Hello, neglected blogosphere. This is a note to let you guys know that my story “The Bird Country” (which originally appeared in Shimmer Issue 15, and can still be read at the Shimmer website here) is going to be appearing in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2013, edited by Paula Guran.
“The Bird Country” is actually an older story of mine, which I began while I was studying fiction with Scott Snyder, who at that time had not yet become King of All the Comics. I’m using that piece of information as a tenuous link to a discussion of comics, which keep me sane as I plow the icy waves of a Midwestern winter. In terms of comics, here is a thing I like: YOUNG AVENGERS, Y’ALL. New Young Avengers! Young Avengers with Kid Loki! I’m so excited about this title.
But here is a thing I do not like in terms of comics: many of the quotes in this article. I actually think that the series in question sounds like fun idea, but: “Women for good reason don’t feel particularly engaged in the superhero genre.” O RLY? “If someone like me feels uncomfortable walking into a comic shop, it’s no wonder most teenage girls and adult women wouldn’t set foot inside one.” It’s true that I actively avoid comic shops, but this is because I am generally treated as an alien by the staff. (It’s a girl! What does she want? She must need help. I bet she’s lost.) This doesn’t prevent me from buying a bunch of comics (digitally, used, or– mostly– in trades); I have issues with the representation of women in some of them, but the books themselves do not comprise the culture that’s off-putting to me.
I’ve recently been reminded of just how obnoxious the comics world can be for women. This is a phenomenon that always surprises me, since I have a massive love for superhero comic books. The biggest part of it seems to be an attitude that’s not really misogyny, but rather its cousin: a failure to consider women as fully human. It’s not hatred, but really a kind of condescension. Women, to men with worldviews like this, fall somewhere on a scale between children and pets. All right, perhaps robots: they’re not animals, they’re fully sentient beings, but they just don’t quite come up to the standard of human. So they have to be patted on the head and spoken to very simply. This attitude is why I avoid, for the most part, comics culture. I would end up leading a robot revolution if I had to deal with these things.
Here endeth my thoughts. Except: watch Person of Interest! It’s a weird show that entertains me.
And keep an eye out for The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror. It too will be entertaining.
The end of the year, with its inevitable flurry of best-of lists and gift recommendations, has caused me to reflect on the fact that I suffer from a paucity of favorites. That is: I struggle to come up with more than a handful of books or films that I would list as my “favorites.” In part this probably stems from a very severe definition of the term. I know when something qualifies as a favorite: not only do I enjoy and admire it, but I am somehow mystified by it. There is something in it that I cannot point to, some witchcraft at work.
In film, this means (in no particular order): Fitzcarraldo, Danton, Casablanca, The Dove’s Lost Necklace, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Godfather, Blade Runner, Withnail & I, and possibly My Best Fiend– though I hesitate over that last one, because really I only mean the end of it.
When it comes to books, the question is even trickier. My favorite book is, and has been for almost nine years now, Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety. There will never be a book more beloved by me. Another favorite book is Pat Barker’s The Ghost Road, or if I’m stretching the point, the entire Regeneration trilogy. A third book: Ray Monk’s biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Duty of Genius. Possibly Diana Wynne Jones’ Fire and Hemlock. Beyond this, however, I hesitate to name anything. There are books I like– G.K. Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill and The Man Who Was Thursday– and books I admire, and books that intrigue me– like all of Kafka, the work of Bruno Schulz, and the Robert Aickman’s short stories. There are many children’s books that I treasure. But nothing else that feels to me like a favorite. Nothing that has that immovable quality.
It’s very strange. Other people seem to have so many favorites. But liking things can be difficult for me.
I’m very excited to report that Rich Horton has selected “The Keats Variation” (which appeared in Strange Horizons) for inclusion in his Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, 2013 Edition. The preliminary Table of Contents is here, and I’m finding it pretty cool to see my name listed amongst those of so many people I admire!
Another update, this one for those of you in the Columbus or generally Midwestern area: I’ll be reading February 7th as part of the Ohio State MFA Faculty/Student reading series. The reading is going to be at Ohio State’s Thompson Library; more details are here.
