Uncle Josh Glimpses his Own Privilege

Some time ago I wrote about how I can classify people into one of three groups: Idiots, Assholes, and Heroes. I’ll link to it if I ever find it in the great web-page nullification of 2018. Today I was thinking about that and trying to think of Male Privilege and other general empathy-awareness situations and I realized these buckets are missing something, and that missing something is a key to my own white male cis-gendered privilege.

None of these three things are threats.

Idiots aren’t a threat because I can work around them, ignore them, or acknowledge them as I see fit in each situation.

Assholes aren’t threats because I simple ignore them. The closest thing to a threat they pose is getting under my skin, and if I’m in control of my thoughts and feelings (which I should be on a good day) then they aren’t threats. They’re irritants.

Heroes aren’t threats except for tempting me to blind faith. Luckily some of my heroes (Leonard Pitts Jr for example) have recently written things that challenged me and that knocks blind faith away (which is a good thing).

But people don’t fall into a Threat category. Some Assholes in serious power are threats but not in a direct way. They’re not going to come crashing into me, physically assaulting me. They’re more likely to tax me into poverty or make it illegal to call them assholes.

In a society where I don’t have any categorical direct physical threats, I have privilege.

Uncle Josh Checks in on the Goodreads Challenge

I challenged myself to read 50 books in 2018 and checked in with GoodReads and it has me down for 20 books already read and I’m a few hours away from number 21. I’m surprised I’ve read that much. It doesn’t even track the short fiction I’m trying to keep up with because I’m supposed to be writing and submitting short fiction but I have to admit I haven’t written much in the past couple of years. Constant rejection is a bit of a burnout and every time I try to explain it to myself I begin to sound like a crybaby MRA and so I tell myself to shut up about it. Write or don’t, but quit bitching about past failures.

Another part of the challenge this year has been to read a more diverse group of authors. The breakdowns so far

  • Men/Women ratio: 12 to 8 (I reread all of Ken Scholes’ magnum opus, so author-wise it’s 8 and 8)
  • White/Not White ratio: 17 to 3 (Again, Ken is 5 of that thirteen, so 12 to 3) – I’m not sure how some of these authors would qualify

And Apparently there was one missing by a white male author that was a novelette. It didn’t get marked as read but it came out in January, so there’s a skew to the numbers again (and even more stuff read than I thought imaginable).

The highlight of year so far is Devon Monk’s Scissor Kisses simply because I love these characters and how the interact. It’s been pure joy reading the Ordinary Magic books and stories. I finally read The Great Gatsby because why not get a classic in the cycle but honestly I didn’t know what to make of that book. There’s nothing likable about any of the characters but at least John Green set me right on my opinion of the book. I read Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of The Force Awakens in an airport.

The books that I had greater hopes for were a book 2 in a series where I really enjoyed book 1 but really, by the end of it, there was too much drama and assholing to really enjoy the central mystery of the book, so I decided to stop. Right after that was another book that looked good and had promise but the first person POV was a underdeveloped Han Solo knockoff and he grated on my nerves, so there’s another series not happening.

And here’s where the trouble may begin. I do not fully understand the non-binary gender thing and gender fluidity and gender as a social construct thing. I don’t get it. Being a man is vital to who I am as a person. I want to understand more so I decided to try some fiction to help explain it to me. Several years ago I read Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and the constant use of female pronouns confused me more than anything else. Ada Palmer’s Too Like The Lightning managed a better job of it by poking a little fun at me as a reader (on this and a whole lot of other topics) but didn’t bring about any revelations. So I turned to a YA book from the¬† James Tiptree, Jr. Honor List and basically learned that there are no good men, nothing good about being a boy or a man, and men are lecherous, manipulative, or completely useless. That doesn’t make me want to continue that series either.

I am looking for recommendations. If Robin Bates has taught me nothing else, he has taught me that fiction can teach me anything.

