Time, Space, and Swearing. Lots of Swearing

Luke looked up. “Tell me something, tall man, do you have a good sense of smell for a pretty-face, or a bad one?”

Tsofair gave Luke a long assessing look, which seemed not to embarrass the other man in the least. “I have never had a sense of smell other than my own. I do not know.”

Luke grinned, “I’m partly yanking you, but I’m partly serious.”

Tsofair sat down and began configuring his displays. “Two-Spot, can you tell the difference between Zai and our medi by smell?”

Denver felt a surge of aggression at the idea of Luke knowing Zai by smell, but appreciated that the other was going to work Luke over the coals for hassling him, because the question obviously made Luke consider some things that he’d rather not.

“Um… yeah,” Luke answered.

“From across the room? With other people around?”

“No.”

“I can.” Tsofair flicked his data about between screens as he spoke, “Can you tell at any given time who is out in the corridor, or in the artillery pods, by smell?”

Denver felt his skin crawl, and his mood wasn’t improved when Luke glanced up at him in the perch and grinned at him as he responded to Tsofair, “Nope.”

“Neither can I. I have kin who could,” said Tsofair, calmly checking through his data.

Luke pursed his lips and said, “Makes you wonder why the pirates would put the stationers in conditions that were bound to make the place reek. If it bothers us as much it does, it probably has ’em puking.”

“If they think it will bother the prisoners more than it will bother them, it makes sense.” Tsofair responded.

“Well, the funk won’t be anywhere near the top of the list of what’s bothering these folks. Maybe this bunch of prettyfaces hasn’t clued in that we don’t have such sharp noses, although to hear just about any Sekoni tell it, there isn’t much about us that they don’t know. It’s probably true they kept us in labs and experimented on us.”

Tsofair got a look of distaste and shrugged.

“Lockups are for efficiency,” said Denver.

They both turned around and looked up at him as he continued, “If there’s a small number of the Hounds, mass automated lockups is the fastest way to get people out of the way. Work their way through the station without being bothered. Including bothered with having to kill and dispose of bodies. Freeze and starve people to death where they’re sitting—less resistance. Slower than just blowing out the pressure, but doesn’t create a mess, or risk damaging components or data. Interrogation is just a bonus.”

Luke whistled and said “You need a drink and a meal after talking that much in a stretch, Four-Spot?”

The Multnomah County Library had a call to submit self published work for catalog consideration. It required self-publishing on the Smashwords platform first. Publishing requires prose, price, promotion, and a picture. The first I had: the project/novel/thing I call Ten Hearts has been sitting LWP_webpage_0around for a really long time. The fourth I could get, but the middle two are total fuckery.

Picture

I had to get a cover design, because I know these sorts of things make a difference. I asked one artist whose work I particularly admire, and he agreed at first, but then he proved to be too busy. A veteran artist and close friend rescued me (again – Steve has rescued me before) and even let me pay him something. I sent him my concept and idea, exchanged some emails and calls. This required me to describe my characters out loud to another person, which was surprisingly difficult. Then I had a custom piece of art depicting two characters that I dreamed up myself (!), by an artist who would be way above my touch if he wasn’t an old friend. Of course I then created an acutely amateurish cover with MS Publisher, but one thing at a time, I reckon. Maybe if I sell a few copies, I can justify getting a cover design. (I know someone who does those too).

Price

Then I had to figure out Smashwords. They have a style and formatting guide. After fifteen years using Microsoft for work, I learned how to use the Style formatting menu properly. And I had to decide on a price. This is where things get scary.

As a white collar service professional, I’m accustomed to someone (not usually me) assigning economic value to my time and brain. And I have many friends who are creative professionals who discuss the challenges of price, value, and the need to make a living (someone is always trying to screw you. Because “exposure”). Strictly speaking, I don’t need to sell my writing in order to eat. (If I did, my kids and I would be dead. Or more likely on public assistance and homeless). So in theory I could assign $0 as the price. But I sort of feel like that’s unsporting, because other people make a living selling their work and if I give my stuff away, because I can, it symbolically devalues the marketplace. And I’d like to think someone would be willing to pay even a teeny amount of money for something I made. So I settled on $2.99, because it seems like you can get all sorts of crappy novellas for that (or more) on Amazon. I still felt weird about it. Like I’m not entitled to ask people to pay less than a latte for something that took me six years to make. Which is B.S. of course. If no one wants to pay that much, that’s fine, but it’s perfectly legit for me to ask.

Prose

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freegreenscreen.com: A SF set for when my visualization craps out

I wrote about Ten Hearts (and its sequel) about a year ago. It’s a SF and traditional het romance genre piece with an ensemble cast. There are mercenaries, aliens, organized crime, religious extremists, etc. This book is older than one of my kids. I’ve shopped it to agents and tried a couple of other gambits with it. Technically it’s even still in a query queue somewhere. It’s been edited by a professional line editor, reviewed but not edited by a professional genre editor (because I can’t afford it), so it’s got decent formatting but it’s too long because I don’t know which of my darlings to kill. But I figured it was the best fit to submit.

