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Recently I got a chance to try out Blue Apron, one of those meal subscription services that has become popular recently. Basically I got sent a box with three meal's worth as a free sample that Bernie, who also tried out the service, was allowed to send to somebody. It's an interesting idea-- they send you the raw ingredients plus recipes for chef-designed meals to cook in your own kitchen. You can choose what gets sent to you from a number of recipes offered each week, and you can personalize a little according to your dietary habits, such as vegetarianism or not eating pork.

I tried it for the first time at Bernie's house, when he had received his own free samples from his brother. The food is very high-quality; everything they send you is fresh and even mostly organic, and just the right amount for the recipe. The plates are clearly designed by creative and talented cooks, who put a lot of thought into flavor combination and ingredient use. Each plate is fairly balanced too, with a protein, vegetables, and a starch. The recipes are clear and well-written; you don't have to be a good or experienced cook to follow them, and none of the techniques are difficult to execute. The results are really good meals, particularly if you like a lot of variety and combination in what you're eating.

They had some downsides, though. While not exorbitant, each meal is not cheap-- they work out to about ten dollars a portion, which if you order out a lot is low, but if you're used to doing your own grocery shopping to cook, like I do, that seems excessive. None of the cooking is difficult, exactly, but because the recipes favor lots of ingredients and many-step dishes, they always took me a fair bit of time to prepare. Finally, there is a LOT of plastic packaging for the individually-portioned ingredients, which seems wasteful. I think most of it is recyclable, but still. And I'm annoyed with the fact that despite the three-meal sample being free, they basically immediately sign you up for another three-meal delivery which they don't give you a chance to cancel.

Ultimately, I am not going to continue using it. It's too expensive for me, especially since I cook pretty regularly already, by doing my own much-cheaper grocery shopping. I also generally prefer to eat a little simpler than this style, with fewer ingredients, fewer sauces, fewer starches, that sort of thing. It's a very good product though, and if you want an easier way to get into cooking restaurant-style meals, it's probably worth it for ten bucks a plate.
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I remember back when, as a child, I had strong impulses to write but not as much practical knowledge or exercise of the craft, I first noted that some people seemed to often come back to the same ideas or even tropes in their stories again and again, particularly as their bodies of work got larger. At the time I was somewhat judgmental of it; why would you repeat yourself like that? Didn't those writers have any new ideas? I felt like I had literally dozens and dozens of story ideas that all felt meaningfully different, so it seemed uncreative to return to concepts you'd explored before in a new piece.

As I became more knowledgeable and experienced, I think I've found the truth, as it often is, to be somewhere in the middle. Yes, often very prolific writers do end up reproducing work they've basically done before and quit creating new characters, new scenarios, or new takes on the ideas they're dealing with, and that can represent a kind of creative death. But that isn't necessarily happening just because you find yourself dealing with the same concepts or themes in more than one piece. You can explore those ideas from different viewpoints, examine them in different ways. By placing similar notions in different contexts, you can see how the different circumstances change things. If done thoughtfully, and if truly taken from different angles, it can make lead to greater depth and complexity in the ideas' expression in your work.

When I came to realize this, and as I started writing more and more, I found myself examining how I dealt with this in my own work. I often invoke this under the conception of the Creator Thumbprint, the TV Tropes notion marking how writers tend to work with the concepts that interest them over and over again in a way that is unique to them. Partially because I'm amused by it, partially because I believe I improve my work by being self-aware and analytical concerning my own habits, and partially because I want to avoid the trap of actually repeating myself. I want to keep track of this so that I ensure actually do have different perspective on the things I examine repeatedly, so each new take actually adds new dimension.

In the days to come I'm going to write entries examining my preferred tropes, the ones that emerge most frequently in my work and the ones I'm currently feeling most interested in. I want to think about how I use them, and what various approaches I've used in order to explore them. And yes, there's more of them than just the Complicated Feelings About Babies One.
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This past weekend I got a chance to see the production of Mrs. Packard by Emily Mann with the Bridge Repertory Theatre. I wanted to go because Eric Cheung was in it and I enjoy watching him act, but it was also a play that was relevant to my interests-- it took place in the 1850's and was about a woman who'd been unfairly committed to a mental institution because of her outspoken views that challenged those of her husband. Obviously I'm very interested in the feminist issues of that time period, so I was excited to see what it was about and how they would do it.

Overall I enjoyed the production very much. It took place in this gorgeous open-room theater at the Multicultural Arts Center in Cambridge, with elaborate crenellated architecture and a beautiful balcony ringing around the top of it. The set and costumes were lovely, in low-key grays and blues, and the space was shaped by large curtains that they pushed in and out to make frames. It was clearly a very professional production, with high acting quality, direction, and production value all around, though not all of the actors were exactly to my taste. The woman playing Mrs. Packard, while clearly talented, didn't appeal to me. She was very broad and without a lot of emotional levels-- she was kind of at eleven for the entire performance with little variation. I also noticed that Mr. Packard was played by the guy who read for Lord Brockton at the very first ever reading of Mrs. Hawking part one that happened at my grad school and was organized by my teachers. As for the script, overall I enjoyed the story, though I would say it was a bit heavy handed with its ideas, full of people talking alternately how absurd and how important it was for women to be able to speak their minds, depending on which side of the argument they represented.

It also spurred a lot of thoughts about how I wanted to incorporate mental health abuses as an issue in the Mrs. Hawking plays. The idea that a woman can be committed for behaving what the men in her life believe is "strange" or "inappropriate" is definitely a good source of threat for those stories. Honestly it's probably something Mrs. Hawking has specifically been concerned about that causes her to so carefully hide her activities. I actually already have an idea for utilizing it, though not until parts five and six. Those are a way off, but in watching Mrs. Packard it got me thinking about how I want to execute on those concepts. I am not going in the same direction as Mrs. Packard takes, but I hope it make it meaningful and really invoke the horror that a woman could be committed against her will, not because she's mad, but because she doesn't obey or conform.
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More drafting for my planned deep-dive exegesis on one of my all-time favorite films, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. This is rough, disorganized, and unedited, and I will polish it up once I have a fuller draft, but here's some of the work I did on one of my favorite parts of the analysis-- the surprisingly sophisticated workings of Roger Rabbit as a character. Previous scribbing on how the noir genre factors in can be found here.

Now I want to talk about Roger Rabbit, who is in my opinion the most remarkable character in the film. Roger is my favorite, and honestly has been since I saw the movie as a tiny child. But now, as a critic with a slightly more mature perspective, I’m fascinated by him because there is much more complexity to his character than his surface affect suggests, and by how much dramatic weight his narrative actually carries.

Despite being the title character, Roger is not straightforwardly a protagonist in the strict sense. Much as I love and am fascinated by the workings of the character, I will admit that his arc, such as it is, is… minimal. The fact that he is fundamentally the same throughout the entirety of the story, with minimal personal growth from the experience, automatically subordinates his narrative to Eddie’s, who is in fact the true protagonist of all. But his story function is not simply to act as a foil and motivator to Eddie Valiant. Though secondary, Roger has the very important protagonistic quality of wanting something and taking actions to get it. And in fact, his Want and his Actions toward that Want drive the entire film— A Want, by the way, that is shockingly mature and sophisticated. You see, EVERY EVENT IN THIS FILM stems from and is driven by Roger’s constant assertion that his marriage is real. And this is important, not to mention necessary, because none of the people around him seem to believe it.

