize they’ve won. It’s a decorative hair comb! It’s a jaunty hat! There are men and women there, and everyone’s in that giddy mood that accompanies the prospect of getting something for nothing.

My friends and I come in to see the host’s face temporarily fall, then a mask of smug derision fall into place. “You’re too late. They’re with us now.” We go around the table, confiscating people’s prizes. Some of the people fight us, because even though the prize cost them nothing and has only been in their possession for five minutes, they will feel cheated if it’s taken away. We show them the truth: the hair combs and hats and other baubles are all made of C4 with tiny detonators. It’s not much, but certainly enough to blow someone’s head off. The faces are suddenly pale and much less enthusiastic, swiveling in the hostess’s direction, looking for denial. Her smile hardened and glittered.

We threw the aquarium and its contents into the ocean (conveniently a few feet away), and we grabbed the hostess and threw her in too. She didn’t even try to swim, and I noticed as she sank that her body looked already drowned—bloated and wrinkled and pale.

But now her people are after me. I head into a coffee place to hide, but they’re there. They bought the place not long ago, and are using it as a source of information. People never think of servers as spies, and have unguarded conversations over latte. A woman approaches me, and I know that she’s trying to kill me. So I act like I’m high. I want her to think that I’m incapacitated and will be an easy mark. She’s young, she might buy it. I ask her to direct me to the bathroom, and she takes me in the back down a long hall. I start opening doors off the hall, telling her that they should put in 3-way doors – the kind that can have up to 3 different rooms on the other side of them, depending on how you turn the handle and open it. She looks smug and relaxed, so while she’s fumbling in her pocket for something, I disappear into one of the doorways that leads to an outdoor area. She thought it led into a broom cupboard, but the 3-way door thing is true, and I know how it works. I’m outside before she can follow me, and use my superior knowledge of forbidden physics to step over the patrons’ heads to the outside.

I’m out of her reach for now, but they’re still looking for me.

Gratitude is Bullshit

There is a disturbing trend among liberals to talk about gratitude. Everyone’s encouraged to have gratitude for the abundance in their lives. Everyone’s supposed to be grateful for all their blessings. On the surface, it’s a lovely sentiment. People should be mindful of the fact that they live privileged lives, and use that awareness to inform their interactions with people who are less privileged.

But it never goes that deep. It stops at “be grateful because you have it good.” The new Gratitude encourages insularity – think hard about what you have so that you aren’t thinking about people who don’t have anything. Gratitude is selfish. Being grateful for what you have invites the desire for more – more stuff (more friends, money, recognition) equals more gratitude, right?

This year has been full of horror: while the world was outraged at 12 people killed in attacks on Paris, thousands have died in Nigeria at the hands of Boko Haram. Pakistan is a mess. Syria’s civilian population is fleeing, and many in the United States have insisted they’re not welcome. Here in the United States, Donald Trump has been steadily rising in the polls on a platform of racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Black Americans are being gunned down in the street under laughably thin pretexts, with no consequences to the shooters, despite the fact that those gunned down are unarmed.

Why aren’t you angry? Why aren’t you beside yourself with rage? Because you’re grateful. You’re looking at your pile of Christmas presents and thinking “I’m so grateful.” Maybe you volunteered at a shelter or a soup kitchen as part of your holiday celebrations. Were you angry then?

I’m not saying that you should spend all your time with your teeth gritted and the veins standing out in your neck. I’m not even saying that you shouldn’t be grateful for the good things in your life. I’m just saying that it should never stop there. Feel good about what’s good. But feel bad about what’s bad. Feel bad enough to want to spend 2016 working to change it.

Hailing

I had to drive from Bonny Doon to San Francisco. I’ve taken to driving up the coast road, Highway 1, because it’s prettier, and the loveliness of seeing the ocean on the one hand and the fields and woods on the other makes the drive seem shorter.

As I left the house, I paused to send my husband and my mother a Glympse, a way of tracking my progress so that they would know how long I would be.

I was just coming through Half Moon Bay, halfway between Bonny Doon and San Francisco, when I realized that my phone had stopped sending a GPS signal. I turned it back on, and was on the outskirts of town where one of those temporary highway signs sitting next to the road declared in foot-high letters “All Hail Mother Russia.”

A minute later, the Pirate called and without saying “hello,” launched directly into telling me that the Lantos Tunnel on Highway 1 was closed, and that I needed to turn back and go another way.

