I've seen many defenses of the selfie, but never such an indepth exploration of what it means, and why it is important. Rachel Syme covers it all, in seven parts.
Shot One: Open on a woman snapping a picture of herself, by herself. Maybe she is sitting at an outdoor cafe, her phone held out in front of her like a gilded hand mirror, a looking glass linked to an Instagram account. Maybe she tilts her head one way and then another, smiling and smirking, pushing her hair around, defiantly staring into the lens, then coyly looking away. She takes one shot, then five, then 25. She flips through these images, appraising them, an editrix putting together the September issue of her face; she weighs each against the others, plays around with filters and lighting, and makes a final choice. She pushes send and it’s done. Her selfie is off to have adventures without her, to meet the gazes of strangers she will never know. She feels excited, maybe a little nervous. She has declared, in just a few clicks, that she deserves, in that moment, to be seen. The whole process takes less than five minutes.
Shot Two: Zoom in on a group of people watching this woman, one table over. They are snickering, rolling their eyes, whispering among themselves. Maybe they are older than she is, making jokes about Narcissus and the end of civilization as we know it. Maybe they are all men, deeply affronted by a woman looking at herself with longing, a woman who is both the see-er and the seen, the courier of her own message. Maybe they are a group of chattering women, who have internalized a societal shame about taking pleasure in one’s face in public, who have learned to be good girls, to never let their self-regard come off as a threat. Maybe they are lonesome and hungry for connection, projecting their own lack of community onto this woman’s solo show, believing her to be isolated rather than expansive. They don’t see where her image is headed, where it will take up space in the infinite. This is scary for them, this lack of control, this sense that her face could go anywhere, pop up anywhere. This is why they sneer at her like she is masturbating. This is why they believe that no selfie could ever mean anything other than vanity. This is why they think selfies are a phase, something they can wish away. Whoever they are, and for whatever reason they hate selfies, they are wrong.
Bee Lavender, on returning home to Seattle to visit her Aunt Mary.
Mary’s son Charlie was born later that year and I held him within hours of his arrival home from the hospital. I remember the shabby apartment they lived in, and the VW van my new uncle drove, and the fact that he was a gentle and sweet man. I also remember the fights between him and my aunt, which looked like any schoolyard scuffle, and that they carried their drugs around in the diaper bag. I was sad to lose that uncle when the marriage broke up; he was the nicest one I’d ever had.
Our sponsor Grey Sun Press has put out this wonderful collection, Joy to the Worlds: Mysterious Speculative Fiction for the Holidays. On our sponsor page, we have samples from four of the eight stories in the book. All from fanastic local writers: Maia Chance, Janine A. Southard, Raven Oak, and G. Clemens.
They're going on a huge tour to celebrate this, starting with a house party on December 4th. And, if you're a Santa Bot stuck on a webpage somewhere, they'll be doing a Google+ event on December 5th, a Reddit AMA on December 18th, and in between, in the real world, you'll have a chance to see the group in Bellevue (12/6), Beaverton (12/11), Seattle (12/12), or Tacoma (12/13). Check out the page for more details.
And our thanks to Grey Sun Press. It's amazing sponsors like this that make our site possible. We have one slot left in January — if you'd like to get your work in front of our readers, and join us to make internet advertising 100 percent less terrible, then check out our how to sponsor page.
Every day, friend of the SRoB Rahawa Haile tweets a short story. She gave us permission to collect them every week. She's archiving the entire project on Storify
Short Story of the Day #321 Do not despair. This paw will see you through the night and into a less evil tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/1itm6Tc6Rh— Rahawa Haile (@RahawaHaile) November 20, 2015
Jennifer de Guzman at Comics Alliance published an illuminating report on the high cost of drawing comics:
Being a comic book artist is a physically taxing job. Long hours sitting at the literal drawing board (whether drawing on paper or digitally) can strain muscles in the back, neck, and shoulders; repetitive motions inflame tendons in the arms. Combine this demanding work with the life of a freelancer, which, in the United States, does not come with any form of health care, and you’ll realize that many comics artists are living one injury away from economic disaster. An injury will not only cost money to treat, it will also cost time as it heals — time that could be spent drawing — resulting in lost income.
This is a reality I’ve heard from many comics artists of my acquaintance: Drawing hurts. From general soreness to serious repetitive stress injuries that cause permanent damage, pain always eventually accompanies art.
There's nothing we can do to make drawing easier on the body. But we should all as a society be continually outraged that Americans don't have access to the health care that they need. Art is work, and the fact that America doesn't take care of its own workers is embarrassing.
How's your word count this week? If you're on track, you're at about 34,000 words. Get in extra this weekend to allow for padding over Thanksgiving (if you're American) because you deserve a day with family, food, and gratitude.
If you're behind, I still urge you not to despair. You are learning about yourself, and about your story, and you are writing more than you were before November, right? We are stepping on the right path. Work as hard as you are able for the month, and then it will be time for appraisal and consideration.
But today, the topic is selfishness.
The worst thing we can do in life is only think of ourselves. The worst thing we can do for our writing is to think of others. Writing is a form of constrained selfishness — when you set about to do the work, the only person in your direct and peripheral vision should be yourself. You should be going inward, and outside distractions and attentions are antithetical to that. This means writers must do something that is generally unacceptable in polite society: we need to give ourselves permission to be selfish.
People in your life will complain to you about this, at some point. What they want more than anything is your attention. The reason it is notable when partners and friends are called out for being supportive is because it is unusual. The reason spouses and children are thanked in books is because they sacrificed a part of their mutual life with the writer for the work to happen. Maybe this is the price of loving a writer as opposed to loving the idea of a writer. But however bad we feel, if we want to write, we must be selfish.
Some people say they support you and your art, and then suspiciously find ways to insert themselves into your writing time. When that happens — and it happens to every writer — you have to make a choice. At times, writing must be put aside. For emergencies, for children in more-than-casual need, for partners who are suffering. But this must be the rare exception, and a hopefully radical one. What you must do with these people is politely explain that they are not welcome in that room of your own. That it is important to you that you have that time to yourself. If, after assuring you that they understand, they continue inserting themselves passive-aggressively into your private time, then you need to decide what is more important: your writing, or them in your life. Perhaps they are curious what it is like inside the room when are you there. The irony is that they will destroy the room by entering it. It is a catch-22. The only way they can find out is to become a writer themselves and be selfish.
Like most things in our modern world, this is gendered. It is absolutely harder for women to carve this space out then it is for men. Even for the most progressive families, women do the bulk of the work at home, and the bulk of the child rearing. The default expectation is that a woman's attention belongs to everybody but herself. It's not only mothers who face this. Societal conditioning towards non-confrontation and niceness, and the pressure that you are to set other people in front of yourself, set a stage where a Greek chorus is always singing in your ear. If you want to write, you must learn to make a place where those voices are summarily dismissed. You absolutely must be selfish about this, and it is appropriate and good that you are. If you need permission, it is granted. Not by any authority I have, but by your recognition of this need, and every writer you have read and admired who has done the same thing I am saying you should do; by the very nature of you holding her book, she has done this, and you should appreciate her sacrifice and echo it in your own work.
Sometimes we force ourselves outside of our attention by looking for people that we can help. As horrible as they are, a person correcting you on social media probably thinks they are helping you. They are giving you, they think, the truth, and the truth will enlighten you (it is an ignorant view, but a common one). They are driven by that same instinct as you are to help your friends. But just like that person not realizing that they are annoying and pedantic, so too do we not realize that sometimes our help, although appreciated, is not always needed.
But alone with ourselves, we feel that lack of connection with other people, and we open Twitter or Facebook, or we check our email to make sure that thing or this thing is done or responded to. This is the same for those who have tens of thousands of items in their inbox, and those who clear every message the moment it comes in.
Being selfish means allowance to be bored, at times, and frustrated, as we work through the story at hand. We must be selfish with other people, and we must be selfish with ourselves. We must put ourselves in quiet spaces uncluttered with outside or internal intention aside from writing, and there, and only there, can we truly apply ourselves to the page.
Try not to talk about your story with friends too much. Imagine your story is like a balloon. Every time you talk about your story, you are letting air out of the balloon. Every time you work on your story — not by thinking about it or talking about it, but by writing words on (real or virtual) paper, you are filling the balloon.
In computer programming there is a term called "rubber duck debugging." When a developer is facing a particularly baffling problem, instead of talking to somebody else about it, she can turn to a rubber duck and explain the code line-by-line until the problem becomes self-evident. Colloquially, it also refers to the phenomenon of turning to a colleague when particularly frustrated and blocked only to find that in explaining the problem, she has solved it without the colleague saying a word. "You might have well as been talking to a rubber duck," they might say.
Because you will face problems — plot issues, dead ends, murderers who couldn't have done it and innocents who too neatly look like they did, propulsion systems that are inartfully explained, bodices too well stitched to rip, small towns too bleak even for empathy — you will need to reason out some things. Because you shouldn't talk to other people about it until your story is set and your balloon is close to popping, try the rubber duck technique.
But who should the writer use instead of the rubber duck? You should use Saint Selfish, the secular saint of writers. She has your face. It is a little like praying to yourself, when you look at her, and we must overcome how uncomfortable that feels. We must embrace it.
It could be that your schedule is such that you have hours and hours each day to worship in her presence. It could be that your schedule is such that you only have twenty minutes. Whatever your window is, this is your time. Turn off the internet. Turn your cell phones on quiet mode, so that they won't buzz or beep or call to you. In fact, put them far enough away that you would need to walk over to them, so as to stop that automatic lifting of the screen without conscious intention.
Then, when you are in the dream of your story, this quiet and this focus manifests like a sucking sound rushing past your ears, and light becoming a pinprick as your world condenses, the aperture squeezes shut and your vision becomes crystalline. You have entered that dream of your story, and you trust — because you have done this work beforehand — that there is none that can remove you from it until you are ready. It is this state of flow that is the dream of the creative person, and although not every writing session will inspire it, those that do will make the rest worth it. And the only way to achieve it is to be absolutely selfish and make sure you will not be interrupted. This is the state where deeply wrought, complex, and communicative art is made.
She is waiting for you; it is high time you demonstrated your devotion to Saint Selfish. Put that icon where she can oversee that you are manifesting proper respect. Close off the world; tell everybody that they can harangue you again when you emerge and not a moment before. Your devotion to Saint Selfish takes effort, but it pays in poems, and stories, and novels. It pays in creation. She is the artist maker, and when you look on her statue, gaze upon the words inscribed at her feet, for they are directed at you and only you. They read: "It is time to write." Do not disappoint her.
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My son hates to read. The rest of the family? That's all we do. We don't have a TV, even. The other five of us could pass every moment of every day with our noses in a book, but our son wouldn't read chocolate if it were a book. We bought him a computer, and he's getting pretty good at programming and really likes it, but I think he needs to let his eyes rest from all of the vibrating pixels every now-and-again. He thinks we're all (the wrong kind of) nerds, and wants us to learn more about the internet. What kind of compromise do you think we can find?
Georgia in Georgetown Heights
Patti Smith talks about her new book M Train this Sunday at Town Hall. It’s sold out. If you didn’t get tickets, perhaps you could listen to Horses on repeat while watching Robert Having His Nipple Pierced. We do love Patti Smith.
In what could very possibly be some sort of a record, Marvel Comics this week published three first issues of three different series starring superheroes who are women. Even better, all three of them are great fun. They’re classic superhero comics; compelling stories about conflicted characters in outlandish situations.
The Mighty Thor #1 establishes the new status quo for the title: Jane Foster, the character best-known as Thor’s mortal girlfriend in the film series, controls the hammer (and the power) of Thor. But Foster has cancer, and the transformation into Thor is making her condition even worse. The script by Jason Aaron manages to skillfully combine exposition with fantastic elements — most notably, a rain of dead elf bodies in outer space. And Russell Dauterman’s artwork is fantastic; he renders both the realism of a chemotherapy infusion room and the fantasy of a space senate featuring trolls, elves, and creatures made entirely out of fire. The issue ends on a lazy superhero comics cliché —a splash page revealing a mystery villain, the same technique that Aaron used in last week’s debut issue of The Goddamned — but it’s otherwise a wonderful introduction to an interesting new take on a character that had grown stale.
The first issue of Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez’s Spider-Woman is, like Thor, beautifully illustrated. Rodriguez’s art favors clarity above all else; his lines are slick and expressive, and he’s at his best when he densely populates a page, especially in one scene featuring a few dozen superheroes hanging out at a rooftop party to celebrate Spider-Woman’s maternity leave. Sometime between the end of the last Spider-Woman series (which ended a few weeks ago but which in comics time took place eight months ago) and this issue, Spider-Woman became pregnant. Who’s the father? Nobody’s telling. (This is a gimmick DC Comics used a few years ago with Catwoman, too.) As a first issue, the story fails to explain an awful lot: why, in a world full of superheroes, is Spider-Woman training someone to replace her while she’s out on maternity leave? Why is reporter Ben Urich helping her? What’s Spider-Woman's mission, really? If you let those questionable motivations slide and just go along for the ride, you’ll have plenty of fun with pages packed with aliens and guest-stars and a book that considers the consequences of being a superhero while pregnant.
The first issue of Ms. Marvel similarly takes place eight months after last month’s concluding issue, although it very clearly picks up where the last issue took off: our hero, Kamala Khan, is at peace with being a superhero, and she’s trying to balance her heroic endeavors with life as a teenager. Seattle author G. Willow Wilson finds a nice balance here between the personal dramas, the superhero weirdness (a giant frog figures into the story), and using superhero broadness to tackle nuanced topics. In this issue, Ms. Marvel does battle with gentrification and jealousy. Most of the issue is illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa, whose cartoonish, manga-influenced style is competent, if a little too cute. Series regular artist Adrian Alphona takes over for the last nine pages, and he demonstrates exactly why he’s the perfect artist for Ms. Marvel; he renders Kamala with a relaxed awkwardness that Miyazawa never quite delivers; Miyazawa draws adolescence the way we want it to be, while Alphona draws adolescence as it really is.
If you follow superhero comics, all three of these issues are worth your time. Perhaps most importantly, they’re not just comics about superheroes that have been gender-swapped; they’re comics about women with superhuman abilities, which presents a different palette than the standard male-oriented superhero comics. But while Marvel should be commended for producing so many new series starring female characters, the mastheads on these books identify that Marvel has not done as well with gender parity behind the scenes. Of the three writers and four artists on these issues, only one — Wilson — is a woman. Representation on the page is so important, but the comics industry has a long way to go before the creators are as diverse as the heroes they’re paid to create.
If you didn't watch the livestream, here's who won the National Book Awards this year:
YOUNG PEOPLE’S LITERATURE Neal Shusterman, Challenger Deep
POETRY Robin Coste Lewis, Voyage of the Sable Venus
FICTION Adam Johnson, Fortune Smiles
NONFICTION Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
Of course people have opinions about which books should have won. A lot of folks were pulling for Noelle Stevenson to win the young adult award with her comic Nimona, for instance. And the favorite to win the fiction award was Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life. If you have any dobut about Yanagihara's genius, you should attend her reading at University Book Store this Friday, where she'll be interviewed by Shelf Awareness's David Wheeler. The reading is free.
Since you're not there (if you were, you woulndn't be reading this), you can live stream the 2015 National Book Awards Ceremony. Check it out on their site, and lay your bets now!
A Denver-area store called Isis Books & Gifts wants the world to know its name comes from the Egyptian goddess of healing and motherhood and it isn't run by terrorists.
Isis Books & Gifts has been vandalized five times in the last year, presumably because of, as Isis owner John Harrison told the Associated Press, "some ignorant people believing that somehow the terrorists have a store, a gift store, in the middle of Denver, Colorado."
Yesterday, Seattle's own Fantagraphics Books formally announced Patience, the new graphic novel by Dan Clowes. It's the biggest original comic he's ever produced, and the description sounds fantastic:
Patience is an indescribable psychedelic science-fiction love story, veering with uncanny precision from violent destruction to deeply personal tenderness in a way that is both quintessentially “Clowesian,” and utterly unique in the author’s body of work.
I've always been a Clowes fan, but I think his best work skims the surface of genre — Ice Haven was a cross-disciplinary mystery novel, The Death Ray was a superhero comic riff. The fact that he's flirting with sci-fi again, for the first time since Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, is a big damn deal. Patience will be released in spring of next year.
The December issue of Details magazine will be its last, making the men’s fashion title the latest casualty of the declining print advertising market.
While I'm not going to shed a tear for Details — I haven't read a copy in at least a decade — this is not good news for writers. It's hard out there for freelancers, and only getting harder. Combine this with news that Gawker laid off writers yesterday in their ill-advised attempt to rebrand as a politics site and you've got another step forward in the consolidation of an already-rough market.
Ask Steve Winter how long he’s been in the bookselling business and he’ll tell you, “I’ve been saying 22 years for a couple years.” After a few short stints at bookstores in his native Michigan, Winter moved to Seattle and worked at Elliott Bay Book Company for ten years (where, full disclosure, he and I were coworkers) and at Third Place Books for eight years.
For the last two years, Winter has worked at Ada’s Technical Books for Ada’s co-owner Danielle Hulton, who claims less than a quarter of his bookselling experience. Winter loves the way Hulton has embraced bookstore ownership. “I think because Danielle has come into this as a relative outsider to the bookstore community, she didn’t have that perpetual doom and gloom that people in independent bookstores have had over the last 15 years, with the rise of the chains and online sales and Costco,” he says. He thinks her lack of experience at the outset proved to be a great benefit for Ada’s as they reinvented what a neighborhood bookstore could and should be. “Her energy plunging into the world of bookselling is fantastic.”
Of course, there’s something to be said for experience, too. Winter is one of the best handsellers I’ve ever worked with; when he’s passionate about a book (he specializes in sci-fi, though his interests are many and varied) he has been known to put dozens, or even hundreds, of copies in peoples’ hands over the course of a year.
What’s unique to Winter’s experience at Ada’s? Has working in a science bookstore been any different than working in a general-interest bookstore? “I’ve become friends with not one, but two astronomers” working at the bookstore, Winter explains. He’s learned a lot about astronomy from their conversations. “I even urged one of them [Dr. Sarah Ballard] to do an event here. She studies exoplanets, and she gave a great talk about inclusion and science.”
In addition, Winter has been adopting new interests through his job at Ada’s: “I found a new love of computer programming,” explaining that he's been working primarily with Python. When I respond to Winter’s announcement with the blank stare of a man who equates computer programming to wizardry, he clarifies. Python is “a very simple language recommended for beginners to programming, especially kids. It’s fairly straightforward and obvious.” But it’s not just kiddie-table stuff, Winter says. Python is used in “scientific applications, because it can crunch data really well. Both my astronomer friends have learned Python and use it a lot.”
Lately, the book Winter has been enthusing over is Dataclysm by Christian Rudder, one of the cofounders of OK Cupid. He appreciates how Rudder “takes the big data to deconstruct how Americans say one thing but their behavior says other things.” The book appeals to Winter’s love of trivia, including the fact that “for people on OK Cupid, the band Belle and Sebastian is like the whitest thing you can be interested in.” Winter says he’s learned a lot about gender and race and friendships from the book: “every day I came to work after reading a chapter or two, I had fun and alarming things to tell people.”
Winter has also fallen in love with a new poster of the moons of Jupiter by Halfpence Design that Ada’s just started carrying. He embraces all the various ways the bookstore reaches out to people in an effort to make them feel welcome. “Part of Ada’s mission is to make science and technology accessible to all,” Winter says. It's a mission that makes him happy to be a bookseller.
James Bond films have never hewed too closely to Ian Fleming’s novels. Even the movies based directly on Fleming’s books, like Goldfinger, take many liberties with the plot and tone of the novels. This is perfectly fine; a movie is a movie and a book is a book. Bond films have developed their own language over the course of 50 years; they’re as distinct and self-referential as any film series in cinematic history. You won’t find Bond using many gadgets in the books, for instance, but it’s hard to imagine the cinematic Bond without a miniaturized blowdart in his watch or some other silly invention quite literally up his sleeve. So given that the Bond books and the Bond movies have such little in common, it might sound strange for me to say that Spectre, the new Bond movie, is missing a certain literary spirit. But I think that’s exactly the problem.
I’m a Bond fan; I’ve read every one of Fleming’s novels and I’ve seen all the films. Spectre is not the worst Bond film, but it’s in the bottom tier. It’s just a mess of a movie, all telling and no showing. The bad guy in the film tells Bond he’s responsible for every bad thing that happened in every other Bond movie of the last decade or so, but then he doesn’t produce any proof that this is the case. Likewise, a ridiculous connection between Bond and the villain is explained, but we’re never shown why it matters, or how they feel about that connection. The criminal organization in the title is introduced, but there are no real stakes. We know what they’re after, but we don’t know what they’ll do with it, or why they’d be any scarier than the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent threat they’re painted as being on their introduction in the film.
These are common problems with the modern Hollywood filmmaking-by-committee machine; scriptwriters get cause and effect mixed up, and so franchise movies tend to float on a cushion of hot air when they really need solid foundations. (Consider Star Trek Into Darkness or Amazing Spider-Man 2 or, to a lesser extent, Avengers: Age of Ultron or any of the other lackluster franchise movies of the past few years.) Bond movies, at their best, have always retained a literary sense of structure rather than the standard Hollywood three-act formula.
That literary structure is this: Bond chases a series of ideas around the planet, getting into scuffles along the way. Every stop leads to the next stop on the tour. There is an idea and a reason behind every scene in the film; every sentence spoken in a Bond film should be a propulsive plot element that sends the movie hurtling forward. Without that rigid structure, that literary understanding of cause and effect, you get a movie, well, that feels a lot like Spectre: aimless, shoddy, and painfully dumb.
I understand that the well is fairly dry in terms of Fleming’s source material. Most of those novels and stories have been strip-mined into movies already. That’s okay. All the producers need to do is to get a novelist, a good novelist, on staff. (Sebastian Faulks has already written one very good Bond thriller; he’d be perfect for the job.) Then they need to get the novelist to figure out the motivation of the bad guys, and then they need the novelist to reverse-engineer the chase that leads to the final confrontation. Is this so hard? You can’t just keep mining the nonexistent Bond backstory for more phony trauma; at some point, Bond has to do something. He’s a man of action, after all. More than that, he’s a man of literary action. It’s time to bring the books back to Bond.
They felt the wind on the down of their necks.
After the murders, children
in the town dreamed of houses
melting into the sky.
Fear built its hive inside them.
But as they grew
their memories dwindled
like their bicycles that became too small to ride.
lay buried beneath the trees’
shadows. Parents split
and moved away. One sister
survived. One witnessed the dark ceiling
of every midnight
fall into her thoughts.
Reminders kept surfacing: a red bike
hooked to a chain link fence,
a note folded in a pocket
and put through the wash
until she couldn’t read it, until
it was grit between her fingers. But
she knew — You will only be a ghost
sliding through the trees.
This crumbling. Once upon a time
she sank her foot into the shoulder
of a shovel.
If you lost many tense hours worrying about international affairs over the weekend, this New York Times story about the election in Myanmar is a welcome reminder that sometimes good things do happen.