Getting Back into Reading: Hugo Nominated Short Stories

So, as you have probably picked up from the last two posts here, I had a baby within the last year. I realized partway into my first trimester that working on book reviews and blog posts simply wasn’t enjoyable for me anymore. With the nausea and fatigue I was experiencing I didn’t have much energy left for following the other blogs I’ve found here, either. So I stopped. I’m finally starting to feel interested in writing again, so I am slowly dipping my toes back into the world of blogging.

I had partly expected that having a baby would leave me with no time at all to read, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are actually still lots of little moments I can squeeze in some reading during the day. (Sometimes at the expense of the mountain of dishes or laundry, but still!) A few months ago, I realized that World Con would be in Chicago this year and since this is not a far distance for me to travel, I decided it would be a lot of fun to read all the nominees for the Hugos this year and go to World Con! I have never read all the nominees for any award before, and I am discovering a lot of pros and cons to doing so.

Pro: I feel really accomplished. It has been a lot of fun checking off books as I go. I am also using my library a lot more which has been wonderful and exciting.

Con: I am getting burnt out on sci fi/ fantasy. Specifically, SFF that is popular among Hugo voters. There are a lot of different styles of sci fi out there, but each award has a different “taste” so to speak. I am getting somewhat tired of this flavor.

Pro: I am now reading more short fiction than I ever have before. I have discovered new writers that I adore who I might never have found before this, because I always paid attention only to writers who wrote novels. I am so glad this is a mistake that I am learning to correct!

Here are my thoughts on the short stories that were nominated for this year’s Hugo Award:

“Mr. Death” by Alix E. Harrow – A Grim Reaper finds he has a hard time taking the soul of a child.
This was a hard subject – especially with just having a kid this past year, reading about child death was a little iffy. However, it was written sincerely. It felt almost a little reminiscent of Good Omens to me at the end, but although I liked Good Omens, I personally don’t go much for the guardian-angel type stuff. I’ve seen some people on reddit calling this “award bait” and I see why, but that doesn’t make it any less good.

“Proof by Induction” by Jose Pablo Iriarte – A son spends time with a computer recreation of his deceased father in order to solve a math mystery.
There was a lot of math jargon in this one, and I don’t know enough about math to know if any of the theorems mentioned are real or made up. This was the second story in a row about death, which means even though it is very different from the first story, I inevitably ended up comparing the two. I found it very poignant that every time Paulie visits, his dad says “thank you for visiting, Paulie” and you know Paulie just wants to hear him say “I love you,” but he never, ever will.

“The Sin of America” by Catherynne M. Valente – A sin eater tries to take on the sins of a nation and becomes a scapegoat.
This was extremely well written. Catherynne M. Valente is a writer that I had never read before, but I am really in love with after doing this Hugos read. This story was a little too uncomfortable to really enjoy, but it was thought-provoking.

“Tangles” by Seanan McGuire – Apparently, this was a Magic the Gathering fanfic. It doesn’t really require any knowledge of MTG, but perhaps the reader might get more out of it if they are familiar?
I thought this was an okay story of learning a lesson from a new friend and a neat description of a moment in time that is many moments.

“Unknown Number” by Blue Neustifter – This was actually originally posted on twitter as bunch of created screen shots of a conversation between a trans woman and herself from an alternate timeline.
Who hasn’t wanted to have a conversation with themselves? I thought this was an interesting way to present the story, and the subject was handled well, but but something about the dialogue just didn’t work for me.

“Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker – This story was formatted like a comments thread on a lyrics website. (Raise your hand if you used to spend a lot of time on songmeanings.com!) It includes a link to a youtube recording of “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker’s band The Stalking Horses.
This story is a mystery/horror story that manages to have recognizable characters, humor, and an engaging plot all within the comments thread of a creepy folk song. I loved this story a lot. Hands down my favorite one.

