Sci Fi, Satire, and More: Join My Patreon

In 2009, I started writing marketing copy for a living.  It pays the bills, but it’s not all that exciting to write, and it certainly doesn’t captivate, inspire, or entertain the way my decades of non-paid fiction, satire, and short stories have.

Eight years in, I’ve decided it’s time for a change.  It’s time for me to be able to produce more of the stuff you love to write.

That’s why I’m now on Patreon:

http://www.patreon.com/danialexis

I call it the Practical Joke Universe – a place where I can produce science fiction and other flights of fancy, hone the delicious satire you’ve seen here and at Field Notes on Allistics, and share writing advice and commentary on a wide range of topics.

And you’re invited.

What do you get out of it?  By supporting my Patreon at any level – even $1 per month – you get access to all the members-only content.  Kick in more and you get special content and even some AutPress swag.

What do I get out of it?  Another brick in the wall of my eventual getting to write fiction and blog full-time.  We’ll be moving this blog to the Neurodiversity Matters network in a few months; my first science fiction novel, Nantais, comes out in 2017. The  more support I get, the more time I can spend updating this blog regularly and producing more of the stuff y’all actually want to read, instead of marketing crap y’all would rather avoid.

This blog, as well as Autistic Academic and my professional blog, will keep rolling ahead as usual – which is to say, they’ll be updated when I feel like I have something to say.  But if you want to see more than just autism commentary, and you want to see it more regularly, head over to Patreon.  I’ll see you there!

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We’ve Merged!

Dermatographia’s intersectionally feministy lit crit can now be found at its author’s blog, http://danialexis.net.  Also at the new address: book reviews, cats.

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GONE GIRL and Modern Madness

[Contains spoilers for Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, a book I’d rather not spoil for anyone. Seriously, go read it.  I promise you will not see it coming.]

During undergrad, I took a Short Fiction course from a professor who insisted that all characters’ motivations had to make sense. If they did not, one of only two things was true: either the writer was a hack, or the character was insane.

…Said professor would likely not have gotten along with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

The urge to write off Gone Girl’s antagonist, Amy Elliott Dunne, as crazy is intense.  This is, after all, a woman who frames her own husband for her murder on their fifth anniversary, then frames a murdered ex for her abduction so she can come back to her husband and continue playing the “Cool Girlfriend/Perfect Wife” stereotype over which she framed him for murder in the first place.  The narrative is set up to force identification with the husband, Nick, even as it suggests that he’s every bit as much a monster – just in a more subtle, less “I totally just killed a dude and framed his corpse for violently raping me” sort of way.

Who wants to admit they “get” Amy, when “getting” Amy is tantamount to admitting you’d like to frame your spouse for your murder because he can’t read your mind?  I don’t.

Except I do.

I don’t mean I want to frame my spouse for murder because he can’t read my mind.  It’s too much work, and hell, *I* can’t read my mind half the time.  But when it comes to the “Cool Girlfriend,” to the pressure to have a “perfect” picture-book marriage which includes the need never to admit that’s what you want or need because part of the “perfection” package is a spouse who understands and plays his role automatically, yeah.  I do get that.  I read magazines; I watch the occasional “woman’s interest” television.  I understand the incredible pressure put on women – especially professional women in their mid-thirties with no career or children – to make every moment look like it came out of a spread in Martha Stewart Living, only without admitting, as Martha Stewart does, that these projects actually require time and effort.  Nicole Hollander called this woman “The Woman Who Does Everything More Beautifully Than You”; left out of that statement is the idea that the woman who does everything more beautifully does it with no effort.  It’s sprezzatura on steroids, only you’re not allowed to admit to the steroids.

Amy’s striving to be the “Cool Girlfriend” appears mostly in her diary entries, which describe things like pretending she’s not disappointed when Nick blows off a cocktail party with their (mostly her) friends, or admitting she is disappointed when he can’t remember the little romantic details of their courtship that she recalls so clearly.  The diary chronicles Amy’s love/hate relationship with the “Cool Girlfriend” so intimately that it’s easy to identify with; any reader who strives similarly starts to see Amy as rightfully desperate and unhappy and Nick as, well, a bit of a jerk.