“How did you know?” I asked him.

“There was a sign on 280 saying that it was closed.”

“Huh. Why wasn’t there a sign on Highway 1? Oh. Wait. There was a sign. Except it didn’t say that Highway 1 was closed. It said ‘All Hail Mother Russia.'”

I turned around and went back through Half Moon Bay, thinking that unhelpful “Mother Russia” was more like a boozy stepmother who flatters herself that people think she’s 20 years younger than she is. Who wears too much makeup and too-tight dresses, who drinks too much and flirts with her daughter’s boyfriends and her son’s friends, and who wouldn’t remember to tell you useful things, like the fact that the tunnel is closed.

Beauty

My darling, when did your eyes take on that otherworldly cast? When did your face become so beautiful? Could you have looked this way all along, and I did not have the wit to notice? If that is true, how could I continue to live with myself? My darling, if you had looked this way when you were alive, why did I never see it? And if this is the way that you look in death, would you not agree that I was justified?

Hyper, Non-Linear, and Plain

I’ve been experimenting in hypertext, and I’m reveling in what it can do, as well as discovering its limits.

I’ve been using Twine to create a hypertext story. It’s part choose-your-own-adventure and part an exercise in figuring out what constitutes a pixel in text (a pixel is the smallest controllable part of a picture on a computer). What’s the smallest meaningful part of a story? It’s not the individual word, because words only take on meaning in relation to one another. I can say the word “bark,” but with no other context, you don’t know whether it’s a noun or a verb. Even as a noun, it could refer to a sound made by an animal, or the covering of a tree, or a type of boat.

One can make a case for the pixel of fiction being the independent clause (a group of words that contains a subject and a verb). The number of microfiction posts on Twitter make a compelling case for sentence as pixel. I believe that fiction on that level functions much like poetry. Writers who work under those circumstances need a strong command of language and have to have a clear vision of the work from the outset. I’ve heard longer-form authors say “I was writing and I the character took me by surprise.” Poets and microfiction authors have to exercise tight control over every word. A word out of place weakens the structure.

But hypertext is different from microfiction. Each piece has to further the story, carry meaning, lead the reader to the next piece. Which means that, although a single sentence can be a node or pixel or whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t have to be.

And, like writing with Lithomobilus, to write decent hypertext fiction, you have to work in multiple threads, possibly in multiple storylines simultaneously. As I’ve been working, I’ve been going back and re-writing parts of it so that they make sense with parts that come after. Making sure the verb tenses all work. There’s only one character, which is fine for now.

And all this is in aid of a much larger project that I might want collaboration on: stories based on tarot cards, but stories that work when the tarot cards are laid out in a pattern. This means writing multiple nodes of text for each card – tens of thousands of pieces of text. It’ll take a while.

Now comes the hard part: figuring out how to share.

The Flavor of Anti-Vaxx

I got this email at 4:30pm yesterday from the mother of the boy we drive to school in the mornings:

Hi Monkey,
So yeah, Carpooligan has been tested positive for whooping cough. Just thought you should know. Even the vaccine isn’t protecting kids at Gryffindor, so if the Goddess gets a mild cold and cough, I’d think about getting her tested.
Carpooligan was partially vaccinated, by the way, but did not have the booster. I chose not to get it because I didn’t think it was effective against the strain that goes around…
He’ll be back at functions Saturday and school on Monday, so no carpool buddy the next few days.
Hope you’re all well!

 

The tone of this email infuriates me. “This isn’t a big deal! He was ‘sort of’ vaccinated, so it’s not my fault. Even the vaccine isn’t 100% effective.”

 

I want to break this down just to figure out why it makes me want to sue this woman for everything she’s got, then burn it all, and her along with it.

 