On Fear and Sorrow at the Loss of Roe v Wade

On Friday, June 24, I was holding my baby daughter, walking through my home, and passed my husband’s desk when he told me that Roe v Wade had been overturned. A sudden numbness struck me, and I sat down, staring blankly. Despite the knowledge that it was coming, some part of me hadn’t really believed it would happen. Slowly, questions began to leak into my mind around the numbness. I wanted another child once my daughter was a little older – what would I do if I had complications such as a non-viable pregnancy? Would I be able to access the care I needed? Would my deeply beloved daughter have access to the care she might need some day? What would happen to women who were at that very moment discovering they had an unwanted pregnancy… and realizing at the same time their options for their body and health were suddenly limited? What would be happening right now to people with severe complications in need of abortion care, who suddenly found themselves in danger as they navigated uncertain legal barriers?

I felt a bizarre sense of disconnectedness as I looked down at my body and realized that I no longer had sovereignty over it. I recently spent over nine months tracking everything I put into my body for the nutrition and health of my growing child, working with a physical therapist to meticulously follow pregnancy exercise routines to stay healthy, and coping with every side effect of pregnancy that came with the experience. I worked so hard to make my body a nurturing place for my daughter and to keep myself safe the whole time, but now… someone else decided that I could not make decisions about that same body – someone else who was far away and had no idea how much my body means to me. They hadn’t worked to make my body what it was – I had done that. How, how could those people think they could decide what happened in my own body? I felt like some perverse marionette and between myself and the puppeteer was a mass of tangled strings stretching across the country, intertwining with every other person who might become pregnant. I had a surreal image in my head of the puppeteer pulling on that tangled mess of strings and seeing blood pouring out from the bodies of people who needed abortions for health complications and could not get them, from the bodies of people who decided to get unsafe underground abortions and were injured.

I started to cry. I held my daughter close and kissed her because I love her and her warmth and her smell and her touch are a comfort to me. What about my daughter? I asked myself over and over that afternoon. My husband and I laid her to bed that night and then my husband stayed home with her while I went to a march downtown. People chanted at the march: “Pro life is a lie, they don’t care if people die!” “My body, my choice!” but my throat was tight. I kept clenching my fist by my side to keep from crying as I kept saying in my head over and over, I want my daughter to have health care. It was the thought of a mother; even though I know there are millions and millions of people who will also be directly affected by this, selfishly my mind kept coming back to my daughter. I held a sign that said, “ABORTION IS HEALTHCARE,” because it is, because I am a healthcare provider, and because I know every person should have access to healthcare and to be able to make an informed decision with the help of a doctor about what they do with their own body.

People need safe accessible abortion care. People need it for many reasons: because they can’t afford to care for a child (40%), because they are at the wrong point in their life (36%), because don’t have a good partner to raise children with (31%), because they have other children they need to care for (29%), because they are unable to care for a child along with their educational plans or work needs (20%), because they are emotionally and mentally unprepared (19%), because of health reasons either of their own or of the fetus (12%), because they want a better life for a child than what they could provide (12%), or many other reasons.(1) Regardless of the reason, women should be able to access abortion. Pregnancy is a huge undertaking, affecting every system of the body. To demand against her will that any woman undergo such a profound disruption to her health is a level of coercion that is deeply unethical.  

Lack of abortion care has drastic and devastating consequences for people in need. Women who seek an abortion but cannot get one have worse mental health in the short term and worse physical health in the long term than those who successfully obtained an abortion when they sought one. Women who are turned away from having an abortion are at increased risk of physical violence from the man involved. In a 2020 study, of the 292 women who wanted an abortion but were turned away, 2 women died of complications, whereas none of the 536 women who had an abortion died. The women who were turned away had a 78% increase in debt, and an 80% increase in court actions such as bankruptcy, eviction, or tax liens over the women who successfully had an abortion.(2) Women who carry a pregnancy to term are six times more likely to have a life-threatening condition than women who receive an abortion.(3) One study in 2021 estimated a long-term 21% increase in pregnancy-related deaths resulting from an abortion ban, with an even higher percentage among black women.(4)

Limiting access to abortion care will lead to more children growing up in poverty, in stressful homes where they may be subjected to traumatic experiences that can affect them for their entire lives. It will lead to children being raised by parents who don’t want them and neglect or mistreat and endanger them. It will lead to women being trapped in abusive relationships and children with abusive parents. It will lead to over-worked parents feeling like they are failing their kids; it will lead to fewer people being able to enter the workforce to their full capacity; it will lead to women with health problems risking their bodies and their lives; it will lead to children with deformities being born only to die painful deaths; it will lead to increased trauma for people who have suffered rape and sexual abuse.