As I went back in to format it, I caught some more more typos. And of course I started fiddling with it again. This time I focused on some weird little world building tweaks. I started out with a vision driven by cultural relationships and intergroup hierarchy, but I really like figuring out backstage structure (I was a stage techie once, a life time ago). There are times when I would rather tinker around with what my characters call their equipment and how they use it, than deal with the grand scheme. [what hell is it with Star Wars and the apparent indifference to space, which is, you know, a VACUUM and will kill you?] So as I dived back into the world after having left it alone for quite a while, one of things that I fixated on was units and measures.

How we describe time and space is defined by the sun, moon and archaic cultural norms. In the 21st century, Americans still use a measure tied to some Renaissance, Carolingian, or Egyptian monarch’s foot. And most of the rest of the world uses an 18th century measure derived off base-10 fragments of the size of the planet. We assign meaning to days in units of 7, 30 or 365 based on rotations of a particular ball of dirt around downloada particular star. What happens if we live in a world where the solar orbits and planetary rotations are different, or where there isn’t a solar driven calendar at all? And more importantly, where no one cares what unit of measure we used where “we” came from? But on the other hand, I’m not writing an essay about the meaning of measurement, I’m trying to convey an accessible sense of movement through the world to a reader who understands English. So I think I managed to do away with “minutes” but not “seconds.”

And then there’s swearing. Curses can be pretty archaic and still retain some zip. But blasphemy still assumes someone somewhere had a god and cared if you took its name in vain. And obscenity requires some cultural taboos around something, be it sex or body functions. Arguably it also requires some hierarchy of denigration, so you can abuse someone by calling them something they are not, while simultaneously insulting a whole class of beings by using their identity pejoratively. Once again, I tinkered with my own native nomenclature, but I couldn’t make it unrecognizable.

Publicity

The hardest piece of all. I have to go out and say, “I wrote a thing! Buy it! Like it! Tell your friends.” For any number of reasons having to do with my professional history (marketing! innovation! origination credit! disaster!), my familial and cultural background (Confucianism leaves a heavy mark) and my current circumstances, I find the prospect of trying to market a book freakishly difficult. I’m supposed to tweet, blog, etc, but I have like 200 twitter followers and a chunk of them are ‘bots who do stuff like follow you if you use the word “iOS” or tweet @Pontifex, even if what you’re doing is saying “iOS -or the Pope- sucks goat berries.” And there’s my “brand”. Lots of people write in different genres with different names, so I have no problem simply spelling my name with Pinyin romanization and telling the world that’s who I am for this purpose, but then do I have to tweet, blog, and instagram with that name (I don’t currently instagram at all and I already have two twitter accounts). All so five or six people can pay $2.99, if I’m lucky?

But I have to start somewhere. In 2015 I tried some stuff and I really started to run out of “try”. I’m going to try again. Maybe if 20 people buy my book, I’ll offer the sequel for $0.99, like an enterprising alum of my under grad did. Which brings me to my dedication. My sister read Ten Hearts in its earliest form, my spouse makes all things possible by supporting my underemployed arse, but as I looked at the process, I realized that many of the people who have edited the book, touched it, read, and cheered me on are people I went to college with. For all the challenges in my life in the last three years, I’ve grown closer to my college classmates, particularly after our 20th college reunion a couple of years ago. Going to Bryn Mawr was one of the few forks in the road of my life where I feel I unquestionably lucked out, and I didn’t even realize it at the time. So when I uploaded the edited book, I added a dedication page “To the sisters of the heart”.

If you’ve made it this far, here’s a link, although it’s also attached to the cover image up top. Thanks for reading.

 

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Dream of a White Christmas

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This year’s Christmas cultural experiment came courtesy of a friend’s cookie exchange party. I think cookie exchanges have been around for a while. I don’t know if they happened when I was a kid, but if they did, I wouldn’t have known about them. I did know about rice crispy treats though. They were these amazing, gummy chunks of American decadence that you could get if you remembered to bring your dime to the bake sale in the gym at Bach Elementary School. A few times I saw them with the teensie weensie rainbow nonpareil sprinkles mixed in, which was like fairy dust as far as I was concerned.

Rice crispy treats have sort of stayed mysterious to me. As a child the intersection of two exotic, forbidden foods (boxed cereal and marshmallows) was hypnotic. As a young adult the same combination was sort of repulsive. But in my thirties I ate them a few times. My brother, who is generally a better confectioner than I, makes a mean brown butter rice crispy treat.

