Ours definitely holds promise: Apart from some significant personal events, 2017 is also the 100th anniversary of Finnish independence. Hooray! I’m so thrilled to be alive when a big anniversary like this rolls around. And, coincidentally, Worldcon 75 will be in Helsinki August 9-13, 2017. Not yet sure what kind of a trip we could manage, but it sure would be fantastic to go. Might we see you there?
The anthology Hidden Youth, with Erik’s story “How I Saved Athens from the Stone Monsters”, is expeced in November. We don’t know exactly when yet, but we know that the file has been sent to the printer. It’s very exciting—almost there!
I rounded up some of the artwork commissioned for the collection, but first here’s my headcanon picture for “Stone Monsters.”
In the beginning of “Stone Monsters,” there’s a scene where Mnestra, one of the protagonists who works as a flute girl, uses her veil to try and attract customers. I don’t think it was Erik’s intention, but the scene immediately brought to my mind this amazing, dynamic Greek statue we’d seen years ago at The Met:
When thinking about “Stone Monsters,” this is the image that I connect with the story. Unfortunately the dancer’s veil is drawn so close that we can’t see her face. That’s where the Hidden Youth artists come to the rescue. I just happened to see this sneak peek by Paula Arwen Owen of her papercut illustration for “Stone Monsters” on Twitter:
That’s eggplant and egg, all right, with a herma in the background. 🙂 Love it!
Then I was curious and went looking for Hidden Youth art. Others have also posted glimpses of their work in progress. For example, Ellen Million:
Monday is when I write, from a historian’s perspective, about some interesting or useful tidbit for writers, especially writers of genre fiction. I’m doing that again today, but from a different angle. Today I want to talk about representation, specifically the representation of people who are not straight white cis men in books, television, movies, games, and other media.
First things first: I’m a straight white cis man with no significant mental or physical challenges. I am a native-born citizen of the country in which I live and a native speaker of its majority language. I am financially secure and socially comfortable. I am not, as far as I know, heir to any titles of nobility, but other than that, if a privilege exists in the world, I’ve probably got it.
Yeah. I’m about to talk about representation. If anyone wants to get off this ride, now’s the time.
When creators and fans talk about adding representation to popular media, the refrain from people who look like me is often: “Why do we have to have X in this story? What do you mean you can’t identify with the characters? Why can’t all you Xes identify with people who aren’t exactly like yourselves?”
I understand where this response comes from. There are white guys all over the place in popular media, but I’ve never identified with a character just because he was a white guy. There are so many of them that I couldn’t identify with them all if I wanted to. When I look at a character and think Hey! That’s me! it comes from traits other than outward identities. Here are some of the characters I’ve felt connected to over the years:
They’re not all the same gender, race, age, or even species as I am. Two of them are members of a religious order, and I’m not religious at all. Most of them don’t even (fictionally) live in this century.
What can we learn from this collection? (Other than that I have a thing for Vulcans and a rather inflated sense of my ability to dole out wise advice to young ‘uns.) That representation is an aspect of privilege even when you’re not being represented. Having white guys all over the place frees me to look at the characters in my media and identify with them not based on the outward categories they fall into but because they’re thoughtful, introverted, curious, even-tempered, and passionate about knowledge.
On the other hand, I am a member of a very small minority who is rarely represented in media, and then usually in a dismissive, stereotyped, even offensive way: history professors. According to most books, movies, and tv shows, we are boring, joyless pedants in tweed jackets with elbow patches who obsess over minutiae and care only about names and dates.
“Easily the most boring class was History of Magic, which was the only one taught by a ghost. Professor Binns had been very old indeed when he fell asleep in front of the staff room fire and got up the next morning to teach, and left his body behind him. Binns droned on and on while they scribbled down names and dates, and got Emeric the Evil and Uric the Oddball mixed up.”
– J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s / Sorcerer’s Stone Ch. 8
We always wear period clothes and are at best dimly aware of what century we actually live in, if not actively in denial about it.
(Not to mention that we make our (black) graduate students do unpaid labor so that they can have the “authentic slave experience.”)
Oh, and if we’re medieval historians, we’re indistinguishable from renfaire performers. (I can’t find a link to it now, but the memory is seared in my mind of an NPR interview with a scholar attending the annual medieval studies conference in Kalamazoo which made it clear the interviewer thought it was basically a fantasy convention.)
Come on by my history class sometime. I won’t be wearing a costume or droning on about names and dates. I’ll be deep in conversation with my students about social structures, economic forces, multicultrual interactions, source analysis, and all the other interesting parts of history.