I know people who say they want abortion to be “illegal, unthinkable, and unnecessary.” I submit if people opposed to abortion want to diminish the rate of abortions they must first listen to the women who seek abortions. They must first make sure we have universal healthcare – including access to birth control and to good prenatal care; they must make sure people are paid a living wage and that we have good parental leave; they must make sure we have access to free or low-cost childcare; they must give parents credits for food and clothing and other household needs; they must increase resources for women in abusive relationships; they must provide free education on sexual and reproductive health. Without these things, many people are unable to safely take care of a child. Even so, abortion will always be necessary for some and therefore must remain legal and accessible.

Bodily sovereignty is the fundamental right necessary for any human rights to exist. It hardly matters what place of worship my body goes into, or if my body holds a gun, if I don’t have the right to control my body in the first place. No one may force a person to donate an organ to save a life. Why should anyone be forced to donate their entire body, their very self, for a pregnancy?

I wanted to give my daughter a sibling which I think she deserves – I don’t know now if I will feel safe getting pregnant again. My daughter may never have a cousin from either my sister or brother, who both say they will not have children in such an uncertain landscape. Many of my friends also have now come down on the decision to remain childfree because pregnancy has become such a scary unknown (and adoption, as a for-profit industry, is often prohibitively expensive.) The decision to repeal Roe v Wade fills me with sorrow for women facing risky pregnancies, for women who decide to seek underground abortions out of desperation, for children growing up in poverty and abuse, for the women with wanted pregnancies who suffer miscarriages or non-viable pregnancies and will now suffer even more without simple access to the care they need. It fills me with sorrow for the people who wanted to get pregnant, but now find it prudent not to do so. This is not only a moment that affects people who can get pregnant, or their families. Every person is connected in some way to someone who will suffer because of this decision; this moment is a sorrowful one for us all.

  1. Understanding why women seek abortions in the US – PMC (nih.gov)
  2. The Economic Consequences of Being Denied an Abortion | NBER via What Happens To Women Who Can’t Get Abortions | HuffPost Communities
  3. As More States Restrict Abortions, Research Points to Negative Health Outcomes for Women, Families | UC San Francisco (ucsf.edu)
  4. The Pregnancy-Related Mortality Impact of a Total Abortion Ban in the United States: A Research Note on Increased Deaths Due to Remaining Pregnant | Demography | Duke University Press (dukeupress.edu)

My late night frustration, worry, and anger

Last year, the most wonderful thing in the world happened – I had a baby girl. Not everything was great, as we all know. She came in the midst of a pandemic, and both my husband and I had COVID the day she was born, which meant she caught it, too. Luckily we all had a mild case, but that turned out to not be the worst problem; my daughter was unable to get enough food from breastfeeding. Her weight was low, and she would cry and cry from hunger. After months of trying everything the doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, and therapists recommended I was still unable to breastfeed. I admitted defeat and conceded that she would be a formula baby, although I had desperately wanted to be able to breastfeed her.

Unfortunately, this decision to go all-formula came shortly after Abbot labs announced their recall. We had previously been using Similac, but then started trying a train of different formulas – some of which caused her a lot of GI distress, until we found one that seemed to sit well with her. It was hard to find. We always started looking well before the can of formula ran out, sometimes going around to 6 or more stores around the city, sometimes trying again several days in a row in order to make sure she had food. But she did always have food. Now I am not sure that will continue to be the case. For some reason, the news only recently started heavily covering the shortage and the formula became even harder to find when more people started panic buying. For over a week, my husband and I have been going to stores daily, or multiple times a day to look for formula for and have not yet found the food our baby needs. It is impossible to order online. We are on the last can that we have in the house and I am getting anxious. My husband did find some the other day – it was not the brand we usually get, and rather being primarily made of milk powder, it is primarily made of high fructose corn syrup solids. I would rather feed my baby real milk, but I will do whatever it takes to make sure she does not starve. The stories of babies ending up in the ER because their formula was too diluted in an effort to make it last longer horrify me.

