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We stayed home (in Oregon) for the solar eclipse. We weren't in the zone of totality, but it was still pretty awesome. Once the kids were pried away from screens, they enjoyed it. I really enjoyed seeing the crescent shadows in the tree shadows. And we did have a cricket come out.
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I saw Dunkirk yesterday and highly recommend it. It's very good across the board, gripping, gritty, and realistic. I have only two small quibbles: it was hard to hear the dialogue over the music and bombings. (My hearing is getting progressively worse, but my partner agreed.) The non-linear storytelling sometimes worked for me and sometimes was just a bit confusing. It didn't seem like a story that really needed non-linear storytelling to get the point across. Otherwise, it's an utterly fantastic look at the terrors of war and the courage of people pulling together in crisis. (Oddly, it made me think, "Maybe we can survive climate change.")

The film I am most reminded of is Grave of the Fireflies, though Dunkirk is about soldiers (mainly), not civilians; takes place over a day or so rather than months; and is not animated. It is, however, a story about the horrors of war with virtually no reference to the politics of war. The enemy is nothing but an implacable force raining down fiery hell. The whole story is from one side's perspective, but that's okay because that perspective is not used to project anything onto the other side; it's really just all about surviving hell and making us ponder why we put ourselves and fellow people into situations like this.
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I was just reading [personal profile] veleda_k's great post on gender in The Lego Movie and commenting on how I worry about how messages like this affect my kids, but it put me in mind of a more hopeful recent gender moment with my son.

I've been reading him The Lord of the Rings, and we came across some line (I don't remember exactly) like whoever has the Ring, it will corrupt "him":

Son: Who's "him"?

Me: Whoever gets the Ring, whoever possesses it.

Son: But it could be a woman.

Me: That's true, but this older English from a time when "he" meant any random person, including women.

(Son looks at me like both I and the world are insane.)

Me: One day I will show you the Blake's 7 episode where Avon uses "he" (actually "his") to refer to a group of one man and two women.

(Son looks even more dubious.)

(Mom's heart is profoundly encouraged.)
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I've been rereading Mirage 15, and there is much to love, but I'm going to zero in on Kagetora's thoughts about his own psyche, which capture so magnificently how the human mind works. (And with apologies, there will be some comparison to my own life by way of exemplifying the text's realism. Yes, God help me, my life is like Mirage of Blaze—sometimes.)

Spoilers up to volume 15…Read more... )
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Review: Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro's 2005 novel Never Let Me Go is a science fiction story about three young people, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, grappling with their emerging awareness of the disturbing social destiny they were born for. It may be one of the best written novels I have ever read, which makes it interesting that it's not better reviewed by readers: Goodreads gives it 3.8/5 stars, Amazon 4/5, not bad to be sure but not world class. I'd argue that this slight disconnect with many readers (evident in written reviews as well as ratings) reflects precisely why it is important that Ishiguro wrote this book. The novel challenges our blindness to how our own social indoctrination works. It asks us to face realities we not only don't wish to but have genuine conceptual difficulty with. This is not to say some criticisms are not valid, but they pale, in my view, next to the book's achievements.

Most of this review will talk about ideology and indoctrination, but that is not all the book is about, and I want to be sure to mention a couple of other ways in which it excels. It is one of the most realistic and subtle portrayals I have read of how deep friendships (often) operate: the good, the bad, the habituation, the ability to read each other, the passive-aggressive patterns, the maturing and evolving, the joy, the hurt, the power plays, the mutual support, the altruism, the mess of it all. Though the characters’ trio of best friends does not externally resemble my primary relationships at all, I saw my relationships everywhere, so much so that I fantasized about contacting the friend who’s severed ties with me and saying, “Read this book. This is about us.” The book is also about facing death, and apart from the story’s particulars, which I’ll come to, there’s an extent to which this is everyone’s story: we are all faced with our ending, with the years flying by and the likelihood of decrepitude and dependency and the loss of loved ones before a possibly physically painful ceasing to be. This is also very well captured.

As to the rest, spoilers follow… Read more... )
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A while ago, I wrote my representative, Earl Blumenaur, asking him to support a carbon tax. Though his form letter reply did not address that proposition, it did include this very fine sentiment:

"The challenge of climate change is not just a matter of scientific consensus or political debate. It is a challenge that we must embrace fully as a moral responsibility to fellow creatures that share our planet, to vulnerable human populations who contribute the least to climate change but will suffer the most, and to our children and future generations."