IMG_0783I don’t know how I came up with the idea of rice crispy wreaths for the cookie exchange. I think I started out thinking I would do green cornflake wreathes, which are haunting the internet this year, but since I don’t like cornflakes, I couldn’t get excited enough to try it. Then I had this weird idea of making little mini green rice wreathes. Fortunately my daughter asked me, when I mentioned it, if I was going to make one or many wreathes and I had the Eureka!/lightbulb/god shines light out of the clouds moment and realized I could make a single wreathe (so much easier). So I did.

I read up on rice crispy treat recipes to get a basic understanding of the ratio, used up all the stale marshmallows shoved in the back of the cupboard, plus some of the new ones I got just in case. I had never made rice crispy treats before, so fortunately it’s pretty easy. basically it’s butter, cereal and marshmallow. I added salt and maybe some vanilla. And green food coloring. IMG_0785

Fortunately I got it out on the plate before it started to seize up into cement. Then I added some decor. I had some weird vision of sprinkling colorful bits in a template, like a stencil, but I’ve tried that sort of gambit before. It never works like one sees in the Martha Stewart mags. (Does anyone actually refer to Martha anymore, or is it all just Pinterest?). I was pretty excited about the horrible crunchy sugar bows I found at Safeway.

Then I carted it off to my friend’s house, where it sat on the table with all the wedding cookies, chocolate chip, ginger, sugar cookies. I got some compliments on it. It even tasted good. When I posted a picture of me holding it with a goofy expression in front of the Christmas tree and the caption “Peak Cheer,” my friends and family seemed to rejoice with me. What I said first to my spouse, however, as I brandished the giant, avocado colored wreathe of marshmallow crispy was “I think I’ve hit peak whiteness.”

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Rage, Creation, and Trains

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“Where was I?”

“You were in the Straits of Magellan I believe,” she offered helpfully.

“Indeed I was. Well, we were crushed by a giant whale. The ship splintered to pieces under the mighty thrash of its tail and we were cast ashore on a desolate island with naught but penguins to eat. Then a pirate ship hove by, captured us and made us swab their decks until we reached Santiago….Ouch!” Will stopped as she pinched him with both hands on the inside of his arm. She had sharp fingers even through the wool of his coat.

“The whale I might believe. I could believe being forced to eat penguins, whatever those might be, but capture by pirates is too much! Particularly as Santiago is not a sea port.”

He winked at her and she glared. “Penguins are birds. They waddle about like very stout chickens. They cannot fly and they look a bit like clergymen,” He clapped his fingers over hers to forestall another pinch. “I swear it. It’s the plumage, like a black frockcoat with a white stock. And they are very upright when they walk.”

“Are they pleasant to eat?” She tugged his arm to turn them right at the next street.

“Not particularly. The meat is very fishy and extremely oily.”

“Now perhaps you can tell me what actually happened.”

Last year’s National Novel Writing Month project was science fiction. This year I tried historical romance, because I had about 8000 words of one sitting around from a project earlier in the year. Last year, I finished. This year I got to about 47,000 words (“finished” is 50K or more).

sept-1851The genesis of the project was a different online writing challenge, back in the spring, to do the first four chapters of a historical romance off of prompts (winner gets a provisional publishing contract with one of the mainstream genre publishers). Something like: Lady Felicity goes to Lady Whipple’s ball and meets Maxwell Trent who has been absent from London for ten years, and there’s supposed to be a secret and a waltz or something. You write a chapter, then the judges (romance editors, as I recall) pick the one they like best. Now here’s wacky part (for me). Everyone else in the contest has to pick up the story with the winning chapters characters and plot and write to the next prompts (a kiss, a balloon ride, a duel, whatevs). I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to write anyone else’s characters and if I’d won (which I didn’t) I would have probably wigged out at someone else writing “my” characters.

But I enjoyed creating my one chapter. I didn’t like any of the prompted names (Whipple? Really? Maxwell? Please…) and the early 19th century London aristocratic party is so tired. mens hats12Hell, the entire Regency is tired. I like me a regency romance. I still re-read Georgette Heyer and Mary Balogh’s weirdly modern spin on the genre, but it has been done so much, with such uneven quality. And everyone is a goddamn Duke or Earl. Here’s the thing about Dukes. If you look at the genre progenitor, Saint Georgette herself, writing in the early to mid 20th century, she’s sparse with her Dukes. That’s because Dukes in the 19th century were just shy of a reigning title and in parts of Europe they still were. You didn’t run in to them all that often and for a long time they were basically the bastard or junior offspring of kings (e.g. the Dukes of Richmond or the Dukes of York, who have been the second sons of reigning monarchs since at least the Georges). I think by the 18th century you saw some rank inflation and people got to be Dukes for doing stuff like winning the Napoleonic Wars.