The catch is that this identification survives the big reveal: the diary is a fiction, a contrivance designed to implicate Nick further.  Suddenly the episodes of domestic violence, Amy’s quest to buy a gun, are revealed as fakes: but there’s a sense that Amy’s hopelessness at perpetually falling short of the (unattainable) ideal is real.  And it is.  One more shot at that ideal is what brings her back to Nick; one more shot at that ideal is why the pair return to a life with a surface ideal leveraged by blackmail.

And that’s why Gone Girl works; because the insanity isn’t insane.  We want the actions to be inexplicable, but they’re not.  They’re eminently explicable via a struggle that hits very close to home for women.  Framing our husbands for murder isn’t a solution most of us would contrive on our own or run with once presented; most women want a better way out than a web of deceit bordering on the absurd.

But the pressure to effortless perfection?  Yeah.  We get it.

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“To Live as Christ Came to Teach Us I Think Is a Good Start”

At some point before her death in 1994, my great-grandmother filled out a “memory book” for the family.  It was pre-printed for this purpose and contained places for her to reminisce about her family, her marriage, her childhood, and so on, all of which she did.

On the last page, the book asked her to leave the family some advice.  She hesitated to do so, noting that when she had needed advice, she had not asked for it, and when she asked for it, she had rarely heeded it.  🙂  She finished with the observation “to live as Christ came to teach us I think is a good place to start.”

I was raised neo-Wiccan.  I have never been Christian.  But I have spent a nontrivial portion of my life trying to determine what she meant by that.

This came to me again yesterday as I was reading this post by Melissa McEwan at Shakesville.  Melissa’s own point is that it’s painful to hear folks like Rick Warren claim that Christians who commit hateful acts aren’t “real Christians,” especially when one is on the receiving end of that hate.  And, although it was tangential at best to Melissa’s point, several of the comments (including mine) wandered into “what is a real Christian?” territory.

Specifically (because this is a lit-crit blog, so there needs to be some texts to crit, right?), I’m interested in the relationship between this text:

3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:3-7)

and this one:

34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:34-45)

Because, as I noted at Shakesville, I think these texts are wholly consonant with one another if one sees the call to Christianity primarily as one of responsibility for others (what some might call social justice).  The responsibility is not only not to cast stones, but to get between the sinner and the guys with the rocks.  If one has accepted salvation through the martyrdom of Christ, then one has also accepted the responsibility to get between the sinner and the guys with the rocks, because to fail to do so is to fail to get between Christ and the guys with the rocks.

I can’t ask my great-grandmother what she meant by “to live as Christ came to teach us.”  But I cannot think of a better starting place than to accept the responsibility of respecting others’ basic humanity – even, especially, when it costs us dear.

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Thanksgiving With William Bradford

William Bradford: kind of a stone-faced dude. (The statue is Dallin’s “William Bradford”).

In honor of Thanksgiving, here’s what my great-great-great-great-great (? I think I counted that right) grandfather William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Plantation and general all-round stand-up Pilgrim dude, had to say about the first such shindig:

They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strength, and had all things in good plenty; for as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing about cod, and bass, and other fish, which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want.

And now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl, there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison &c.  Besides they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion.  Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned, but true reports.*

Mm, venison!  I wonder what else the Pilgrims were thankful for at that first feast?

And may I not omit here a special work of God’s providence. There was a proud and very profane young man, one of the sea-men, of a lusty, able body, which made him the more haughty; he would always be contemning the poor people in their sickness, and cursing them daily with grievous execrations, and did not let to tell them, that he hope to help to cast half of them overboard before they came to their journey’s end, and to make merry with what they had; and if he were by any gently reproved, he would curse and swear most bitterly.

But it pleased God before they came half seas over to smite this young man with a grievous disease, of which he died in a desperate manner and so was himself the first that was thrown overboard. Thus his curses light on his own head; and it was an astonishment to all his fellows, for they noted it to be the just hand of God upon him.

…Cool.

One thing Bradford was probably not thankful for in the least was the death of his first wife, Dorothy May.  She fell overboard from the Mayflower on December 7, 1620, and drowned in the harbor while her husband was scouting out an appropriate landing site with several other men.  Of Plymouth Plantation skips December 7, rolling it into that excursion, and Dorothy May is never mentioned before or since.

She’s dead, Jim.

I have often wondered why she was omitted, when so many other personal Bradfordian experiences are recounted in extraordinary detail.  Did Bradford’s commitment to seeing “a special work of God’s providence” in all things fail to extend to the death of his wife – yet leave him unwilling to admit to this lapse in his faith?  Did he perhaps suspect she had jumped, rather than fallen, and omit her because suicide was too great a sin to countenance or grieve?  Did he not know what to say? Did he just plain not care all that much?

Also, when did he tell their son – who at the time was three years old and living with his grandparents in Leyden?  That son, Bradford’s oldest, joined the Plymouth Colony when he (the son) was fourteen.  Did his father write him about his mother’s death before then, or did he turn up in Plymouth to discover, oh hey son, your mom’s dead and I re-married this lady over here** and you have a flock of half-siblings you’ve never met!

This is why I still write fiction – it offers the chance to decide on one of these outcomes.  It doesn’t make it true, but it can make it more interesting.

Happy Thanksgiving, &c.!

*Bradford’s spelling updated and standardized here.
**Alice Carpenter, my great-great-great-great-great grandmother.  Bradford’s own mother was also named “Alice.”

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Things I’ve Learned About Being Married, Month Three: Husbands and Cooking

It’s now been three months and two days since The Husband (!) and I got married, and for most of that, I thought nothing would weird people out more than the idea that I kept my own last name. That, apparently, is very weird! But there is something that is weirder!

The Apparently Weirder Thing is this: my husband does the cooking.

…Yet even Europe’s first “celebrity chef” was a dude. (Antonin Carême)

Very few people I’ve talked to seem to be able to wrap their heads around that idea. I’m serious. I’m not just talking about Internet sexism, here, like the universally-offensive Men Make Dinner Day. I’m talking about real live people commenting on my particular marriage.

Consider, for example, these examples.

Other Person: “So what are you making for Thanksgiving?”
Me:  “Actually, my husband does the cooking.”
OP:  “You don’t cook?  At all?”
Me:  “Nope. He cleans, too.”
OP:  “…So what do you do?  You have to contribute to this relationship somehow!”
Me:  “I make the money.”
OP: *boggledface*

Other Other Person:  “So you’re the turkey lady?”
Me:  “Actually, my husband is doing that.”
OOP:  “You’re not cooking the turkey?”
Me:  “I’m not cooking at all.  My husband does all the cooking.”
OOP:  “…So he didn’t marry you for your cooking, huh?”
Me:  “No, I married him for his*.”

Until these conversations, it really seemed like my not changing my last name was The Weirdest Marriage Thing That Ever Weirded.  But no. Turns out that “dividing up the chores according to who is better at what, tolerates what more, and/or has the time to do what” instead of “dividing up the chores according to who has which sexual characteristics” is The Weirdest Marriage Thing That Ever Weirded!

It occurs to me that maybe this is one of the hurdles many people face when considering same-sex marriage. If you don’t have a ladyperson and a manperson in the pair, how do you know who makes dinner and who mows the lawn!?!?  IT IS ANARCHY!

…Or it’s a pair of adults sorting out their daily lives in ways that work for the people in the household.  You know, like people do.

Do…do they FEED THE CAT?? I CAN’T LOOK! (Via unicornbooty; click image to visit.)

