Reading Richard Hughes

I started reading Richard Hughes with High Wind in Jamaica (or, The Innocent Voyage) which was so strange and charming and unsettling that I had to set out to read this guy’s other books as well. In High Wind the adults in the book (and the reader) realize how amoral the children are – they’re terrifying, not innocent. You get a small taste of the protagonist, a 10 year old girl, starting to become conscious in an adult way. Glimpses of what we might think of as the reality of her situation appear to her and then melt away like mist.

My memories of these moments were like looking at mortality directly (since not only would I die but, the continuity of existence meant that the “me” of that moment would disappear and be forgotten) so I would vow to myself to remember particular things and write them someday so as not to lose the self of that time (paved over by some blithe future me.)

Next I tackled his incomplete trilogy, The Human Predicament. Also good and disturbing, with half the books taking place in England and the U.S. (with a detour to Morocco) and half in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. It is pretty wild to read a novel that has Hitler as a character making his cameos. Hughes can get very digressive in a Melville sort of way, prosing on about philosophy and psychology, which I enjoy but I’m sure not everyone will. Augustine, our young protagonist, wanders around rootlessly having just missed the Great War by a hair as an 18 year old cadet when Armistice was declared. Cut off from the generation of men above him who experienced the war directly, and having grown up expecting to die in the trenches, he had no plan for how to live his life.

I was thinking of Anthony Powell and his protagonist Jenkins (comparing him a bit unfavorably with Hughes’s narrative point of view which hovers & dips into many people’s minds, crossing class & gender & other boundaries)… Then wondered if Hughes is a character in Dance to the Music of Time and if so… who…. I have to poke around and think about it. He was a bit older than Powell so they weren’t at Oxford at the same time. Bonus tangent: find and read The Loom of Youth by Alec Waugh to find the controversial queer bits.

I’m now in mid-read of In Hazard, a novel based on a steamship caught in the 1932 Cuba hurricane, which is even more obviously Melville-ish than the others. I wondered about the casual racism of the British seamen towards the Chinese crew members and then happily the point of view switched to some of the Chinese crew, without making me cringe. We first see the thoughts of a young man, P’ing Tiao, praying to T’ien Fei. Then a young Christian guy Henry Tung, trying to keep up the spirits of his mates with tall tales, and then the view switches to Ao Ling, P’ing Tiao’s friend, who isn’t religious at all and who lived through famine and became a follower of Mao. (I enjoyed Hughes’ asides comparing Chiang Kai-shek to Hitler – calling him the first fascist revolutionary whose first act was to start shooting leftists). Oh, god, then the cringe when the Brits come down the hatch and start talking the worst condescending pidgin (they are terrified of mutiny).

Interesting books – I’m so sad not to have the rest of book 3 of The Human Condition (there are 12 chapters of it.)

Some ideas on self-care, interdependence, and caring for others

On self-care and care for others. I keep returning to the thought of care and interdependence. By caring for myself, I am modeling for others how to care for themselves. When I am cleaning up the environment or making some food or thinking ahead to make my lunch for the next day, I can do it while thinking of those actions as loving self care, and I can extend that to others as well (especially as a parent). That sounds simple, but in practice I don’t find it to be so easy. There is also a place in life for self indulgence: I feel bad, I had a stressful day, so therefore I will get some ice cream and huddle in the blankets and play video games. (Or, weirder than that, the idea that you go get a manicure or something….) That can be part of self-care but it shouldn’t be mistaken for all the work of care, which is 99% maintenance and chores. And who hasn’t had the thought, “Oh, god, here I am slogging through this work again, doing the dishes (or whatever) and then it will need to be done all over again!” and just brushing your teeth feels like this dreary sisyphean task. I have had very good luck practicing the work of transmuting maintenance and care, you could even call it service work, into love or doing it in a spirit of kindness to one’s self. If you have had the experience of trying to do those things, and getting abuse as a result (not doing it well enough, or right, being scorned, mocked, yelled at, or punished, for example) then it is even harder. I have to bite back my thoughts and words (Can’t you even ____?! Can’t you just???! ) A little patience is so useful. (With myself or with, well, teenagers). If a person is feeling depressed and anxious, they need more care, done in a good spirit, and to me, it honestly felt revolutionary to see that, and say outright, “You’re feeling so bad, let me take care of you, it’s ok to feel sad and ask for care from friends and family… and… we can figure out what can you do to take good care of yourself too” And then make some healthy dinner and dig them out from chaos. Because, what I’d expect myself when I was a kid was that my sad feelings and need of care would result in others being angry with me. Danny has pointed out to me over the years that my family’s ultimate insult is to call someone a baby. Don’t be a baby! What a baby! What does it mean to be a baby, in this family language? It means to need help or care. That’s a sad subtext that I want to correct.