I’m pleased to note that “The Keats Variation,” which appeared in Strange Horizons this past year, is going to be included in the forthcoming Wilde Stories 2013. It’s also flattering to see that Rich Horton listed it as one of his favorite stories in Strange Horizons this year. (Thanks to Steve Berman for the tip!)
I shall now return to my regularly scheduled merrymaking…
So at the moment I am like kind of tremendously obsessed with the Philip Glass opera Einstein on the Beach. With that strange sense of stars moving into a mechanical and yet somehow meaningful alignment, I heard part of it on Desert Island Discs a few weeks ago, and then this morning saw it discussed here by Nico Muhly and David Lang. If you have not heard this: just go and listen to the first track of a recording of it, the first “Knee Play,” and tell me that you are not struck by the sudden, profound, uncomfortable, and almost tear-producing sense that you are staring into the heart of something perfect that you don’t understand.
In other news, I have been giving people pieces of mythology as Christmas gifts. It’s funny how mythology builds itself, in a similar way to language: you name something, and find yourself repeating the name again, adding slightly to its range of meaning. The Archdruid of Cats, the King of Wiltshire, the Empire of Thule (and its series of wars with the Anglians), the Sickened Kingdoms, the Muscovy Idols. If you wish you knew what these things meant: they are forthcoming in small and secret stories. Though the terrible truth is that I’m not a storyteller so much as I am an architect of myths.
So if you are in New York and you’re interested in (A) time travel, (B) the Russian Revolution, (C) Vladimir Putin, (D) the mysteries of THEATRE, or (E) any of the above, check out a night of staged readings that my sister (Lauren Ferebee) is hosting to celebrate her birthday. It will include a very short, very silly new one-act by me entitled “The Terrible Adventure of the Advanced Intertemporal Aristocratic Underground Electrorail Organization, and How They Didn’t Rescue the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova.”
It’s Sunday, December 9th, at 7 PM, at Jimmy’s No. 43 (43 E. 7th St., NYC).
I won’t be there, but I’ll be there in spirit. If you step out into the frosty air and hear a hint of Cossack war songs drifting through the streets of Manhattan, that will be me.
This is a note for the people who message/friend/follow me on Facebook and Twitter because I used to play violin in a certain indie rock band. I don’t mean to lump you all together as though you are indistinguishable! But in each case I have very similar things to say. Such as:
Hi, guys! I appreciate your enthusiasm. And I’m very flattered that you love the band so much and notice my work in particular. However, (1) I really can’t friend people that I don’t know on Facebook, because I have private photos and info on there; (2) I am not the world’s most natural conversationalist to start with, and I feel very weird responding to messages that are essentially just, “Hey! Love the band!” or similar; (3) I’m not actually in the band anymore (I’m in graduate school in Ohio), so if you’re mostly interested in getting in touch with Zach, et cetera, it would be faster and easier for you to contact other people.
That said: if you do want to get in touch with me, why not try asking an interesting question? I like interesting questions, and will often respond to them. It’s a lot easier to answer a question than it is to figure out a graceful response to random praise.
Announcement over. Carry on!
So as you may not be aware if you are not lucky enough to be constantly attuned to the hum of the Internet, there has recently been some controversy about and much discussion surrounding the idea of the Fake Geek Girl. What is the Fake Geek Girl? Opinions vary; however, the consensus seems to be that she is a girl/woman who simultaneously performs geekness (by wearing the clothing that signifies geekness– for instance, comics- or computer-related t-shirts and big glasses– and talking about geek topics) and performs femininity (by presenting herself as sexy, by expressing sexual interest, or even just by engaging in traditional female interests or beauty rituals). Girls who perform geekness but don’t perform femininity are real geek girls; it seems to be centrally the insistence on also performing femininity that earns the Fake Geek Girl label.
Those who insist that their criticism of Fake Geek Girls is valid would (I think) respond indignantly that their criticism has nothing to do with femininity and, instead, has to do with the authenticity of the geek identity in question. I think that this comic sums up the response to that argument pretty well; however, I’ll take it on. I agree that there are many people who adopt geekness as an aesthetic rather than an interest, something that frequently piques me; I know people who became Avengers “experts” two days after seeing the movie, without ever bothering to pick up a comic, or who describe themselves as comic book fans because they read Sandman when they were sixteen. These people come from both genders and are no different to fellow-travelers of any kind: people who love Eastern European music but think it’s all played by Gypsies; people who love British comedy because Monty Python is so great, and have you heard of this show called Blackadder? Les Miz fans who think that musical/book/film is set during the French Revolution. You see what I mean.
