Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Pink

Once again, I've changed my blog.

The look is decidedly "pink" this time. I wanted to use the same picture I use for my twitter account background (@Laura_the_Wise). I had been using one of the stock images provided by Blogger, and I didn't like it. The header text stands out better now (it helps if you tilt your screen a bit to get more contrast), and the image is a photo I took myself.

After much torturous experimentation, I decided to leave the background white. I had waffled between pale yellow, green, or pink --  but backgrounds of any kind, even solid color backgrounds, distract me. So, white it is. I know that's hard on some people's eyes, but I've tried to make the post font fairly large and easy-to-read to compensate.

Let me know if you like the new look (or not). I probably obsess way too much over what this blog looks like.

It seems that, once again, I've created a blog that reads as far more "cutesy" than some of the content on it. I used to worry about that a lot more, but now I'm just pleased with the way it looks. After all, this is mostly just my silly personal blog where I have opinions on books, movies, and other things. Even the email associated with it is the one I made when I was fifteen.* Come on -- cuteblondandcrazy[at]gmail[dot]com? That should be my porn name, not my email address. (And for some reason, my name under that email sometimes still shows up as "Theresa McKay." A fake name and a porny corny email? That's not suspicious at all...)**

Speaking of which, you'll note that my new "About" page has a different email: lauraw178[at]gmail[dot]com, aka my "definitely not a porn star responsible adult email." If you have my old email, don't worry -- you can just message or email me there, and I'll answer. If not, the lauraw178 one works just fine.

Apart from changing my blog, I'm plodding along in thesis research and working my way through the 14 Books of Fantasy ebook anthology bundle thingy. Concealed Power is my current featured review, and The Sorcery Code is great! I loved it, and I really did not expect to. It's magitek/mathemagic, which I really like, and it's very well written (which I also appreciate after the first couple of books in that anthology), and it has a great plot, characters, and concept.

Basically, it's Frankenstein but with a mad sorcerer instead of a mad scientist. 

Currently Reading
This cover makes just about zero sense, though.

*My current self refuses to be held responsible for this.
**Again, these things made perfect sense to a paranoid teenager convinced someone would steal her identity on the Internet. Because, you know, a fake name on your email TOTALLY prevents that.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Meditation as Stress Management?

I read this post at Janice Hardy's blog today, where the guest poster recommends meditation as a stress reduction and relaxation technique. The post was about establishing healthy writing and living habits. Some of it's not for me, but the meditation idea piqued my interest.

I am an absent-minded, daydreaming sort of person. I'm no expert, but meditation seems a lot like directed daydreaming. 

I've tried meditation before, and usually with pretty good results. I was first introduced to it in church. The pastor wanted us to pick a focus word and meditate on that. He gave some tips for focusing the mind (read: not getting bored out of one's mind) such as holding an image in your mind or watching a candle flame, or paying attention to your breathing. He gave the focus word for that particular time, and if I remember correctly, he probably recommended some more words for later practice. 

My church also held all-night vigils and Tenebre services during Lent and before Easter. If you signed up for a vigil, you took an hour or two hours or whatever and sat in church meditating. You could choose to play meditative religious music, which usually featured a word, phrase, or prayer repeated over and over with varying instrumentalists. The vigils would start at sundown and go until dawn Easter morning. Because multiple people participated, it was less a private experience and more a communal meditation.

My third experience with meditation was also religiously based. When I was in the confirmation class, we went to a convent and walked a labyrinth. You're supposed to meditate on stuff when you walk a labyrinth. Afterwards, people would write down their thoughts, prayers, whatever in a little book on a board by the labyrinth. We read through them. Some people wrote basic stuff thanking the facility for the beautiful location, some people were inspired to write poetry, some people wrote down what they meditated on or any kind of spiritual guidance they wanted. 

I guess people associate meditation with New Age-y stuff, so it's kind of funny that I was introduced to it via Christianity.


I used meditation as a relaxation technique more than a spiritual one in college, because I wanted some kind of stress relief. I had studied psychology, and I knew that it was possible to hypnotize yourself. So I would basically hypnotize myself into a relaxed state with meditation. It was kind of nice.

The problem is...It takes a long time.

