Well, that was exciting. Just as I got off the phone from wishing my dad a happy birthday, the power went off in the hotel here in Stuttgart. After a while, I wandered down to the bottom floor (I’m in a separate building from the main hotel). Because the card-reader on the door wasn’t functioning, I opened and held the door for a group of people returning from something and explained to them that the power was out. A woman got agitated and told me, “That’s unacceptable!” and began to pepper me with questions about when it was going to go on again. I had to point out to her that I was wearing pajama bottoms, flip-flops, and an Aquaman t-shirt, and that this should be a clue that I wasn’t actually part of the hotel staff, at which point she hurried off to find someone else to berate.
3 June 2014
In case you hadn’t guessed from me popping up here and there around FB, admiring everybody’s shiny pictures and clever quotes, I have landed and am in Stuttgart, and just had a lovely dinner with my German editor and his wife, during which we discussed the language of cathedrals and the illusion of Western Culture as a seamless whole. Oh, and bad cats. We talked about bad cats, too, and how bad they are.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled, generally benevolent silliness.
Off to The Continent. I am preparing myself to act more continental, including the mode of my breakfast. I hope I am not incontinent, however. (I just made that joke so nobody else would have to.) I will communicate when I arrive. Be well, everyone.
I have one modest wish for everyone who reads this post. Today is a beautiful day, whether it’s dark or light where you are, snowing or blazing or, as it is where I live, heartbreakingly gorgeous.
Be grateful for being alive. Treasure your loved ones, family and friends, and all the other people in the world trying to do good. Every single one of us shares the greatest gift we know, the fact of being alive and able to recognize it, and the ability to appreciate what we have. Let’s all try to remember that. We are blessed. We are fortunate. We are the universe thinking about itself, and that is an amazing thing to be.
I’m very sad to hear Jay Lake has died. I didn’t know him personally, so I have no right or urge to tell his story, but like many others I followed his fight with cancer and was rooting for him, impressed by his bravery and candor.
I won’t say he lost the fight, because something’s going to end all of us one day. Instead, I’ll say that he made something very fine out of his time among us, both in the living and the dying. Farewell, Jay. I wish I’d known you better. I know you were loved by many, and as much as it makes things hurt at the parting, love is by far the best thing to leave behind.
Apparently no actual threats were made over the issue that has been discussed here at some length, which is a relief. Other than wanting to report that, because I know the possibility upset me and others, I will draw a curtain on the whole thing as best I can. My hope that we (the community) could talk about the issues in a less charged way is probably not going to happen.
Hey, Sunil Patel, I can’t post on your page and I can’t send you a message because we’re not “friended”. Since we’re both in the Bay Area, I’d like to have a cup of coffee with you when I get back from my upcoming trip to Germany in about a week and a half, and see what we can both learn from all this. Interested?
(Friends of Sunil, since I can’t tag him with this, please pass it to his page. Thanks.)
AN ANNOUNCEMENT I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO MAKE, BUT WILL ANYWAY.
I have been told by a third party that the gentleman whose summation of the Nebula Panel I disputed has felt threatened because of responses engendered by our fairly minor conflict of opinion. I’m sure I don’t have to say this, but just in case, if anyone actually has threatened him in any way because of a misguided attempt to “support” me, I would be absolutely disgusted and angry by that. This is simply a conversation (occasionally heated, as these things can get) about public speech and science-fiction community politics. There is absolutely no reason for any kind of threats to be directed at anyone involved. (Including me, but nobody’s done that, as far as I know; nor is anyone likely to, I’m pretty sure.)
If I have one unshakeable belief, it is that speech must be free, even when we don’t agree — no, especially when we don’t agree with what someone else is saying. Threats of any kind are repugnant, not to mention plain old counter-productive.
I’m not saying anyone’s actually done that — I’m still trying to find out — I just want to make my feelings clear.
Anybody know enough about Macs to tell me why, after the most recent software update, I can no longer open jpegs on my own desktop, because I don’t have “permission”? More important, anybody know how I can fix that? Because I can’t open online images anymore, either, which means I’m going to run out of profile pictures eventually. And that would be — well, a relief for some, but sad for me.