In any event, the prompted hero was a bloody Duke. So I had to come up with a way to make him a Duke without getting too real with it. So I had him spending the last ten years traveling North America and facetiously call him the Duke of the Hudson. But the most fun I had was setting it the story in 1852, about forty years after the classic Regency setting. It means I could talk about different cuts of clothing, for one thing. Hoop skirts! (Later I discovered that really crazy hoop skirts didn’t really come into use until about 1856, which was a bit of a disappointment.) I wrote my chapter, created my characters and their relationship, did not advance in the contest and didn’t think much more about it (although my sister was kind enough to read the chapter and express a desire for more).

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November rolls around. All my other projects are dead in the water, in various ways, for various reasons, but I figured having a defined structure (NaNoWriMo’s cute little daily word graph, for example), would be good, so I floundered back into my novel. It was a bit of a cold start to the engine and I spent a chunk of time doing research. I’ve studied enough English history in my life (most of it voluntarily) to have a basic understanding of what things were happening when, but I haven’t spent a lot of time contemplating the golden age of Victorian Imperialism. I figured since the British Empire was so massive, I internetcould have my characters hangout in different parts of the world. Which was a bit challenging, because I had to figure out enough of what was going on in Asia, South Africa, and Canada so as not to offend my own sense of historical accuracy. And I had to deal with the fact that historical romances of this sort are either about privilege blind white imperialists benefiting from the spoils of genocidal resource extraction, or they’re really weird, ahistorical, and fetishistic mixed race relationships. I don’t know that I was able to resolve that basic problem, but I wasn’t looking to take on the whole genre. It was much easier researching railroads and fashion. Because in the Victorian era they had trains! It totally changes up the dynamic of travel not to have everyone banging around in a closed carriage (I don’t mean vernacular banging, although I’ve seen that scene written).

I also got to change the protagonists’ names (bye Felicity!) and create family trees and a complete cast of supporting characters, which is always one of my favorite parts of writing fiction. I puttered around for most of November. I had a couple of job interviews in there, and Thanksgiving happened. November 30 was also the two year anniversary of the death of my last job, so I get my tail in a twist and want to give everyone the finger anyway. Then I had a great burst of productivity after the first of December and wrote like 10,000 words in a week. I got through the big chunks that I had blocked out previously. Then I had a week where I found out I did not get two different jobs I applied for.

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Finally there was last weekend when I had a birthday party for one of my kids (at A Venue, a set up guaranteed to bring out my worst neuroses), the spouse’s annual work party, and a very enjoyable Hanukkah party hosted by an old friend, where I was sure all of the people were nicer and more high functioning than myself, and that their children were better behaved. By Monday morning I was unwilling to do anything but huddle in my kitchen wearing a down coat and finish the novel. So I did. I’m not sure how many words I wrote that day, but it finished out at about 75,000. My characters get a happy ending. I got a copy out to a beta reader. I’ll fuss with it and edit it for a while. I’ll pitch it to agents, who will ignore it. It will probably end up in the same bizarre limbo as my three other finished projects are: endless incubating until I decide to self-publish. But Done is Good.

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Green Tea and Cranberry Cream

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I’m hibernating. But on a good day, I can do other stuff while hibernating (besides watching all ten episodes of Band of Brothers, or half a season of Musketeers from BBC One).

Yesterday I made an official Decadent Holiday Dessert. The process went a bit like this. First, I saw a FB post shared to a friend for “Cranberry Curd Tart” (it’s the NYT, ‘ware the paywall). Despite my tired eyes reading “curd + tart” as “turd”, I thought it was a pretty cool idea. I liked the muted fuchsia color most of all. But I don’t care for hazelnuts.

As I was thinking about this confection, I walked past the produce case at Grocery Outlet. Produce is not generally not the best thing to get a GO, although they’ve had a run of excellent avocados. Their cranberry offering was thoroughly picked over (three bags left, mostly pretty soft). But I figured I could experiment. I’ve been gradually figuring out cranberries over the last ten years or so, since I didn’t actually have cranberry sauce until I was an adult.

I boiled the cranberries in a cup or so of water with a desiccated lime I found on my countertop, and a tangerine that wasn’t desiccated yet, plus maybe 1/2 cup of sugar. When the berries were boiled to bits I pressed the whole mess through one of those canning strainers that looks like an aluminum dunce cap. Then I ignored it for an hour or so.

After a while I thought of short bread. While I was thinking of shortbread, I reboiled the pink syrup with a few more teaspoons of sugar, about 2/3 to 3/4 of a stick of butter and three egg yolks. I think there was too much water relative to butter and egg. I put a tablespoon full or so of the egg whites in too, but the creme never became a “curd”. It’s a rather sporty pepto bismol pink though. I put it aside to cool and made shortbread (while also trying to make pita bread for dinner, convincing my children to set the table, and several other things).

This is the recipe I used – Food Network Earl Grey Shortbread. When looking for recipes I usually just google and pick one from the first page of hits, based on how difficult it looks and what volume they are suggesting.