Hear, hear!
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Happy 4th of July in a year with little to recommend it for America. On such a 4th, here are some things I am grateful for about America:

* The US Constitution. It is clunky in some ways and arguably suffers from being so much the prototype of modern democracies and, thus, less polished than some systems that came later. It's the first concept album of Les Mis version of a modern democratic republic, but if we didn't have it, we would currently be living under a dictatorship--and we're not. So bless the Constitution.

* The American belief in freedom of speech, not only as enshrined in the First Amendment, but as a cultural assumption. Yes, it has been abridged at times. Yes, it is under assault now. And, yes, it is very often used to voice idiocy very loudly.

But I truly believe that Americans are so deeply culturally tied to expressing their own voices that true diversity of discourse would be hard to radically suppress. America will not soon be North Korea. That is, perhaps, my favorite American cultural characteristic, for all its downsides.

* The grassroots resistance. It's only just getting started, but it's getting started in a big way. The pendulum is swinging left, and the serious move to reclaim democracy from corporatocracy is beginning.
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My thinky thoughts inspired by the first two Mirage of Blaze stage plays continue, and in this post I want to talk principally about the construction of Kagetora's emotional-sexual needs as informed by the context of the plays. More general thoughts/review are here.

Mirage SPOILERS follow:Read more... )
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Mirage Plays

Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] imperfekti for a) informing me that Mirage of Blaze Showa period stage plays exist and b) doing excellent summaries so that I can sort of tell what's going on. I have got my hands on the DVDs for the first two, thanks to [livejournal.com profile] demitas, who used her Japanese skills to order them for me. And now I have thinky thoughts. To begin reviewish stuff:

Reviewish Thoughts on Mirage Stage Plays )
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Here was I feeling angry and self-righteous when Robbie Burns reminded me of this:

Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman;
Tho' they may gang a kennin wrang,
To step aside is human;
One point must still be greatly dark,--
The moving Why they do it;
And just as lamely can ye mark,
How far perhaps they rue it.

Who made the heart, 'tis He alone
Decidedly can try us;
He knows each chord, its various tone,
Each spring, its various bias:
Then at the balance, let's be mute,
We never can adjust it;
What's done we party may compute,
But not know what's resisted.


And I am rightly schooled. Thank you, Rab.
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Medicaid renewal hell has just opened for the year. I've just spent 2 hours doing my preliminary renewal application for myself and my kids, assembling about 10 pages of supporting financial documents, and starting a "paper trail" (detailing on what date I did exactly what in this application process) against the next several months of ensuing tug-of-war as the Oregon Health Plan repeatedly mails me to say my coverage has been cancelled because they never received the documents I sent them several times. (Bright spot: their forms are actually better this year and fewer documents are asked for, so maybe that won't happen for the third year running.)

This year I'm actually near the income cutoff for coverage (though maybe not once deductions are figured). (The cutoff for being poor enough to qualify is around $26,000 for a family of 3.) We'll see how they compute things. However, even if we keep our coverage this year, this will be a problem if I ever manage to have a career that pays a livable income. My employer has few health insurance slots and only for people who always work over half time--and I have yet to work a year there where I've been offered over half time for a whole year. The marketplace will be expensive. My partner currently has no insurance through his work (a contract position likely to end in 3 months), so he can't cover us on employer-based insurance. (He has ACA insurance now.) And this is the status quo: who knows what the Republicans might do.

Really, really tired of most Democrats not even mentioning Medicare for All. No wonder it's not part of that national conversation.
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Logan does what big, established franchise films should: it uses its built-in budget and audience to do high quality, authentic storytelling rather than safe-bet replication of the usual action-hero(es) formula. Imagine: the entire movie—employing 15,000 people, the end credits tell us—has not one youthful action hero-protagonist at the height of (or discovering) his powers. Instead, it has a run-down guy who looks fifty, a guy in his nineties, and a kid. My God, it's a breath of fresh air.

Logan is a story about getting old. And superhero movie though it is, its exploration of aging could hardly be more down to earth. It has introduced me to an entirely new experience: personally identifying with Wolverine! He's in a position that many of us are in, myself included: feeling the wear and tear of age sapping our physical strength and energy at the very time we find ourselves caught between caring for aged parents and raising still young and needy children. We find ourselves Aeneas, carrying our father on our backs, holding our son by the hand, and hoping to survive whatever ordeal a difficult world has thrust us into.Read more... )
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Happy Downfall of Sauron Day! I'm off to California (sans kids), so I will have 9 hours in the car to think about the downfall of Sauron but no time to write about it. Wishing you a fannishly happy day!
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I have set The Hour before Morning to requiring a password for viewing on Vimeo. If you want the password, just ask me. Reasons for this: I want to better control the content. We worked ever so hard on this film, but it's a first feature for many of us (first of any kind for me) and looks it, and I don't think it best reflects the talents of the people who put so much into it. It has some amazing scenes, however, and I would like to be able to excerpt them for fan-like videos, book trailers--and I welcome anyone who worked on it to do likewise for a reel or other purposes, but I think it will tantalize better in pieces, where its best parts can shine. And if people care to see the whole thing, well, they can ask for the password.
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I've been in a writing slump the past 2-3 weeks--and it has less to do with intrinsic interest in writing than just overwhelm and tiredness in life, especially getting toward the end of the teaching term. Around last week, I decided to try something novel and just rest up when I'm not having to watch my kids or do my day job. I took a nap. I have been reading more. It's lovely.

And yet, though I haven't been writing much, my muse started talking to me this morning, and I got down some good notes on a novel I'm not actively working on right now. It's the prequel to the novel I finished a draft of last year, The Sins of the Mind Readers. My mom finally finished reading said draft and remarked to me that "it's not entirely successful." And you know when your mom thinks your work is not entirely successful, you'd better pay attention. Thing about Sins is it may never be successful. It's a big, ambitious look at the human heart in a sort of literary fiction vein but as science fiction, which is a weird line to cross. However, the one thing I can do to greatly improve it is write the damn prequel because at least 65% of what's tripping everybody up is that they can't understand the plot and too many characters are "off stage," and that's because it's really a sequel to another story.

So I need to write the prequel--and I had some cool revelations about it today. This story--I'll call it Ghanior's story for the main character because I don't have a good title yet--is one I started at 16, and it suffers from some teenage assumptions. For one thing, I sort of assumed that my main character would just be able to leave his home planet and take extremely powerful technology to another nation and no one would really stop him because, hey, he's not a slave. It has been dawning on me in revisiting this story that he couldn't get offworld without breaking major, major laws--hard-won laws that go back to the end of my first novel, Perdita. He would be in so much freaking trouble. So my main revelation is what to do about this, and I had an idea I think is reasonably clever to actually open this book with maybe 50 pages on these machinations, basically becoming a plot between protagonist Ghanior and a few others to get him illegally off-planet with this tech. I think it will not only answer the logical problems but be pretty good, tense storytelling if I do it right. It also fits pretty well with Ghanior's overall character trajectory. He pops up in Sins about 40 years later and really has a history of playing fast and loose with law, so this would be a good genesis for that characteristic.

So I'm feeling pretty good despite little writing happening. I did revise my short story "Oxymorons" for my writers group. It's one of my only things not set in my Continuation universe. It's a fairly near future, climate change story set on the moon.
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Goodreads has just asked authors to weigh in on favorite fictional couples. I love the question and am crossposting my answer here:

Naoe and Kagetora from Mizuna Kuwabara’s boys love light novel series Mirage of Blaze, which is about samurai spirits vying for control of modern day Japan while our plucky group of heroes (also samurai spirits) attempt to thwart them. Uesugi Kagetora, adopted son of Uesugi Kenshin, is the field commander of these defenders of modern Japan (and by extension the world). Naoe is his vassal and bodyguard. (Like most of the characters, both are historical figures.) The two of them have had a love-hate relationship—with both feeling generous doses of the love and the hate—for 400 years.

Why are they my favorite?

Well, Mirage and its main couple just blow everything else out of the water. This is no criticism of any other love story. Mirage is just so huge, weird, and no-holds-barred that it explodes the mind and senses. Naoe and Kagetora have the intense, obsessive, ugly-yet-compelling passion of Wuthering Heights’s Catherine and Heathcliff (who would also be high on my list) but at a length of several hundred more pages with a commensurate depth of psychology, philosophy, and character development. They are an investigation of (and sometime challenge to) Buddhist concepts of attachment and detachment. They are an exploration of trauma and its ramifications throughout life. They are an illustration of the horror of being trapped in destructive patterns and the possibility of growth out of them. They are an intense exercise in self-examination, self-flagellation, a study in how human relationships go wrong (and can be rescued). They are the insanity of intense, prolonged overextension (in this case, the overextension of living for 400 years without proper reincarnation/purification). They do not exist on an isolated story island consisting only of each other but rather widely affect and are affected by other loved ones, family, friends, enemies, strangers, the world. They signify that forgiveness and redemption are always available. They challenge us (and each other) to love brokenness and to find healing. Read more... )
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Crappy day. In addition to the Trump Administration's daily attempts to end the world as human civilization has known it, my best friend's brother-in-law unexpectedly died. I'm going to respond to all this by taking a leaf out of [personal profile] umadoshi's book and doing an inspiring linkspam (though short by her standards).