Now, history professors are not, by any stretch of the imagination, a historically oppressed or marginalized group. I know how aggravating it can be to be badly represented even as a comfortably privileged middle class white man, but I can’t really imagine what it must be like to be, say, a Native American woman, or a gay man who uses a wheelchair, or a Muslim teenager with Asperger’s, and have to deal with not only the weight of the social disadvantages that come with that and seeing people like myself so rarely and poorly portrayed in media.
Of course we can all identify with people who aren’t like us. That’s not the point. The point is that, no matter who we are, we all deserve to see enough people outwardly like ourselves in books, television, movies, and other media that we don’t have to identify with them just to feel like we’re there.
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.
Woot! We made it! Hidden Youth has gotten funded! Thank you so much to everyone who contributed, spread the word, or expressed support over the past few weeks. I am so thrilled to be part of this anthology.
And now, as promised, I give you: The Top Five Greek and Latin Poems that Read Like Teenage Facebook Updates
5. #CRUSHINGSOHARDYOUCANTEVEN (Sappho, frag. 31)
He’s lucky as the gods,
any man who sits by you,
listening close to your
and lovely laugh. It just
makes my heart tremble in my chest.
When I glance at you, words
my tongue shatters, a thin
flame runs under my skin,
I can’t see,
my ears ring.
Sweat pours, I break out
trembling, I’m paler than a
flower. I could almost die.
But I can take it all…
4. #THATONEGUY (Horace, Satires 1.3.1-3)
The trouble with all these musical types is when you’re out with friends
and you beg them to sing, nothing will open their lips,
but when you don’t want them to sing they won’t shut up.
3. #DTMFA (Catullus, Poems 85)
I hate and I love. Maybe you wonder why I do this?
I don’t know, but I feel it happening and it’s torture.
There are just five days to go in the Kickstarter for Hidden Youth, the anthology of speculative fiction about marginalized young people in history. As I posted before, my story, “How I Saved Athens from the Stone Monsters,” is one of the stories in this awesome collection. I wanted to post again to thank everyone who has contributed to making Hidden Youth happen and also to say something about why this collection is so important to me, and would be even if I didn’t have a story in it.
I teach ancient Mediterranean history at a state university. Ancient Mediterranean history is the dead-white-guy-est of all dead-white-guy history. It’s filled with the sorts of dead white guys that people make white marble statues of and that living white guys like to point to as the pinnacles of western literary, artistic, and philosophical achievement. We’ve basically had two thousand years of white guys burnishing their white-guy cred by laying exclusive claim to the legacy of the great dead white guys of the ancient Mediterranean. So successfully have they done this that a lot of people have a hard time imagining an ancient Mediterranean world that isn’t all white guys.
Now, I’m a white guy. I’ve always had the comfort of seeing myself in history. Even as a professional historian, doing my best to be objective and fully conscious of how complicated, contingent, and constructed such identities are, I can never really know what it is like to look at history and not see people who look like me. That’s a barrier I can’t cross, but I have a lot of friends who live on the other side, especially my students.
Half my students are women and a lot of them are black, Hispanic, and southeast Asian kids from working-class towns. They’ve lived their lives in the shadow of other people’s histories. They have been shown the dead-white-guy-marble-statue version of history and told—sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly—“This is ours. You don’t belong here.” I consider it my job to say: “Yes, you do. You were always part of this history.”
The ancient Mediterranean world was multicultural, multi-ethnic, multilingual, and full of connections both within itself and to the larger world beyond. Like in my story, there were Egyptians in late classical Athens with their own Isis temple. A Sri Lankan king sent ambassadors to open diplomatic relations with Rome. And it wasn’t all a bunch of men, either. The queen of Halicarnassus was a military adviser to the Persian king. A wealthy woman of African ancestry was buried in style in late Roman York. The evidence is everywhere once you start to look for it.
The power of dead-white-guy-marble-statue history is strong and it needs to be challenged. I confront it in the classroom and my scholarly work, but we also need books like Hidden Youth out there to send the message: history is for everyone, not just people who look like me.
If you’ve already supported Hidden Youth, thank you so much. If you haven’t, please consider it. You can give as little as a dollar, and if you can’t do that, please spread the word.
On a less serious note, let me offer an added incentive to give: if Hidden Youth meets its funding goal, in honor of the collection’s theme I promise to translate and post my picks for The Top Five Greek and Latin Poems that Read Like Teenage Facebook Updates.
Life is tough as a flute girl working the streets of Athens—and that’s before the monsters attacked. When the city’s guardian statues suddenly come to life and start rampaging through the city, Mnestra, an Egyptian girl, and her Thracian friend Lampedo get separated in the chaos. Can Mnestra find the courage to rescue her friend and confront not only the monsters tearing up the city but also the most powerful man in Athens?
My short story “How I Saved Athens from the Stone Monsters” will be published this fall in the anthology Hidden Youth, a collection of 22 short fantasy and science fiction stories about young people from marginalized groups throughout history. This anthology follows the previous collection Long Hidden which told the stories of people who are often left out of speculative fiction.
I am honored to have my work chosen for Hidden Youth, but this anthology needs our help to make it out into the world. Check out the Kickstarter for Hidden Youth and consider supporting this work.
It is one year since we started Co-Geeking on June 1st, 2015. It’s been a year of figuring things out, trying out different kinds of posts and discussions, and beginning to reach out our fellow geeks out there. We’ve taken our first steps into a larger world.
Here’s a few thoughts on what the past year has been like for us:
Erik: “The Celts” and the Victorian Hangover. Of all the posts I have written in the past year, I think I am proudest of this one. It looks at some important aspects of how we think about history and why historical theories matter today. I would like to think that I took a confusing topic that it mostly discussed by academics and helped make it understandable to people outside the academy.
Eppu: The Glory of Library and Museum Materials. As a visual person, I really love being able to do image searches online for things to edit or use as-is. For historical research, library and museum websites are the best. For speed, I tend to stick with languages and sites I know best (e.g. NYPL, Library of Congress, The Met). For this post, I looked up institutions elsewhere in the world and learned quite a bit. Hopefully also the list of libraries and museums in my post is helpful to others.
Erik: The revival of Star Wars. It’s awesome to see new Star Wars movies come out that feel like they belong in the Star Wars galaxy but also give us a fresh take on what that galaxy could look like. (And no Jar-Jar Binks.)
In the course of my life, I’ve become aware that I experience mild face blindness. It’s nothing I’ve ever been diagnosed with and it isn’t severe enough for me to seek any kind treatment for, I just know that, compared with other people, I have trouble recognizing faces that I haven’t seen a lot of. I mostly identify people by their hair, their clothing and movements, and, especially, their voices. In day-to-day life it’s not much of a problem. (Learning a hundred new students every semester is a challenge, but I have the advantage of getting to take attendance at the start of every class.) When it bothers me the most is in entertainment.
When there are multiple characters with similar appearances, I tend to get them mixed up. (Especially middle-aged white men, since they’re all over the place.) I also have trouble recognizing people we’ve seen before in different settings.
For example, there’s a moment in Captain America: The Winter Soldier when the Winter Soldier’s mask comes off revealing that it’s the Captain’s best friend and fellow soldier Bucky Barnes. It’s a powerful moment and a shocking reveal, but the first time I saw the movie, I had no idea who that guy was. Even having seen the first Captain America movie, and having Bucky reintroduced via the museum exhibit/infodump earlier in Winter Soldier, I didn’t know who I was looking at on screen. As the movie went on, it became clear to me that the Winter Soldier was someone Captain Rogers knew from his past, an old friend, but I still couldn’t connect the character with Bucky. (Cap said his name, but it went by too fast for me to catch.) It wasn’t until I rewatched the movie on DVD that I finally realized who the Winter Soldier was. Even today, looking at the two characters on screen, I can’t visually tell that they’re the same person.
It’s an odd way to watch movies and television, knowing that there is information up there on the screen that I can’t interpret. I’m lucky to have a co-geek to turn to and ask: “Who is that guy?” One of the many pleasures of being married to someone who loves nerdy stuff as much as I do!
We’re off to see Captain America: Civil War on opening night tonight. It looks like there’s going to be a lot of familiar faces in this movie. I might even recognize some of them.
I have to write a biographical paragraph for a conference. Ugh. I hate writing about myself in the third person.
I’m trying to be all
but feeling more like
Oh well. It goes with the territory, I guess. I like to think that being awkward about your own accomplishments is one of the tests of being a decent person. (But, then, does congratulating myself on being a decent person mean I’m actually not..? Argh! Why is it so hard?!)
Oh well. That’s my dose of self-pity for the day.
Images: Bust of Caesar, photograph by Andrea Wahra via Wikimedia (Naples; 1st c. BCE; marble) and text from Caesar, Gallic War 1.54, collage by Erik Jensen. Harriet Jones via brittaperry