megwrites: Reading girl by Renoir.  (Default)
[personal profile] megwrites
I really need to try to insert more positivity on this blog, because I feel like I'm really just either whining about how writing is haaaaaaard (because being, say, homeless or working twelve hours a day digging ditches is just a breeze) or complaining about things.

That day, however, is not today. So if you're in a squeetastical mood, you may not want to read what I have to say.

1. Squee Kill #1 - NaNoWriMo Not So Grate Askhully (For Me).

For the first time in five years, I've failed NaNoWriMo. Well, technically no. I've written over 50,000 words this month. In the first two weeks I managed to squeeze 62,000 out of myself. But they were on two different projects. I took on two novels this year and quickly discovered that it was a bad idea.

I also discovered that maybe I've come to a point where NaNoWriMo is no longer useful or fun.

I want to be quick to say that NaNoWriMo is a great thing. I believe in it. Especially for those people who are starting out in their writing, whether their goals be professional or purely professional. I think it's a lot of fun and anything that encourages people to write, especially people who desperately need to be encouraged to tell their stories, is a good thing. I wish the NaNoWriMo site would put more of an emphasis on encouraging this kind of frenzied storytelling by groups that seem to get overlooked. Because it does seem like most of the front page kudos go to mainly affluent white people who have the resources - both culturally and personally - to pull off such a feat.

Not that it's not amazing when anyone writes 50,000 in a month - but it's not automatically as difficult for some people as others. The challenge to find, write, and complete a 50k story (which is the LOW end of novel length) is not equal across the board.

Take me, for instance. I've done it for five years running and won every year. And it's not a challenge anymore. Hell, when writing under non-NaNoWriMo conditions, I can have days where I put the pedal to the medal and pump out 5,000 words. On extraordinary days, I've put out 8,000 words. NaNoWriMo requires merely 1667 per day to cross the finishline.

Again, let me be clear. I'm not saying, "Oh, NaNo is so for amateurs. I can totally write faster than that! What losers, only writing 1667 words a day!" That is not it at all.

I am saying that for me, after five years, I'm in a different place. It's no longer about building up the brute strength to write a lot. It's about building finesse. I can, no problem, churn out lots of words. Whether they're good words that build a story that will even be worth a second draft is not so certain. I feel like I now have basic, rudimentary skills and need to hone much finer, more elusive ones. I no longer just need endurance, I need agility.

NaNoWriMo builds up endurance for sure, it's a great way to take a month to learn your set points as far as process goes. I think it's something every writer should try at least once. It teaches you that you can, if you really are determined to, make great progress.

But it doesn't teach you that sometimes taking a chapter slowly or sitting back and thinking about something, or having days when you barely write 500 words is also just as valid and necessary to creating something that isn't just words on a page, but a readable, marketable, enjoyable story.

I'll trunk what I have of the two novels. One sort of works, the other doesn't work at all.

For the curious, I can do Bound for Canaan and I think I'll continue on with that after I finish what I was writing. It's got a lot of good things to it, though it's sort of moody and dark and I'm hoping to keep it from becoming whiny and all about people going, "Life's a bitch and then 50,000 people die and I'm sooooo emo about it".

However, the Bronze Orchid doesn't work at all, because while the idea of a rip-roaring heist set in steampunky alt-Qing Dynasty sounds great, I just don't know nearly enough about the real Qing Dynasty, the culture, the people, or the language and traditions to be even remotely fair about writing it and I'm not going to throw something out there as though it's okay for me to appropriate someone else's culture and half ass it because somehow, they're not as worthy of thorough research and detailed examination as my own culture.

I mean, if someone set a steampunk tale in the South and had someone in the 1860's walk around wearing knee-britches and using words that they didn't have back then, I'd throw the book across the room. Because I know damn well that knee-britches had been out of fashion since 1820's (John Quincy Adams, BTW, was the first president to wear trousers, FYI) and that it would like someone dressing as a flapper girl in the 60's. Furthermore, I'd be even angrier if someone fucked up and said that the wrong person was president, or had the characters that had weird ultra-modern names - ie, Jaden or Kieran or Teagan or whatever people name kids these days - without realizing that the most common names of the era were something like John, Mary, William, and Elizabeth.

