Midsummer Review

Wow it’s been a while since my last post. Let’s catch up.

Dance: still doing ballet, although I’m taking a few months off classes so I can condition. Working a lot on turnout, so literally every day I just do slow plies in second – 20 in the morning, 20 in the evening. Interspersed with single leg raises to strengthen ankles and practice balance. It sucks, and progress is glacial, but it exists. I’m also learning to DIY some massage to relieve tight muscles and unlock more turnout.

Writing: miraculously, there’s been some. Finished yet another revision to draft 1, almost done with draft 2, and made inroads on draft 3 (which was commissioned). Restarted outlining of the novel that won’t die, and further than before. Just need to decide how the Final Confrontation shakes down.

Bean: Getting bigger, funnier, and more stubborn by the day. Now potty-trained!

Other: I took a wonderful* vacation last month! London, Amsterdam, and a handful of cities in Germany. I was feeling very burned out and also stuck on my personal writing. One day in a London hotel shook something loose and I came back with 8k more words than I’d left with. (They’re fic, but that’s fine.) I walked everywhere, drank delicious beer, did not eat nearly enough Nordsee, and somehow muddled through Germany without a single person trying to talk to me in English. There were a few points in Saarland, most notably in a Vapiano**, where I later realized I should have used my French, which while not fluent is WAY better than my German. Oh well!

* The one fly in the ointment was getting TOTALLY screwed by not realizing that Eurostar is basically a small airport, not your usual train station. Long story short, I missed my train to Amsterdam, which was the last train out that night, and I was stuck in London. Fortunately, a friend is in London and after she was finished laughing at me, she let me buy her dinner and crash on her couch. I did waste one night at a very nice hotel in Amsterdam, but hey, more time with your friends is priceless.

** I had a HORRIBLE time ordering my food and was wondering if my German*** had truly been that bad. Then the girl after me ordered in rapid fire French and my server/cook responded similarly. So I won’t blame it on myself that time. But man. I could have saved us both so much stress with a je voudrais instead of ich möchte!

*** “Kara why are you learning German” I’m not. Husband speaks German to Bean, and I’m picking it up from sheer osmosis. My vocabulary is mostly suited to working at a daycare, but Bean is quite into demanding food, so I know how to order a meal … more politely than she does.

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Friday Favorites, 3/9/18

Hungry Demigods” by Andrea Tang, published in Gignotosaurus.

Plot: Isabel Chang is a kitchen witch who runs a Pâtisserie in Montreal. One day, she is asked to help Elias, a young man with an immortality curse of Chinese origin, break his curse.

“Hungry Demigods” is a delightful story about family and food. (Against every stereotype, I don’t seek to read about these topics. Ever. A good friend linked me the story. Thanks, Tari!) But what was more, I deeply resonated with the Chinese magic elements and how they were used in this story–I don’t want to spoil them for you, because coming upon those elements so unexpectedly left me shrieking a little with joy! I feel it is the lit equivalent of amazing fusion cuisine (if you will), using and updating some of my very favorite concepts from Chinese folklore/mythology.

This story … I felt a bit like Elias biting into one of Isabel’s buns: “I’d forgotten how food could taste, after you haven’t eaten in ages. It’s like color returning to the world.”

Don’t get me wrong–I fully understand that not everything is for everyone. But when I do manage to stumble upon a story for me … there’s nothing like it.

You may notice I haven’t recced a whole lot of Chinese/East Asian diaspora stories. That’s because when I click on a story and realize that it’s about my ethnicity/culture, sometimes I will back-button. Even if the author’s name suggests they are writing from their lived experience as a part of said ethnicity/culture. Sometimes I run away ever faster—because 1) at least if someone is writing from a place of ignorance, it’s easier to shrug off if I don’t like it. 2) I feel like a traitor if I end up disliking something by a fellow Chinese/East Asian diaspora writer … and I have felt like a traitor many times. I know that’s irrational, but you try reasoning with feelings. Then one day I realized that my fear came from “the danger of a single story” (TED talk by Novelist Chimamanda Adichie). I had personally been burned by the prevalence of certain pieces of Chinese-American literature in the popular consciousness that I felt did not speak to my experience, but that due to the single-story effect, became what others thought of me*. Of course that was and is not the fault of the author or the literature, it’s the fault of the publishing environment. But it still hurt. I’m not going to apologize for protecting myself. But I do find that lately, I am able to explore more. To see what my fellow people are doing. Even to dip my own toe into telling my stories, which I had not really felt like doing in the past. That’s a story for another post. In any case, I’ve been grateful for the slow yet steady increase in Chinese/East Asian diaspora writers being published, along with stories about their cultures (not that they have to be, obviously, I’d be a hypocrite if I said so).