I am also horrified by the congress people who have decided to vote against the bills being put forward which attempt to address this urgent issue. There are currently at least seven bills in congress with titles relating to addressing the infant formula shortage. The first – HR7790 – provides $28 million (a relatively small amount in governmental terms) in emergency supplemental appropriations for the Food and Drug Administration address the current shortage of FDA-regulated infant formula and certain medical foods in the United States; and prevent future shortages, including by taking the steps that are necessary to prevent fraudulent products from entering the U.S. market. 192 Republicans voted against this, their argument against being that it will not actually help to put more food on the shelves. The second – HR7791 – allows for certain requirements to be waived to allow families receiving assistance to purchase more formula. (One of the therapists working with my daughter on feeding told me that WIC only covers certain brands, and some of these families were lost when their brand was recalled or not on the shelves.) In a move that reeks of bureaucracy and selfishness, nine Republicans voted against this. The rest have not yet been voted on: 7781 waives certain requirements to allow formula to be imported from the EU. The text has not yet been published for 7802, 7808, 7822, and 7830. Action is desperately needed so no more babies are hospitalized or die. I had previously been moving along with a false confidence that this shortage would not last too long. Now I wonder what kind of nightmare world my daughter is coming into in which feeding children has become a partisan issue.  

I worry that she is going to live in a world where she cannot access healthcare, food, reliable housing, or clean water and in which her rights have been chipped down to nothing. My baby girl was oh-so wanted, and when that little blue line confirmed she was on her way I was more excited than I had ever been for anything – yet I wonder if someday she will resent being brought into this world. I tell myself I must make the world a better place for her. My husband says, “never regret raising a dragon slayer in a time when there are dragons.” How many babies won’t make it long enough to grow into a hero when legislators drag their feet on feeding them?

Revisiting Disney: Aladdin

Revisiting Disney is a small project I’ve slowly been working on over the years to re-watch all the classic animated Disney princess movies. The goal has been to see what I think of them as an adult and view them through a feminist lens. This has been enjoyable for nostalgic reasons and because some of these movies have fantastic music and beautiful animation. Most recently, I watched Aladdin and it is no exception – the opening scenes of a dark blue desert night glowing with stars are stirring, and for several days afterward I walked around the house singing songs from the movie.

Today, the movie is headed with a small disclaimer on racism. I think it’s necessary to acknowledge the 1) negative stereotypes packed in to the first couple minutes including a scamming junk merchant, the song lyric “it’s barbaric, but hey it’s home,” and the description, by Jafar, of a thief as “my pungent friend”; 2) the decision to make “good” characters such as Jasmine lighter skinned and “bad” characters such as the guards darker skinned; and 3) exoticization and misrepresentation of Middle Eastern culture and of Islam. However, I doubt simply saying “this movie is racist sometimes” actually lessens the impact that racist depictions have. I’m not sure what the correct answer is, except to hopefully have a greater number of pictures with better depictions. The Arab Film Institute has a list of children’s movies that may be a good starting point.

Continue reading “Revisiting Disney: Aladdin”

No One Is Free Until We Are All Free

BLM

I have tried multiple times over the last 5 years to write something regarding race for this blog, and I always failed to write something that I thought was worth publishing. My goal was to write a sort of open letter to family members or old friends who opposed or did not understand the Black Lives Matter movement and help them to see that yes, racism still exists, and it is still a major problem, and we have to do something about it. The thing is though, I’m not an expert. I’m not a full-time activist. The world does not really need my personal opinion added to the noise. Although I may want to write an essay, here (because that I what I enjoy doing) there are other, more important ways I can actually be helping.

First, by staying informed on current events. For a while, this meant anxiously checking every couple hours to see if anything new had happened at the protests and reading thorough accounts from trustworthy news sources (rather than taking official statements of the cops at their word). But it also means understanding what is really being asked for when we chant “defund the police.” I appreciated this clip from Angela Davis regarding the movement to defund the police. https://www.democracynow.org/2020/6/12/angela_davis_historic_moment?fbclid=IwAR2vuwGVmk6LG2EpgMybEooSapQnCVVB02hkhNLpAAiDaMSEe-VAbc4vHV0

