The Writing

04 October, 2015

this teaching thing is dangerous

So another school shooting. That special epidemic we have here in the US. That totally unpreventable epidemic which we cannot discuss because REASONS. My least favorite proposed solution to gun violence is the one that says arm everyone! Especially on campus! Because a NO GUN campus means only the bad guys will have guns! (and the cops, presumably)

Let us consider this. A little thought experiment. Students can be armed (concealed carry, open carry). Teachers can be armed (again, concealed or open carry). If we see guns, then everyone knows who's got them and who doesn't. Imagine being an unarmed professor and seeing your students--one, two, five, whatever--openly carrying weapons in class. Imagine looking out at those students and having your own firearm within reach.

Tell me how the fuck learning happens in an environment where we're all measuring the size of each other's weapons. Tell me how I make anyone care about Aristotelian ethics when we're adhering to Strength Is All That Matters. Tell me how we do calculus or chemistry with the knowledge that some of us have the power to kill others of us right now.

And say shooting starts... what to do? Run out and find the shooter and shoot him? Or, if it's in my classroom, shall I duck behind the podium and open fire? Will I be able to tell which student started it? And if we're all shooting at the bad guy--assuming we can tell who he is!--what will the cops do when they arrive? Are we all armed and dangerous? Will we good guys drop our weapons on command, and allow Mr. Bad to keep firing? If my black students are armed, will the cops shoot them? What about my Muslim students? My Latinos? What about me?

I've worked on campuses since the 90s. I am a writing teacher now on a rather large campus. I do not want to be armed in the classroom. I teach. I do not enforce. Seeing my students as potential adversaries whom I am prepared to kill (because you don't draw a weapon unless you plan to use it, and while wounding shots are all well and good, only the very very skilled can do that reliably. The rest of us shoot to stop, and dead is the most stopped there is) will seriously fuck up my teaching mojo. I could not do my job. My students cannot be a learning community (and we writing classes are little intimate things) if they're afraid of each other, or sizing each other up as potential threats.

You want to solve this problem, folks, more guns on campus ain't the answer. Making us our own enforcers doesn't fix the problem. Making the prof into a cop is not a solution.

I lost a friend back when Columbine happened. She was mad at me for saying guns themselves are tools; it's the wielder who's the problem. I still believe that. But at some point, we need to consider why a particular tool lends itself so well to bad behavior, and take steps to remove its temptation from people who want to behave badly. More regulation? Okay. Licensing? Okay. Banning? Not as okay with that.

I'm no pacifist. I own a firearm. I don't have any bullets in the house. Our home defense will be bladed, and possibly my knitting needles. Don't laugh. Those fuckers are sharp.

20 September, 2015

because I like pain

The fall quarter starts this week. Training tomorrow and Tuesday. Classes on Friday. I will have 76 pieces of writing every week for the next eight or so, between 150-450 pages to read. It gets a little less frantic at the end of the quarter. A little.

I sent one set of edits back into my editor's capable hands. I have another two rounds of edits on this manuscript, and a whole three rounds to go on the second, all to be done by December. Somewhere in there, Lisa will get me notes on the third manuscript, and I'll start revisions on that.

So naturally I just started something new, a genre hybrid that's gonna push my plotting and world-building (and Nous's, because he's my research monkey for this). And it's gonna be awesome.

16 September, 2015

A Spaceship of One's Own*

There persists a notion, among some self-elected spokesmen in the field, that the inclusion of women will--and in fact has--destroyed much of what is excellent in science fiction: the purity of ideas, the emphasis on science, the exhilarating space battles. Be that as it may, I can't help thinking, when I look at the shelves of great science fiction, that perhaps these objectors may have a point after all; for it is patently obvious that women could not, in fact, have imagined the future in literature as completely as men. Let us imagine, then, since facts carry little importance in this debate, that science fiction were written about women, with women serving as the focus and protagonist of such tales.

First consider the victim in this debate, the traditional science fiction hero (let us call him John, though James would equally suffice, or something of suitably English extraction as to be accessible and unthreatening to the reader). After overcoming whatever obstacles the plot offered--military school, jealous fellows, a physical deficiency cured with scientific miracles--John (or James) found himself aboard a spaceship, seeking new civilizations and expanding human horizons or saving Earth or encountering aliens or perhaps all of those things in a series of connected tales. He was a leader among his crew, respected for his prowess in one or another (or all) skills. He crushed the robot rebellion, defeated the physically unappealing aliens, conquered new planets, and attracted the admiration of his peers (and perhaps even his enemies). He was, sometimes, less important to the tale than the scientific imaginings underpinning it; then, John (or James) performed admirably as the vehicle through which the reader experiences those imaginings, as the clearest and simplest representative of Humanity to the audience. And of course, in the end, he triumphed (or perhaps failed spectacularly, as a lesson to everyone), leaving in the readers' minds a possible future, in which men are the prime actors and movers.

Meanwhile, our traditional protagonist's sister--let us call her Alice--finds herself wishing to travel in space. Being clever, or particularly intelligent, or even martially gifted, she follows the same path as her brother. The military academy accepts her, reluctantly, but forces her into roles which best suit her delicate sex. She might be a pilot, or a doctor, or perhaps a captain's personal assistant. When she arrives in space, she is pushed to the margins of major events, left holding the clipboard or taking shelter behind a competent man with a weapon. She will be an inspiration, or a distraction, or a feature of the landscape. She will witness the triumph, perhaps even participate in some small way in its achievement: by understanding a crucial line of alien language at a propitious moment, or throwing the hero his weapon before the tentacled alien strikes. And in the end, she will march bravely into that future on a path paved for her, as much an alien in that future as the tentacled corpses smoking in the John-James' wake, forever Othered in the name of maintaining the status quo.

Thus is science fiction saved.

But let Alice take John-James' place, let her take the lead, and the consequences might be dire. For let us imagine her attendance in the military institution, where she excels in her courses and proves herself as physically capable of wearing an environmental suit and wielding a firearm as her brother. Her skill earns her a place on a spaceship, where she rapidly rises to a position of importance whereby she can influence the plot. Instead of hovering at the edges of important conversations, offering a witticism or a suggestion to be dismissed on the way to the hero's own realizations, she is the primary voice. She listens to her crewmates, and considers their suggestions. Then she chooses the diplomatic route, and after long discussion with the tentacled aliens (facilitated by her linguistics expert, whom we shall call Mary), establishes a tentative cease-fire, and launches humanity into a new era. Or perhaps, Mary's best efforts notwithstanding, no accord is possible, and Alice dons her battle-suit and wades into war. Men and women follow and fight beside her, as do women; and the aliens are defeated. Perhaps Alice and Mary fall in love, along the way; or perhaps Alice mourns the loss of her friends in the battle. Or perhaps both. And so the future beckons.

This may be truth, or exaggeration: who can say, except those self-proclaimed spokesmen for an endangered genre? But I think it is not unreasonable, what they claim: for a woman permitted to write science fiction might expand the possibilities of the future into those in which the contemporary status quo are upended, or elided, or reversed utterly. She might imagine a place in which women may be actors in their own futures, flying spaceships about and getting into mischief, bringing lovers and children and sexual ambiguity aboard, shooting too soon or too late or not shooting at all; she might fall in love with the robot, or teach it to recite Shakespeare, or, like John-James, reduce its fledgling sentient aspirations to slag. She might do, well, anything, diluting the purity of an endeavor whose worth rests on unconscious intellectual privilege to which she is not entitled.

*with a fistbump to Virginia Woolf