The benefit of and problem with meditation, for me, is that it takes a long time. So when I am choosing to do it, I am actively choosing not to do something else. It's hard to relax when you're thinking about all the things that you should be doing but aren't. 

My other main problem with it is that I daydream too much already. I always think about what I am going to do, read, write, work on, or whatever, and think about it but don't end up doing it. I don't want to get into the habit of meditating and using "I'm doing it to manage stress" as an excuse to do that instead of things I need to be doing. I can see how it would help manage stress or clear your head, but I don't see how it would contribute to overall productivity or self-discipline.

What I'm saying is that I guess I'm a bit up in the air about its effectiveness. I'd be curious to know if anyone else has tried this and gotten better results than I have.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Why This Book Has Been Sitting on My Sidebar for Months

If you look to your right, you will see Emperor of Thorns sitting on the sidebar of this blog under the label "Currently Reading." It's been there for a while. Why, you ask? (You didn't ask, but let's pretend you did.)

Currently Reading

Because not many other series have had as big an effect on me as The Broken Empire trilogy. And Emperor of Thorns is the last book. And once I finish reading it, it's over. And I don't really want it to be over because then it will be DONE. (And I'm pretty sure the main character will die in the last book, so there'll be no more reading about him after this, either.)

These are really, really great books. What hooked me first was the "voice" -- writing voice, character voice, whatever. It's unique and compelling and one of the best examples of what people like to call "voice" out there. Voice can be tricky to define. If you read this series, you will immediately understand what voice is.

The characters are also great, whether or not you like them. I wouldn't want to meet any of these people or hang out with them, but damn do they make great characters.

Also, it is post-apocalyptic fantasy, which is like my chocolate. Well, my wine. More like my crack. I love dystopian fiction, post-apocalypse fiction, and fantasy, and this series is an unholy cocktail of those subgenres -- with a splash of pure science fiction. (The author actually used to be a rocket scientist.) Post-apocalypse/future-Earth fantasy isn't exactly thick on the ground, either, so it's not like I can go find a similar book after I'm finished with this trilogy. Also, the style is very much "sword and sorcery" -- so it really has the flavor of classic fantasy, despite the sci-fi elements. PA fantasy that reads like S&S -- this book just makes me happy in every fiber of my hopelessly geeky being.

Now, normally I'd recommend this far and wide -- but I won't. I don't recommend this to anyone who isn't prepared to have to read through a lot of disturbing violent and sexual content. You know how Game of Thrones has a terrible reputation for sex and violence? Yeah, imagine if Game of Thrones were about 50 times more violent. The Broken Empire makes Game of Thrones look fucking cute. 

(Actually, if you are a Game of Thrones fan, the main character Jorg Ancrath is best described as a mixture of Arya and Joffrey. If you can imagine.)

The main character is a psychopath, rapist, mass murderer, and war criminal. And he accomplishes all those atrocities by the time he's 15. In a lot of ways, he's like a regressed child throwing a bloody temper tantrum throughout much of the first book. He's worst in the first book, but as for whether he stays that way...well, it's a bit like the original ending of A Clockwork Orange, where the psychopathically violent MC just sort of grows up, matures, and grows out of it. There's a lot more to it than that, obviously, but it's still a series where the main character is pretty damn evil.

So I don't necessarily recommend it, because villain protagonists are not for everyone. This series is premised on the idea that in order to defeat extreme evil, you need a "hero" who is at least as evil. My prediction is that he's going to sacrifice himself in the end. There is also a lot of Biblical imagery and metaphor in this trilogy. This series can't seem to decide whether its hero is Jesus or Satan.

Another reason I don't necessarily recommend it is that this book is also just depressing in its message. Nuclear warfare wiped out society as we know it...and even "recovered" society is brutally medieval and backwards. A warlord comes along over a thousand years later and rediscovers some nuclear weapons. And of course, what does he use them for? EVEN MORE nuclear warfare. Because, in the author's opinion, humanity just can't learn its fucking lesson when it comes to weapons of mass destruction.