Second, by continuing the educate myself on the history of oppression and white supremacy in the US. I am not an expert, (and most of us would be deluding ourselves to think that we are), so continued learning is always needed. I have shared this list with some of my friends and family so we can continue to grow: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BRlF2_zhNe86SGgHa6-VlBO-QgirITwCTugSfKie5Fs/mobilebasic?fbclid=IwAR1yfz9Y1x81vw1ZbLOjYRfdR-2I9fxzK4LKU51_orFZNcrjXIY37Nde3h4

Third, by listening to and amplifying black voices. In part this means sharing The NAACP’s demands https://www.naacp.org/latest/update-naacp-demands/ to decrease the use of force by law enforcement, the ACLU’s demands to end the 1033 program which funnels military equipment to law enforcement agencies, and end the COPS grants that puts excessive numbers of enforcement officers in the community, and to divest from the police and instead reinvest in the black and brown communities which are disproportionately affected. It also means listening to black people when they share their experiences. This video by Kimberly Jones is passionate and heart-breaking: https://youtu.be/llci8MVh8J4

Fourth, by speaking up when hearing racist comments. This means having individual conversations with those family members and acquaintances, slowly, over time. 1, 2, and 3 come into play here, as well, in order to actually reach people and have a discussion, rather than simply cutting off people or yelling at them. I think it is important to remember that, as someone with white privilege, it is my job to confront white supremacy in all it’s forms.

Fifth, by signing petitions; contacting my mayor, senators, and representatives by mail, phone and email; donating water, food and other necessities to the protests, or money to freedom funds and other organizations such as the ACLU; and by attending protests (wearing a mask, of course.)

Sixth, by supporting black-owned businesses and black artists. For me, this has meant checking out black restaurants (Joe and I have been getting take-out once a week anyway since COVID-19 shutdowns started, and there are some fabulous food joints out there that we have not yet tried); actually buying that rap album I’ve been listening to on spotify; and getting my little self-care items like candles and candies from local black businesses. This list has been a starting point for me in Milwaukee: https://milwaukeemom.com/around-milwaukee/guides-to-milwaukee/milwaukee-black-owned-businesses/

Seventh, by remembering that I can always do better, and if I am ever called out on my privilege or blind spots as it relates to race, to apologize, grow, and keep working for change.

hx
image credit from Ben and Jerry’s

I used an instagram post by @made_by_maddd to help structure this post

Revisiting Disney: The Little Mermaid

splash

It has been a long time since I sat down to write another installment of Revisiting Disney… but since Joe decided to get Disney Plus in order to watch the Mandalorian, I suddenly have the ability to watch all the old Disney movies that I haven’t seen in years. Because the Disney princesses are so iconic and such a major part of many people’s childhoods, it is interesting to me to go back to relive the music and the art and to see what sort of lessons kids (and adults) may or may not take away.

I previously skipped over The Little Mermaid to write about Beauty and the Beast. Although my heart lies in the Beast’s library, reading by the fireplace while the snow falls outside, there is a strong case to be made for the beauty and excitement of under the sea. The original story is more morbid than the film, however. Hans Christian Andersen wrote “The Little Mermaid” in 1837 as a moralizing tale about the little mermaid’s desire to obtain an immortal soul (which humans have and mermaids do not.) His tale concludes with the Little Mermaid dying and turning into an air spirit. As an air spirit, she can eventually earn a soul and go to the Kingdom of God if she does 300 years of good deeds. It’s a far cry from the girl falls in love with prince, girl loses prince, girl gets prince back story that was developed by Disney. Perhaps bittersweet philosophical ponderings on the existence of the human soul were not considered magical or exciting enough for kids in the late ‘80s. So if the lesson of the story is no longer about doing good deeds to get to Heaven, what might kids end up taking away from The Little Mermaid, now? Continue reading “Revisiting Disney: The Little Mermaid”

The Creation of an American Undercaste: Reading The New Jim Crow

New-Jim-Crow

This is a book I have been meaning to read for a while. Several of my friends and acquaintances who I consider intelligent and well-read have recommended it as a very important work. The author, Michelle Alexander, admits that the book is not for everyone: it is written for those who are concerned about race relations in the US and about the marginalization of the black population here. It is, at times, a gut-wrenching read – the sort of thing that makes you feel angry and helpless at the same time. Luckily, Alexander’s writing is clear and moves quickly along, which makes this book easier to read without getting too fatigued.