Uncle Josh Checks in on the Goodreads Challenge was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh and Kylo Ren

After two viewings of The Last Jedi and trying to place it in the Star Wars mythos as I understand it and several attempts to explore the meaning of Star Wars in my life and especially after hearing the many mixed reviews and great trollings on internet essays, I feel I am ready to write about Kylo Ren.
(Spoilers, naturally.)
My first reaction to Kylo Ren after The Force Awakens was pure anger. He killed his father. That’s unforgivable. He’s not coming back from that. The previews for The Last Jedi made it look like he also killed his own Mother, but that was a trailer and as an art form to themselves, they are good at lying to the audience. I’ve no beef with the preview. Kylo went from impressive Vaderesque (stopping a blaster bolt in mid-air is so much cooler than Vader’s letting it bounce harmlessly off the palm) to whining brat who lost his temper over and over and even the stormtroopers just walked away instead of dealing with him mid-tantrum.
After The Last Jedi, I like Kylo Ren as a character a hell of a lot more. He is defined by inner conflict, and I believe this inner conflict is the key to the whole sequel trilogy and the saga itself. He killed his father to try to solve the conflict, but it didn’t work. In The Last Jedi, early on, he resolves one of his basic conflicts, and I’m not sure it was one he expected was even there. We see his take on his inner conflict as the Light vs the Dark, and after Snoke criticizes him for being a boy cosplaying his own grandfather, he realizes that it is the past vs the future. By destroying the mask, Kylo accepts and attempts to embody the idea of Kill the Past to Be Who You Are Meant to Be. This is so deep within him that Snoke doesn’t even see it. Kylo’s past is his enemy, and Snoke and Skywalker are part of his past, so he must Kill them. He sees his future with Rey, the balance, his counterpoint, his circuit breaker, even. He takes out Snoke and tries to convince Rey to join him, but it doesn’t work out for him.
I, too, tried to kill my past. I tried to walk away from Sparks Nevada and my high school and my church and everyone I knew and it didn’t solve anything. It left me stranded when my first marriage failed. I had a few good friends who saw me through the dark times of my twenties and I found a new church and Stephanie*, so those things worked out. I made the mistake of thinking that killing my past would allow me to start over and be someone new. Of course nobody can do that. I doubt even amnesiacs can do that. The patterns of who we are get shaped by the people around us as we grow up. We don’t get to start over every day, even when we need to.
And there are days when we need to start over every day. I’ve heard of this idea that if you do something for 30 days straight, you will ingrain a new habit and always do it. Nope. Doesn’t work for me. Write every day for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, and one day off and it’s all over. Same thing with stretching, exercising, playing the guitar, reading, cooking at home, or any other life-fixing things I’ve tried over the years. There are things that come naturally to me, and things I have to treat as Day One Every Day to make work for any length of time.
The most recent intrusion to this failure of mine to Kill the Past** came on the second day of Christmas when I learned that Fr. Paul Towner, the rector of my church until I walked out at age 19, passed away on Christmas Day. He was in the last stages of his life, as I understand, and his passing was one of those that was a relief more than anything else. Every death is sad, but it is harder when a death drags on for months. Paul Towner trained me to be a chorister and an acolyte in the church. I had a hard time watching acolytes even in my own parish because of how I was trained and drilled. (Yes, drilled and paced through the nave on a Saturday morning lifting the cross and carrying the torches just so and balancing the flags.) I’ve loosened up a lot in that regard, because a number of our acolytes are younger folk (at St. Pauls at that time the acolytes were high school boys and college freshmen who were local) and they are kids. I gave up on the quality of shoes arguments years ago, but I also decided that I wasn’t going to dress up on Sunday mornings for church. I go as I am. I don’t need to dress up to be professional.
I have yet to give up on the quality of music in church. Fortunately I have a good choir and good leadership to back me up on that.
Back to Kylo Ren. Even had he successfully killed his mother, it wouldn’t allow him to start fresh. His tragedy in TLJ is he finally gets to a point where be believes his mother is dead, Snoke is dead, and his future is fighting alongside him. He is exactly where he wants to be. And his offer is rejected.
He flounders because he hasn’t fully seen his errors. He tries to kill Luke and he can’t do it, namely because Luke isn’t really there but he’s not ready yet. He’s off kilter and doesn’t have a center. He is truly lost in misery and unfortunately has the ability to force choke people into submission and body slam them against walls with a flick of his wrist. He can rule by fear and we all know that that never works out.
Before that ultimate failing, though, Kylo becomes a better character and puts down his boyhood dreams and begins to think of himself as an adult. He still can’t imagine killing the past as a metaphor. In one sense, I killed my past when I moved out of my parents’ house against their objections and I managed to never move back, but I did end up needing them to pay my rent for many years in college. What I needed to get away from was the feeling of living under other people’s rules, and while I didn’t get that until I was a bachelor, I found what I was looking for: Independence. I still could not get through Christmas without putting up a creche and for many years I tried to keep the traditions of my past, because no matter what lies I tell myself, it is impossible to kill the past.
But back to Kylo Ren. The middle part of TLJ has him in what has been dubbed “ForceTime” with Rey, and they can communicate without knowing where the other one is. They try to communicate over each other. How many relationships are created and maintained between people who have never met? How many people do I consider friends when I’ve only ever known their handle?***
Kylo tries to reach out, to be understood, to make a connection. Yes, he still thinks Rey will be a helper and not an equal, but he becomes for a while a mature person, because in a way Rey is the only person who takes him seriously. She doesn’t like him. She calls him a monster and he agrees with her. He has is reasons, but Rey never tries to manipulate him. She tries to understand him. She is foolish to think he is telling her the truth about Luke’s temple, but he has never presented himself as a liar to her, and never out of control. Maybe she has reason to think he’s being truthful.
It is also telling how she calls him by his given name. I tried wearing a false identity and a few people in high school called me Jason because I really didn’t like my name. Wearing masks and pretending to be other people is part of growing up. Kylo sheds some of that with the destroyed helmet. He may never accept Ben Solo in his life again, but Kylo Ren has the potential to be someone new, and someone greater.
So I like Kylo Ren. I don’t think he’ll survive the saga, though. I’m okay with that.
* In chronological order, not order of magnitude of importance.
** I am in the process of accepting this failure as a good thing, but failure and I have a strong bond that’s hard to break.
*** Yeah, I’m old enough to remember using that term on bulletin boards that we dialed into using 2400 baud modems so GET OFF MY LAWN!