  1. “Carpooligan has been tested positive for whooping cough.” Two weeks ago, she could have sent me an email that said “Carpooligan has been exposed to whooping cough and he’s not vaccinated.” A week ago, she could have said “I think that cough Carpooligan has might be whooping cough.” But she waited until after he tested positive to say anything to anyone. The lack of concern for anyone else is staggering.
  2. “Even the vaccine isn’t protecting kids at Gryffindor…” As I said, there is a small population of parents who opted out of the vaccine, but no vaccine is 100% effective. The pertussis vaccine is more effective in children than in adults, but is still not at 100%.  So, of the ~150 children at my kid’s school, roughly 5% aren’t vaccinated at all (so, about 8 kids), and another 3-6 will get it even if they were vaccinated. That’s 11-14 out of about 150. But that’s just the kids. Every one of those kids has parents, and many of them have siblings. Those people have jobs and friends and come into contact with thousands of people, so it’s not just about my kid having to miss school if she gets sick. It’s about spreading the disease along vectors you never thought about.
  3. “Carpooligan was partially vaccinated, by the way, but did not have the booster.” If he didn’t get the booster, he’s not protected. I don’t know what comfort she’s trying to offer with “partially vaccinated,” but maybe she’s just trying to tell me that she’s not a crazy antivaxxer. But if she’s not opting out on the grounds that vaccines are dangerous or against God’s will, why aren’t her kids vaccinated?
  4. “I chose not to get it because I didn’t think it was effective against the strain that goes around…” Aaaah! With her housewife medical degree, she decided two years ago (when her kid was in seventh grade and legally required to either have his vaccinations updated or provide an opt-out form) that the vaccine against pertussis, which has been shown to protect 98% of children who receive all their boosters, wasn’t the right one for the strain of pertussis that is currently being passed around. So, not only a medical hobbyist, but also a prognosticator. How about this: you chose not to get it because you have four children with four different schedules and signing an opt-out form is WAY easier than making an appointment and taking your kid to the doctor to get his shots updated? Because, having known this woman for 6 years now, I’d bet good money that her logic went “Taking my kid to the doctor is expensive and inconvenient, but signing a form is easy. I’ll do that!” It makes me wonder just how many of these opt-outs are really parents who can’t be bothered to just take their kid to the doctor. It makes me feel that schools should require more than just an easy signature on a form. They should require parents who choose to opt out to either provide a doctor’s note signed within the last week stating that their child has a medical condition that precludes vaccinations, or pay $10 and attend an hour-long lecture about vaccines and why they’re important. Something that would take about as long and cost about as much as just going to the doctor for the shot.
  5. “Hope you’re all well!” Fuck you. We’ve got whooping cough.

Thoughts From AWP: Beyond “Media”

Several panels had the word “transmedia” in their titles, but there was little agreement on the definition of “transmedia.”

We all understand “media” to mean the manner by which the message is transmitted, but after that,  neither authors nor publishers nor academics could agree how adding “multi,” “trans” or “hyper” exactly change the noun. If those of us meant to be experts in the field can’t agree on these definitions, it’s no wonder the reading public is confused and therefore hesitant to adopt.

Here are some of the common terms used:

  • Multi-media: a piece that orchestrates text, audio, and video elements in the narrative. Any one element may stand alone and therefore be primary, but the secondary elements don’t necessarily stand alone. A poem read to music over a movie of waves lapping the shore would be multimedia.
  • Transmedia: a piece made up of two or more elements that can stand alone (even if they don’t constitute a separate narrative).  Transmedia can include elements like websites, social media feeds and email to augment a narrative. A transmedia experience may have a movie that tells one story, a book that tells another, and an album whose songs tell another, all of which work together in one complete, over-arching narrative.
  • Augmented e-book: a text that looks like a regular e-book (a faithful electronic reproduction of a physical book) but with added video or audio elements that create a more entertaining experience without necessarily adding any additional meaning to the text. Depending on the age of the intended audience, either the text or the pictures will be the primary element. Most augmented e-books are directed at younger audiences.
  • Hypertext: an online method of creating text that allows for user-interactive, non-linear narratives. Because most hypertext creation engines are strictly online, they can link out to any other kind of online content, or contain audio or video clips.
  • Apps: a self-contained program designed to fulfill a particular purpose –  normally, in narrative cases, to allow a user to interact with a text in specific ways designed by the author of the app. Depending on the app, users might be able to navigate the story in particular ways, add material to the text, or create elements that go along with the text.

The good news is that whatever an author can think up can likely be done with today’s technology. For authors who operate in more than one element – text, music, video, programming, etc. – this allows for an easily-distributed version of that vision.

The bad news is that for those people who are trying to teach technology to younger generations, there’s no good way to create a textbook that addresses the realities of the space. Both hardware and software are evolving so quickly that a curriculum created in August would be out of date by December. What needs to be taught instead are the modes of thought that go into looking at what exists and imagining what might be. Teach children the basics of storytelling, and then allow them to look out at the world and think about how to distill its essence and create something new and wonderful.