The problem here is that a certain category of female geeks is seen as automatically belonging to this type, and it is the category of female geeks who perform their femininity. True: pretty much all geek girls/women are treated with a certain amount of distrust by men, but geek girls who present themselves as sexually neutral– who choose not to actively participate in the paradigm of conventional female attractiveness (a paradigm in which participation tends to be read as acceptance/encouragement of sexual objectification), and who don’t forefront or express their sexual desires– are more easily accepted. This is particularly true if these girls choose to perform a a geek identity that is strongly coded as masculine: being gamers, for example, or code geeks, or into hard sf rather than fanning contemporary fantasy or television shows.
The problem, I suspect, is that all of geek culture is still generically coded as male, white, and middle-class. Conceptually– structurally– that is the outline of geek culture, and to lie outside of those boundaries is to be only dubiously visible. I’m reminded of hearing Steven Moffat complain in bafflement about an audience for a Sherlock fan event– saying how there were “all these… girls,” as though he couldn’t quite understand what the girls were doing there– after all, they couldn’t be fans. That’s not what fans look like! That’s not what fans are!
But, of course, fan culture is increasingly female. Some sectors of fan culture are so exclusively female that a male fan is a rare and suspicious bird. I suspect that this is not irrelevant to the timing of the Fake Geek Girl tension. Men are uncomfortable with fangirls. Many women are uncomfortable with fangirls. Look at the rhetoric around Twilight: girls and women were (and are) routinely described as hysterical, and described too in ways that explicitly brought into question the “correctness” of their sexuality. They were sexually repressed, or oversexed. There was something peculiar, something deviant about women’s fan obsessions that was connected to their sexuality. Fan-ness and sex are confusingly rolled into one, and the latter is often used to depreciate the former: a girl is a “fan” of something because she’s attracted to a male character, which isn’t real fanning– on the one hand as though this is a lesser kind of fanning, and the only one of which women are capable; on the other hand, in a way that suggests that the out-of-control (hysterical) nature of women’s sexuality makes female fans (and specifically fangirls) disturbing and dangerous.
And there are many male fans who do perceive female fans as disturbing and dangerous. You need only read through some of the discussion surrounding this issue, in which Fake Geek Girls are portrayed as predatory– donning the disguise of geekness in order to snare men. So many old anti-women tropes come out to play. A woman can’t perform woman-ness without expressing a want for men; a woman’s want for men is consuming; and so on.
I suspect I’m particularly interested in/incensed by this issue because it is so much a part of my life, day by day. I can’t remember a time in my life when I was not a geek: I started out on Star Wars, and by eight years old had graduated to Terry Brooks’ and David Eddings’ epic fantasy. The discovery of Star Trek came at age eleven, and the discovery of Internet fan communities around age thirteen. I read Starlog. I wrote X-Files fan fiction. I cried at Babylon 5. I drew maps for my Tolkien-rip-off novels’ countries. I was an awkward, plain girl with very thick glasses. Then I became an adult. I started dying my hair. I started wearing skirts and skinny jeans. I shaped my eyebrows, got tattoos, wore tinted lip gloss and earrings. I was still an awkward, plain girl with very thick glasses. And I was still a geek. But increasingly I found– to my confusion– that no one took me seriously. In comics stores, people assumed I was lost or looking for something based on a movie. If I mentioned that I loved Doctor Who or read Daredevil, people acted as though I was faking– or as though I didn’t know I was making myself look silly.
What’s even more troubling is that this experience hasn’t been confined to geekness. Or rather: it hasn’t been confined to the areas of pop-culture-geekery. It extends to other interests coded as white, masculine, and middle-class. For instance: anything relating to computers, math, or cryptography. I often had a similar experience when I worked in indie music, as well– strangers, when introduced to me, would frequently assume that I had to be a musician’s girlfriend rather than a musician (or a musician’s girlfriend who happened to also be a musician). The sense, again, is one of invisibility: there exists a spectrum of audible sound in these cultures, and it is difficult for a woman to make a noise on this spectrum. She shouts, but nothing registers. No matter how much she speaks, her voice is muted and goes unheard.