I used Earl Grey green tea, because that’s what I had, and ran it through a sifter because I didn’t feel like dealing with a food processor. The dough never really formed, probably due to a combination of cold butter and using a stand mixer instead of a processor. What I got instead was a pile of macerated crumble, which was fine. I pressed it into a dish with a big spoon and baked it for probably 2x as long as the recipe calls for.

The shortbread with the cranberry and a splat of plain yogurt is good. Using a small spoonful of mascarpone instead is amazing and decadent. I bet if I were to use that lurid green matcha powder instead of earl green, it would be even more festive.

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Harry Potter, the Wire, and What My Yellow A** learned about Diversity This Summer

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Chow Yun Fat, George Harris as Kingsley Shacklebolt, Joseph Mawle

In August the hashtag #IfHogwartsWasanHBCU came across my Twitter feed. (HBCU = Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Buzzfeed aggregated a bunch of the tweets showing a combination of preferred casting choices (Morgan Freeman playing Dumbledore, Amandla Stenberg as Hermione), political satire (the KKK as Dementors, and “Defense against the White Arts”) and in-jokes about HBCUs, black fraternities and African American church culture.

I read the Harry Potter books, all of them, even. They came out well into my adulthood, but as someone who grew up reading Tolkien, I’m sure I was part of the ancillary market. I also watched the movies, although mostly not in the theaters because they came out in the years when I had babies and didn’t go to movies. There again, I’m of the generation who grew up with Willow, The Neverending Story and The Princess Bride, so I’m on the marketing spreadsheet somewhere.

I appreciated the biting comedy of “Defense against the White Arts” and I like recasting popular culture with gender and race reshuffling. I tried my hand at the hashtag game.

I spent most of last spring binge watching the Wire, so I started there with the core cast. Maestro Harrell’s heartbreaking turn as Randy Wagstaff fit with Harry’s canniness and vulnerability. I struggled a bit with whether Michael B. Jordan would be better as Harry, but decided he fit more as Ron.

And Jermaine Crawford was a no-brainer for Neville Longbottom.

Part of what I was doing was promoting a fantasy of the actors’ characters in the Wire, whose lives were so broken, living and growing up. Neville Longbottom, an orphaned, bullied and dispirited child becomes a successful and indeed powerful adult. I wanted that for the Wire’s despised, dirty, and bright Dukey.

For some characters I started with my favored Wire actor and tried to find a good fit in the Potter universe. I had a crush on Lance Reddick’s Cedric Daniels, so I had to find a place for him, and the stern arrogance of Lucius Malfoy was a decent match.

Then there were characters who were the other way around. Bill Weasley is an intriguing character who got short shrift in the movies and it took me a bit of thinking, but Jamie Hector works well, not just because of a facial scar, but also because he can play a good guy as well as a bad one.

In the case of Wendell Pierce as Mr. Weasley, I’m not sure which came first, but they’re the tough guy hiding inside a buffoon.

A couple I’m particularly proud of are Andre Royo as Severus Snape and Michael K. Williams as Sirius Black. Royo is an exceptional actor and although Snape looks at first glance quite different from Royo’s addled addict Bubbles in The Wire, they have similar complexity and depth.

I never found Sirius Black terribly interesting as a character. He’s really more like a plot device than a person, but Michael K. William’s Omar Little conveys the right brooding tragedy.

This is around where I lose the thread of the Wire. The Wire does not perform terribly well on the Bechdel-Wallace test, across its five season run, although it did have Sonya Sohn’s powerful Kima Greggs. (I loved the character, but haven’t found a Potter role for Sohn yet – I couldn’t picture her as Belletrix or Mrs. Weasley, for example). I had to look elsewhere for the principle female characters.

Veteran character actor CCH Pounder was easy for McGonagal, and Lupita Nyongo was obvious for Fleur Delacoeur

Mrs. Weasley was pretty hard. I started to really struggle with the lack of diversity in mainstream popular culture. Combined with the fact that I haven’t spent as much time watching TV or going to movies in the last twenty years as I did in my teens, I didn’t have broad enough an array of African American actors of all ages and body types floating in my head. I decided to cast Queen Latifah as Mrs. Weasley, although I have mixed feeling about it. She seems a little young and glamorous for the role, but I know she can act and she can convey good times and kickass equally well (I guess Alfre Woodard would be another option).

It felt craven, but I skipped Hermione and Luna, since I didn’t think I could improve on Stenberg and Willow Smith as Luna, and I had an even harder time coming up with young black women than mature black women. I gave myself a pat on the head when I finally cast Zoe Kravitz as Ginny Weasley.

Angela Bassett as Belletrix LeStrange was much easier.

As I went through the process I thought a lot about what I was doing. I’m not Black. I’m Yellow. I went to a Seven Sisters college, not an HBCU. Part of the original “HBCU” hashtag includes slang and patter about the experience of HBCU attendance, and even if I knew the subtext and could convey the nuances, to do so would feel like cultural appropriation. Was it appropriation even participating in the hashtag – like laughing too loudly at someone else’s in-joke?

I also asked myself if even trying to cast an all-black Harry Potter was the wrong exercise altogether. For me it was less about HBCUs, but simply putting an entire story into a different racial mold. Should I do that, just based on skin color with no other cultural context?

I really had to think about this question in relation to the few characters of color in Harry Potter. For example, Alfie Enoch plays Dean Thomas, one of the supporting Gryffindor cast. I wanted to switch Alfie into another role because I suspect he gets a lot of “token” roles. I briefly considered casting Enoch as Draco Malfoy, but it just seemed wrong. For Malfoy I resorted to simply googling “Black actors under 25”. And found Kofi Siriboe, who I think looks perfect.

Then I realized that Alfie Enoch, who is generally photographed with an open, cheerful countenance, actually looks more like I picture Cedric Diggory than Robert Pattinson does.

When it came to Cho Chang, my brain seized up all together. For one thing, she is not an interesting character (to me) in either the books or the movie, even though I appreciate her diversity. For another thing, using a binary construction of race, was I “supposed” to cast her as black or white? Then I realized that in some respects, casting a “black” Harry Potter is no different for me than casting a “white” Harry Potter. Some existential confusion is characteristic of being a non-black person of color in America anyway. Neither one is me. As a woman and person of color, I have spent my life putting myself into the shoes of white and male protagonists, while also internalizing the history of American racism that derives mostly (but far from exclusively) from the historical relationship of white and black.

Harry Potter is white and male, and the setting of Harry Potter draws very much on British private school culture. Not only am I assumed to be capable of empathizing and engaging with a character who is white and male, but also his distinctive English class and social context. I’ve spent my whole life borrowing and trying on white faces. Fantasy and science fiction are explicitly and implicitly white in both complexion and culture (The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars both come to mind).

So why aren’t I sitting around casting Harry Potter with Asians? Or Hispanics for that matter? Well, I considered it. And the fact of the matter is, how many Asian and Hispanic actors do I know? How many have I seen in enough roles to have an intuitive sense of how to hold their faces and best known performances up against a backdrop of Harry Potter? It’s even harder for me to do that than it is for me to come up with African American actors. At least with male African American actors over the age of 50, I can come up with several. Samuel L. Jackson as Mad-eye Moody is really too obvious.

And while I can see why everyone would assume Morgan Freeman as Dumbledore, we can even do the replacement casting after Richard Harris’s death, and cast Danny Glover.

And if you’re wondering how I could skip Denzel Washington, don’t worry. He’s Voldemort.

I can come up with some “brown” actors in this general age range: Jimmy Smits, Edward James Olmos, Wes Studi. But “yellow” actors familiar to an English speaking audience? George Takei might make a decent Dumbledore. Pat Morita is dead. Um… Ken Watanabe? (Okay for Moody or maybe Mr. Weasley). Chow Yun Fat? (Kingsley Shacklebolt or Voldemort). Jackie Chan? (No. just…no.)

As you get younger, there’s Naveen Andrews, Dev Patel (Ron Weasley, I think), Daniel Dae Kim (Lucius Malfoy, perhaps) and John Oh. Women actors of color are no easier. Sandra Oh, Mindy Kaling, Margaret Cho (picture her as Belletrix!) and Lucy Liu come to mind fairly easily. Rinku Kikuchi, Michele Yeoh and Zhiyi Zhang are all probably familiar faces to English speaking audiences. None of them provide a go-to option for either McGonagal or Hermione.

I’m certain an actual casting director could field a complete cast of Harry Potter with outstanding APA and Latinx talent, if they wanted to. (There’s even a good lucking young hapa actor out there named Ryan Potter). But as a lay person sitting here now I can’t do the exercise with the ease I can with African American actors. The Wire was considered one of the best, deepest casts for African American actors ever. Is there an equivalent for other “diverse” actors?

I’d love to see a fantasy or science fiction block buster where the default appearance of the characters isn’t European origin. And where the characters of color weren’t there to make a point that the cast is Diverse. That’s the Star Trek trick (with all due respect to Nichelle Nichols and George Takei) and it continues in more recent franchises like Hunger Games. In fact a big part of casting science fiction in a “diverse” way is to use characters who aren’t even human. James Cameron is basically re-treading the “nobel savage” in Avatar and Yoda is every inscrutable sensei, with bigger ears and greener skin. This avoids having to deal with authentic human difference using actual humans.

One of the best parts of The Wire is the way it shows multiple character tropes across multiple races (even though it performs much more poorly with gender). There’s more than one “mouthy,” “cerebral” or “tragic” character and they exist separately and authentically in the same universe. Ensemble casts have gotten better since the days of Goonies and Scooby Do, but they still look like they are assembled with a cookbook:

  • 1-2 Women
  • 2 blacks (one can be a woman)
  • 1 Asian or Hispanic. If ensemble > 10, both permissible
  • 1 queer or disabled character

Combine within the following parameters:

  • Smart Ass (Asian, Woman, or Don Cheadle)
  • Leader (likely to be a White Man unless you’re working to send a Message)
  • Tough but Stupid (White or Black Man)
  • Lethal (Asian and Woman qualify but not a lock on this role)
  • Sexy (Woman or White Man)
  • Dork (again, Asian or Woman can qualify)

And everyone else is “normal,” namely: a white dude. Isn’t that how the cast of Harry Potter, Ocean’s Eleven, The Expendables, the Lord of the Rings, Aliens, and most police procedural and superhero franchises all work?

Picturing Idris Elba as Remus Lupin is pretty cool. It’s just as engaging to me as David Thewlis (if not more so), but I’d like to dream bigger. I’d like to be able to pick up a book or sit down in a movie theater and have it be just as likely that Remus Lupin, Hermione Granger, Minerva McGonagal, Molly Weasley OR Kingsley Shacklebolt would look and sound like me. I’ve never in my life had that happen. But I can hope.

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Clockwise from top left: Andy Lau, David Thewlis as Remus Lupin, Idris Elba, Joan Chen

 

 

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Crunchy Bugs and Hair Salad

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Did you know lice make this little crunching sound between your nails when you smash them? It’s utterly, horribly gross and strangely satisfying.

The last time I got lice was when I was nine. I remember sitting on my bed and combing my hair, listening to my mom read bedtime stories to my little brother and sisters. Something fell into my lap and it moved. I ran to my mom, she looked me over and took me down stairs and said to my father, “She has lice! On her head!” As it turned out, my brother and one of my sisters had even worse cases. I’m not sure what all my mom did to get rid of them, but it involved the stinky chemical shampoo.

I managed to escape having lice again for over thirty years. When I was a social worker in Detroit and one of my clients got lice and was excluded from school for weeks, I didn’t get them, although I did wig out and buy a Rid kit once. I didn’t catch them from my nieces, who got them multiple times. I didn’t catch them when my oldest kid was in first grade and we discovered lice on her during an out of town trip. Five people in one hotel room and discovering one has bugs is no good. That time I swore if I found a single louse on me, I’d shave my head. I escaped that time, although I shaved my two younger kids’ heads just to be sure.

Well, this summer we had a summer vacation with extended family and when we got home, we got the call from my brother “we just found lice!” So I checked my kids and, yep, the oldest had lice. Again. So I started with the combing and cleaning (sooooo much laundry). The big lesson I learned from her previous round of lice was “Don’t bother with the pesticide shampoo.” It’s nasty as hell and doesn’t work so well. In addition, lice are apparently developing resistance to the common over-the-counter formulations. Another mom at school explained to me, “Soak your hair in vinegar. The acid loosens the nits. Then use LOTS of cheap white conditioner and just comb them out.” So I started that routine on my kid.

Here’s the thing though. I can check my kids. But I can’t check my own head. And my spouse basically puts on a headlamp, tosses the hair back and forth a couple of times and says “I don’t see anything!” leaving me like, “Uh, thanks…?” So it was a couple of days before I found any on me. Once again, I was combing my hair and “something” fell out. I combed some more, hoping to be in denial a while longer, but no, it was a little oval shaped thing with legs. That moved. This is where I say and think many, many F words and combinations of words involving F.

And there ought to be a law of nature that says you can’t be perimenopausal and have lice at the same time. And especially having PMS should confer immunity to having lice, for f*cks sake. But there isn’t, so I had to pull up my big girl drawers and start combing. I had a fine tooth comb that I used so much that the teeth started to break. So I got fancy one with grooved metal teeth (I bought myself a bar of candied ginger chocolate at the same time, because LICE dammit).

My brother said there’s this thing called the “Cetaphil technique,” basically involving putting lotion all over your head. I looked it up. The internet has all kinds of theories about lice of course: they don’t care if your hair is dirty or clean, they actually do like clean hair better, blow drying helps, blow drying doesn’t make a difference, etc, etc. The Cetaphil technique says put lotion on ALL THE HAIRS and blow dry it completely. This supposedly “entombs” the lice and smothers them. It has a certain intuitive logic, but so does lots of crazy stuff.

Here’s what I did: I combed my hair with the fine tooth comb. A lot. Since my hair is looser as I’ve gotten older, whole handfuls of my hair came out (or so it seemed). I put vinegar in my hair. I rinsed it. I put conditioner in my hair, I combed it. I put shea oil in my hair. I combed it. I blow dried the shea oil. I combed it some more. And I muttered swear words (that part didn’t exactly help, but it seemed necessary).

There’s a bright side to all this combing, swearing, more combing, more swearing. My hair started to look pretty good. Like better than it has in years. I’ve never been supper attentive to hair grooming. I have thick, slightly wavy, coarse hair typical of many mixed race Asians. I’ve had long hair, short hair, a mullet, a bob, a buzz cut and I’ve bleached it blond or dyed it green, but I’ve never done much with products and conditioning. Now I have three kids, my hair gets frizzy and spiky and dry and I mostly have zero f*cks to give. It’s starting to go grey and I’ve grown it out down past my shoulders. It’s taken me a while to grow it and having salt and pepper pigtails amuses me. So I haven’t shaved it all off, despite my outrage and revulsion the first time a crawler fell out of my comb onto my hand.

For about three weeks I had to spend hours and hours fussing over my hair (and my kid’s hair, but that was a little easier). I smoothed it and oiled it and braided it. I had to think about my hair a lot. I covered it with conditioner and slept with a towel or scarf on my head to protect the pillow cases (from the grease and the bugs both). But I didn’t shampoo it every time I put something in it. I’ve heard of lots people who don’t wash their hair hardly at all and that makes a certain amount of sense. Most places in the world people aren’t stripping their hair with strong detergents all the time. I essentially joined the “No Poo” movement without meaning to.

It took a couple weeks of combing to before I could say the nits were gone, but dislodging the crawlers happened pretty quickly. My hair (and my kids’ hair) has been bug free for months now. Of course I’m still paranoid and subject to bursts of combing obsessively and checking every piece of lint or loose flake of skin to make sure it isn’t moving (OMG!). But my hair is shiny and silky and I think I’m in the clear – knock on wood – until it makes the rounds of the elementary school again. I don’t recommend getting head lice as a hair beauty routine, but it was an interesting lesson. I’ve cut back quite a bit on shampoo. Oil and vinegar works pretty well actually. Not at the same time. I’m not a salad for f*cksake.

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YO! Yo? yoh-yoh-yoh…

image credit: The SimmonsShop Etsy

image credit: The SimmonsShop Etsy

I can’t remember when I first saw a fabric yo-yo, probably in childhood, certainly in my teens, in some antique store window. Yo-yos weren’t particularly pervasive in the rural Appalachian part of Virginia where I most often saw quilts and other traditional fabric crafts. But do remember thinking they were really fascinating. They looked they were a lot of work. I admired their precision – the roundness, the cuteness, the geometry of their assembly. Then at some point my sister (who knows Matter of Fabric) told me, “you know, they are really easy to make.” I never acted on it, but somewhere in the back of my mind I thought, some day I’m going to try those thingies…

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For the past month or so my titular “rage – creation.joy” cycle has mostly been mired in rage. But one day I sat down (or more likely searched on my phone while standing in the kitchen) and looked up the instructions for “fabric yo-yos”. It’s basically making a draw string bag and squashing it with an iron. My nine year old came along and wanted to help and I made the mistake of referring them as looking like a cat’s butthole. I’m impressed that she hasn’t repeated it at every chance. She got very good at making the yo-yos and has been dispensing them to her friends.

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I made three graduated circle templates from some dishes in my cupboards and fabbed up a couple yo-yos using some of the stacks of quilt fabric I have in a drawer. Then pinned them to a long sleeve GAP t-shirt I had sitting around with the idea of embellishing it some time. It looked pretty decent. I tried sewing them down using a fancy embroidery stitch in a vine sort of design. IMG_0461It was a bit messy, the stitching was not very well defined and when I washed the shirt, the yo-yo “flowers” all crumpled up, so I ended up stitching them down around their edges. The next garment project I tried, I just stitched them around the edges and skipped the viney business. I think it came out better. Also, the dress maker’s dummy is critical to keeping things from creeping about during pinning. I haven’t yet screwed up the fabric tension of the underlying knit shirt while applying the yo-yos, but I’m sure I will at some point.

Traditionally yo-yos are woven cotton scraps, which have a certain crispness to them. I wanted to make a scarf, so I tried using an old high-waisted jersey dress that I got from Anthropologie during my first pregnancy, some random flannel, and some scraps from a faded dress my kids wore when they were about two that I just couldn’t bear to throw away. I lined them up, overlapping and stitched them together with some seam binding tape that came in a miscellaneous bag of second hand sewing supplies.

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The resulting scarf (a little under a yard long) is quite comfortable and cozy. The knit fabric is a bit harder to work with but has the right behavior for a scarf. But I don’t like how the seams look, and I think I’d be better off using a softer, more yielding ribbon, if I need to use ribbon at all. I think I have an idea to avoid using the ribbon. Now I’m feeling a bit obsessive and will be making a bunch of Christmas presents.

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Posted in creativity, nostalgia, sewing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment