Friday, June 9, 2017

Today I step into uncertainty

Today is my last day at my current job. Back in March I got a lay off notice. I was completely blindsided. I've often complained about this job (teaching social studies in a continuation high school) and I've wanted to move on to something else, but I also have been doing this for seven years. I never anticipated getting laid off. There are parts of this job that I really love. There are parts that have been incredibly difficult. This year we got a new principal, though, and it made a big difference--a lot of the problems I had in previous years were due to extremely poor management. Back in January I helped write the WASC report for the school, and my colleagues and I were full of great new ideas for new offerings and ways to expand, because the school is doing really, really well. Too well, apparently. We have drawn too many students away from another school in the district, one that is the pet of the superintendent, and he decided to cripple my school. I won't go into the details, but he sat down across from me and essentially told me this exact thing, so you'll have to bear with me. I know it sounds melodramatic. A LOT of things that happen in this district seem to belong on tv dramas, not in reality.

I wanted this blow to turn into something good. "You've been talking about moving on to something new for years, Sophia," I told myself. "This will be the push that makes it happen. Onward and upward!" My husband (also a teacher) and I applied in several places, some out of state. We were offered jobs at a high school in Tucson. My job was going to be to teach American history and "Criminal Minds," which looks at criminals in literature and history, with elements of forensic psychology. How cool is that? But the pay for teachers in Tucson is very low, and we have two sons who are not yet school age. Between the cost of child care and the 11.4% they take out for retirement, we would have been left with $2300 a month (from both our checks) for rent and everything else. We couldn't do it. I was devastated.

Since then I've applied to more places. I've tried to make jobs come together through various local possibilities. So far, nothing has coalesced.

So today, as I clean up my classroom for the last time, I face going into the summer not knowing where I'll be in the fall. I may be filing for unemployment. One of these options I've been trying to make happen may finally come together (or maybe even more than one). Jeff and I may get jobs somewhere else and have to move. I even applied for an administrative job with the county office of education, though I think that one's a long shot.

That uncertainty is exhausting. All the work I've done coming to nothing is also very discouraging. At this point I don't feel like I can make anything happen, and it's better to just give up and float on the wind like Forrest Gump's feather. But I'm scared of what will happen if I let go--if I end up on unemployment, that lasts six months. And then what? How will we pay for groceries after that runs out?

"More time to write!" you say. Well, no, not really. When I'm at home my boys take up all my time and energy. We're keeping them in daycare for a while this summer, so yes, during that time I am definitely going to push to finish the WiP. But if nothing comes together for me, we're going to have to stop paying for daycare. I'll be a stay at home mom. I know some people love that. I do not. I already have some issues with the yellow wallpaper, and that's working part time. The idea of being a full time stay at home mom has me doing the Scream thing. And let me tell you, the number of people who have clapped me on the back and said, "Hey, you'll get to stay home with your kids!" like it's this great thing I've always wanted... oh my god, people. Check your damn assumptions.

There's also all the cheerful people who bounce up to me, "So, what're your plans?" like clearly I must have something fantastic and exciting lined up. Yeah, I did. It fell through. Nothing else has come together. No, I don't know what I'm going to be doing.

And inevitably, "Well, have you tried this? Have you applied here? How about there?"

Yes, yes, and yes, for the love of all that's holy. I also applied there, there, there, and there, and I spoke to so-and-so about this and that, and these other people, too, and there still isn't anything. You know, between the international teaching jobs I applied for this winter and all the jobs I've applied for since the lay off, I have applied for over 100 jobs. Seriously. One fucking hundred. It should not be this hard.

"Oh. Well. Good luck." And I swear they side-eye me like they think I'm just being negative.

So anyway, at this point something is either going to fall in my lap or I'm going to be unemployed and looking at working at the local hardware store when those checks dry up. I hope the former. Send me good thoughts.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Writing again, despite fatigue and lack of time!

I've been going nuts for months now with inspiration for new stories and ideas for the WiPs (mainly the third Raud Grima book, tentatively titled Masks in the Glow). And up until the winter break I just couldn't find the time or the energy, except for occasionally rereading already written passages of Masks and tinkering with them. Then over winter break we got me a new laptop (the kids smashed the old one) and I carved out two chunks of time for writing. Since then, I've managed to write several more times, mainly in the evenings while dinner's cooking and for a little while after. Historically evenings have never been my writing time. Too tired out by the day for any kind of good concentration. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

So I'm very slowly making progress on Masks, which may end up not being called Masks because it's looking like it's going to be upwards of 200K words and therefore will have to be split into two. If that's how it works out (I'm not sure because I devised a way to shortcut the story and I haven't decided whether I want to go that route or not) then probably the fourth and last book will get the Masks title and book three will have to go by something else.

This series is definitely shaking out to be weird in a lot of ways. First just going with the dystopian decopunk angle, which you don't run into very much. And certainly not often with the Fritz Lang inspiration so central. So there's that, to begin with. I mean from the start I've run into people who just scratch their heads at the whole concept of robots in an art deco city.

I chose from the beginning to challenge myself to write scenes that make me uncomfortable. I address one of my greatest fears in the book--the loss of a child--which probably doesn't weird anyone out. But I also pushed myself to write sex scenes, which is not something I'm generally comfortable with. And I wanted them to be real, with heat and in some cases disturbing elements. So yeah, that has certainly colored both The City Darkens and After the Fall and based on the few reviews I've gotten, people either appreciate what I was trying to do or are really put off by all the sex.

Then, in After the Fall, I switch narrators. I knew that was unconventional and would probably put people off. It's not like it's never been done before or anything, but it's a risky thing to do. I did it because I couldn't figure out what to do with Myadar. I wanted to keep talking about this city that's going through a revolution and there was no good reason for Myadar to get in the middle of that. At least, not right away. So I thought about what I wanted to talk about--I wanted to have the books progress a bit like the decades that comprise dieselpunk--City was the 1920s, Fall was the 1930s (sort of--certainly with a look towards what was happening in China at the time), and Masks would be the 40s. In no way am I trying to tell a history of America or even Earth, though. I just want parts of the setting, the events, the things people do, to resonate, like, "Oh, I see what she's doing there!" Anyway, so Fall was going to be about survival, first and foremost. How does an ordinary person survive a cataclysm in her city? What would that survival look like? Who threatens it? I thought of my graduate professor of African history talking about the role of young men, packs of violent young men, in unstable environments. And since I was also reading about grimdark at the time, and the ways people were (perhaps) mishandling violence in fiction, particularly sexual violence, I wanted to try my hand at that, and see if I could pull it off in a way I could live with. And I allowed Ginna to embody my own struggle with the necessity of violence. To top it off, I believe that the second installment in a trilogy (which is what I intended this series to be) should end badly. So the result was a novel that's really not very satisfying to some readers.

And now, Masks will be different yet again. For one thing, it has four POVs. For another, so far, no sex. And in it I'm trying to resolve both my conflicted feelings about using violence in fiction and Ginna's conflicted feelings about using violence to win the war. I am also really focused on characters that are not inherently good (Ginna is, though). Plus my original idea was to go very dark and flirt with atompunk, and though I may still have an element of that (inspired, perhaps, by Akira), the aesthetics of light decopunk like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow are still really appealing to me. So I've revisited what one of the big threats will be and I've reimagined it, and it's probably going to strike people as even weirder than robots in a deco city. I guess we'll see.

Masks is already 100K words and even if I do the shortcut I mentioned, I'm probably looking at at least another 40K. So I'm leaning towards writing the long version, seeing how many words it is, and deciding based on that whether to split it.

If you were reading a series, would you rather that the last book be very long, or that what you thought would be the last book ends in a cliff hanger and you have to read yet another book to finally get the resolution?

Does it bother you when books in a series have different POVs?

Would you be frustrated if the first books had several sex scenes and the last had few to none?

What do you think of violence in fiction?

Monday, November 14, 2016

Exhaustion, Fear, Sorrow and Rage

All getting in the way of my writing.

What can I say, the election was certainly historic.

A personal friend was the victim of a Trump-fueled hate crime.

I am swinging between each of the titular emotions I listed at any given time. It's definitely getting in the way of my ability to concentrate. But today I am going to write a paragraph into the first chapter of Masks in the Glow that is directly inspired by the election. And I will continue to work on this WiP with this election in mind. After all, The City Darkens didn't come out of nowhere. I just didn't think we'd have our own dystopia unfolding within a couple of years of its publication.

I don't know what this means for the future of my writing--I had plans for the next novel(s), and they were not dystopic. And I may still go forward with the main idea--I was going to try to create a beautiful world, one that I would enjoy escaping to. Which was actually the plan with The City Darkens but then it didn't work out that way at all! But maybe now my readers need it more than ever, and I certainly will be seeking out such worlds to immerse myself in, as I choose the novels I will be reading.
"Escaping the Dome," by yumikrum on wikicommons

But I also feel like dystopia may well be the way to go. I only have so many ways to try to warn the world, to try to stop the tide--and it may be futile. Hell, it might be like painting a target on my back. I know this comes off as melodramatic, but the man asked multiple times why we don't just use our nukes. We are in a melodramatic age.

I plan to join some progressive groups locally and I have another plan I'm following through on but it's going to be a few months before I get a sense of whether it's likely to come to fruition.

No matter what, I have to get back to writing. I am not really well unless I'm writing--at least not in times like these.

Monday, October 31, 2016

No Nano this year...

At least, not the real 50K deal. My quiet goal is to work on my current WiP every day, or as close to it as I can. I know last year I embraced the challenge Kristen Lamb threw down to MAKE TIME. And I'm hoping next year that'll be possible, maybe. Sigh. This year I just don't see it. Between actual demands on my time and the exhaustion that some days makes it impossible to concentrate, it's too much. Do I sound like I'm arguing with someone? I am. I am arguing with the part of myself that only cares about my writing. That part is like, DUDE. IT'S NEVER GOING TO BE EASY TO SCHEDULE WRITING TIME. But right now I'm a nursing a baby parenting three kids under five part time teaching trying to keep the house from exploding machine. I'm just hoping next year, it'll be more doable. The eldest will be in school, the middle will be in preschool, and the littlest will still be napping. BY GOD HE WILL STILL BE NAPPING.

Anyway. I'm working on Masks in the Glow, the third book in the Raud Grima trilogy. The other day for the first time in months I did some work on it, rereading most of the sections for one point of view (I ran out of time but the goal was to read them all) and improving them. One of the things I'm really focusing on in this novel is voice--I have four points of view that I switch between and I really want each to be so distinct you'd have no trouble reading a couple of lines and figuring out which character it is.

Oh, and pretty cool news:

On November 18 I'm going to be interviewed on S. Evan Townsend's Speculative Fiction Cantina program on the Writestream Radio Network. He says to prepare to read a 5 to 8 minute section of one of my books (PG-13 rated). Um. This makes me really nervous. I'm going to have to practice reading it about fifty times. I don't know what to choose, either. Suggestions welcome!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Guest Post: "Six Movies That Never Should Have Been Remade" by Isa

Well, everyone, the baby came 4 weeks early! It was a big surprise, as I'd convinced myself he was going to go all the way to term (there were signs that wasn't going to be the case, but I decided they were just false alarms). I'm very happy to say he's doing really well. But as a result, all my writing and social media time has pretty much vanished. What luck that Isa from Culture Coverage contacted me to propose that she contribute a guest post to this blog! I'm very pleased to present her post on six films that should never have been remade. Enjoy!

***********************************

Movies are more than just entertainment; they are a form of art. As such, it's everyone's duty to put on the hat of the critic from time to time. I would like to express my appreciation to sophia-martin.blogspot.com for affording the opportunity to do so with this post. When you're finished reading, it's worth checking out some of the other content on this site!

Some movies are way ahead of their times. They’re done with limited resources that couldn’t possibly do the film justice—made too early. Filmmakers frequently look to past films for ideas, sometimes completely remaking them. At times, it goes well; the recent Batman trilogy is an example of just how successful this kind of ideology can be. Some films are just worth waiting for.

But then there are “those” movies. We’ve all seen one before; they’re remakes of movies we once loved. Even if the originals lacked the technology, were horribly campy, or deviated hugely from their source material (in the case of films based on books), there was something we loved about them. But the remakes often fail to capture that spirit.

A few remakes were done so poorly that the fans of their basis have mentally distanced themselves from them like a bad memory. Those are the films we’ll be looking at today.

Psycho (1998)



Movie remakes usually hope to bring something new to the table. Whether they tweak the story, add new special effects, or update the setting to reflect a more modern and relevant feel to audiences, there’s usually something distinctly different. This is not the case with the 1998 remake of “Psycho.”

For some unknown reason the remake of "Psycho" is virtually shot for shot identical to the original piece from 1960. True, there are a few differences; the movie is shot in color with a higher quality playback rate on the audio, and the cast is entirely different. But the actual scenes haven't changed at all.
In fact, a lot is lost in transferring the film to color. Without the dim, dark environment (and no special effects to help instill that same feeling in color) the film is abjectly inferior to the original. The cast also lacks the authenticity of the original actors, particularly Norman Bates (now depicted by…Vince Vaughn?...) whose character was designed to start off very innocent, almost non-offensive.

Perhaps had the film brought something new to the table, it would have fared better. Ironically the next movie tried to do exactly that and was even worse.

Godzilla (1998)




Oh my goodness gracious, I just don't know where to begin. There is so much wrong with what fans have come to know with disdain as "Godzilla '98" that it could use its own government-backed study.

To begin with, Godzilla has always been a franchise of very mediocre acting; there’s plot in each film, but the focus is really on the kaiju (the big monsters). Whether Godzilla is facing Rodan or King Gidorah, the movie is about him. And for a monster that was created by nuclear radiation that destroys cities (exclusively in Japan) he often ends up depicted as the hero.

The American adaptation captured very little if any of Godzilla’s essence. Instead, he’s just a big angry lizard destroying New York; “he” also lays a ton of eggs that are an essential plot point, although a confusing point at best.

Besides rarely actually showing Godzilla in the film (perhaps due to budget limitations), the film is distinctly about the people with Godzilla used merely as a plot point. He also has no atomic breath, a huge disappointment to fans. Perhaps the film would have done better had it not tried to tie itself to the Godzilla franchise and just been called “Big Lizard in New York.”

The Haunting (1999)



The remake for “The Haunting” can only be described as a victim of 1999. It tried to take the original films concepts and make them grander. The sets are huge and detailed, and the plot goes out of its way to try and mislead the audience. Both efforts amount to naught.

Instead of a creepy haunted house that is depicted in the original, we’re presented with a mansion that looks like it was constructed by hundreds of skilled artisans. Its over-the-top attention to detail actually distracts from the whole point of the setting: it’s a scary haunted house.

But the film also tries to convince you the house isn't haunted…but it is! Surprise! Unfortunately, the well-paid cast does little to help carry the movie's inept script. Without the uniqueness between characters, we're faced with a bland and uninteresting variety of the same person dressed in different clothes.

Besides being an unnecessary remake, “The Haunting” remake goes one step further by just being an all-around bad film. And not just a bad movie, but a PG-13 film—in the 90s. There's nothing more to be said because there's not much going on with this movie. At least it made money.

Guess Who (2005)



The original film, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” touched a very sensitive nerve for its time. In 1967, interracial marriages were still a very controversial thing [Sophia's buttinsky, here: they still are, if that Old Navy ad controversy is any indication]. When the story’s couple comes home to meet mom and dad, they are understandably shocked. But at least their daughter has managed to catch herself a wealthy foreign doctor.
The modern rendition seen in the remake titled “Guess Who” hopes to flip the premise on its side; instead of a white woman (Katharine Houghton) bringing home a black man (Sidney Poitier) to her white folks (Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn), you have Zoe Saldana returning home with Ashton Kutcher meet with Bernie Mac and Judith Scott.
While the film isn’t as awful as some of the others we’ve gone through, it fails to capture the essence of the original. It’s thoroughly inoffensive, barely pushes any bounds, and does little to inspire any sort of conversation regarding racial politics. It’s just another film that simply wasn’t necessary.

Footloose (2011)



By all accounts, the original "Footloose" was set up in a way that should have yielded a terrible movie. Instead, it became an American classic long remembered for its fun dance scenes, good acting, and believable plot. Its focus on dance makes plenty of sense, being a film in the early 80s.

Having not learned from the mistakes of the “Psycho” remake, the movie again attempts to recreate (including in dialogue) many scenes from the original but does so poorly at it that one can hardly justify the film’s existence. The actors are less believable, particularly Ren who is depicted by Kenny Wormald and no longer looks lost, confused, or even well…young.

The dances have been updated to reflect the period, but that does little to help the movie along. Instead of the more innocent dances of the 20th century, we’re treated to the waist-to-waist grinding of modern dance that would make any Reverend protest, a plot element sadly wasted by the remake.

Total Recall (2012)




Everything I say here I must first preface by admitting this one bias: I am someone who thoroughly enjoys cheesy Schwarzenegger films. And by all accounts, the first "Total Recall" did virtually no justice to its source material. It was truly an adventure of its own making; it was an 80s sci-fi shoot’em up complete with corny one-liners, explosions, and bad acting galore.

But what the original had in spades, the remake lacks by all accounts. With none of the original's fun, the remake sets about creating a plot with nearly identical key points depicted in a slightly different way. Instead of being largely on a Mars Colony, the film is portrayed on post-apocalyptic Earth.
The change in secondary antagonist is equally questionable. The original featured a slew of “named” bad guys all going after Quaid, the protagonist. The remake replaces most of them with Quaid’s wife, leaving us with a decided shortage of characters to care about and a glut of faceless nobodies.

In some ways, the sets of the new film capture the feel of a "futuristic" society better, but there's just something very…forgettable about it all. While the memory of the original lives on well into the present, the remake has already faded into obscurity. Alas, another wasted opportunity.

Sequels and remakes are always a topic of debate. If you feel differently about one of these films or would like to discuss a different remake, post it in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

About the Author: Isa is a critic in her own right, frequently blogging about her most and least favorite films. When not discussing entertainment, she spends her time writing about internet security and advocating online safety. To read more of her work, visit SecureThoughts.com or CultureCoverage.com.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

We interrupt this regularly scheduled program for: Pre-Eclampsia Survivor Rant

Okay, folks, I'm going to apologize in advance, because this is a rant and it has nothing to do with writing or fiction or anything else this blog is usually about. It's coming at you now because of two experiences I had this week, one on Facebook and one on Twitter.

So, for context, some facts up front:
I am pregnant. This is my fourth pregnancy, but the second one was a loss. In my first pregnancy everything was hunky dory until about week 27 or so when I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia. In short, that meant I had dangerously high blood pressure (that's not all there is to it, but that's the main thing I was dealing with). Ever watched Downton Abbey? Sybil died because she had eclampsia--what develops from pre-e if it's allowed to. Basically to avoid that you have to have the baby earlier than the due date. My son was induced at 37 weeks (normal pregnancies go to 40 weeks as a rule). Very luckily for me, we both came through without harm. Seizures were a big concern for me for the duration of those weeks, and I was put on bed rest and eventually magnesium--it was not a fun time.

No one knows what causes pre-e. Some of the most recent research suggests that not eating enough protein in early pregnancy may be a factor, but I have no way of saying if that was the case for me. I mean, I ate meat probably most days. But it's true that protein requirements for pregnant women are significantly higher than for the general population. Was I getting enough? I don't know.

Anyway, some things that have not been proven to cause pre-e are: being overweight, having high blood pressure when not pregnant, having blood sugar problems, whether or not you exercise, whether your diet is high in fiber, vegetables and fruit, and whether your diet is low in fat. But today on Twitter, I saw an account devoted to pre-e education that said this:


Okay, so I thought, are they talking to someone specific about their issues with their pre-e, or just everybody? So I tweeted them and asked.

To which they replied:

With the following infographic attached:


Now, I'm sure this person means well, but honestly, fuck them.

Because the original tweet might have been helpful if they were speaking directly to someone they knew with pre-e who actually had bad blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, etc. Otherwise it's just a shitty thing to say. Why? It implies that people who get pre-e have some kind of control over it.

They don't.

No amount of dieting and exercise can protect a woman from developing pre-e. Dieting is really controversial these days and it's just plain stupid to go around telling people they need to diet. That's a conversation people have with their doctors. Stay out of it.

In my case I have naturally low BP when not pregnant. I have never had a problem with blood sugar, even while pregnant. My cholesterol is normal. All of it is normal. I am a size 20, though, so clearly I need to go through some sort of weight loss plan to be thin before I should consider having more kids. Because we all know what the outcome rates are for people who do weight loss programs. So what you're actually saying, Twitter twit, is that fat people just shouldn't have babies.

As for the oh-so helpful graphic, thanks a lot for all the stats telling me I'm going to die and develop terrible diseases. That's so helpful and good for my stress. It's not like I don't already worry about this pregnancy's impact on my body, now I have to worry about a pregnancy that happened five years ago, too. Fabulous.

People keep "liking" and retweeting the tweet with the infographic and that, dear readers, is why we are here.

Just in general, please don't tell fat people they need to lose weight. Don't you think most of us would go ahead and shed the pounds if we could? Don't you think we've tried? Actually, many people don't think fat people have tried, they think fat people are lazy asses who never try to do anything healthy. Truthfully, I have stopped trying. I maintain my weight at 220lbs. Why? Because the last time I tried, like, really tried to lose weight, I spent four months drinking two slim fast meals a day and having one actual meal. I also worked out every day for a minimum of an hour and half. I went down to 175lbs after three months and that was it. No more weight loss after that. I tried decreasing my daily intake of calories from 1400 to 1200. I tried adding a half an hour to my daily workouts. Nothing. The scale did not budge. And you know what? I was exhausted and miserable. So I went back to eating like I normally do, which is pretty healthy. I never drink soda or eat fast food. I eat a lot of vegetables, avoid overly processed foods with high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated fats, etc. I make most of the food I eat from scratch. I exercise some, though not as much as I'd like. I've tracked my eating and basically I eat 500 calories a day more than the recommended amount, so that's why I'm heavy. But when I cut those calories out, we come back to the situation described above. What's the point? I'm not going to give myself headaches and feel wrecked and shitty every day so I can drop maybe twenty pounds and maintain my weight at 200lbs instead of 220. I'm just not enthused by that idea and considering my blood pressure is typically 110/70 and I don't have any signs of blood sugar issues... it's just not something I think about much anymore.

So that was Twitter today. A couple of days ago, there was Facebook.

I made the mistake of commenting on an NPR article that was warning pregnant women to wear long sleeves and long pants and bug spray because ZIKA IS COMING TO GET YOU.

And maybe it is, in Florida, I haven't checked the news stories recently. But here's the story I told in my comment on the article:

A couple of months ago my husband, two sons and I went to what is essentially a zoo nearby. When I was there I noticed the most unusual mosquito--it had stripey legs. Of course we all got bitten. When I got home I googled it and found out it's one of the two main types of mosquitoes that carry Zika. Now, I'm in Northern California and when I told my husband this he was like, "Meh, Zika happens in tropical places." But then a day or two later he and my older son both got sick, with flu-like symptoms and bloodshot eyes. Guess what? That sounds like Zika. So I told my OB about it. He was very nice and not at all condescending, but he basically told me I was being paranoid. At that time there had been no cases of people getting Zika in California or Oregon. All cases of Zika were people who had caught it elsewhere and traveled here.