How to search for a socially responsible credit card. (Word to the wise: It ain't Credo/Working Assets. They sold out to Bank of America a long time ago.)

CarbonNeutralNow.org: the United Nations' program allowing individuals and businesses to purchase carbon offsets, supporting green projects in the developing world. Bloody awesome!

Carbon Offset Program in the Philippines. I attended a meeting featuring a speaker who had been on-site observing this reforestation program. It seems legit.

Green-e Energy: helping individuals and businesses buy into green energy. I never knew this existed till today and haven't fully vetted it, but I see no immediate complaints through the BBB or just posted online. My first impression is it's legit.

Top 25 Retail Electricity Providers in the US: not solely geared toward green energy, but this list does include the company's green energy options as well as regions served and other info.

Donate directly to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe: now more than ever, they need it.
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I have joined the new DW community [community profile] go_write_2017, and I think it's a great idea: a general community for writers to support each other by posting updates on their work, having general writing discussions, etc. (I think it is not for actually posting work, but it could be a good place to find beta readers.) Membership is currently open but will close early in the year to encourage a nuclear community of involved people who can get to know and support each other.

The community is pretty quiet now, but I really hope it takes off. It's a sort of online writing community I've been looking for, so if the same is true for you, maybe think about joining? I'd love to see you there!
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Jumping into Day 11 with apologies for not doing the whole thing in order. I just don't have time to do the whole thing properly.

Day 11
In your own space, talk about a creator. Show us why you think they are amazing. Leave a comment in this post saying you did it. Include a link to your post if you feel comfortable doing so.


I think this means fan creator? I want to extol several.

The amazing [livejournal.com profile] astrogirl2 is the one who introduced me to LJ-style fandom in 2004. I came across her site somehow in searching for Blake's 7 fandom and was captivated by the wonderful community (doing B7 and Farscape RPGs at the time). Astrogirl herself--still posting regularly on LJ and still with quite a following--has always been such an intelligent, balanced, caring, engaged fandom presence, as well as a dashed good fan fic writer. (Alas, we are no longer in the same fandoms, but my admiration remains.)

Apart from Astrogirl, I want to use this space to praise some of the amazing people who have brought Mirage of Blaze fandom into English because I have been revisiting Mirage with much enthusiasm lately.

One of the first Mirage fans I ever encountered was [personal profile] petronia, first on her website, later through LJ. I long considered her--and pretty much still consider her--a celebrity I am rather shy about talking to. As far as Mirage goes, it does not get better than her humorous summaries. Across the years, I find I would usually rather read her account of Kotarou being mistaken for [Spoiler] than read the original. She captures very much the tone of Mirage itself when it self-satirizes with just a nance more meta and comedy. Utterly delightful.

The most professional-like of the many wonderful people who have taken a stab at translating the 40 volume epic of Mirage is Asphodel. Check out her amazing site of Mirage and other translations, complete with giant glossary and numerous hyperlinked footnotes. She is still at it! She has been at it for ten years or more now. The going is slow. (This is not her day job.) But the product she posts is always exceptional.

Also an excellent and voluminous translator is [personal profile] quaint_twilight. She is no longer active on LJ or DW, which I totally understand but makes me sad. I miss her wonderful translations and her enthusiastic fan presence, and I applaud her for keeping her account active so that we can continue to access the fruits of all her hard work on Mirage.

Other folks who have put in many long hours of translating work include [livejournal.com profile] 99me, [livejournal.com profile] tasha_poisonous, and [livejournal.com profile] demitas, as well as many others who have translated some wonderful bits in English and other languages--and round about 10 years ago, a whole host of people doing amazing multi-page meta. I can't name everyone, but I appreciate it all.

As for traditionally published creators, hands down the most influential in my life over the past eight-ish years or so is Yasuhiro Nightow. I must admit, I don't really relate to his latest work, Kekkai Sensen (3B), but both of his two major earlier works, Trigun and Gungrave, have been not only big fandoms of mine but have transformed my life. Each has been a means of profound revelation about myself, my patterns, and how I can better address my life. I am extremely grateful for that. It's a rare and precious gift.
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Trigun and Mirage of Blaze are two stories I hold to be very great. Both come packaged in popular media forms (manga and light novel respectively) that connote light entertainment, not high literature. Yet both are among the most philosophically challenging texts I have read. Indeed, the two stories are engaged in philosophically analogous projects: while Trigun is a profound interrogation of Christian philosophy, Mirage is a profound interrogation of Buddhist philosophy. (Major spoilers for both follow.)Read more... )

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