The New Jim Crow was written back when Barack Obama was still president, before Black Lives Matter became a movement. Perhaps at that time it could have been easy to think that, as a country, we were moving swiftly upward on a steadily improving trend for race relations. Alexander knows differently. It is no secret that our prisons are filled with black men, that black neighborhoods are impoverished, and black families are often fractured. With a quick glance, some are tempted to blame African Americans as individuals or as a culture for their own marginalization in society. Without looking deeper at what brought us to the present day, however, we would come away from our musings tragically misled. Alexander shows throughout the book how mass incarceration is the tool used in America to continue oppression of African Americans after Jim Crow was ended, just as Jim Crow laws were used to maintain an underclass of black people after slavery was abolished.

Prior to reading this book, I assumed that discrepancies in arrests or conviction rates were due entirely to unconscious bias – the “intuitive” assumption that a black man is a “thug” skewing the perception of cops, juries, prosecutors, and judges. For example, I know a number of black people who all have admitted to being stopped for “driving while black” – that is, doing nothing wrong other than looking too suspicious due to the color of their skin. While that certainly plays a big role and contributes to the continued problems of mass incarceration, I was unaware of much of the intentional racism bred into many laws at their inception, and how those laws continue to affect communities today. No matter whether we actively promote these racist systems or simply ignore them in the vain hope that racism can disappear if we are only “colorblind,” by neglecting to fight these systems, we are perpetuating them. The problem is, colorblindness in the face of racial discrimination is just plain blindness. Continue reading “The Creation of an American Undercaste: Reading The New Jim Crow”

Revisiting Disney: Beauty and the Beast

In honor of the recent release of the live-action Beauty and the Beast, I have decided to do my next Revisiting Disney post on the 1991 animated version of the story. First of all, let me firmly establish one thing: no remake can ever touch the original. In 1992 it was nominated for best film, best score, and best song at both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards – before there was a category for animated films – and won on 5 of those nominations. (As perfect as it is to cast Hermione Granger as the bold bookworm Belle, Emma Watson’s singing can’t hold a candle to Paige O’Hara.) Beauty and the Beast has always been one of my favorite films – at 6, at 16, and at 26. I love the artwork depicting stained glass windows at the beginning and end of the film, I love the music throughout, and I love the themes of true love and redemption.

Tale as old as time
True as it can be
Barely even friends
Then somebody bends
Unexpectedly.
.
Tale as old as time
Tune as old as song
Bittersweet and strange
Finding you can change
Learning you were wrong

This film and its characters are more complex than the previous Disney films I’ve examined – so what is it that a young child watching the film might take away from it? Perhaps they might see what people in abusive relationships sometimes see: “If I just love him enough he’ll change for me.” Or they might see that true love means – as the song says – making sacrifices when needed, going through personal growth, and sometimes admitting when you were wrong.

In addition, the fact that the characters in this movie feel more fleshed out than they did in the older Disney princess movies, allows them to become models for behavior in a way that leaves much more open to interpretation.

Continue reading “Revisiting Disney: Beauty and the Beast”

Revisiting Disney: Sleeping Beauty

dress

The next installment of Revisiting Disney is here! Sleeping Beauty was not one of the movies in our family’s VHS cabinet while I was growing up, but one of my roommates in grad school insisted that Phillip was her favorite prince because – as she put it – he actually does stuff and stands up to his father for the girl he loves. Aurora, in contrast, has the fewest lines out of any Disney princess – unsurprising since she is asleep for half the film! This means there is not much development of the title character, however this is still a rich film – beautifully animated and enhanced by the quirky quips of the three fairies.
Continue reading “Revisiting Disney: Sleeping Beauty”

Revisiting Disney: Cinderella

“Cinderella, you’re as lovely as your name. Cinderella, you’re a sunset in a frame. Though you’re dressed in rags you wear an air of queenly grace. Anyone can see a throne would be your proper place. Cinderella, if you give your heart a chance it will lead you to the kingdom of romance. There you’ll see your dreams unfold – Cinderella, Cinderella – in the sweetest story ever told.”

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Since writing the last Revisiting Disney post, I’ve been eager to work on the next one. Continue reading “Revisiting Disney: Cinderella”