I concluded my story by saying that I thought the NPR article was fear-mongering, and we shouldn't let these sorts of fears get the best of us, or something to that effect. So this guy answered me telling me I shouldn't blow off the risk and good luck with my pregnancy because I had probably been exposed to Zika.

I responded to him saying I don't need luck. I've had several ultrasounds (for completely unrelated reasons) and they've measured the baby's head multiple times and he's growing just fine.

To which several people then replied in so many words that clearly my ultrasounds were flawed and didn't pick up the birth defects and my baby would no doubt have microcephaly. One went so far as to say I would no doubt have to have a late-term abortion at 30 weeks. (As I write this I am 31 weeks.)

It was so important to those people to cling to their fears about Zika and their need to police pregnant women that they told me, a real person who is pregnant, that her baby is going to die at 30 weeks.

By the way, if I did get exposed to Zika and my baby was harmed, you know what can be done about it? Absolutely nothing.

But the thing is, I really don't believe that I was. I know my baby is okay. And I also know it probably wouldn't be good for him if slather myself in pesticides because I'm afraid of catching the Zika virus in an area of the world which, as far as I know, still hasn't had any local cases.

Okay I feel better. Thank you for reading this whole thing, it's a bear. But these are just two examples--people police pregnant woman all the time and it is SO TIRESOME. After several pregnancies, in some ways being preggo does get easier, but in others, NOT SO MUCH. Like when people think they are being helpful when they tell pregnant women how to live their lives.

Have you ever dealt with this sort of "well-meaning" bullshit?
Do you feel entitled to tell pregnant women what to do and not to do to have a healthy pregnancy?
Please, comment and let me know, though be careful if your answer to the second question is yes. I have pregnancy hormones and I know how to use them.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Embracing the "Ugly" as Beautiful: Melisandre in Game of Thrones, Season 6

My husband and I watched the first episode of Game of Thrones season 6 last night. There were several moments that shocked or surprised me. The big reveal at the end of the episode was not one of them.

...............................................


SPOILERS AHEAD.

...............................................

It's not that I somehow secretly suspected that the Red Woman, AKA Melisandre, is actually centuries old. It's that I don't care. I mean, really, unless her removing the necklace actually leads to something plot related (will she die? will the necklace somehow resurrect Jon? will Thorne find it and put it on, then get strangled by it? I'd like to see that). However, the Twitterverse is all... atwitter over it. People all over the internet are extremely excited about this new TWIST.

From an article on e-online:


Plenty of other articles were tweeted announcing their intention to discuss this big twist.



How is it a twist? To me, a plot twist means something that significantly impacts the plot. So she's old. I mean, seriously. She has wrinkles, she's got saggy breasts, she's lost most of her hair. Okay. And?

Which brings me to the other reason people are all freaking out: OMG, the Red Woman is actually old and NOT HOT.


The shock of the reveal...


Yes, that's Sam from Supernatural. It was actually a gif cycling between his face and Dean's equally horrified face.
And my personal favorite:

Because it's totes cool to pull your pants down for the young Red Woman, who advocates burning children alive.


Let me get something out of the way. I get it. We as a culture are so flooded with images of "perfect" women's bodies that it must be a big surprise and shock when a show gives a rare glimpse of a woman's body that doesn't fit in. But come on, people. Not every body you see has to be evaluated for sexual attractiveness.

I like all kinds of bodies for different reasons. There are certain female bodies I find sexually attractive. The elderly body of last night's episode is not one of them, but in all sincerity, that didn't even enter my mind when I looked at her. Young Melisandre took off her clothes and I admired her beauty (though the character has always seriously creeped me out and I don't find her sexually attractive as a result), and then she changed into the crone, and my thoughts were along the lines of, "Wow, they found an elderly woman with very smooth features, much like the younger actress."* They did. The elderly woman shown wasn't hideous by any stretch of the imagination. People on Twitter have had to go find images from other movies and shows to express their horror at the change.




The fact is, elderly Melisandre may not be sexually attractive, but she's also not disgusting. She's just old. Her body has no blemishes. Okay, the sparsity of hair on her head isn't pretty, but it's not horrifying. She's clean. And I would go so far as to say, she's even beautiful--not in a sexual way, not in a hot way, but in terms of being a beautiful example of an elderly body. The slump of her shoulders and her facial expression convey deep sadness and disillusionment--the power of the emotions they show is beautiful.

But then, I tend to love things like this:
Camille Claudel, Clotho, 1893
This sculpture is by Camille Claudel, a female artist who hit her peak around the turn of the 20th century in Paris. I studied her quite a bit some years ago because I intended to write my master's thesis about her. She had a fascinating, tragic life, and this sculpture is one expression of her experiences. It represents Clotho, the fate who spins the thread of human life--not even Atropos, the one who snips the thread and ends lives. Claudel saw the spinner of life as this twisted, withered crone caught in her own threads, which also seem to be her hair.

Claudel eventually became paranoid and reclusive. Ultimately her family institutionalized her for the last 30 years of her life, though whether that was an ethical choice is a matter of serious debate among those interested in her.

I find this statue of hers beautiful and powerful. Obviously, Clotho as Claudel depicted her is not sexually attractive. But she is an expression of pure suffering--a work of art that succeeds vividly in what it attempts.

Melisandre's old body isn't even close to as twisted and withered as Clotho's in Claudel's interpretation, and it shouldn't be the same, because what's being expressed isn't the same. Claudel's Clotho is a personification of Claudel's rage and confusion at life--and possibly gives hints at Claudel's mental illness, though in 1893 she wasn't exhibiting obvious symptoms yet. Elderly Melisandre conveys the character's grief and despair at the way things have turned out, not according to her visions at all. She is a personification of loss of hope.

I actually did find one article, at theatlantic.com, that addressed the scene the way I felt it needed to be addressed:



The issue I'm having with the more common reaction, I think more than any other, is that the response most people on Twitter are having to seeing Melisandre's elderly body completely misses this point. They are so focused on "OMG NOT HOT" that they aren't asking themselves what the scene actually means. Why has Melisandre chosen to remove her necklace? Is she giving up? Is she going to die? Does this mean Jon is doomed? Not to mention his allies at Castle Black, who talk specifically about how powerful Melisandre is moments before the necklace scene.

In the e-online article I excerpted above, they do ask what it means, but then they ask what Melisandre has been doing on order to stay young, and how old she really is. They then actually state that they've never been so interested in Melisandre subplots not involving Jon Snow. Are you serious right now? I mean, sure, it's great when female characters are interesting without being props for male characters. If you've read this blog at all you know how into that I am. But how many separate character plots are there in GoT these days? It's getting to be as bad as later seasons of Lost. I would really prefer if Melisandre's role in the show remained tied to the established plotlines she's already attached to, and that pretty much means I want one question answered about her: is she going to raise Jon, or is she going to die/fail somehow? If we're going to focus on female characters, I'm just fine with Sansa, Arya, Cersei, Brienne, Margaery, Osha, and Daenerys getting the deeper storylines. I really don't like Ellaria, so she's off the list, too. I don't care about the larger picture when it comes to her or Melisandre. I have enough characters I do care about--and some of my favorites are male, so my list is actually even longer than the one in the sentence above. That's a lot for the show creators to keep track of without adding more.

Anyway, my point is this. I wish people could stop flipping out about a non-perfect body long enough to look past its supposed imperfections. They might appreciate it for what it does show us in a powerful way, and they might also start asking much more interesting and relevant questions.

How about you, were you shocked/horrified by the elderly Melisandre reveal?
What do you think of art and other mediums that show elderly female (and male, why not) bodies?
Can things typically seen as "ugly" actually be beautiful?

.............................................................................
* It has occurred to me that they simply aged Carice van Houten's face, but that doesn't address the parallels with her body. I'm not saying they are the same by any stretch of the imagination, just that they had a similar smoothness.