Uncle Josh and Kylo Ren was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Checks in with the Alternates

When GMail went live on April 1 2004 I snagged what I thought was the best email to get for myself: jenglish _at_ gmail.com. I beat my brother to it and apparently I beat about 500 other people who continue to use it for various purposes. I get a lot of regular spam, although this is a GMail account so that’s handled nicely. These are things that people do and use my email for.

I haven’t checked in with Alternate Josh for a while so here’s what they are up to:

  • My children Jack and Sophie are costing my $362AU at the Wahroonga After School Care Centre in Mount Colah New South Wales. I’ve been getting these bills since May 2017.
  • I am getting health and death notices for the Capuchin Franciscans in the Province of St. Mary. Clearing these dropped over 500 emails from my inbox.
  • I am receiving invoices for VAT charges from Euolink Motorway Operations. Presumably I’ve been driving somewhere in Ireland.
  • A CEA from Vencore or Mantech wants me to print monogrammed grocery bags.
  • I hope my wife believes me when I tell her that I have not been having an affair with a 53-year old in Barnstaple, Devon, or any number of women (Anna, Shirly, Mary, Nipples (I swear I am not making up these names!), Jess, etc.) that are contacting me.
  • My financial planner from Aiken Kennedy Financial Planning wants to set up a meeting, I think. She’s in Ireland, so I think I’l pass.Maybe they’re a travel agency. They also booked a vacation and a flight from Belfast to Majorca right around my birthday.
  • One of my civics students sent me a late assignment: a short essay on Cambodia. It’s not a good essay but I don’t know how old this student is so maybe it’s appropriate for the learning objectives. There are several messages from other students with various assignments and issues. One was at least kind enough to point out that she is in my “period six and homeroom” and in the 6th grade. (That was sent on September 8, so maybe they’ve figured it out by now.)
  • Someone is trying to log in to my second Facebook account that I created to play social games several years ago.
  • Apparently I’m also signed up for a second online adult dating service in the UK. This one specializes in the 50+ market.
  • Someone in the UK is moving back to Toronto and wants to rent my Toronto house. Again.
  • I went through chemo in October and someone wants to know how I’m doing.
  • I think I have a kid in the Jefferson County Traditional Middle School in Kentucky. I’m getting curriculum information, anyway.
  • I went to Bali in March. As Joan English. I didn’t think I liked to travel that much.
  • I am invited to place a reservation for lasagna in Chile. (I think it’s lasagna….)
  • I attended an architecture school in the ’70’s. In Baltimore Maryland.
  • My Aunt Molly and Uncle Joe (who ARE these people?) want to wish Steve and Janna a happy anniversary in October.
  • I can participate in a “Spring Extravaganza” on 3 September 2017 for only R200pp in Durban North. Not sure what country that is, but the holistic Mind Body Energise claims to have “Internationally Recognized Hypnotherape Qualifications” and a B.Sc. in Computer Science and mathematics.
  • I missed a family reunion in NC when one of our patriarchs passed away
  • I had a reservation for the Nevada Beach Campground in Carson City Nevada (or thereabouts)
  • Someone used this email address for Linked In. I can’t imagine why they would do that. Unless, of course, they weren’t being professional.

This is all from my GMail Inbox, not the Social tab or Promotions tab. A scan there shows I own at least one Porsche in Plano TX.

“J” is a good initial. People mistake me for Jean, JoAnn, Jazmin, Juan, and John.

I’m betting my real brother is really glad he didn’t get this email address.

Uncle Josh Checks in with the Alternates was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Pulls a Chandler

There is a well-know bit of writing advice out there that apocryphally comes from Raymond Chandler: If you don’t know what to do next in the story, send in a heavy with a gun. Yesterday’s writing session focused on one of the scenes I had come up with during idea development with the way magic could be used and how it would work practically within the story, and I had finally decided to use it in the second half when I have introduced a major crises and then successfully managed to throw enough rocks at my protagonist she hasn’t had a chance to breathe or even think about solving this major crises.

But the scene was feeling flat and not helpful in any way towards her growth, just a scene she had to get through. So I decided the Chandler method was needed and took a small character I didn’t know anything about and gave him a gun. Then I needed to explain why he had a gun and why he was using it and that led to the introduction of new magics, more conflict, and even discovered a reason why solving the big crisis I introduced will also help her win the final battle of the book.

Score one for Chandler.

Uncle Josh Pulls a Chandler was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Tries to Get “Colossal”

(Obvious note regarding a movie that came out 14 months ago: Spoilers.)

This has been in the back of my head for several weeks. When I first saw the trailer for Colossal I assumed it was comedy take on kaiju movies. As we watched the film, I thought the monster was a metaphor for Gloria’s alcoholism and how it ruined everything in her life. As I kept watching I decided the monster was her internal way of handling the controlling jerks she had in her life, and she didn’t realize it until the very end. At the of the movie I actually had a negative reaction. She may have learned what her actual problem was, but she didn’t solve it. She didn’t grow. By killing Oscar (and I can’t imagine him surviving that ending) she didn’t become a better person. I didn’t like the movie.

But Stephanie and I kept talking about it. We kept talking about Gloria and Oscar and Tim and why she did things. I am still not sure the sex scene was necessary for Gloria but maybe I’ll figure it out eventually and at least it was a well done sex scene in that it was a scene cut and the why mattered as the how wasn’t shown at all. It’s not like I need a reminder that Anne Hathaway is a beautiful woman.

It took a week of talking before it dropped from our conversation, what with America coming to an end and all, but I kept thinking about it. The movie presented a problem, and it took a long time (for me) to reveal it. Yes, I thought Oscar was generous, then creepy, then an asshole, and Tim being an asshole was a surprise. No knights in this picture. Joel, the sweet one who thinks he has to act like an asshole gets the “prize” of Gloria (from Oscar’s point of view, Gloria is a thing to control and having sex with her is his “prize”) and he always does something assholish and backs off. He’s too nice for Oscar and Garth, the cocaine-sniffing asshole friend of Oscars.

All right, enough with the assholes. Maybe I’ve reading too much about Dan Savage.

The point of the ending, I think, wasn’t to “heal” Gloria but to show she had enough strength to do something good for absolute strangers. Oscar is the monster that does not back down. He can be scared into being a nice guy but only for a little while and he lashes out, anger and demanding control being his only real tools for dealing with life.

Gloria can’t heal. Not in the space of a single movie’s narrative. She can get strong enough to say “enough” and when that isn’t enough she has to push herself out of the control she had managed to gain during the movie when she stopped drinking.

And the news ever since we watched has been full of men acting shocked and appalled when their abusive behavior from twenty, thirty, forty years ago gets highly publicized. The women who have come forward to accuse Weinstein, Louis, Spacey, Moore, et. al. have probably not really healed after all this time either. The depth of the wounds they suffered are so deep that they may never even be aware of them all. Gloria, being aware but still wounded, is a symbol of #YesAllWomen.

As a white man with a middle-class upbringing, I am not aware of all the blinders I have. I think in some way watching Colossal has helped me see the problems in the real world a little better.

So I’m calling Colossal my “sleeper hit” of the year. A movie that may have been low on my priority list, but I’m glad I watched it.

Uncle Josh Tries to Get “Colossal” was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Breathes a Sigh of Relief

Thursday was a bad day, and I ended up writing for half an hour later in the evening and that made the prospect of getting out of bed Friday morning to continue writing a little too much to bear, so I didn’t. I didn’t write during my lunch hour and I didn’t write Friday evening. I decided against it. I gave myself a day off.

This can be a dangerous thing to do. An hour a day on a novel is not too much to ask of myself or to schedule but I needed a day off, so I took on. I also plan on writing two or three hour-long sessions today and maybe two tomorrow, so that will make up for lost time.

According to my wordcount, despite skipping yesterday I’m still ahead of the game and I’m on pace to write 50K assuming I actually have that much material. I have a feeling that despite my carefully balanced plotting to pantsing ratio will still not leave me enough material. I’m also thinking “novella” here so 35K-40K is more reasonable length. I’m overwriting in my head to give myself plenty of room to cut down. I have learned over the years that not every word I put in a file is important. Dumping wordcount is healthy. Loving your words, especially those first-draft pre-coffee words, can be dangerous. The more words I add, the more gems I’ll have and hopefully less re-writing when February rolls around.

Uncle Josh Breathes a Sigh of Relief was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Averts Disaster

Today did not start well. I didn’t want to wake up and didn’t get out of bed until six or seven minutes after the hour. By the time I got to my desk, tea in hand, I found my computer had decided to take a break from reality and I got a pink screen of death. Then after waiting for the long reboot I launched my novel to find … 0 words. 0 bytes. Nothing. Nada. Not an electronic sausage.

I was too tired to panic but so tired that I couldn’t swear loudly and if I had a neighbor in residence, I would have woken him. (He’s a great guy but he travels a lot.)

I save the file to Google Drive. Should solve the problem. Except Google Drive also showed a 0-byte file where my nascent novel had been.

I must admit at this point I bitched on Facebook and went to back to bed, swearing off NaNoWriMo, writing, or ever achieving anything at all in life because Windows.

After calming down I thought there was a way to view previous versions of the file and I did eventually find them, and salvaged the work that had been lost. There was an official backup of only 7K words compared to the 15K I had actually done… but no. The story was saved but the writing hour was up. I wrote about 900 words in half an hour and gave up to the inevitable “have to go to work” that plagues so many people in today’s world.

After work we went to Fonda Lee’s reading for Jade City, which sounds like incredible fun and I hope both the RPG and movie based on the work do it justice. Fonda presented the origin story of the novel, from initial thoughts to fan casting it, to the point where I realized that I hadn’t actually tracked this stuff myself. The idea for this book has been kicking around my head, according to my earlier posts “for about a year” but I’m not sure it was that long. I did have some notes online about the novel’s origins and they stemmed from a Terry Pratchett line “the natural number of a group of witches is one” from one of the early witch novels, and these may have come along during the summer when I re-read a good chunk of early Pratchett.

My process is unorganized and quite chaotic, and in the past I have caught myself writing two different stories in the same manuscript because the mental pre-writing clouds in my head converged and the result was, well, messy. I do a lot of pre-writing that way, but I think with this book I have come across a process that will let me shape those pre-writing clouds into something that I can finish.

Anyway, I came home tired and gave myself 30 minutes to crank out words, and found 1.300 more for the novel. So that’s a win. I blame Fonda.

Uncle Josh Averts Disaster was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Yells at Himself

This morning I wrote for the full scheduled hour but only got 1,650 words, but I’m not really upset about that.

I’m upset with my internal editor. I’ve been writing the same part of the novel for three days in one long sequence of events, which I suppose I had to do at some point. I can’t write everything out of order because some scenes are just taking longer that others. I am slowly building up to the first point of no return, the place where my narrative character cannot turn back, and this is supposed to happen at about the 20% mark of the manuscript, and I’m probably about 12K into the novel at this point. I have to estimate the first couple of scene that are yet to be written.

And my internal editor is beginning to twitch and tell me that I’m taking too long, that I’m meandering and not pushing the plot forward.

I know that probably what will happen is I will take the bulk of what I’ve written over the past few days and put them after the bit that I’m probably to going write tomorrow or the next day.

But that is editing, and I shouldn’t be thinking about editing. I need to let myself write the damn thing and let the story play out as I think it’s going to play out.

But man, that internal editor is a nuisance.

Uncle Josh Yells at Himself was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much

Uncle Josh Builds his World

I wanted to write about this on the third, but other things were pressing on my mind when I wrote this. After re-reading my first three posts, it almost sounds like I’m exclusively using one source for “how to write a book” which isn’t the case. Bell’s books are very good, but the great bulk of my world building and basic story was done going through Mark Teppo’s Jump Start Your Novel. It was very helpful to get the parts of my novel sorted out that I normally wouldn’t develop all that well and then peter out mid-way through.

The most important example of this is my antagonist. It’s not a person, it’s a “raw creative force of the world” which was harder to wrap my head around until I forced myself to write out the exercises in Teppo’s book. Now I understand the power structure of the book and how every major character plays into that structure. This has given me a ground work to half-pants the work. I know where I’m going most of the time and I have a built-up sense of everything but so far nothing has constrained me into a plot hole or an impossible situation.

There is still space for that, I will admit. It is possible that in the scenes between my big signpost scenes I’ll find myself sticking thing into plot points from which there is no escape.

Today’s actual writing session was not at 6 AM. I set my alarm for 7 and had a breakfast, then I came home and worked out and then we went to see Thor: Ragnarok and then I sat down to write, unsure about myself and not sure which scene to work on so I did the follow up to Thursday’s work which pushes things past the disturbance and towards the First Door of No Return. I was a little afraid of it and I found myself back in my old writing habits in that I have about 13 pages of pure dialog sitting here now. According to the NaNoWriMo wordcount I did 1,900 words¬† in that hour. I’m a little shocked that I did that much.

Uncle Josh Builds his World was originally published on Uncle Josh Talks Too Much