I’m glad I live in an era when a product (or even a combination of words) like “Rampaging Kaiju Garden Gnome” is being sold on my magic screen in my very own home. I’m living in a PKDick story. I take it all back, 21st century — now I want to live!
I actually made something like this, long, long ago when I was in high school, to use onstage with our band. (It was made to hide under a cape, and the flame shot out of a tube on my finger.) Fire regulations prevented it appearing in concert, but I did have the wonderful experience while I was wearing it outside of having somebody walk up with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and ask me for a light.
The first time one of our cave-dwelling ancestors came back scratched and bleeding from a rough day of hunting and gathering and someone asked, “What happened?” literature was born. But the first time someone painted something on a cave wall that nobody else recognized, and explained it by saying, “I saw it in a dream” — well, that was the birth of fantasy.
—Tad Williams, “Finding Fantasy, Again,” introduction to the anthology Neverland’s Library
I don’t like Vaguebooking, and this little controversy has still been bothering me today, so I’m going to share the original piece and give my thoughts and leave it at that.
The picture of a Nebula Weekend panel below, including the commentary attached to the photo, was posted by Sunil Patel.
Everything else is mine.
I arrived at this panel, which I honestly believed was about Writing Other Cultures in a general sense, which in our field includes past cultures and speculative cultures, to discover that the men and women on the panel were all (roughly) white. This was a surprise to all of us panelists.
We spent a great deal of the time in the earliest stages of the panel talking about how carefully and respectfully we must write about other current cultures (because we never got to exo-cultures or past cultures). Nancy Kress did say she feared PC-blowback, and had received it for writing non-white-female characters, something I have never particularly experienced. I honestly don’t remember being faulted by a commentator for my portrayal of someone who wasn’t like me, a straight white male, but I would never reject such a comment, and would listen carefully. However, Nancy’s opening comment did set a certain defensive tone for the panel.
At one point, both Chaz Brenchley and I said something to the effect of, “We writers are going to write what we want to write, and that includes characters not like ourselves.” My statement was part of a larger point I made here and have made elsewhere, namely that I grew up reading about white military men saving the universe, but I want to write something that better reflects my view of the world and what I think will be a much more culturally diverse future. Unfortunately, Mr. Patel and many others seemed to take this to mean, roughly, “Screw you, we don’t care what anyone else thinks,” which is nowhere near the truth. What it really meant, which I thought was pretty clear, was that we were not going to limit ourselves only to writing about white males just because we were white males. I certainly wouldn’t expect female writers only to write about women, or transgendered writers only to write about other transgender people, or Latino writers only to write about other Latinos.
Most of the panel was spent trying to talk about specific ways to write other cultures better — directions and sources of research, specifically — but we often got yanked back to the question of white people writing non-white people as a disrespectful or dangerous thing. I tried several times to push the panel back to specifics of writing and learning about “the other” rather than explaining over and over again how respectful we were trying to be, since I thought we’d made that pretty clear and I thought people would want to hear how we actually tried to accomplish that instead of generalities. Chaz mentioned living several years in Taiwan to make sure he felt comfortable writing about Taiwanese people. Several other writers voiced similar opinions as to how we could best learn about people different than ourselves.
Mr. Patel has added a PS to the original commentary I read (I’m not sure when) to incorporate things he has learned about Mr. Brenchley, and to separate my statement from his reaction to being criticized for writing a gay serial killer — a “bad” gay. (I appreciate Mr. Patel doing that, by the way.) My only example comment was what I thought was a sweet story about a woman who had written to me saying that since she was a Greco-Australian lesbian police detective she didn’t usually feel represented in her SF reading, so she was very pleased by Calliope Skouros in the Otherland books, who is all of those things.
My initial reaction to Mr. Patel’s comment and various comments on the comment, where it was shared on my friend Jed Hartman’s Facebook page, was irritation at being told by Mr. Patel, “Don’t write in a vacuum and don’t dismiss criticism from offended individuals.” Since I don’t believe I have ever done any of those things, and in fact have worked hard to do the opposite, I was bothered by this. Because it also contained a misrepresentation of what I actually said, I tried to clarify this as well. I was not in a good mood, but I tried to be polite. I was taken to task over and over by what I do not doubt were well-meaning people, but as far as I could tell they had taken this sweeping simplification of what was said at the panel, and an outright misreading of what I said myself, and were accepting it as gospel, thereby rendering any attempt on my part to say “Not really fair” as a “White guy, not getting it.”