As usual, a review says more about the reader than the story! Which you should read. “Hungry Demigods” by Andrea Tang!

* Chinese stories from China, translated into English, do not meet my mental barriers in this regard. The original intended audience is different, so it doesn’t trip my wires.

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Friday Favorites, 1/5/18

The first Friday Favorite of 2018 is Saga (Book One), by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. A shoutout to E for gifting me volume one for Christmas. I mainlined it in one day and it made me squee and laugh and cry. The worldbuilding is incredibly vast, the characters are all so real even if they only appear for a panel, and I’m just in such awe of the authors’ imagination.

And of course, it’s all about parenthood.

I had always thought that becoming a parent wouldn’t change my tastes in reading or writing. For instance, an unflattering confession: I loathed kidfic before I gave birth. Well, I was wrong … I loathe it even more now. Before it was merely insipid. Now it’s insipid and inaccurate. And don’t get me started on pregnancy fic. (And both these experiences are life-endingly fraught enough that I can’t just let it go when things are inaccurate, the way I can let LOLTASTAIC SCIENCE go.)

But Saga is the real deal done so right that I was thrown back to week three, living on three cans of coca-cola and three hours of sleep a day while quietly wishing for death. Those days were frankly dark but I’m remembering this in the best way, I swear. And let me just say that I, too, would have accepted a disemboweled ghost as a night nurse during week four AKA The First Fucking Growth Spurt.

And that’s how it is for the mom, too, when she is running through a very large and exciting universe with her family by her side!

Before having a kid, I would probably have rolled my eyes a little.

Now … now, reading this, I want to try to make the world a better place for my child. My world has no wings or horns or intergalactic travel, but we fight the same battles. I can do this. Hey, I’m no longer breastfeeding, what excuses have I got?

P.S. I just bought Book Two!

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2018

2017 was incredibly hectic. You may have noodled that one for yourself from my dramatic decline in posting frequency.

Anyway, three goals for 2018:

  • Get promoted to the next level (Beginner II) at ballet school. Overall goal is to one day be able to attend a NYCB open class at the Kennedy Center! You must be at least intermediate level to join in, and observation is not allowed, so I better do all my exercises today. (I’m ordering a Theraband stat.)
  • Sell another short story. You know they say “it never gets easier, you just get better” and I’ll vouch for #1 but I’m not so sure on #2. For quite a while now I have only been getting better at seeing how my writing sucks. A useful skill to be sure, but best paired with an actual increase in writing ability. They promise me that eventually that curve flips but I think they lied. I’m still writing though. Forgive the tone of this item – nobody ever said that grinding EXP was heartening.
  • Do something original and self-directed at work. But first, I must get good enough at my job that I have the bandwidth to conceive of something original and execute it to completion.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, and heaven willing productive 2018!

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Friday Favorites, 12/1/17

Today’s Friday Favorite is one that probably everyone has read: The Lady Astronaut of Mars, by Mary Robinette Kowal. I’m way late to reading this, I know. But maybe someone else is too …

The threads of love and fragility and hope and exploration are all masterfully interwoven in this story. I disbelieve most love stories in SFF, and I’m guilty of it too–it’s easy to skimp on that when I just want to get to the time travel or whatever. Not so here. The love is deep and rich and real and kicked me in the feels with astronaut boots.

