Too Familiar

Cats and alchemy don’t mix.

Since Eppu posted one of my old Away From Reality comics last week, I’ve been reminded of how much fun I had making them. I don’t have the time, energy, or creativity to start up the comic again, but I was inspired to dust off the old Poser and whip up something appropriate to the season.

Image by Erik Jensen

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

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Flashback Friday: AFR 115: Don’t Die So Close to Me

In the morning, my logic brain was busy blocking the day and arranging my To-Do list, when the art brain suddenly burst out with “Don’t stand– Don’t stand in– Don’t stand in the fire!”

AFR115

The joke comes from Erik’s previous online comic, Away from Reality. AFR is a World of Warcraft fan comic, and this one, number 115, is called “Don’t Die So Close to Me”.

Of course, having been jolted out of my multitasking-while-not-realising-it state, I had to sing the whole thing. Multiple times. 🙂

“Young warrior, the subject of mob abilities.

He’s tanking so badly, he doesn’t even see.

He got too distracted. He full of rage inside.

He should have been moving–

Instead he stood and died.

 

Don’t stand– Don’t stand in– Don’t stand in the fire!

Don’t stand– Don’t stand in– Don’t stand in the fire!”

(The tune is “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” by The Police.)

While my To-Do list probably would be in a better state had I finished it at one go, my day was definitely made. Thank you, art brain. 😀

Image: Away from Reality #115: “Don’t Die So Close to Me” by Erik Jensen

Some things are just too silly not to share!

Learning in Safe Spaces

I remember when my father taught me to drive. The first time I got behind the wheel of a vehicle and tried to figure out how to get my feet on the right pedals and work the gear shifter, we weren’t sitting in a high-powered sports car. We weren’t on the highway or in the middle of rush hour. We were in an old Ford Custom truck with three-on-the-tree (for those of you who know what that means), on a deserted dirt road that had fields on one side and woods on the other. I did my false starts and gear-grinding in that truck where the worst thing that could happen was that I might slide off into a ditch. No matter how badly I messed up, I wasn’t going to hurt myself or anyone else. After a good long time of practice, I learned how to listen to the engine, smoothly slide my feet from pedal to pedal, ease the shifter into gear, and start and stop on anything from flat to a good steep hill. I have since driven confidently on single-lane mountain roads and through a Boston rush hour in everything from a sports sedan to a moving truck, but it all began with the skills I developed through slow practice on those sunny afternoons.

Much the same is true about a lot of the important things I’ve become good at in life. I didn’t learn to swim by being tipped off the side of a boat in the middle of a shipping lane. I learned by splashing around in water wings with my parents keeping a watchful eye on me. I didn’t learn to cook by tossing together a souffle or a pig roast. I learned by mastering one recipe at a time with my mother teaching me why each ingredient mattered and what each step in the process accomplished. Pretty much anything difficult I’ve learned to do, anything where getting it wrong risked doing harm to myself or someone else, I’ve learned by starting slowly with someone helping me figure out what I was doing and how to do it safely and well.

The same is true of my academic education. Now, studying history is not like learning to drive or swim. If you do it badly or recklessly, you aren’t likely to pose an immediate risk of physical harm to yourself or anyone else, but history is powerful. So much of our sense of identity, both as individuals and as communities, is wrapped up in how we think about our past. Misunderstanding how and why things happened in the past can lead us to make seriously bad choices in the present with real and devastating consequences. My teachers and professors were as careful in how they constructed their lessons as my father was when he took me down that dirt road and handed me the keys. It wasn’t that they kept us away from the hard parts and the painful questions, any more than my father kept my hands off the shifter or my mother locked up the salt. It was that they made the classroom a place where everyone felt welcome to bring their own experiences and observations into the discussion, where we could get things wrong and still know that we were respected as students and scholars, and where we could tackle complicated issues a little piece at a time.

There is a lot of talk these days about “safe spaces” in college classrooms, and a lot of misunderstanding about what that term actually means. It doesn’t mean a space in which we avoid difficult ideas. It means a space in which we engage with difficult ideas carefully, thoughtfully, and purposefully. Learning to grapple with challenging and painful ideas and with opinions radically different from our own is an essential part of a good education, but these are not things we learn effectively in a free-for-all. Part of my role as a professor is to be careful about how we engage with difficult ideas, the same care I exercise in choosing what texts my students will read and what assignments I will have them write.

That care includes meeting my students where they are, both as scholars and as human beings. It includes respecting the fact that everyone in my classroom is a unique individual with their own talents and burdens. It means recognizing that what is easy for some of my students to do will be exhausting for others. History is a powerful thing. How we think about the past has enormous consequences for the present, and the weight of those consequences falls more heavily on some people than on others. If I am to teach all my students effectively, my classroom must be a place where everyone feels welcome and knows that they will be taken seriously.

The history of the ancient Mediterranean may seem so distant and so tame that nothing arising from its study could possibly harm anyone, but the cultural authority of Greece and Rome has often been invoked in modern times to justify declaring certain groups of people outside the bounds of civilization. The detritus of past and present racism, sexism, anti-immigrant bigotry, and other prejudices still clings to the history of Greco-Roman antiquity. Even students with no ill intent may unintentionally poke at raw wounds in other students’ lives. It is my role as professor to know when we need to slow the discussion down, peel back the historiographical layers with care, and acknowledge the discomfort that comes not only from having our own wounds poked but also from realizing that other peoples’ wounds are not the same as our own.

Some people are fond of claiming that there are no safe spaces in the world and that colleges should prepare students for the harsh realities awaiting them by being equally unsafe. On one hand, this claim is far from true. The world is absolutely full of safe spaces for those of us who happen to have been born into the right demographic and socioeconomic groups. Ideas that unsettle the powerful are frequently pushed out of public view. My students who will have the hardest time finding a safe space in the world are already perfectly well aware of this fact and need no further education on that score.

But it is true that one of the functions of a college education is preparing our students to engage intelligently and productively with a world that will not always respect their histories or give them the space to think critically and carefully. Staying thoughtful in the midst of a shouting match is a difficult skill, and like any other difficult skill it is best learned with careful practice under a teacher’s guidance in places where the cost of making a mistake is minimal. Whether it’s rush hour traffic or the tumble of political discourse, we gain the skills and confidence to handle unsafe spaces by practicing in safe ones. I will do the best I can to make sure that my classroom is always a safe space for my students.

Here there be opinions!

On Unacceptable Behavior on Co-Geeking

On one hand, I cannot believe I need to state this explicitly; on the other, I cannot believe I didn’t think it needed to be stated explicitly. This is, after all, the Internet…

***

With one notable exception (see bigotry rule, below), no-one has or will be excluded from commenting on Co-Geeking for their opinions. Debating views that don’t line up with ours can be stimulating, but we refuse to play pigeon chess. This is because discussion is impossible when one party either hijacks the discussion, refuses to listen, or condescends to or mocks the others. If you ignore a boundary we set, you’re done here. We call this the behavior rule.

Now, everyone can have a bad day, which is why we give people some leeway. Repeatedly ignoring social clues in the first stage and explicit policy statements in the second stage, however, will get you banned. The only acceptable response after being called out on boundary-transgressing behavior is to stop. No means no.

And then the exception: If you think a person or a whole group of people are inferior solely due to their perceived race or ethnicity, sex or gender, orientation, religion, or the like, and proceed to flaunt your prejudice within our social media presence, we will ban your biased ass to the moon and back. This is because beliefs which cause harm to others need not be tolerated and we as the individuals running this blog are not obligated to give a platform to anybody. We call this the bigotry rule.

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Rating: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

We’ve now rewatched and rated season 3 of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and it is over too soon! Season 3 is several episodes shorter than the first two seasons (on 8 episodes, compared with 13). The quality of the episodes also suffers a little in the third season, but it was still a delight to watch.

  1. “Death Defying Feats” – 6
  2. “Murder and the Maiden” – 7.5
  3. “Murder and Mozzarella” – 7
  4. “Blood and Money” – 7
  5. “Death and Hysteria” – 7
  6. “Death at the Grand” – 4
  7. “Game, Set, and Murder” – 6
  8. “Death Do Us Part” – 6

The average for this season is 6.3, a bit of a step down from the previous season’s 7.1, but still perfectly respectable. Most of the season’s episodes are at least average and there’s a good bunch of 7s.

Our diminished enjoyment of this season can be largely put down to one cause: Phryne’s father, who pops up in several episodes and dominates the season’s low point, “Death at the Grand,” which we rated only a 4. He is a selfish, irresponsible man who aggravates Phryne and us. Fiction, of course, is not real life; sometimes terrible people make for great characters, but this is not one of them. All Phryne’s father does for us is to put a damper on the wit, sparkle, and verve that we love this series for.

To balance that, the high point of the season is “Murder and the Maiden,” an interesting and complicated mystery surrounding the death of a pilot who turns out to have been leading a double life.

And now we have a Miss Fisher movie to look forward to! This is a series that definitely deserves a good send-off, so we can’t wait.

Image: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Annihilation Teaser Trailer

The opening volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, Annihilation, will hit the big screens in February 2018. The teaser trailer looks wonderful:

Annihilation (2018) – Teaser Trailer – Paramount Pictures

Writer / director Alex Garland seems to be doing a good job on the basis of the little we see. Certainly the effects and scenery are breathtaking. And the cast looks so awesome!

I’ve read the trilogy, but since it leans more towards horror than I’d like my speculative fiction to be, I’m not sure I want to see the movies. I do applaud VanderMeer’s mindfulness, though: he donates part of his royalties from the novels to environmental causes.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

Quotes: Believing All That Matters Is What They Want

On his blog, author Jason Sanford talks about story submission and publication data, specifically with SFF genre in mind. He refers to an essay, an interview, and his experience as editor, and talks about how men tend to submit many more stories than women, even when their stories were “totally inappropriate” (in Jason’s words). His conclusion?

“In the case of why male authors are far more likely to not read a magazine or their guidelines before submitting, and are more likely to submit multiple stories in a short time frame, I think it ties in with them not seeing the motivations of others and believing all that matters is what they want.

“But if you’re submitting your stories to an editor, what you want isn’t what lands the acceptance. It’s what the editor wants. Otherwise, an author is merely wasting everyone’s time.”

– Jason Sanford

I’ve no comment on the data and survey side of the post, being a not-numbers person. What struck me was that this is the strongest-worded remark I’ve seen—and note that it really isn’t—saying a number of male authors behave in a blatantly self-centered manner and suggesting they change.

Sanford, Jason. “The Submissions Men Don’t See.” Jasonsanford.com, September 24, 2017.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Quotes: Nor Used It to Be Allowed … to Snatch from Their Seniors Dill or Parsley

Socrates is the oft-quoted source for a scathing complaint on the rudeness of the young:

“Our youth now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love to chatter in places of exercise. Children are tyrants, not the servants of the household. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

– attributed to Socrates, 470/469-399 BCE

It seems it may, however, have been coined by one Kenneth John Freeman for his Cambridge dissertation published in 1907. I think, therefore, that I prefer the much less well-known (if more long-winded) section of Aristophanes:

“In the first place it was incumbent that no one should hear the voice of a boy uttering a syllable; and next, that those from the same quarter of the town should march in good order through the streets to the school of the harp-master, naked, and in a body, even if it were to snow as thick as meal. […] And it behooved the boys, while sitting in the school of the Gymnastic-master, to cover the thigh, so that they might exhibit nothing indecent to those outside; then again, after rising from the ground, to sweep the sand together, and to take care not to leave an impression of the person for their lovers. And no boy used in those days to anoint himself below the navel; so that their bodies wore the appearance of blooming health. Nor used he to go to his lover, having made up his voice in an effeminate tone, prostituting himself with his eyes. Nor used it to be allowed when one was dining to take the head of the radish, or to snatch from their seniors dill or parsley, or to eat fish, or to giggle, or to keep the legs crossed.”

– Aristophanes, Clouds 961

Especially taking the head of the radish—such an oddly specific bit—or snatching dill or parsley sound hilarious to the modern ear. If we can take this at face value, Clouds being a comedy.

Aristophanes, Clouds. In The Comedies of Aristophanes, edited by William James Hickie. London: H.G. Bohn, 1853?, via Perseus Digital Library.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Custom is King

We often think of multiculturalism as a particularly modern virtue, but the ancient Greek historian Herodotus gave a pretty good argument for respecting other peoples’ cultures more than two millennia ago.

Here’s the story he tells:

When Darius was king [of Persia], he summoned the Greeks who were at his court and asked them how much money it would take to get them to eat the bodies of their deceased fathers. They replied that nothing would make them do so. Darius then summoned some Indians, called Kallatiai, whose custom it is to eat their dead parents, and asked them—in the presence of the Greeks, who had an interpreter to explain the Kallatiai’s words—how much money it would take to convince them to cremate their deceased fathers [as was the Greek custom]. The Kallatiai exclaimed that he should not even mention such an abomination. Custom dictates such things, and it seems to me that [the poet] Pindar got it quite right when he said that custom is king.

– Herodotus, Histories 3.38

Herodotus does not tell this story at random but to illustrate a point. Cambyses, a different Persian king, had mocked the Egyptians for worshiping a white bull, and Herodotus felt that Cambyses had been very wrong, even insane, to do so. This story about Darius’ cultural investigations was meant to drive the point home: everyone believes in their own way of doing things, and it is wrong to dismiss or disparage other peoples’ culture, even if you don’t share it or even understand it. We can respect other people’s culture just as we expect them to respect ours. No culture is right or wrong.

So, for those of you keeping score, that’s a Greek author standing up for Egyptian traditions against the scorn of a Persian king and citing another Persian king’s discussions with Greeks and Indians to do it. Herodotus’ defense of multiculturalism is itself multicultural.

Image: Relief sculpture of Darius via Wikimedia (Persepolis; sixth century BCE; stone)

History for Writers is a weekly feature which looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write. Check out the introduction to History for Writers here.

The Hobbit’s 80th Anniversary

On this day in September, many years ago, there finally was The Hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty book, though, filled with beetle-holes and a musty smell, but a Hobbit book, and that means comfort…

Tolkien Gateway Bilbo Comes to Huts of Raft-elves

In other words: J.R.R. Tolkien’s most famousest of novels The Hobbit was first published September 21, 1937, by Allen & Unwin.

Happy 80th Birthday!

Alas, 80 years is far too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable readers—we therefore wish you many more!

Image: Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves via Tolkien Gateway (1937; color drawing; J.R.R. Tolkien)