But when it comes to such things, you could show me lots of Hanfu and I wouldn't be able to say which is circa the 1650's and which is from either much earlier or much later. You could put a Chinese name in front of me and I wouldn't be able to tell if that was a traditional name for that period or not. I wouldn't be able to pick out the correct emperor/empress of that time period on sight. And I really should. At the very least. I don't think I owe the many people who that legacy, in full or in part, any less respect.

So that story is going to have to wait until I either find a setting I can be much truer to, or until I've done the mounds of necessary research to consider myself ready to tell it. Which may take years, because I absolutely refuse to half-ass something like that. Especially not since so many other white female authors before me have halfassed and fucked up so spectacularly that the White Women Failing Quota has been filled for the next century and a half.

2. Squee Kill #2 - Thanksgiving, even less grate askhully (culturally).

I noticed that [ profile] shweta_narayan had spoken up about this on Thanksgiving Day proper, and her post about it is far, far better than mine and I encourage people to read it and consider it very carefully with open minds. As an American, I feel such things are imperative for Americans to read and to take to heart.

I also highly recommend The Myth of Thanksgiving Linkspam over at The Angry Black Woman blog.

As a historian, I cringe whenever the largely aprocryphal and obscenely misguided tale of "the First Thanksgiving" gets passed around to children. I had it passed down to me, complete with all the racism you'd expect in 1990's Tennessee. Any child who had dark enough hair was told they had to be an Indian and any child blonde or light haired was automatically a Pilgrim. "Indians" danced around stage in brown construction paper headbands with fake feathers glued to them, putting their hands over their mouths while doing some kind of yelling thing and skipping and jumping, singing a song deliberately written in broken English, complete with the phrase, "How!" thrown in.

I am not lying about one little bit of that, and I imagine the same thing is still going on in many schools, homes, and other places.

I find it funny that while we're so careful to keep holidays like Christmas on a line between secular and religious in our society and wouldn't think of staging a nativity scene in a public school (even in Tennessee we wouldn't have done that and had plenty of parents who raged against even prayer in school), but this is completely okay. I think it's because we have to, as a culture, launch a whole lot of propaganda to support what has largely become a day of stress, gluttony, and family dysfunction for most Americans.

Historically speaking, the Thanksgiving Story is garbage. There are inaccuracies with citing the Plymouth Plantation feast of 1621 as the first Thanksgiving, or in thinking that a day of Thanksgiving has universally always been meant to celebrate the Pilgrims or been attached to harvest festivals.

But I could live with those little inaccuracies if not for the most obnoxious assumption made by the story, which is that the Puritans were somehow heroic and their survival is somehow something to celebrate.

Let's be clear. The Puritans were not heroes. They were religious extremists. The tale we Americans like to hand down about them bravely crossing the perilous ocean, seeking religious freedom, being rebellious, high minded founders who merely wanted a land of liberty and freedom is complete and utter bunk.

The pilgrims have more in common with Extremist Christian sects who move away from cities and hole up on compounds in places like Utah, Wyoming, and Texas out in the desert and eschew most contact with the modern world and believe that Satan is inherent in everything from technology to the Harry Potter books than with religious refugees.

The Puritans of England were always extremists who's main disagreements with the Church of England stemmed from their utter revilement of Catholicism. Their reason for wanting to leave England was because they hated another group so much they couldn't stand be near them, even though that group was quite clearly being oppressed. It wouldn't be until 1829 that Roman Catholics in England could find themselves free from civil and legal penalties for being Catholic.

I find it funny that we think of them as heroes and freedom-seekers when they were not. I find it tragic that we celebrate the way in which they carved out a place in this country - by taking from the people who had been here for generations and by using force to strip them of land and life and dignity.