Despite all that, it's one of my favorite series and I'm resisting finishing the final book because I don't want it to be over. Which is why it is still on my sidebar. However, the author is writing a new trilogy set in the same world, the first book of which I bought while it was on sale on NOOK. So now, I feel like I have to finish the original trilogy. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Thinking of Baltimore

I lived for part of my life in the greater Baltimore area, so the news of the recent riots had me worried for friends that live and work in and around the city. I don't really want to write a post about it, honestly, because I said some things on Facebook already, but something has been bugging me in particular.

That "Mom of the Year" viral video. That -- or rather, the reactions to it -- has bothered me more than almost anything else to come out of the social media shitstorm the riots caused.

I'm not linking to the video. You can find it yourself, if you haven't already seen it. The video shows an African American woman who, finding her son among the rioters, assaulted him in order to get him off the streets. If you look it up, you can see her screaming at him, hitting him, tugging at the mask he was wearing, and cussing him out as she yells at him to get home. 

This video was picked up and retweeted by someone who dubbed her "Mom of the Year."

And, suddenly, everyone was assigning motives to this anonymous woman. They assumed she wanted her son home because she disagreed with the riots. They thought she engaged this violent assault on her son because he was rioting, and she thought the rioting was wrong. Every article I read focused on what the kid was wearing, as if to say that he deserved it because he looked like a thug. 

And it didn't stop there. Because suddenly, it was like someone had given permission for all my white facebook friends to vent their fantasies about beating the shit out of some black youth. 

"Maybe if he'd had some more of that at home when he was younger, he wouldn't be out rioting now!"

"That would be me. Except, I don't look as good in yellow." 

"If I saw MY kid out dressed like that..."

"If these people disciplined their kids better, they wouldn't act like thugs."

...And some comments I won't repeat about how they wished THEY could go out there and give some of those kids the same treatment the woman had given her son.

People were assigning the mother of this kid their own motives, and using her example as a proxy -- as permission -- to condone violence against black youth. It fit into a narrative they already understood, where black-on-black violence is accepted as normal, where the sassy black mom is a comforting stereotype, where youth vs. adults is the real problem and not systemic injustice, and where they could take an anonymous woman's actions and assign them motives that aligned with their own. 

People who hadn't initially condemned the riots or participated in the first spew of racist and angry comments were suddenly coming out of the woodwork to endorse, applaud, and encourage this violence -- because it suited them. Because they could pretend to make it about parenting values or whatever. It was like, "this woman assaulted her kid; suddenly it's OK for me to talk about how I want to beat on some black kids." These were some the same people who were posting MLK statuses and saying things like "I don't condone this violence!" earlier.

No. You don't get to do that. You don't get to condemn violence when it's inconvenient and applaud it when it benefits you. 

And you especially don't get to appropriate someone else's story like that.

I was over here behind my computer screen thinking, hey, maybe she is flying off the handle like that because she wants her kid home safe. I interpreted her level of violence as coming from fear more than anger. Because most moms, I think, wouldn't go to that extreme unless they thought the kid was in danger. But most people assumed her actions came from the same place of anger and hate for the rioters as THEIR feelings. 

Of course, what would I know? Maybe she DID disagree. What pissed me off was how unanimous every single goddamn status, post, article, and comment was in their assumptions about her motives. They were DETERMINED to spin it as "she is doing this to PUNISH" instead of "she may be doing this to PROTECT." 

Because in their minds, the angry youth in the streets of Baltimore needed to be punished, not protected. 

In the minds of white America, African Americans who make a stir about racially based injustices need to be punished, not protected. In the minds of white America, the police are out to punish blacks and protect whites. Obviously, I'm generalizing very widely here. But it was depressing how smoothly some people -- way more people than I expected; people who I otherwise respected and liked and who I thought would think more deeply before sharing and applauding something like that so casually -- fit one viral video into their existing prejudiced worldview. 

The mom was eventually identified and interviewed, and said that she acted as she did because she didn't want her kid to become "another Freddie Gray." Make of that what you will. 