On top of that, I made my own connection with this story is as a former academic married to an academic. There was a time before I realized how much traveling is involved in the jobs that we both chose, and what sacrifices you have to make when you chase your career and/or tenure across the country and sometimes the world. And even after you have it, your career still depends on your willingness to give talks and attend conferences and on and on and on. It takes a toll, especially if you have any special circumstances. I should know—one of our joint decisions resulted in some rough months of solo parenting a tiny child. It’s not the same, but I know. I know what it’s like to make those choices. (We got a happy ending though! Those months passed and we are now happily together, both working jobs that we love.)

This story brought it home to me, thread for thread, exactly how it feels to want the best for someone while knowing exactly what you are bringing upon yourself. Anticipating what lies ahead and still saying yes, dear, we need to do what is best for you.

Anyway. Read The Lady Astronaut of Mars! And if you don’t want to cry, may I suggest read it in space like an astronaut. Because there is no crying in space.

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Friday Favorites, 11/17/17

Today’s Friday Favorite is A GUIDE FOR YOUNG LADIES ENTERING THE SERVICE OF THE FAIRIES, by Rosamund Hodge.

This is the lie they will use to break you: no one else has ever loved this way before.

I love stories about ordinary people. Chosen One narratives do nothing for me. The funny thing is that sometimes in real life I do still struggle with flashes of ambition. Of wanting to be–important. I have been told for all my life, by people as well as stories, that if you are not Important then you are nothing at all, that your life is a waste, you’re a waste.

That’s why I really, really, really love this piece. It emphasizes both that you are ordinary, and that you are still worthy simply because you are yourself, that you can still take on the universe (or fairyland) and win. You do not have to be better than the rest. You only have to exist, and persist.

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Friday Favorites, 11/10/17

This week’s Friday Favorite is “Excerpt from a Letter by a Social-realist Aswang” by Kristin Mandigma. This is a short and delightful piece (I would call it satire, but it does far more than just make jokes) that is incredibly dense with allusions and asides and asks genuine questions in there too. It reminds me of nothing so much as Borges.

But it has a delicious modern sensibility—and isn’t afraid to take a sly swipe or two at politicians on top of the writing & publishing scene. I am not qualified to comment on the political satire so I will comment on the writing. My favorite passages:

With regard to your question about how I perceive myself as an “Other,” let me make it clear that I am as fantastic to myself as rice. I do not waste time sitting around brooding about my mythic status and why the notion that I have lived for five hundred years ought to send me into a paroxysm of metaphysical Angst for the benefit of self-indulgent, overprivileged, cultural hegemonists who fancy themselves writers.

… I think that being an aswang is a category of social difference—imposed by an external utilitarian authority—like sexuality and income bracket. Nobody conceives of being gay just as a literary trope. Do they?

Well. Let me introduce you to a few websites. They are not respectable proletariat reading at all but you do need to learn about your enemies—right?

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Friday Favorites, 10/27/17

This week’s favorite is La beauté sans vertu by Genevieve Valentine. This is everything (maybe nearly everything?) Valentine likes to write about—fashion, the fashion industry, fairy tales, feminism—rolled up into one gorgeous and dense and prickly story, like a bed of roses. Which is, not coincidentally, a motif throughout the story.

I really have to gush a little about how the story is so perfectly structured. Every sentence is as layered as it is gorgeous. The story overflows with #aesthetic but at no point does that get in the way of the story’s function. Every pretty thing in this story is an important signifier or symbol; it doesn’t just stand there looking nice. That’s harder than it sounds even in a story about the fashion industry. (You wish all your clothes could accomplish the same.)

All right, speaking of roses. La beauté sans vertu is the story of Maria, a 19-year-old model who (with the help of bones grafted from a dead 14-year-old; this is the industry standard) rises to become a star in the House of Centifolia, a couture house. Rhea, the owner of the House of Centifolia, designs a runway show around Maria and her beauty. Then things start to fall apart.

It’s a story about the currency of women’s bodies and how and when they’re valued and what we consider beautiful and why. It’s a deeply beautiful story that understands the price of beauty and who has to pay it.

Reading this story is—to borrow an image from it—somewhat akin to swallowing a rose. Someone will bleed for this. But oh, the beauty of it.

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