I wholeheartedly embrace Mr. Patel’s right to express his opinion. I’m glad he has tried to correct the errors and misunderstandings in his original piece and I thank him for that. I’m sorry for my own anger, but as I said here yesterday, I don’t like being condescended to by people who have not read my work, and are accepting the words of someone else about what I believe without reference to what I actually write, or say, or have said numerous other times in numerous other public settings.
I have tried to put this summation together without undue anger, since I have been taken to task for that as well. I think what some users of social media don’t understand is that an entire lifetime or life’s work can be reduced to meme-fodder in a moment by careless spreading of unchecked, highly personalized opinions masquerading as “facts”.
Why didn’t I just ignore this? Because I am saddened that several thousand people in my own field, if they did not know me or my work before, will now know me only as another white guy who didn’t get it — who writes in a vacuum, who doesn’t listen to other people’s voices. That means something to me, and my reputation means something to me, because that guy is who I have been working my entire life NOT to be.
[Following is the commentary attached to the above photo posted to Facebook by Sunil Patel:]The Writing About Other Cultures panel was half a trainwreck. The half that was not a trainwreck was interesting, when the panelists spoke about the many things to think about when writing about a real culture or creating a new one: food, economics, geography, religion, etc. They pointed out that culture is not a monolith; you can’t write about “Native American culture” because their experiences and circumstances are so varied. They expressed excitement at all the new diverse voices being highlighted, and they agreed that it’s necessary to write about other cultures than your own, but you must do the research and treat them with respect.
The half that was a trainwreck began when Nancy Kress introduced herself with “I was writing about other cultures when it was politically safer to do so.”
When it came back around to her, she pointed out that the panel was all white, with no representatives from other cultures (although Chaz Brenchley noted that being English was another culture, true enough). And then she launched into a spiel about how today the “uber-PC” people would create a “shitstorm” if she wrote a half-Arab woman who was a terrorist because they require any non-white characters to be “saintly,” they are not allowed to be “not nice.” I have no earthly idea where she got that notion.
Chaz Brenchley and Tad Williams chimed in with the idea that they were only responsible for their own writing, not everyone else’s, even if they were criticized by a member of a marginalized group for falling into an overused trope like the “gay psychopath.” Yes, you’re only responsible for what you write, but you don’t write in a vacuum, and when someone tells you that you’re contributing to a harmful stereotype, you should check your privilege and listen.
I sat there for twenty minutes listening to white people be INCREDIBLY DEFENSIVE about writing other cultures and I wanted to cry. I have never wanted to cry at a panel before. I had come to the panel to learn about how one writes about other cultures well, not how annoying it is when people from other cultures tell you you’re writing about their cultures wrong.
I don’t think they realized they were being so hurtful with their reactions, and I didn’t realize how hurtful someone’s reactions could be until that moment.
Kyle Aisteach has my eternal gratitude for starting off the Q&A by asking the all-white panel about the dangers of people writing about marginalized voices overpowering the marginalized voices themselves, but I confess I don’t remember how the panel answered because I was busy melting down on Twitter.
To put a nice little awkward bow on things, Nancy Kress pointed out to the moderator that an Asian man next to me had had his hand up for a long time but hadn’t been called on. And so the moderator called on him, saying that they hadn’t heard from a non-white person the entire panel, so, aha, here we go.
The first non-white person to have a voice stood up and looked at the mostly white crowd. “Now I feel a lot of pressure,” he said.
It was such a perfect encapsulation of what it’s like to be a non-white writer.
[ETA: My statement regarding Chaz and Tad is unclear and an unfair conflation; I only put them together because Tad agreed with Chaz’s “only responsible for what we write, not what others write” assertion; Tad had no story about being criticized for a portrayal and dismissing it.
ETA2: I do need to clarify that I did not know Chaz was gay, and thus my statement “when someone tells you that you’re contributing to a harmful stereotype, you should check your privilege and listen” mischaracterizes the situation, as he was not coming from a position of privilege in that situation.
I hope my errors do not diminish the effect the panel entire had on me and others, and I hope that others feel comfortable confirming what did or did not happen.] —