*I didn’t actually marry my husband “for his cooking,” by the by, even though his cooking is awesome. I married him because his strengths complement my weaknesses, and vice versa. Not that he “makes up” for my deficiencies, but because his strengths encourage me to make those qualities in myself stronger.

By which I mean things like his extraordinary patience, curiosity, and capacity for empathy, not things like my ability to burn Jello. Though I totally learned the right way to smoke an entire turkey this weekend!

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Breast Cancer, the NFL, and Pink Cleats: Is This a Good Thing?

  I’m watching the Colts/Packers game, and I can’t stop staring at all the pink on the field.  Pink shoes.  Pink gloves.  Pink side-towel-hand-warmer things and wristlets and whistles.   Pink codpieces patches on the pants drawing the eye to the junk.  Pink NFL website promoting Pink Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

And I can’t decide: what do I think of all this?  In no particular order:

  1. Men at the peak of the traditional heteronormative masculinity pyramid in our culture are showing other men and boys that one can wear pink and still occupy the peak of the traditional heteronormative masculinity pyramid.  This is probably good.  (EDIT FOR OBVIOUSNESS: “Good” only insofar as encouraging men to continue to strive for the peak of said pyramid regardless of their personal inclinations is “good,” which is “not much.”  I conflated “being respected for a particular type of gender performance” with “being respected as an individual” originally, which is not sufficient.)
  2. They would not be wearing all the pink were it not in support of breast cancer “awareness” and research.  It’s not the supporting breast cancer awareness/research that bothers me; it’s the fact that pink would be verboten if it were not for breast cancer research support.
  3. Specifically, it’s a-wearin’ of the pink in solidarity for a charitable cause.  The players aren’t wearing pink because they want to or because it’s a fundamentally okay thing for guys to do; they’re wearing it as a sacrifice.  I’m not sure the “supporting charity is good!” message in that outweighs the “pink is something traditional heteronormative masculinity-performing dudes only wear in order to ‘take one for the team,’ not because it is okay to wear it!” here.
  4. The NFL + breast cancer research: what’s the story behind this, anyway?  Why breast cancer specifically?  Has the NFL realized women watch football too, or does it think more women would watch if there were more pink involved?  (I do not, sadly, think it is that the NFL has realized men can also get breast cancer; nothing on the pinkified website even hints that that’s a consideration here.)
  5. Or is it just an extraordinary opportunity to cash in on a traditional heteronormative masculine performance restriction (THOU SHALT NOT WEAR PINK) by highlighting is so profoundly (the most traditionally heteronormative masculine performers that ever did perform, wearing the most traditionally heteronormative feminine-coded color!  NOTICE IT!).  If so, well played, for I am definitely noticing it.

Numbers 4 and 5 interest me specifically because I don’t buy that “it’s just a game” or “it’s just a color.”  Somebody, or a committee of somebodys, made the conscious choice to link the NFL and the Pepto-Bismol Pink Awareness campaign and to do it in this specific way, by having the players wear pink and then by auctioning off the pink items specifically.  (One can auction off non-pink football paraphernalia just as easily; recall that Ohio State recently took sanctions from the NCAA when its players did precisely that.)

And it’s not just that October has been designated Breast Cancer Awareness Month; October, like all months, is a lot of things, including:

  • Domestic Violence Awareness Month (whose designated ribbon-shade is purple),
  • Bullying Prevention Awareness Month (a cause that is perhaps better suited to championing by those at the peak of the traditional heteronormative masculinity pyramid, a social area that frequently overlaps with, or is perceived to overlap with, that of bullying),
  • LGBT Awareness Month (see “bullying prevention awareness month” and “traditional heteronormative masculinity performance”)
  • and Auto Battery Safety Month (for which I can think up no plausible connection to the NFL, but feel free to submit one in comments).

I tend to operate under two hypotheses: (1) that all texts are readable and (2) that most human expressions constitute “texts.”    And this one doesn’t read as particularly progressive to me.

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