But hey, we revere the president who marched somewhere around 50,000 Native American peoples (Chocktaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee) off their land, resulting in mass deaths en route because Andrew Jackson saw fit not to at least supply his forced march well enough to keep them alive. Moreover, in the case of the Cherokees of Georgia, Jackson stole their lands against a clear and decisive ruling from the Supreme Court which stated that he did not have the right to do such a thing. To which he is purported to have said of the Supreme Court Chief Justice who handed down the decision, "He made his ruling, now let him enforce it."

And Andrew Jackson on our twenty dollar bill.

So I'm not surprised that American culture can make heroes of such folk who do atrocious things and do them so blatantly. I'm not sure what we're so proud of.

What I most resent about the whole thing, however, is that even if we took all those facts at face value. Even if the Puritans are heroes, even if there was a feast - we're using a day of thanks to celebrate just how poorly those same Puritans showed their gratitude.

What gratitude is shown by taking land from, killing, and regard as savages the very people who purportedly saved their skins by teaching them to live in a place where they starved because they didn't know a fucking thing about it because it wasn't their land?

For us to celebrate one, isolated positive event amongst a sea of devastating interactions between Europeans and Indigenous Peoples either requires that we somehow believe that the Indigenous People had it coming, or give the entire thing one massive, epic handwave.

I also find it funny that this celebration comes from people who, the other 364 days of the year, seem so proud to tout their Magical Indian Princess heritage and that they're 1/24th Cherokee or whatever silly thing it is that clueless white people do. If you're going to claim that heritage - which is fine if you actually have it - celebrating the oncoming of the near extinction of the people you claim to derive lineage from is really hypocritical.

What's the solution?

I'm not sure, honestly. I'd like it if we did set aside a national day of mourning to show that we understand from whence the bounty that we enjoy comes - even the people who can clearly say they had nothing to do with tragedy and atrocities against Native peoples. We desperately need that kind of sobering in this country. Not guilting, but sobering. We need to remember how we got where we are, because only then can we understand that we have an even greater duty not to keep repeating the same things, to keep celebrating outrageous things just because they benefit us or they're fun.

We need a national day of reflection, contemplation, meditation. We need to teach the coming generations that our past is not perfect, that American was built on some very ugly realities, that some of our heroes were also villains, and that we should always be mindful not only of what was done, but what we're doing - that benefitting from the deprivation of others comes with it a responsibility not to repeat our actions.

There are things that American culture has clung to in Thanksgiving. We treasure the family time and traditions. I have no problem with a national festival meant for the express purpose of gathering family and communities together. While most communities are not agriculturally based in the U.S., I do think a coming together to say, "Hey, we've worked hard this year, let's have some fun and a big party" is not such a bad thing. I think everyone needs at least one day a year to enjoy the fruits of their labors and, yes, even to maybe eat a little too much.

But in the US, it makes just as much sense to do this after the April 15th deadline for filing taxes as it does on the last Thursday in November. Separating that day from the history of religious extremism, separatism, and oppression in our country can only be to the benefit of us all.

But I also think we need to get rid of this sort of Norman Rockwell-esque coating that we've put over everything, this idea that if we all gather around a table set with perfectly made foods and a nice golden, brown turkey that somehow we're doing something positive.

Did I go to a Thanksgiving dinner this year? You bet. And I loved it. I didn't love the history, but I did love the people around my table. I didn't love the frantic scrambling to make so much food that it took us three days to eat through all of it, and I didn't love thinking that there was a great cultural hypocrisy inherent in it.

I had a fun time being with my in-laws, who have taken me into their family and are wonderful, intelligent, warm people. But honestly? I don't need a giant turkey or yams or cranberries to do that. I got the same warm fuzzy feeling and family bonding when we went to a minor-league hockey game that Friday night, or when we do activities at other times of the year, like a Memorial Day BBQ which just entails throwing some chicken on the grill and listening to music on the porch. I find the same enjoyment in going on trips to natural scenes with my family or just going used book shopping. We bond just as much over making decorative soaps in the kitchen as making dressing and turkey and cranberry sauce.