I’m genuinely interested in having this discussion, but I wish that others would engage on a more substantial level. I’ve seen a lot of people repeat shallow truisms without attempting to dissect them. I think we could all do with a little application of theory.
Here are some things I’ve been enjoying recently:
1. The moment when my car heater kicks on after a cold walk to the parking lot.
2. Anticipating Christmas. Yes: I am that unbearable person who celebrates when Christmas decorations come out, even if it’s weeks till Advent. I love Christmas lights. I love Christmas baubles. I buy Christmas-scented candles and things. I even– horror of horrors– adore Christmas carols. Left to my own devices, I would spend the week before Christmas wassailing. Christmas is a collision of things that I love (I picture this like vast celestial objects colliding): the narrative of Christianity (I am, despite appearances, in some ways a very traditional Christian) and a strange, cold-and-warm, slightly Medieval aesthetic. Also, there are angels involved– and if you’ve read my fiction, you know that angels fascinate me. Also also: Doctor Who Christmas specials.
3. David Lang’s Little Match Girl Passion. You guys; you guys. How amazing is this music? I picked this up a couple of years ago because Nico Muhly mentioned it on his blog. But modern music is sometimes something you have to grow into, like a piece of scripture or writing by Wittgenstein. Listening to it is training for the act of understanding, but also a part of that ongoing act.
4. Twitter. Twitter is the bomb yo.
5. Working on a theory that The Lives of Christopher Chant is principally a book about the experience of giftedness.
6. Purple sweet potatoes.
I saw Skyfall this weekend (for the record, resurrection is also a hobby of mine*), and the opening scenes in Istanbul caused me to think back to my brief visit there. I’ve been having a lot of discussions recently about the ghost/the haunt/the excess/the Remnant– that is to say, the thing that escapes expression, the thing that cannot be spoken, the thing that exists beyond what is accountable in any formal system. (This is not as silly-ly mystical and theory-jargon-dependent as it, perhaps, sounds– just bear with me.) Thinking about Istanbul, I was reminded of strange absences and presences, my experiences with that ghost there.
When I sight-see, I’m not looking for physical beauty. I’m searching for The Ghost. The Ghost is the thing that shouldn’t be there– the thing that exceeds the physical body of the world (cf. hauntology and traumatic experience), and yet has a physical body in the world, the thing that is produced by human socio-historical experience and therefore has no tangible existence– like the pain that attaches itself to physical damage, like love, like the soul. Thus: The Ghost. The Ghost is what is embodied.
But mostly, when you’re sight-seeing, you see bodies. The locust-shells of what used to be: stone and dirt. When I was fourteen years old, I clung to a painting of Hagia Sophia– promising myself that I’d one day go there. When I did go, it was inert. It was beautiful, and it was exactly as I’d imagined. But that was all there was to it: the sum total, something missing.
Later, I went down to the Yerebatan Sarayı, the basilica cistern: vast stained columns under the earth, and a dark gilt light, and the smell of water. I didn’t know what I was seeing. I hadn’t done research. I had no knowledge of the age of what I was seeing, or the import. And down there in the midst of these strange echoes– huffs of air from nowhere, wholly immersed in the uneasy sense of the underworld– I saw one of these faces of Medusa. This great block, like a god’s head. And yet that wasn’t what I saw, because I saw The Ghost. Something that was more than a piece of stone. Something that exceeded the real. You understand that I’m not saying it was a ghost; if it was a ghost, it would be mundane, a thing that I could name– and anyway, I don’t believe in ghosts. And it wasn’t either, in any sense, something divine– which, again, is something that language can contain. I’m reminded of the way the Greeks talked about the speech of gods and ghosts, which was the noise, too, of the wilderness: thespesiei iachei, an uncanny cry. A voice that is not quite what we’d say is a voice, a voice that exceeds what can be understood.
I can’t really parse it out more than that. It’s something to think on, though. The Ghost.
For the record, Skyfall was good.
*I am somewhat taken aback to realize in how many senses I could claim this to be true.