Occasionally as an adult in the world I get a feeling of surprise care and humanity where I didn’t expect it. Like, I was moved nearly to tears when someone came round the grocery checkout and offered without fuss to put the grocery bag handles on the back of my wheelchair. She settled it carefully with the handles criss crossed just the way I do it myself, with out jolting me or doing anything strange (either she knows someone well who is a wheelchair user, or she just notices) and she made eye contact first – I can’t remember if she asked outright but we had a eye contact and body language interchange that was essentially asking and consent. True access intimacy. How rare and precious that simple interaction is. All our help and care for others should be in that spirit as well.

Notes on some Web4All talks

Back at Web4All, part of The Web Conference. Here’s some notes on talks I liked.

Dragan presented the talk “AudioFunctions.web: Multimodal Exploration of Mathematical Function Graphs” and I also got to see a demo on Monday afternoon. AudioFunctions works in desktop and mobile browsers to show visually impaired users the shape of a function through sound pitch and volume using a touch screen or mouse. As you move around on the graph with mouse or finger (or keyboard with arrow keys) the pitch rises and falls according to the position on the y axis, and the further away from the line you are the softer the tone. And you can double tap for the graph to read out the coordinates. It’s very elegant! I also had a nice time talking with Dragan and his friend Cole from CMU about Ingress, indoor and outdoor navigation apps and maps, Inform7, and other fun stuff.

I caught just a bit of a talk by Lora Aroyo on CrowdTruth, which is a system for annotating information while allowing for ambiguity and disagreement, and had a look at the tutorial. It made me think of the CYC project (which I nearly worked on 30 years ago… but rejected the job offer (with regrets)) – I wonder if they are putting data into CYC now through Mechanical Turk instead of by hiring poets.

A talk called “Addressing the Situational Impairments Encountered by Firefighters through the Design of Alerts”, very interesting to see the design and testing process explained. Though I was annoyed at how this was introduced as being more convincing to designers that they need to pay attention “because firefighters are so rugged and not permanently disabled.”

Another talk on designing and piloting web dev classes for blind/visually impaired screen reader users. Looks like a good project. (opinion…. As so often with these kinds of classes the level of knowledge your students start with is important and you have to spend 90% of the initial time providing background on computers, the internet, programming languages, tools, etc and either you acknowledge that and make it a hella long course, or you end up creating a sort of hothouse dev environment so that students can experience the gratification of publishing something that works)

An interesting trend in some of the talks – use fairly sophisticated analysis to figure out (on the fly) what users might want or are trying to do or what barriers they’re running into based on how they interact with a page. For example it doesn’t matter to the vast majority of users that a site or a browser is infinitely configurable because they are reluctant to change defaults for fear they will break something, so, it works better in most cases to analyze and guess — are they having trouble or going very slowly in clicking links in small elements of the UI? Detect that and serve them a redesigned page with larger UI elements to interact with. (IMHO just design it to be less persnickity in the first place…. but…..ok).

This is an issue near and dear to my heart, or maybe my butt or my feet depending on how you look at it, because my powerchair “guesses” what I might want to (or “should” ) do; when it thinks i am going down a steep slope, it slows to a crawl no matter what I tell it. So, sure, you can guess what i want but give me the capability to override and reprogram it!!! omg.

At lunch one day I talked with Alex Jaimes about the company he works at, DataMinr, and today I hung out with Nathanel who works on RDF data systems and his fiancee whose name I didn’t catch but who works in digital humanities. And also had a nice gossip with Amy Hurst who was at CMU and now teaches HCI at NYU and heads up the Ability Project.

One last note on Chet Cooper’s project for Ability Magazine, Ability Job Fair. Basically this is a super accessible online job fair. Employers pay to list their jobs and for job-seekers it’s free. The next job fair will be on July 25, 2019. I’m interested in this project because I get asked by other disabled people all the time, how to get a job “in tech” and I’d like somewhere to refer them! During the job fair, they have sign language interpreters on-call to assist with live meetings, real time talk to text for people who have difficulty hearing, a system set up to be compatible with JAWS and other screen reader applications, and support for using voice or SMS. Chet was explaining more stuff to me during a coffee break and I got the impression he has a hydra with a lot of heads. There is also Ability Jobs which has job listings (aside from the actual event of the job fair) and some other thing called Ability Corps which is a volunteer org that from the sound of it is trying not to be a sort of charity model of abled-contributor-to-disabled-client, but to actually include disabled people in some kind of mutual aid process and to be enthusiastic about disabled people doing volunteer work in a serious way.

Web Conference

I went to half a day of Web4All, part of The Web Conference. Good talks and demos & I enjoyed meeting people! More after I go to the 2nd day of the conference tomorrow.

Meanwhile – this weekend – I hung up a section of rain gutter alongside the house & planted flowers in it. Too tired to write much. It was very satisfying to figure out how make this strange planter and hang it up properly.

Reasons to like a song

My dad clipped out this article on the woman from “My Sharona” (who is indeed named Sharona) & mailed it to me. It’s been a while since my parents sent me newspaper clippings. It felt nice… Anyway he sent it because i liked that song and used to play the album, which was possibly the first album I bought with my own money, in 1980 (either that or the Freedom of Choice Devo album – I can’t remember).

I also named one of my Breyer model horses “Sharona”. It was a very beautiful one!

Here is the secret, which my dad may or may not know, as to why I liked the song. It was because my cat was named Motor and I could sing the line “Oooh you make my Motor run, my Motor run” and think of my adorable cat, who was named Motor because we lived in Detroit, my dad worked for Ford, and obviously because of loud purring (from reading the book The House of Thirty Cats, I took cat naming very very seriously. You have to name the cat something appropriate to its particular personality.)

I like the song M-bike by PJ Harvey for the exact same reason! Good chorus: “MOTOR! MOTOR!! MOTOR!!!”

I guess the new “sending clippings to your grown kids” is just sending tumblr memes over whatsapp since that what I do to mine.

Inadequate notes on recent reading

Am I ready to read The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley? Do I want a severe mindfuck experience? YES ABSOLUTELY.

*** hours later ***

Holy shit! This is a really good book. Very intense! Makes me think of Delany. Yes, and all the other logical things to think of like The Forever War. (And that Mary Gentle series too…) It’s so tight and beautifully structured & dense. I felt a little tempted to chart it out (maybe on a re-read!) Hurley just gets better & better as a writer.

Next book: Finder by Suzanne Palmer – Super fun space opera! If you like the Expanse I bet you will enjoy this interstellar repo man & his comrades.

The Book of Flora by Meg Elison – Another freaking awesome book, last in the trilogy started off by Book of the Unnamed Midwife. I nommed it for the Tiptree immediately on finishing it. Read the whole trilogy together – Book 1 stands on its own but the second and third books are better if you read them together (so that you don’t forget all the stuff that happened in the Book of Etta, which is important for Book of Flora). It is sort of a gorgeous gulliver’s travels of post apocalypse societies and how people of various genders and queernesses adapt to those different cultures & their rules (and keep leaving to try and found something new). Must add how much I loved the Librarians, and also Cheyenne – I would definitely visit though not join either!

Next book. The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. It’s ok, nicely written, but left me a little flat. It’s a little too easy for the protagonist to be forgiven and forgive herself for her actions and the whole book was so heteronormative that it didn’t grab me. I have another thing to say but it’s a little spoilery that I’ll put it in the first comment to this post.

The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach – Good, so good, but so unquestioningly and unnecessarily sexist. Why must people. So disappointing. (Like Gene Wolfe – such claims to all compassing profundity while having this absolutely ludicrous blind spot for gender.) When you hit the ending bit with the tall blond young woman and the archivist you will scream and mentally throw your book across the room. If you bracket all that and just kind of pretend everything is like some surreal leave it to beaver universe then it’s a nifty book.

Wandering a dream campus

Vivid dream this morning of wandering around a university campus (imaginary) where I worked and went to school. There was a central building for “rehab students” (disabled ones) where you could go hang out. I felt at home there & everyone was nice.

In this dream I was hours early for a class or appointment, and decided to explore. The only reasonable route from the “rehab” building to the central part of campus was shaped like a giant children’s slide wide enough to drive my wheelchair down. There were also enormous grassy hills which I could almost get up to the top of if I serpentined – but then would sometimes slide backwards to the bottom again.

Many other bits of the campus had ramps or slopes which had odd inconveniences. One had an old fashioned metal children’s merry-go-round right at the top of a slope. It was annoying but didn’t stop anyone.

I rode a specially accessible bus around the perimeter of the campus, admiring places I’d never been and didn’t know existed. But the accessible bus was more like a giant station wagon with a bus-sized bed in the back where you could lie down; I had to take my wheelchair apart and unload all my bags and things and battery and shove it into various inconvenient spots and sit on half of it. When I got off it was a tense process of me yelling at the bus driver to please not leave while I was halfway through unloading the unwieldy pile of wheelchair parts and pouches of junk onto the sidewalk!

As I rode the bus I was trying to install an app someone recommended to me on the university’s chat server, with a utility called “bottle” because it was based on code from a bot. The interface required typing with very small virtual keyboard keys which I kept fat-fingering. Finally I got the commands typed correctly & the game installed.

The place where I got off the bus had an entire hillside that was high end shopping and a combination sports stadium and huge bleachers where choirs were performing (many at once, combining beautifully and echoing over the hillside.)

Meanwhile I was looking up fun things to do on campus and found a pool with an exercise class. When I got there – people weren’t sure if they should go in. It was an ocean salt water pool, more like a giant tank at an aquarium, full of seaweed and fish, the bottom was sand with rocks & coral, and you had to be naked to go in. Being me, I took off my clothes and got in, leading everyone else to feel they had permission to do so as well. We frolicked in the water until it was time for the fake tide to turn (they drained most of the water, then refill it slowly). The person running the “class” was a somewhat creepy old guy. I ignored his weird explanations of the naked exercises we should be doing and just played in the water.

Not a bad dream – full of those “somewhat inaccessible moments of frustration” that so often pop into my dreams though.

Points of reference

I tried to hire someone today to take some dusty mildewed patio furniture cushions to the laundromat and wash them. I always feel very apologetic that I don’t just do this kind of work myself (though I mostly do) so I’m like, well I don’t walk super well and it’s bulky so I’d appreciate help. The woman (OK… in my mind “girl” because everyone under 30 now seems indistinguishable from a 16 year old, so I just want to protect them, the sweet babies! but must remember they are totally grownups) shows up in kind of nice office worker clothes complete with adorable little pumps, the kind with little brass chains across the front, and a pencil skirt, and she pets our cat for a bit and then we head outside.

I’m already worried it’s too messy for her to cope with. So I start putting giant cushions into a bag for her so she won’t have to touch them because I’m sensing suddenly that they are DIRTY (??) and then she screams!!!! OMG!!!! SPIDER!!!! and goes into full “eek” body language mode. I’m standing there holding the pillows like …. ????? SPIDER!!! RIGHT THERE! IT’s HUGE~!!! WATCH OUT!

OK so I flick the spider off the pillow onto the patio and she screams again and jumps back.

“I’m so sorry! I don’t… I didn’t think! I just… SPIDERS!! Do you think… there could be MORE SPIDERS. IN THERE. OH GOD I CAN’T”

“It’s OK. We can’t help our phobias. I totally understand. Will it help if I just cancel the task so it doesn’t make you look bad?”

“Maybe if you just… like don’t say it was because of… OH GOD I’m SO SO SORRY Maybe you should say in the task THERE MIGHT BE, you know, SPIDERS OH GOD OH GOD”

“Yeah. OK let’s go back inside. I probably should have called it ‘yard work’ not ‘laundry’, now that I think about it.”

This is how I just went from helpless cripple to gaining about 9 million butch points. Go, me! I am as a rugged, backyard lumberjack, flicking spiders across the patio with the ease and panache of Bilbo Baggins on meth!

New plan, I will wash the smaller cushions and cushion covers in our washer and then figure out how to get the big cushions to the laundromat myself!

Gaily forward

I asked casually the other day if anyone else said or still says, when giving directions, “gaily forward” instead of (or to correct) saying “go straight”. We said this a lot in the 80s and 90s as part of queer culture, and then I haven’t heard it all that much – though I still say it. To my surprise over 100 people answered and said they also did it, still do it, heard it, or are teaching their kids to say it! Amusing! Others seemed to agree the 80s (even the early 80s) was when they started saying it, and there were many more women than men, but that may be an side effect of my age and the concentration of my friend groups. I wondered if it was something which just spread naturally (“like herpes”, Sean said helpfully) or if it had some canonical source – From the early 80s, that would hardly be a tv show, but possibly a movie or a book. I mean even then what fucking book would it be – I can’t see Beebo Brinker joshing about gaily forward in her Packard on a cross country trip, or whatever, can you???? Or some wounded gay poilu giving Stephen Gordon jolly instructions in a World War I ambulance? I THINK NOT. In this FB thread, Vicki suggested it may be from a song by Judy Fjell, who she called into the thread. I got very excited & started listening to Judy’s songs (women’s music, country style, from the early 80s onward).

Just checked back on this and Judy answered – and added she thought it might be something mentioned in a song by Judy Small, though not necessarily as an origin, but documenting something that was commonly said.

OK, that amps up the amazingness even more because a) Judy Small is Australian and i didn’t realize before this she toured all over the US and Canada in the 80s b) She is also the author of one of my favorite amazing songs, The I.P.D., which I first heard on a mix tape Johanna Lee made me in like, 1991 or 92 (lots of womyn’s music sarcastically interspersed with riot grrrl fare and the tribe 8 song that satirically quotes alix dobkin ) and then when the tape broke I went on a quest to find it again every few years FINALLY succeeding (it was not anywhere i could find until quite recently!)

Maybe I’m overly obsessed with this song but I do get particular music running through my head and I need to hear it again – and this one, I could hear perfectly over two decades without having it anywhere outside of my own brain. If that’s happened to you then you know the pleasure of finally hearing it with your ears again!

Adding to my happiness – she also has a Wikipedia page. Also – unexpectedly, her day job is being a judge.

The song that touches on our original topic, “Turn Right, Go Straight” never says “gaily forward” but does have a biting commentary on going straight.

Anyway – no conclusion to make here other than, I am adding this to the things that are part of queer culture, like the (international and cross-linguistic) gay “lisp” which is really a sort of intonation pattern more than an actual lisp.