Our very first awareness of Roger is his act in the Baby Herman short that opens the film. It is done in classic cartoon style, characterized by invented exaggerated reality and broad ridiculous humor. It is quite funny— Roger Ebert said he seldom laughed harder at anything that he did the first time he saw this cartoon —but it’s also narratively important. By seeing Roger “at work,” we see him as most people in this world see him— as the silly cartoon character, not just ridiculous, but the fall guy, the butt of the joke. The guy who is, despite his best intentions and efforts, continually whacked around by the circumstances of life, not somebody who has any real perspective or outlook to take seriously.

With Roger so established in our eyes, we see where R.K. Maroon is coming from in talking about Roger as if he’s blind to the truth of his own life. Maroon seems smarter and more on the ball than Roger, so when he gives his assessment that Roger’s wife is obviously a tramp and the rabbit just can’t see it, we’re inclined to accept it. We are induced to dismiss Roger just as the characters do.

But beyond that, it allows a means for the inciting event to occur. The director calls cut at the end of the cartoon because instead of seeing stars after a wallop, Roger produces tweeting birds— cleverly classified under “blowing his lines” the same way saying the wrong word would be for a human actor. It’s evidence of a problem Roger’s been having lately, that his ability to focus on his work is suffering due to distress over a rumor that his wife Jessica is being unfaithful to him. The story kicks off when Maroon calls in Valiant, who is engaged to take pictures of Jessica in the act of cheating to prove to Roger that she’s a tramp and not worth wasting any more time over.

Take a look at that. The issue Maroon feels needs solving is Roger’s disbelief, his refusal to accept that his wife’s having an affair. Maroon’s action is in direct reaction to Roger’s assertion. What is that assertion, that reason that he refuses to believe it? “My marriage is real.”

So the entire story kicks off because of that. But even after that, all of Roger’s actions (or at least all his character-driven ones) stem from this steadfast belief. When he is shown the pictures that Valiant took, he gives some small indication that he can no longer deny that an affair took place, but he violently insists that whatever’s happened, he and Jessica are going to get past it. What enables him to insist on this? His belief that his marriage is real.

The next scene offers up a beautiful, sad little moment where he’s alone, crying over the photos of the two of them in his wallet— on vacation, cuddling up in a booth at a restaurant, and on their wedding day. This is lovely and important character moment. There’s no anger there, only sadness— a hint to the audience that his mindset upon leaving was not vengeful enough to have run out and commit a murder right after. And there’s something beautifully mundane about those photos. While perhaps a bit on the glamorous side— they are Hollywood performers, after all —they are such shockingly normal moments in the life of a couple. These show what’s important to Roger, and how he views his relationship.

And there’s an interesting juxtaposition of the photography in this scene versus the previous one. As we just saw, photographs are evidence, and these are evidence of the reality of their marriage. But we see Roger’s struggle to reconcile the way these supposed records of truth conflict with one another.

The next time is onscreen Roger, it's when he turns up in Eddie's office to ask for his help in clearing his name. And what justification does he offer for his claim that he couldn't possibly have killed Marvin Acme? He has nothing to take revenge for because he doesn't believe Jessica actually cheated. He tells Valiant that he reflected on the whole issue and came to the inescapable conclusion that, those pictures aside, the Jessica he knows could not have done wrong by him— that she’s “an innocent victim of circumstance.” Why doesn't he believe she cheated? Because he knows their marriage is real.

Now notice that Valiant still thinks Roger's nuts to believe in Jessica. Even after he accepts the case, he remains convinced she's a tramp, and that Roger is too ridiculous a person to see the truth. I would argue that perception persists most of the way through the movie. He definitely still believes she stepped out when he confronts R.K. Maroon, as he describes the events as "a story of greed, sex, and murder." What else could "sex" be referring to, other than he still thinks Jessica put out for Marvin Acme? But this, that even Roger’s ally and advocate can’t possibly believe in them, it makes it all the more powerful and that Roger is holding fast: his marriage, God damn it, is real.

More to come later.

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Just doing some early drafting of my essay analyzing Who Framed Roger Rabbit. This is all rough and somewhat cursory-- I may want to reorder some of this later. But I'm working out some of the stuff I want to talk about now, specifically how it relates to the conventions of film noir.

The debt Roger Rabbit owes to the film noir conceit is clear. It has a setup straight out of a classic-- a disgraced private eye haunted by the demons of his past must take on a case for a person who challenges his dim outlook on life and the world. Said private eye, Bob Hoskins's Eddie Valiant, immediately calls to mind his detective predecessors of Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and even Jake Gittes, with his once-honorable career, his traumatic backstory, and his current bitter outlook leading him to become a disgraced alcoholic shadow of his former self.

It may seem all this care to evoke the tropes and traditions of film noir are just in the service of setting up the parody. And it is an excellent parody, given the skillful way it spins up many of the expected elements of noir. Roger is an extreme exaggeration of the holy fool the noir protagonist is often called upon to protect. Jessica is a deconstruction of the classic femme fatale. The primary thing Eddie is unable to believe in his the power of humor and laughter. But it doesn't stop there-- Roger Rabbit pulls off the remarkable feat of not only being a spot-on parody of a certain genre, it's actually a really strong entry in the genre itself.

Film noir is a bit tricky to define. Part of that difficulty comes from the fact that it refers to a weird blend of both a narrative genre AND a filmic visual style, and even then the constituent traits of these are not rigidly agreed upon. French critics Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton, whose 1955 book Panorama du film noir américain (A Panorama of American Film Noir) is considered the seminal work on the subject, cluster some descriptors around it, such as "oneiric, strange, erotic, ambivalent, and cruel," but acknowledge this is an oversimplification.

However, an observation of the classics of the genre trend toward the inclusion of a handful of characteristics. The films tend to be shot from a flat, stark perspective, making using of off-kilter compositions and low-key, high-contrast lighting to a chiaroscuro effect. The stories tend to be less about their subject matter-- though there are a number of associated subjects, such as detective stories --and more about the mood of the world, the pervasive cynicism, and themes of guilt, regret, disappointment, tragedy, loss, and sometimes even the flickering flame of humanity to be found within people consumed by those things.

As mentioned, the film slots in unexpected and on their surface ridiculous elements into the typical roles characterizing film noir. But for all those roles are carried out by odd actors, they all perfectly fulfil the story mechanism that role is supposed to. Yes, Roger is an absurd cartoon rabbit person, but he still does exactly what the client character in the film noir detective story is supposed to do. His need for help calls upon the protagonist's better nature to take action even in a world he sees as hopeless and uncaring, and his personal qualities inspire that protagonist to reevaluate his own failings he'd previously allowed to go unexamined. And even though the vibrant animated characters and set pieces bring a visual exuberance to the screen, they serve to underscore the flatness, heavy shadows, and even bleakness of the way the surrounding world is shot.

More to come later.

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In the last several years of my becoming more of a serious writing, I've developed a particular system to think about it. I've found that whenever approaching a craft, it helps my brain a lot to think of it in terms of a series of concepts with specific definitions associated with certain purposes. I believe that crucial to understanding how something is done well is simply to be able to identify all the inherent parts and what they're doing in whatever piece you're examining. And knowing how to put those concepts into practice effectively enables a person to perform the art well.

For instance, I've always believed the reason why the French approach to cooking became so pervasive is because they did so much to define the concepts in an identifiable way and systematized their functions. This enabled a commonly understood language, which allowed for discussion between practitioners to relate to each other, instructors to communicate ideas to students, and culinarians to analyze what they observed in practice. I find this defining of the various concepts and giving them corresponding names to be really useful in identifying and quantifying the practice of an art, so this is the approach I take in my work with writing-- in analyzing it, in making it, and in teaching it.

Others may disagree, but I think when developing a piece of narrative art, the first thing to do is build the substance of it. This may be the result of my particular biases-- I freely admit this is influenced by my personal conviction that storytelling is a highly-considered design process, and coming from a drama background the necessity of STRUCTURING a story always seems paramount --but I tend to believe you need to know what your story is going to be about and what's going to happen in it before you should be worrying about how you're going to depict it. In other words, I usually suggest with any writing, figure out the substance of WHAT you want to say before you figure out HOW you want to say it.

So to do this, I like to think of the elements of storytelling as a toolbox full of tools that have closely defined functions that can perform particular jobs. In understanding what those tools are, you can understand what you can use them for, and therefore have the best possible control over the resulting effect their utilization has on your story. Knowing what the province of that tool is allows you to ask the right questions that will lead you to the appropriate design choice.

Let's take point of view as an example. Point of view can be divided, of course, into first person, second person, and third person point of view; we're all familiar with those. "I am experiencing story," versus "You are experiencing this story" versus "They are experiencing this story." But how do we describe all the things point of view encompasses? To get really precise, I like to break it down into Perspective, Bias, and Filter, each with a definition that enables you to focus on a small aspects of the storytelling that POV can affect.

Perspective deals with the nature of the narrator's identity, and all attendant features of what information they are physically able to take in. What is possible for them to know? What is possible for them to experience? The guy in the mailroom can't know what happened in the company's executive boardroom. The girl who doesn't speak Spanish can't tell you what the Spanish-speaking people around her are saying. A human being can't know everything that ever happened in the whole world. So these people can't tell us even if they wanted to. But the CEO, a native Spaniard, and an omnisicient narrator could. So the point of observation of that storyteller matters in what information is even possible for the reader to get.

Bias is what I use to describe how the narrator naturally interprets the information they take in. These are not their conscious views on the info, but the stuff that occurs to them automatically because of the assumptions that come from the way their experiences shaped them. A native earthling may compare the strange aliens to birds because that's the closest frame of reference they have. An abuse victim may view any conflict at all as a potential danger. A novice horseman may interpret a horse's violent reaction as a sign of aggression rather than fear. This colors their narration without their realizing it.

Filter, then, is what that narrator consciously chooses to mention or not mention. A person who suffered a trauma in the past may remember every moment but declare they don't want to talk about it. A morally questionable person may leave out details of their actions so that their behavior doesn't seem as repugnant. This shapes their narration because of their choices of what to say and what to leave out.

So, when you think about point of view being made up of what is possible to know, what is slanted about that knowledge, and what of that knowledge is presented or withheld, now you have more refines axes to consider how point of view is used in a given piece, and how you can make use of point of view in your own writing. Again, this level of precision prompts questions-- what information do I need possible? In that case, what sort of narrator is in a position to provide it? That sort of thing.

I put this to the test recently, when I assigned a midterm in my literature class. I asked my students to choose one of three possible premises for a story, and then make a series of design choices as to how that story might play out in utilization of the various narrative tools we'd studied in the class. I found that a lot of them had much better ability to decide on meaningful storytelling choices because they knew what each tool's function was. They could choose strong conflicts because they knew that conflict was supposed to provide a struggle for that character that was specifically challenging to the ways in which that character was currently deficient, and would have to grow and change in order to manage. They could choose effective settings because they knew setting provided context for the events based on time, location, and continuity of the universe. A lot of them who never thought they had the capacity to tell a story were better able to because the tool's definitions let them ask the right questions-- what would be the toughest thing for this character in particular? What did they need to develop in order to manage this challenge? Where were they going to end up once they'd grown that new strength? I took that as vindication that this approach works, not just as a working style and analytical process as it's been for me, but also as an effective way to teach writing and literary analysis to people who don't know how to do it.

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One somewhat controversial thing I believe about writing is that it's very good to be able to imitate other writers' styles. Other writers and scholars thereof might disagree, failing to see any practical application for it, and protesting that it's more important to refine and develop your own unique voice rather than trying to copy someone else's. (You often hear that argument when people denigrate the writing of fan fiction.) But I maintain it's not only good practice, it's actually a skill worth having for its own sake.

Voice is an important aspect of writing, as it influences mood, feel, tone, and style. But I think an author shouldn't necessarily be limited, or limit themselves, to only one. As nice and useful as it can be to have a signature style, I think it's good to be able to adapt your writing to sound different for different pieces, or even for establishing different characters. If you don't find some way to be flexible that way, you run the risk of making everything sound the same no matter the feel of the piece you may be going for-- or worse, you make everything sound like you, which I find to be a sign of immature work. So imitating the sound of other writers' styles and voices is an exercise in developing your flexibility. It requires you to stretch yourself beyond your natural impulses or current artistics strengths in order to create something that sounds like someone else's work, which broadens the possibilities for what you're capable of depicting. It gives you more control over the voice you give any one project, and enables a wider variety of feels and effects you can impart to your work.

This for me ties into the appeal of fan fiction. I know not everybody is this way, but both when I'm reading and writing fan fiction, I'm looking for more of the story I already love, with more of the things I love about it. So I'm drawn to pieces that stylistically capture the soul of the original. That also means that when I'm writing it myself, that's what I'm shooting for-- something that believably feels like it could be part of what's canon. So I make a special effort to study and emulate the way the original material is written in my fic. The best job I ever did at this was with my piece for the BBC radio comedy Cabin Pressure. I wrote basically a script for an additional episode of the series which, after the fashion of its idiosyncratic episode titling system, I called "San Tropez". Cabin Pressure has a very specific, British style of humor with characters who have highly distinctive voices, and I worked very hard to capture them. If I may say so, I'm really proud of how good a job I did. I've gotten a number of comments from readers saying I nailed the style and voices exactly, and that it's both funny and extremely in character.

But not only do I think it's just good practice for increasing flexibility in other projects. I think it's actually a useful skill in its own right. For collaborative projects, particularly ones that run for a while and have teams of writers, being able to fit in with the "house style" is essential. I have dreams of someday writing for television, and writers' rooms have to have some degree of cohesion to make all the episodes feel consistent with each other. People tend to notice when the "voice" or "style" of a television show gets inconsistent or deviates from what is established, and reactions are usually disapproving. Sometimes it's even at fault for what people describe as Seasonal Rot. In that case it would be a necessity for me to be able to adapt to a certain voice that may or may not naturally be mine.

So it's more than just an amusing little "party trick" for writers of fan fiction. It's actually a powerful developmental tool for a writer to expand their toolkit, and sometimes even demanded by a collaborative situation to keep the pieces all cohesive. So I like challenging myself to play in someone else's sandbox every now and then.

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Just writing it here for the record in case it happens.

I'm not one for believing in complicated conspiracy theories when simple greed, corruption, idiocy, and incompetence will explain everything. But for a long time it's bugged me how many Ruepublicans sided with Trump even after they denounced him as incompetent, or he verbally abused them. I mean, see above-- they want to be on the winning side, the slimebuckets. But last week it occurred to me that as Speaker of the House, the notoriously spineless greed-driven coward Paul Ryan is third in the line of presidential succession. And I found myself wondering if he threw in his lot with obviously unqualified and explosively controversial Trump, who he initially opposed and who in fact insulted him, in order to play a long con and at some point take advantage of that fact.

Trump's approval rating just hit fifty percent, a low that it took George W. Bush three years to finally reach, in the first goddamn week of his presidency. His indiscriminate use of poorly-planned and legally-unvetted executive orders, also in the first goddamn week of his presidency, are creating more and more of a case that we are in a Constitutional crisis. Not to mention Trump's other violations, such as his refusal to divest his business interests placing him in breach of the Emoluments Clause. People are already calling for his impeachment, and I think there is at least a fair chance, even if I'm not being too optimistic, that it could happen. It could be due to his recent unconstitutional policies-- like, there's been tape surfacing of Rudy Giuliani saying Trump literally asked him how we could find a legal way to institute a Muslim ban. And if it is, there's also a chance Pence would be found complicit in them as well, as it seems clear he's given his support and approval of them. So maybe Pence could be taken out too. Which would clear the way for... Paul Ryan. Who is the leader of the body who'd be bringing the Articles of Impeachment.

Yeah, that's ridiculous and unlikely. The Republicans as a self-interested, loot-and-run party probably stand to gain much more as an entity without their president being impeached. Even if Ryan wanted it, as a group I doubt they'd all go for it. But... Trump is nuts. And Ryan is probably more in line with their goals at large. We learned during the primaries that most of the establishment hates him, and even though they need him for their goals now, I seriously doubt that they have learned to like him any better. So... maybe?

If so, you heard it here first.

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MJ Rodriguez as Luna, from Instagram @MJRodriguez7

Thanks to a ticket generously offered to me by [ profile] niobien, I saw "Trans Scripts, Part I: The Women" at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge this week. It was described to me as kind of like the Vagina Monologues, in that it was a series of personal narratives of real people that were turned into dramatic pieces, but in this case from transwomen. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I found it to be a really excellent show, where you literally laugh and cry.

The thing I thought made it so strong was it dealt with a wide diversity of transwomen. They really did demonstrate how personal and individual a gender journey is, even within those who are ultimately exploring the same identity. Some were butch, some were femme; gay, straight; young, old. Some knew that they were women their whole lives, some came to it as a later step of their personal evolution. Some had no problem with sex work, some strongly disapproved. Some cared about the physical reality of their bodies, some felt their truth transcended it. Some wanted to be out and proud as trans, some just wanted to be able to walk down the street without anybody noticing anything about them. These various aspects in various combinations gave each character her own specificity, which conveyed an incredible humanity. That was the best part of it to me-- that everything was so human.

You may be inclined to think that was just because it was drawn from actual people, not made-up characters. But I think it was because the piece seemed to be put together in the interest of telling the stories of THESE WOMEN IN PARTICULAR-- not representing TRANSNESS AS A CONCEPT TO ITS COMPLETE DIGNITY TO THE WORLD. If you know what I mean. There did not seem to be a lot of concern of "Are we taking all the precautions to be as correct as possible for educating the people?" A lot of trans narrative I've read, including personal ones, are very concerned with this, sometimes to the detriment of the story because it turns it into kind of a dry, technical lecture.

Now I totally understand why people end up doing that-- transness is so widely vilified and misunderstood, there is definitely a need to prevent misperceptions, stereotyping, and anything else that could damage the ability of actual trans people to live their lives. But I kind of appreciated that the ladies were not trying to give me a gender studies lesson, but rather to just talk about themselves, their journeys, their feelings, their lives as trans people. The transness informs every part of it, like, trans life in practice rather than just in theory.

Honestly, there were probably a lot individual positions represented that some people would find problematic. Many of them used controversial terms to describe themselves. One woman's first step on her gender journey was becoming a really accomplished drag queen. Another resented the idea of other transwomen who weren't willing to commit to genital surgery. But I kind of liked that the piece didn't judge any of them for it. Not because I necessarily thought all of their positions deserved to be beyond critique, but because their imperfections and vagaries made them that much more human. These were NOT object lessons on gender theory-- these were the stories of real people's real lives.

There also wasn't a huge emphasis on negativity. They DID talk about some of the dangers trans people faced-- they mentioned the murder rate of transwomen of color, for example, but not much other violence, like sexual assault, for example. I wonder if they should have talked about more. But on the other hand, it reminds me a bit of how there are no lesbian date movies because lesbians in film always die, so it's nice to be able to give a lot of time to happy stories of marginalized people. And they did talk about struggle, in a lot of very personal and individual ways.

I believe five out of the seven actors were actual transwomen, while the remaining two were played by men. That kind of surprised me. I wonder if any of the actresses had a problem with that, though from perusing their social media and stuff they all seem to be very proud of the project, and there were also transwomen involved in other aspects of production. In theory, I believe it's basically an actor's job to pretend to be something they're not, but with so few roles for trans actresses, I sincerely hope it was because they just couldn't find enough of them to fill all the roles. For the record, all the actors were great.

Overall, I highly recommend it, and I'd even be open to seeing it again, in case anyone would like me to go with them.

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Something I find myself dealing with a lot when examining how people are affected by storytelling, and what powers that storytelling has to affect us, the concept of "relating" to something comes up a lot. Note that by "relating" I specifically mean that identification process-- NOT just what I would call the process of "connection," the larger and more general ability to find some way to emotionally engage with the story. Relating to a story is a way to connect with it, one of many. But a lot of readers' greatest source of engagement is being able to personally identify in some way. They relate back something in the story to something that is already understood or meaningful to them, which gives it an emotional resonance and a sense of investment.

Now, it isn't a bad thing to experience the feeling of relating to something, or enjoy it when you do. But I feel it's the most basic, even most unsophisticated, level of engagement with the story-- "am I able to bring it back to myself?" The real problem is when somebody can't get into a story because of the absence of that personal identification. It turns what should be an broadening experience into a narcissistic one. Because to me that demonstrates a failure of empathy. True empathy allows for a person to step outside themselves and conceive of feelings and experiences that may have nothing to do with them. If you can't care about, understand, or get interested in something that doesn't remind you of you, you are not only seriously limiting yourself, you're indulging in a gross form of self-centeredness. That's where we get the dumb ideas like "boys don't like stories about girls" or "white people won't watch films about people of color," which are dangerous and damaging, not to mention reinforcing of white supremacy and patriarchy.

As a teacher, I want to encourage students to be able to find a more sophisticated form of connection-- to engage with literature in a way that builds empathy. Asking people how they relate to the tale is perhaps a good basic starter way to get them to extend their emotions, but unless they move past that at some point, they're missing out on the greatest power that storytelling has-- the ability to give understanding about situations outside your own.
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Today is a heartbreaking day. The meaning has been stated by much smarter people than me, but I am stern in my resolve to resist and not give up hope that we can right this grave injustice.

One thought that gives me hope is the conviction that I do believe this blast of reactionary conservatism is an extinction burst. It is VERY common, including when dealing with the behavior of an abuser, that when efforts are made to push back against and stamp out the bad behavior, the perpetrator doubles down and explodes with a final effort to try and overcome the resistance before flaming out. The way of life where white supremacy was taken for granted is going away, as is the ability to remain ignorant and insular against the wider world. The people who don't want to grow and evolve into the modern world are lashing out against all the changes. But the world IS changing and no one can stop it. The fact that Clinton won the popular vote and the evidence that millennial voters were overwhelmingly more liberal confirms to me that viewpoint is dying, and is just privileged by the outdated relics of the system. We ARE moving toward a more progressive world, even with this enormous travesty occurring. So, if we can survive, I believe we will truly move past it as a society.

The only problem is surviving. And that's what frightens me. I'm afraid we won't survive. Individuals who are not privileged under this regime are certainly at risk, but I'm talking ALL of us, not just as a nation, but as a species. If we have a nuclear war or an environmental apocalypse, we won't get the chance to see what happens after. And I'm afraid those are real possibilities. God help us. I truly do believe this is the death knell of this particular form of atavism. But the earth has to hold out for us to get there.
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On a recent rewatch of Bojack Horseman season 3-- I taught Bojack in my class recently, which always inspires a rewatch --it jumped out at me how much they emphasize how influenced Bojack is by the opinions of others. Basically, any time somebody tells him what they think about something he's doing, he immediately changes course in deference to that opinion. It was an immediate, obvious response, and it happened again and again across the season.

At first I thought that might be something they were presenting a recent development for Bojack as a character, but they made a point of including it even in the flashbacks to 2007. So that made me want to go back and look at earlier episodes to see if this was something as present before season 3. After looking, the answer I'd give is it's definitely always been a minor part of the character, but not nearly as strong, obvious a trait that it becomes in season 3.

It's something that makes sense for somebody as depressed and self-hating as Bojack, that he's dependent on what other people think of him and his actions for any sort of direction or confidence. But I do wonder what they were trying to suggest by giving it so much emphasis this season. I'd guess that they were suggesting a deterioration of ego, that he was growing less secure, but as I mentioned, they included it in the 2007 flashbacks too. My best supposition then is that they were not saying this is a NEW thing for Bojack, but that they were trying to DRAW MORE ATTENTION to this facet of him.

So then what does that say? That in his desperation for connection, another thing made much of in season three, makes him especially malleable to win the approval of others? I kind of like that. Or is it literally an ego deterioration-- that something about his sense of self, or at least faith in his own judgment or perceptions, has degraded? That's actually a scary proposition, that could have some pretty dire implications. I wonder if more of it will be made in season 4, as it was never really dealt with-- in fact, the season closed out with Bojack having a freakout due to sudden outside input on something he was doing.
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When it comes to literary interpretation, I have a few concepts I use as guides for understanding the meaning of a work. Since I got into some discussions where people didn't necessarily see the delineations I did, I thought I'd talk about some of the concepts I use to make it clear how I approach things-- specifically as regards the impact of design.

By "design" I mean the choices the artist made in putting the piece together that creates some effect on the audience. In writing, the storyteller begins with a theoretical "blank page," and anything that makes it onto that page had to be put there. The level of thought or intention behind each thing may be variable, but still the writer had to decide to include it or else it wouldn't be there. That means it had the potential to be done for a particular reason, because of the effect it would create in the audience experiencing it. Authors rarely approach their work with zero intention, so there is almost always at least SOMETHING they included specifically for the effect they hoped it would create.

This makes up the first level I think you can analyze on-- taking into account the author's plans, choices, and efforts. The creator decides they would like to imbue a particular meaning in the work and makes design choices that are designed to achieve that effect. It's not the be all and end all, of course, but these are important if only because they shape the final product; in their absence, you would not have the work as you know it. Now, jsut because the writer meant to put something into a story doesn't mean they succeeded. They have have failed, in whatever way for whatever reason. But the intentions still matter, because of how they influence what choices are made in the design.

On the other end of the spectrum is of course Death of the Author-- where once an artist has finished a work, they have no further influence over its meaning, and whatever the audience sees in it is legitimately present. Personally I use a limited version of this in interpretation. This is a very necessary perspective, as you cannot influence the way an audience experiences your work, so what it brings out of them in response is always important no matter what the intended effect was. I tell my students that whatever you can justify with a line of reasoning, you can legitimately say you see in the piece. I tend to draw a line, however, when things are so far beyond the scope of the creator's possible perspective, or when the reading requires so much extrapolation as to be completely removed from the text. For example, I doubt Shakespeare has much to do with ideas on artificial intelligence, given the subject matter of his plays and the period of history he comes from. But still, I believe the way an audience experiences a work is always relevant to examining it.

Most people are familiar with those two lines of thinking. But I also think there's something in between. Not just things the author intended, nor what rises from the audience's experience-- but also what got in there through the author's actions but in the absence of intention, or sometimes even awareness. This comes from the idea that no one is one hundred percent self-aware and may do things without realizing, or at least without realizing why. As this is true in our everday lives, so is it true in the making of our creative work. Writers can do this with how they design things and gets results that may not have been intended, but were still demonstrable results form the writer's choices.

Here's an example. Say a writer is including a father character in their work. This writer had a dad who was kind of a jerk, but doesn't realize that this was a quality unique to their father in particular. Unconsciously, the writer has generalized this to all fathers. So, when the writer goes to write a father in their story, he incorporates the jerk qualities without intending to write a jerk, because they don't see that in their mind, "jerk" and "father" are inextricably bound. This results in a character who is readably a jerk, and whose jerk qualities demonstrably rose from the choices the writer made, but NOT because the writer meant to create a jerk.

This may seem like a pointless distinction, but I think it's important-- because both the writer's choices AND the audience's perceptions are important. This extra shade of classification helps for better understanding of how stories are made, and what factors create the meaning and power of a story. The better we understand that, the better we understand how stories affect us, and how to build stories with the power to do so.
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I really like compliments. I love getting them, of course. I want them all day long, about everything; one year I even asked for them for my birthday. (I'd do it again if I didn't hate drawing attention to my aging!) But I also really like giving them. They cost nothing and they make people really happy if you do them right, so they make lovely little gestures of esteem that can really change someone's day. It's amazing how such a small, easy thing can have such a great effect.

I think I'm pretty good at giving them, too. The trick, I find, is to make them specific. Don't just say general nice things, like, "Good job." Take the time to notice particular things that are well done or worthy of appreciation about the person. When I come up to a person after seeing them in a show, I don't like to say, "You were great!" I like to say, "I loved the expression on your face in that one moment," or "My favorite part was the way you interacted with your scene partner in [scene]." Or if somebody wrote something, I mention "I loved the way you phrased that," or "That characterization really rang true to me."

It shows that you were really paying attention and put some thought into what they did. Because if your interest was captured enough to notice particularities, it speaks to meaning and significance of their efforts. And it's harder to fake-- anybody can say you did a good job even if they didn't even pay attention to it, but mentioning the quality of specifics is something that required you actually focusing on it and caring about it. For people who aren't confident and inclined to worry that people are just being kind rather than voicing genuine approval, it helps reassure them that the compliment is sincere. I find even people without that problem people enjoy getting that kind of compliment the most, so I try hard to find particulars I enjoy in order to make the ways they excel are really appreciated.
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I've been watching Westworld on HBO, and I intend to watch it through to the end, but I'm not very satisfied with it. I mean, besides the fact that I've always had a huge mental block against sympathizing with robots as characters, as I still basically think they're always going to just be things, it's not that fresh a robots-as-people narrative. Basically, they're gaining sentience as their programming advances, and they're probably going to make humans pay for the horrific treatment they've undergone when utilized as things. I am absolutely sure that will happen if AI ever gets advanced enough in the real world, and we've seen it in stories a million times before.

But the thing that gets at me the most is the logic behind the Westworld park itself. It's appeal is basically presented as a place to indulge your darkest urges free of consequences-- specifically, they assume, things that take the form of hurting others. The park is full of robots, not people, so you can hurt or use them in any way you want and it doesn't matter. And that's basically the reason why people like to come.

Well. Even leaving aside what a morbidly cynical view of humanity is-- I don't even think that's all that representative of the way people's badness manifests. Personal I'd say most of the worst of us manifests not as sadism-- the desire to cause or the enjoyment of suffering in others --but rather as selfishness. It's not so much that you WANT other people to hurt, it's that you care so much about yourself and your own gratification that the harm you do to others doesn't matter to you. Sure, causing pain often gives us power over others, which is another thing we're all susceptible to, but again, I'd argue that you want the feeling of being powerful so much that you don't worry about causing pain. True psychopaths, who LIKE causing pain in and of itself, exist, but they're much rarer. Faced with no consequences for our actions, that morbid indifference to the feelings of others in favor of indulging the self is the true danger that is likely to come out of us.

I mean, I can imagine if I were in a scenario like this-- leaving aside the other problems with the workings of Westworld, which are beside my point here --I might have fun being the best shot in the West and beating a horde of rampaging gunslingers by being the fastest draw. That appeals to my sense of adventure and excitement, plus the thrill of being the best. I could see conceivably being so selfish that I care so about my enjoyment in that way I don't care that I subjected a bunch of people to painful death. But it adds nothing to that appeal to see the men I beat twitching and gasping in pain as they die from the bullets I put in them. I could see prioritizing my sense of fun such that I didn't care that I killed them. But having to witness their suffering is distasteful, such that the imposition of their pain is a consequence that would make my victory less fun. I think it would be to most people.

But even beyond that-- the version of the "dark urges" the park is designed to caters to? Is this totally one-note, stereotypically masculine conception. Basically, the form of indulgences it expects its guests to want are all extremely retrograde masculine fantasies, mostly sexual, violent, or a combination of the two. Sure, given how toxic they expect people to want to behave, you'd expect them to appeal to people's toxic masculinity, but there's no appeals to any impulse that are not coded masculine. It's all just about the chances for brutal violence or increasingly outre sexuality.

I can't figure out if it's intentional or not. Is it as a statement of how prevalent such fantasies are in people, or even how hypermasculinity encourages it? Or is it because the SHOW can't imagine dark impulses under any other encoding?

If it's intentional, there has yet to be any explicit acknowledgment that Westworld is designed under that assumption. I've seen no commentary on the problem of that conception. There's been no connection of the horrors being committed to the idea that they rise from hypermasculinty-- in fact, the only suggestion the show gives is that it comes from HUMANITY in general, rather than specifically from males. And I don't think depicting an idea without any form of critique, in so many words or otherwise, counts as commentary.

On top of that, most of the women characters in the show have been portrayed in really limited ways. The only female guests tend to be either wives supporting the adventures of their husbands, or else having identical dark urges to straight men. (There's been some portrayal of lesbianism, but it all smacks of "chicks that act like straight guys" rather than women attracted to other women. By contrast, the one bisexual dude's orgy? A woman riding his dick, another woman making out with him, while the one other guy... rubs his belly. Cowards.) The women host robots fall into a pretty stark virgin-whore dichotomy. Again, if there was some suggestion of critique of this, that women suffer even more when people act like objectification is just okay, then I might see it as a meaningful choice. But again, I've seen no sign of this.

So it's increasingly striking me as unintentional, which is both a staggeringly limited view of humanity-- even humanity's darkness --and also misogynist. I mean, why do women come to Westworld in this universe? Just to support their husbands' hero hypermasculine-coded hero fantasies, or if they want to indulge in THOSE EXACT SAME HYPERMASCULINE FANTASIES themselves? Is there nothing here to enjoy that's actually geared toward the interests of women-- or even the ways women specifically tend to break down? If nothing else, where are the hot male whores throwing themselves at female guests?

I'm only three episodes in. Maybe they'll deal with it. But I don't think it's been handled well so far.
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I really enjoyed Luke Cage and thought it was awesome. I have a handful of criticisms, nothing major— except one thing was pretty glaring to me.

In episode 10 “Take it Personal,” I did not like how they made Mariah’s crusade against Luke Cage look like a successful attempt to co-opt a movement like Black Lives Matter. Her bending people’s real lives and feelings to her own ends is appropriate for her character arc, but I don’t think the way she did it scans. They showed Mariah appealing to people who were sympathetic to a pro-black safety movement, thereby invoking the suggestion of BLM. But BLM is a movement to demilitarize the police, while Mariah was calling to arm them with experimental weaponry. And instead of facing down the social structures that systematically devalue and destroy black lives, she was attempting to take down one man, and a black man at that, who had been shown to stand up for average people and was mostly cast as a threat by an attack on cops. There is no equivalence there, so to show her efforts taking in those people suggests that the people in pro-black safety movements are easily swayed by incorrect rhetoric and corrupt leaders. I don’t think they intended that, but I find it an offensive implication.

What I would have done was had Mariah increasingly side with the system to take him down, even at the expense of the people of Harlem she used to champion. Have her use the rhetoric of “law and order” and respectability politics, saying how a dangerous person like Luke Cage damages the reputation of the black community, appealing to the fear of white people of scary powerful black men to get institutions on her side to take him down. She’s on a path to darkness anyway, so to have her go from a champion of black culture to joining with the corrupt system that harms black people in order to serve her own heads would show a nice thematic following. I think that would have been a way more effective way to show her growing corruption than to draw any kind of equivalence between the rhetoric she uses to persecute Luke and the efforts of Black Lives Matter.
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Bernie and I have begun work on Mrs. Hawking part four, and we're running into some challenges. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, as we've had this happen with each subsequent installment, but this one has presented some difficulties that are thus far unique.

The biggest thing to deal with is the fact that we're writing a colonial story. Part four is going to be split into a present day case in 1885, and a flashback story to Mrs. Hawking's youth in the colonies. We haven't decided WHICH colony, though, as we are still doing research to figure out if there are any historical features that would serve our turn. What I'd really like to display is that some terrible event that happened during Victoria's childhood demonstrated to her how corrupt and broken the system is, which helped to shape her worldview in the present. A natural possibility is witnessing something of the horrors of Victorian colonialism. But I really don't want to just turn the suffering of the local people to be just a lesson for my white hero, or make her into a white savior for those same. And I definitely don't want to sidestep the issue and just end up tell a story set in a colony that's only about the white invaders.

What I've got here is a Problem of the Protagonist, to use my own theory-- when the need to centralize a particular character ends up objectifying or dehumanizing other characters. Because my hero is white, it runs the risk of turning any characters I include of the local people into objects who exist only to facilitate my protagonist's story. And I definitely do not want to do that with characters of color.

I'm going to put in the work on this. I've got a lot of researching and developing to do yet. But I do know a good way to keep a character human is to give them their own arc, demonstrating that their story is one worth following, and affording them agency in the story, making them take actions in the service of achieving their goals and needs. So, while I'm by no means certain yet, my current idea I'm exploring involves having a local character whose personal mission is the central arc of the flashback's story. This character, who'd probably be female, could have the protagonistic qualities of wanting something, taking actions to pursue it, and driving the plot with their efforts. Perhaps if she drives the story, and other characters are in the position of being reactive to that, I can avoid making any such person being subservient to Victoria's development.

I'm not sure yet. I'll have to do more work. But I'm resolved to figure out how to do this in a respectful, conscientious way.
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Yep, still pushing on with this! I have completely outlined the scenes of my Frasier spinoff pilot, and there's only a few more to go before I have a complete draft.

I still haven't come up with a better idea for what brings David and Alice to Boston at the same time other than he followed her there because of a stupid adolescent crush. I'm not in love with it, but I haven't been able to think of an idea that is a sufficiently offensive ulterior motive for David that doesn't make it a coincidence that they're both there. I just have to do my best to take him to task for being inappropriate, and not making Alice responsible for him after he violated her boundaries.

This scene would take place two scenes after "Grow Up," where Freddy discovers this. Between them there would be a confrontation between Freddy and David, where he takes David to task for his behavior. David will acknowledge his screw up, but also give insight into his struggle of never fitting into his family and how Freddy's just like their dads, so of course he doesn't understand. This scene is Freddy and Alice, where he gets her perspective and she tells him to take charge of David, since he needs somebody to be there for him and it can't be her.

This should probably have more jokes in it. It's a mostly serious scene, but still it should be funnier in some places.

Scene 2.3 - Stranger in His Own House )
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Kind of had a breakthrough this weekend in the justification of one of my theories. I prize analytical thinking really highly (and in fact have been called upon to teach it in recent years) and as such I like to come up with codified assessments to assist in my understanding and interpretation going forward. Usually they’re about the craft of storytelling; sometimes they go a little broader than that, but most of the time it’s me working out my thoughts on how people convey ideas to tell stories.

I spend a lot of time thinking about female gaze. It’s my pet feminist issue, and I work to specifically tell many of my stories from that perspective. Female gaze encompasses a number of dimensions, but one of the most fundamental ones is how men are regarded as objects of attraction. And I have long believed in my gut that the key component of female gaze is vulnerability. By which I mean, that to the feminine perspective responds powerfully to the presence of vulnerability in the regarded object—perhaps even is drawn more strongly by it than anything else.

For example. Between a man who is beautiful, and a man who is equally beautiful but demonstrates some kind of vulnerability, be it physical or emotional, I would say most women are more likely to find the second man more appealing. Even between a beautiful man and a somewhat less beautiful man with greater vulnerability. Still the second one will be more appealing.

I have mountains of anecdotal evidence. Everywhere from the popularity of hurt/comfort and angst scenarios for male characters in fan fiction written by women, to the development of my own obsession with Captain America. The Steve Rogers character in the comics always bored the hell out of me, because he was so perfect and without texture. But the character in the film? A heartbreakingly gorgeous man with fears, insecurities, uncertainties, and even some feminine encoding? THE RECIPE FOR SEXUAL OBSESSION. Apparently!

(As a side note, I love, love, love this essay on how much feminine encoding the MCU portrayal of Captain America actually has. It articulates a bunch of things I felt and fell in love with about that version of the character.)

I didn’t come up with that idea on my own. I encountered it in an article several years ago that I can’t seem to find today. In that article, it mostly was examining that idea from a sort of BDSM context; if I recall correctly, it was about how femdom expressed. That part of it I couldn’t speak to, at least partially because I don’t think they supported their assertions that well. But that central IDEA, that the female gaze reacted so strongly to vulnerability, that part rang true in my bones.

So I’ve believed that for a long time on a gut level. But as a theory, I really couldn’t intellectually justify it except that it felt right. Which is not sufficient for analytical conclusion. Even “I have evidence that this phenomenon happens” is not the same as being able to articulate the REASON why it happens. And I couldn’t. After all, what’s to say it isn’t just a preference of SOME women? If I’m going to generalize it broadly, I need to be able to attribute it to something about the straight female condition.

This weekend, however, I think I finally was able to do that. And I think the root is in violence against women. One in three women will experience violence from her partner worldwide. Straight women are drawn to one of the greatest possible dangers against them. These two simultaneous facts makes any indication that a man will not be dangerous to them INCREDIBLY attractive. And I think the presence of vulnerability we tend to read as a sign of that.

Now, of course it’s not necessarily an accurate sign. But here’s the logic that I think applies. Men are not socialized to show vulnerability. Of course everyone has it sometimes, but they are encouraged to hide it. Specifically, they are encouraged to cover vulnerabilities with aggression. It’s that aggression that makes them dangerous. So there’s this sense that the willingness to admit and show things like fear, insecurity, or weakness marks a man as on the opposite end of the spectrum from aggression— and therefore, safe.

I would argue that any kind of indicator of what traditional masculinity would characterize as softness— sensitivity, femininity, delicacy —can fall under the heading of “vulnerability display.” These are also things men are culturally “not supposed to show” and they often face ridicule for these as “not befitting of a real man.” So, for example, a man who admits having qualities that are considered traditionally feminine is making himself vulnerable to attacks from other men who would perceive him as weak and unmasculine because of them. Therefore, that man’s willingness to own the qualities that could encourage others to attack him is perceived as making himself vulnerable.

Of course not all women are the same. We don’t all have exactly the same feelings, attractions, or even totally identical social encoding. But I think that this is why so, so many women are interested in stories where men cry, experience powerful emotions, are uncertain, or “in touch with their feminine side.” Not all women; we are not a monolith. But a large number, given what we do share from our experience of existing in the world as women. And I would suspect that of the women who DO NOT find themselves drawn to vulnerability, they are the ones who do not have as strong a concept of the problems stemming from traditional masculinity.

So I think I finally have a thesis on this that I can actually support. You may disagree. But I really do believe this. Vulnerability is the key component of female gaze because it acts as an indicator of an absence of the kind of masculine aggression that is most dangerous to women.
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Well, I have completed the challenge for the fifth year in a row! I sure do like looking at five years’ worth of complete lists of everything I wrote.

I went into this wondering if maybe it wasn’t a good idea to do the challenge this year. I was finishing up a piece, the Hood pilot, which meant it would need more editing than generating very soon into the month. And then I had to focus on writing a bible for the show right after. It wasn’t the most conducive situation to a challenge where you’re just supposed to write new scenes. I was nervous that having to keep up with the challenge would become a burden and a distraction from the work I was supposed to be completing at this time. And then I’d just end up posting old scenes anyway that were written already.

I did end up needing to post some scenes that were written before the day I put them up. About four, starting with Day #7, were posted because I needed to do other writing work on that day. A few before that were posted because, even though I wrote new scenes, I didn’t want to post ones that revealed later climactic parts of the piece. So shockingly, most of what I wrote was new. I wrote scenes for Adonis, the Frasier spinoff idea, the Bridesmaids comedy, and Mrs. Hawking parts 4, 5, 6, and 7. All useful for projects I care about! Given that I wrote at least one scene a day for every day of the previous month as well, it’s probably one of the most solidly productive periods I’ve ever had.

Since 2013, the second year I did this, I’ve shifted my focus away from writing original standalone pieces and towards writing scenes for larger projects that are important to me. It’s been a really useful thing for me to do. I find that I am most productive when I use a drafting process— as in, bang out some garbage just so it exists, and then go back and improve it later. It prevents me from getting so hung up on imperfections that I don’t actually write anything, which is a problem I’m inclined to. Frankly, it works better if I’ve done outlining and planning beforehand so I know what each scene is supposed to include. That didn’t really happen this time, as I’d been working on the Hood pilot in the lead up this time around. But even without that, it definitely lowers the mental barrier to just getting writing done. My brain craves structure, and 31P31D effectively provides it.

Here’s a breakdown of what I wrote this year:

The complete list of scenes. )

The counts of characters I wrote about. )

As with last year, when I had to sub in scenes to post, it’s not a totally accurate representation of what I wrote this month, but I do like looking at the data anyway.

At the moment Hood is the most important project for me. I’m really pleased with myself for that one, as I wrote a solid, commercial action pilot with only about two months development. That is ridiculously quick!

I want to continue with the Mrs. Hawking stories, so the fact that I wrote so many scenes for them is definitely valuable, particularly since I want to put together part 4 in the near future. Over the years I’ve done quite a few scenes of part 4 during 31P31D, so I’ve got a nice head start. Also, this was the first time I wrote much for part 5, the plot of which I had literally zero idea for until recently. Figuring out that Nathaniel was going to get taken captive really blew a lot of that open! For some reason it’s fun writing scenes about him being tied to a chair. :-D

The other project I really did a fair bit of work for was my idea for a Frasier spinoff pilot. Now I know it’s not the best use of my time. Unless I get an opportunity to talk directly to NBC, it’s basically just fan fiction. But I actually think I have a pretty strong idea for it, and I ended up writing the first half of it shockingly easily. That probably means I can finish it pretty easily as well, meaning it’s not going to distract too much from other work. I really would get a kick out of finishing it, so I’m probably going to. (Plus [ profile] londo asked me to, and I’m a sucker for writing stuff that people enjoy.)

I didn’t work much on Adonis, which I’m slightly sorry about. I haven’t been thinking about it that much recently as I’ve had more pressing projects, but I do want to continue onto the next story. I also wish I’d done more for Bridesmaids, as I think that has a lot of potential as a funny half-hour comedy show. But that pilot will require plot planning, which as I mentioned I didn’t really have time to do. Still, I’m really happy with how the (two combined pieces of the) opening scene came out, so I think it’d be worth working out.

Some random observations. Three of these (#2 – Bullseye, #9 – Nothing in Common and #13 – About Me combined, and #15 – Subtle but Unmistakeable Disappointment) were openers for the pilot episodes of TV shows. I like all three of them, but I think Bullseye is the best screenplay beginning I’ve ever written. I love the idea, and the execution was a bitch, but I’m super happy with how it came out. Amusingly, the other two both use the device of the lead character talking to a psychiatrist about their situation. I guess you could say the repetition’s awkward, but I think the device works in both cases.

Freddy Crane, who was in all 8 scenes I wrote for his pilot, is the character who appeared most frequently. Mrs. Hawking appears in the most 31P31D scenes over the five years I’ve done it, but she only ended up in 4 this time around. The second, third, and fourth most common characters were David Crane, also appearing in the Frasier spinoff, Robin Locksley the protagonist of Hood, and Nathaniel Hawking, all with 6 scenes each. Despite these frequent appearances, I wrote about twice as many different female characters as male.

My favorite scenes I wrote this month? I have a few. As I said, #2 – Bullseye is an awesome TV show opener. #17 – Reginald Managed It explores some really important emotions of Mrs. Hawking’s. #1 – A Separate Battlefield has Clara and Mrs. Hawking clashing, which is always fun. #9 – Nothing in Common is actually pretty damn funny, and sets up the Bridesmaid cast really well. #31 – True Gentleman is cute and sweet.

Least favorite? Mostly the ones I know will be important scenes but I wrote so fast and so sloppily they didn’t come out well. #28 – Loyal Servant of the Empire is a particular offender, as is #29 – After Two Years and #30 – Alone. #26 – A Small Thing feels like a waste. I am so eager to examine Pavilla’s objectification of Aidan, but I can’t quite figure out how extreme to take it, so I keep backing off and taking the teeth out of it. But you know, mostly what I wrote I’m pretty pleased with— at least the ideas in them, even if most of them will have to be edited to make funnier, sharper, or less rushed. I notice they tend to cluster near the end when I'm pushing to finish.

Favorite lines? I love the therapist in #9 – Nothing in Common telling Jess “We discussed this. I can’t laugh at everything to make it okay.” In #25 – Wedding Toast, “Now… I’d best straighten my tie and shut my gob, before all this fair regard makes me become truly un-English,” is just a cute little character moment for Nathaniel. I also like him telling Mrs. Frost the title line, in #12 – The One You Should Fear. But I think the very best is from #17 – Reginald Managed It, when an uncharacteristic ally soft Mrs. Hawking says, “Oh, Reginald. We ruined one another, didn’t we?” Then, hardening again, “But he chose it. Not me.”

So, despite my reservations, I am pretty damn happy with having done this challenge. I guess this is why I keep coming back after it year after year.


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