I'm not going to pretend to judge the mom and kid. But, everyone who clamored to call her Mom of the Year and responded to the video with a weird, vicious glee? Yeah, I'm totally judging you. A lot. People like to try to simplify this whole Baltimore fiasco into "Cops are good vs. Cops are Bad" and "Riots are OK vs. Riots are Bad" and "Racism vs. Not Racism" arguments. I won't say anything about that. But here was a quantifiable, observable reaction. And it was stupid. I mean, FOR FUCK'S SAKE. If your Moral of the Story here is "Let's all go home and beat our kids so they don't riot!" then you're an asshole.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"Mr. Spidey"

When I was a kid, I used to have a pet spider.

I kept him/her/it in a little cardboard box -- a shoebox, I think -- and occasionally opened it to look at it. I fed it dead flies and drips of water, when I remembered. I was six and younger -- this before my terror of spiders began. My pet's name was Mr. Spidey.

I caught this spider myself, but I'm not sure I remember the actual catching. (My older brain probably repressed it.) I'm actually pretty sure I went through several "Mr. Spidey's" because I didn't actually remember to feed him very often, and I kept him shut up in that shoebox all the time. You can't play with a spider very well.

I'm not really sure what the point of Mr. Spidey as a pet was at all, really, but I do remember how it sounded and felt for my young voice to coo "Mr. Spidey" and get all excited at opening the box to look at him. I remember the immense feeling of satisfaction that, apparently, only comes with owning a pet spider kept trapped in a shoebox when you're a five-year-old girl. 

Looking back as an arachnaphobic adult, I am beyond shocked that my parents let me keep him. And that they didn't suspect me of being some kind of serial killer in progress. To be fair, I only pulled the legs off of spiders that weren't Mr. Spidey -- daddy long-legs and such. You know -- those round-bodied pinpricks of spiders held up by these long, thread-like legs that practically beg kids to mess with them. Seriously, kids just can't resist that shit. 

Just kidding; I didn't pull legs off spiders. I would occasionally pull legs off flies (before feeding them to Mr. Spidey).

Once I protested when I saw a couple of kids torturing a daddy long-legs spider like this. But the scene stuck in my head. I couldn't get the image out. In a strange way, it was fascinating. And although I protested, I did keep watching. After that, I paid more attention to spiders and to how many legs they had. I would sometimes see daddy long-legs walking by on six or four legs, perhaps having survived the depredations of elementary school children. 

I lied when I said I didn't pull the legs off of spiders. My curiosity built. I trapped a daddy long-legs alone one day and started pulling off its legs. I had wanted to try -- to experiment -- with what the other kids had been doing. 

I didn't like it. It upset and disgusted me. Oh, it was satisfying -- but in a confusing, sickening, sadistic way. But I left the spider legless. And then I squished it, as if to erase the evidence and the guilt for what I had done to it. For a long time afterwards, I felt the clench of guilt and disgust in my stomach whenever I thought about it.

I recall Mr. Spidey didn't move very much. I did keep him in a tiny box, after all. He seemed to like the corners, but sometimes, he would just sit in the middle of the shoebox, eerily still. He didn't try to escape, and I suppose I must have taken that as a sign that he was happy. 

So when he started moving less and less, then, I didn't think much of it. "Mr. Spidey!" I would say, and open the shoebox.

But one day, he was all curled up on himself. He looked tiny, shriveled. I remember not really believing it was Mr. Spidey at first. Spiders in death look so much different -- smaller, and inert. His stillness was not that of a live spider. Even in utter stillness, a live spider has a sort of sense of expansion -- of contained energy that could explode into a flurry of movement, in any and all directions, at any moment. That, I think, is what terrifies me most about them now.

Dead Mr. Spidey had lost that kinetic stillness. He was shriveled, legs curled around himself, probably starved or bored to death by me. He seemed to even be a different color -- dry brown instead of healthy black. If dry has a color, that was it. 

Maybe the disappointing, disgusting sight of dead Mr. Spidey was where my fear of spiders began. Or maybe it was watching the neighborhood kids shriek in terror of spiders. Or maybe it was the wrench of horror in my gut that I felt when I thought about the spider I'd plucked legless. There's no real moral to this peculiar anecdote about my pet spider, other than maybe that kids are weird.


I chose the above picture because in Germany, where I had Mr. Spidey, a spider is called a "spinner." Also, I needed an image that wouldn't give me nightmares.