So many people seem to think that a statement against Thanksgiving is a statement against family bonding and community and traditions. It's not. It's statement against building your triumphs on other people's tragedies without even acknowledging it.

I've seen what Thanksgiving looks like at a lot of houses, and it seems like it causes more stress than it's worth. Sure, gathering the family together is nice - but do we really need the gluttony of food? Wouldn't a normal sized meal do just as well? Do we really need the overblown cultural baggage?

Why not just declare Family Day, tell everyone to close up shop so workers can be with their families, fix foods that traditional for your individual family - you know, your grandma's soup recipe, or mom's famous chicken or whatever your family personally treasures - and celebrate that way instead of needing to connect communal time to very tragic historical events?

Why not have a national day of celebration that everyone can enjoy with a clean conscience?

Date: 2009-11-29 10:15 pm (UTC)
wisdomeagle: Original Cindy and Max from Dark Angel getting in each other's personal space (Default)
From: [personal profile] wisdomeagle
To-do: think more about my Puritan heritage, literal (somewhere in the family tree I've got a Mayflower ancestor), cultural (I grew up one town over from Plymouth, Mass) and most especially religious. I'm a Lutheran now, but I grew up as -- and feel strong kinship with -- New England Congregationalism. Insofar as I identify with the United Church of Christ, the Puritans are my religious -- and spiritual -- ancestors. I'm going to have to think about that (and learn about it).

That's all.

Date: 2009-11-29 10:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I find myself wanting to say something that softens the blow, because I know how much your faith means to you and some part of me doesn't want you to think I'm disparaging what you practice today by saying these things about people you consider cultural, spiritual, and literal ancestors and the political and cultural things they did back then.

But I also think that backtracking would be hypocritical and you're a really good friend, you deserve better from me.

I think it says a lot for your faith and for you that you can and do choose to consider this, even though it is no doubt unpleasant. I hope when I'm confronted with something as difficult for me, I will keep my mind and ears open and also be as thoughtful as you.

Date: 2009-11-30 08:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
*applauds the Thanksgiving part of your post*

Minor nit to your NaNoWriMo post:

It teaches you that you can, if you really are determined to, make great progress.

I think it only teaches you that if you are a) able-bodied enough to manage a "mere" 1667 words a day more than occasionally, as (for example) I am currently not, and b) if you don't then throw it all out because it's too rough a draft to be workable (as I would do; Clarion taught me I can't work with that sort of draft, and I sort of do what most people consider the first two drafts in one go.)

NaNo would teach me that I wasted a month and can't write for a damn, so I'm glad most people don't try pushing it on me.

Date: 2009-11-30 12:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You're absolutely right on both counts. I really should have noticed the inherent ablism in saying things like, "if you're really determined to" in any context. *headdesk*. My sincerest apologies.

I agree also on NaNoWriMo's very limited ability to give a workable draft. I have yet to come out of those five years of doing this with a complete draft (even if it far exceeded the 50k goal) or a draft that didn't need to be so dismantled that I was basically writing it again from the ground up.

I think the only real problem with NaNo is that it doesn't come with the boilerplate that while writing 50k in a month is all well and good, you really don't win anything but a pat on the back from yourself and some nifty graphics. It won't mean your novel is good or readable or that you'll get published or suddenly be a better writer than you were. You might be a faster writer than you were, but not necessarily better.

Date: 2009-11-30 11:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Guess we're entirely in agreement here :)

You might be a faster writer than you were, but not necessarily better.

I wonder if it'd make me a faster writer without making me a worse one. So far, trying to write faster than my brain wants has been a massive failure. But I'm certainly not writing at a rate that will get one's name known.

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags