Valé Smudge

Smudge

January 1996 ~ November 2015

She was my first cat. There had been several family cats growing up (one of them more “mine” than the others), but she was the first I’d adopted as an adult. The first for whom I had full responsibility. My First Cat. She was almost twenty years old and I’d said that when she got to twenty, she would henceforth be known as The Venerable Smudge. Contrary to the end, she decided that venerable wasn’t her speed.

We let her go this afternoon. She’d had a good last month, after we got her on cortisone tablets to help counter whatever it was growing in her belly (I still maintain it was probably an over-inflamed spite gland), and she had a very good Last Day.  There was a bit of medium-rare steak for dinner! There was sleeping in our bed overnight! There was fresh shower-water in the morning! But she was weak and wobbly and could barely stand or walk without falling over, and I decided to spare her the heat wave of the next few days which would likely have finished her anyway.

Smudge

Truly the Tiny Cat, even in her prime.

She was done, my cat.

I needed to let her go. I needed to help her go.

Sometimes, responsibility is the worst.

The vets were wonderful. They came to our home and she passed her last moments on the couch where she spent so much of her days and nights, with us by her side. She was tired and slightly dozy but still very much herself. It was the last thing I could do for her, and I’m deeply grateful to have been able to do it.

She had acquired many names over the years. Smudge, of course, and Smudgie, and even a handful of ostentatious extensions: Smudgie La Rue; Smudge-a-roonie of the Roonies; Smudge-a-rooster. She was Fluffbot and Black Cat and Tiny Cat. She was Honey Bear, with Bear for short or Bear-ba-loo for long, and she was most recently TBCTotal Best Cat. She was also, according to my beloved, the Varmint. And, damn it, she was The Venerable Smudge as well.

After we buried her in the garden, we walked around the side of the house and saw an unusual cloud formation above the garage. A couple of soft, blurry clouds, smudged around the edges. If I squint, I can almost imagine it’s a little white moustache floating up there in the sky.

clouds

Humans are funny creatures. We fall irrevocably in love with small furry animals and take solace in the random patterns of clouds when our hearts are breaking.

My first cat, now and always. My Smudge. I miss you so much.

Smudge

My little known feline co-writer.

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A Poem for Ben on Day 23

The tyranny of the blank page
is a farce
is a myth
is a lie
is what we talk about when we talk
about doubt
about dismay
about the ever diminishing returns

It is not about the page

It is about us
forever balancing desire
with dread:
the jubilant (desperate) need to create
to send some glittering form out into the world
to speak
when our own tongues lie still in our mouths;
the fear that it will merely fumble and stilt
an ugly mimic
clumsy and thick of speech
shunned by sun and moon and stars alike

(shunned)

Yes
the page never resembles that truer glimpse
never approaches the ache or the chill
never looks like it
or sounds like it at all

But
neither does it fully resemble
the glimpse that a reader gleans
their ache or their chill
looks nothing like it
sounds nothing like it
at all

The page is a cipher
refracted
ambiguous
(with or without polar bears)
connecting writer and reader
via sparks and filaments
not smoke and mirrors
they will never know what it was you glimpsed
as you will never know what it is they see, they hear
there is only the page
imperfect
inaccurate
imprecise
volatile

This is the beauty of it
and the terror:
see
what you made me do?

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(with thanks)

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It’s Surprise Gift Day!

Haighs Chocolate FrogI love surprises and today was apparently the day for them. I received in the mail a Haigh’s Giant Chocolate Frog and a gorgeous card from a lovely new academic friend in Adelaide by way of thanks for what I consider to be a very minor favour indeed. Certainly not worthy of Haigh’s Giant Chocolate Frog! But I will devour it anyway. Just not in one sitting … you don’t make that mistake twice, let me tell you! Although I’m assured that it is the exact same chocolate, I swear that the frogs you buy at the Melbourne Haigh’s store are just not quite a good as their brethren from Adelaide. And, of course, a chocolate frog that someone gives you is even tastier still. 🙂

Original Bavarian FolktalesI also received a brand spanking new copy of Original Bavarian Folktales: A Schönwerth Selection that Past Kirstyn pre-ordered a while ago and I’d completely forgotten was due around now. Thank you, Past Kirstyn! Franz Xaver von Schönwerth collected folklore, legends and fairytales from his native Bavaria and published them in the 1850’s but they fell into obscurity until recently, eclipsed by the ongoing success of the Brothers Grimm. I’ve been dying for an English translation since I first heard about them a few years ago and this book, containing 150 fables, will finally see that wish at least partially fulfilled. I am salivating.

dead blackbirdAnd to top off this Day of Plenty, what do you think my wonderful husband decided to bring me back from his stroll to the post office? Only a ratty dead blackbird that he picked up from the side of the road with his own two hands! Or, more likely, pinched gingerly between index finger and thumb. (Don’t click on the photo if you don’t want to see a close-up of our dearly departed Senor Blackbird.)

Now, can you guess which surprise gift is my favourite?

Ha ha, trick question: I LOVE ALL OF THEM EQUALLY.

(I should probably note at this point, before someone sends the men in white coats, that I have a modest skull and skeleton collection and am hoping to salvage the skull from the blackbird. I’m not so weird that I keep random dead animals around the place for decoration. Well, not ones with the flesh still on, anyway.)

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What Makes Kirstyn Happy

Overall, I’ve been a tad grumpy these past few weeks. Too much stuff on the boil, too many New Shiny Things I’d rather be doing, not enough time in the world to execute even half of my Cunning Plans. General online explosions, general offline crappola. Plus, somewhere in there, I saw The Dark Knight Rises. Ugh. I’m not even going to start, except to say … no, wait. I’m letting it go. Just like with Prometheus, I’m letting it all go, baby.

There have, however, been quite a few things cross my radar recently which have made me smile, and laugh, and generally feel pretty good about life. And I realise I barely ever comment on stuff like that … the good stuff, the happy stuff, the stuff which often feels ephemeral and momentary but, honestly, can be just as tangible and lasting as the sad-angry-depressing stuff upon which I generally find myself dwelling. Not that it isn’t important to engage with things that are problematic, infuriating, troublesome, or simply thought-provoking — unless those things are overblown, over-expensive, over-ego-driven wastes of celluloid not worth your spit — but that sometimes, a lot of the time, it’s equally important to focus on the happy.

So this might become a regular thing. What Makes Kirstyn Happy: A Not-So-Ephemeral Miscellany. (I promise, as much as I love them, teh kittehs will be few and far between; you have the rest of the interwebs for that.) Okay, here we go . . . cranky pants are officially off.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I’m not a massive Jane Austen fan and I’ve never actually read Pride and Prejudice, although I have somewhat reluctantly watched one or two film/television adaptations over the years. (My favourite Austen novel of those I have read is that fine piece of Gothic snark, Northanger Abbey. Big surprise, I know.) And yet I am absolutely loving The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a modernised adaptation of Pride and Prejudice told via a series of video blogs. I know I’m not getting a lot of the references and Austen in-jokes but I don’t care. I’m still captivated and eagerly await each twice-weekly episode. There might even be the odd internal squee when the YouTube alert lands in my inbox. Okay, there is a very odd internal squee every time the alert lands in my inbox! And, you know, being relatively unfamiliar with the plot means a little light suspense and random surprises for Kirstyn, which makes her very happy indeed. (Yes, I know Lizzie ends up with Darcy, but little else. No spoilers, please!)

Delites Dystopian Vending MachineThe Delite-o-Matic Vending Machine. Part of a promotional competition run by Fantastic Delites here in Australia, which doesn’t make me want their chips or rice crackers or whatever those things are, but which did see me watching the YouTube clip with increasing delight. (Heh. See what I did there?) It was written up by the original Gawker article along oh-so-wry dystopian lines of “What is the world coming to, when people will bow down and worship a machine just to get a packet of free chips?” [insert faux-ironic breast-beating here] but it reminded me first and foremost of how persistently, curiously playful humans can be. Of course they wouldn’t do anything for a free packet of chips, Gawker. In the end, I don’t think it was even about the chips. The prize could have been any useless old piece of crap and some of those people would still have been standing there pressing the damn button. Because it was a curious new thing standing in their shopping mall. Because a gauntlet was thrown down and picked up in the name of fun. Because it was a game, and we humans love love love to explore and challenge and play. Sure, sometimes it comes back to bite us in the arse. But this time, it resulted in free snacks and an hilarious piece of video us snackless folks can enjoy as well. Well played, Fantastic, well played.

midnight and moonshineMidnight and Moonshine by Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter. Books had to come into this at some point, right? Few things make Kirstyn happier than a fabulous and much-anticipated new book by a couple of her favourite short story authors, and I have been awaiting the release of this collection since I first heard rumours of its conception well over a year ago. And check out that magnificent cover by Kathleen Jennings! This book is going to look so fabulous alongside Angela and Lisa’s individual collections from Ticonderoga and, knowing how well these two writers work together, I’m fully expecting it to be one of my top five books of the year. (No pressure, ladies.) The ever-so-slightly unHappy in this news is that Midnight and Moonshine is only available for pre-order right now — in either Trade Paperback or droolworthy Limited Edition Hardcover formats — but, hey, all that means is that Future Kirstyn will be getting a gorgeous gift from Past Kirstyn come mid-November. That makes Future Kirstyn so very, very happy. Or will make her very, very happy. Whatever. The gods are dead, but will not be forgotten. Kirstyn. Can. Not. Wait.

Kim Boekbinder“Planet 216” by Kim Boekbinder. I first came across Kim Boekbinder via Amanda Palmer who was plugging Kim’s Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of her album, The Impossible Girl, back in 2010. It might have been the first Kickstarter campaign I ever backed and it resulted in a brilliant, amazing, eclectic tapestry of music which also makes me exceedingly happy whenever I listen to it. (Which just happens to be right now, in case you were wondering.) Kim is running a different kind of work-in-progress funding campaign for her next album, the space-themed Mission Control. I’m not going to be a part of that because, quite honestly, I would rather be hit with the finished product rather than get the sneak peeks along the way. And based on the “Planet 216” demo which was released, appropriately, on the day that Curiosity touched down on Mars, the album is going to hit hard. I dearly hope she comes to Australia to tour it — I’ve only ever seen her in support of other acts but I think the full Kim Boekbinder stage experience will make for a most memorable night. Anyway, the song made Kirstyn happy this week. You will be fierce, you will be fragile, you will be free. Thoughts for a new tattoo right there . . .

Book Launches and Mugshots. Lastly, my beloved Jason Nahrung launched his new novella, Salvage, up in Brisbane last weekend at Avid Reader bookshop. A splendid time was had, many friends were caught up with, and afterwards much yummy Indian food was consumed. Salvage is a beautiful, melancholy story which has garnered some very deserving reviews, one of which came from Alex Pierce on the Galactic Suburbia podcast. At one point, Alex described Jason as an author who is “compassionate but cold-blooded” … a description which pleased him immensely and which inspired in me A Small But Cunning Plan. Unfortunately, VistaPrint was a little late with the delivery and my “Happy Book Launch” gift became a “Happy Post-Book Launch” gift instead but it was totally worth the wait to see the smile it brought to his face. (Not to be confused with the “smile” in the photo; that’s post-trip exhaustion and a touch of the flu kicking in. Or maybe it’s just what cold-blooded compassion looks like in the flesh.)

jason mugshot

And all that, kittens and cats, is What Makes Kirstyn Happy. Enjoy!

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How busy are you?

Because I am only busy and not crazy-busy right now, I actually had time to read and digest an excellent article about self-imposed busy-ness by Tim Krieder. It’s nothing I didn’t already know, but a lot of things I tend to forget. Maybe I should stick some choice excerpts up on my wall to help me remember that sometimes it’s okay to spend a day doing absolutely nothing that could be readily classed as “productive”. I honestly can’t remember the last time I did that without guiltily feeling like I was just wasting the whole damn day.

My favourite pull-quote:

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

The rest lives here and is well worth your consideration.

As for me, for now, it’s back to the word mines.

deadlines via savage chickens

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False Equivalence: An Amusing Illustration by Jim C. Hines

Back in January, when I wasn’t blogging, one of my perpetually open tabs was this post by Jim C. Hines in which he attempted to reproduce the ways in which females are often posed on genre book covers. His conclusion was that:

My sense is that most of these covers are supposed to convey strong, sexy heroines, but these are not poses that suggest strength. You can’t fight from these stances. I could barely even walk.

Bouncing off a recent Tor.com article about that pose — Tits AND Ass, Let Me Shown You Them — and how there really is is no male equivalent, Jim has now reproduced some book cover poses where (it was suggested, mainly in the Tor.com comments) males are sexually objectified. His conclusions this time around?

  1. Men on book covers are indeed posed shirtless in ways that show off their musculature. However…
  2. Male poses do not generally emphasize sexuality at the expense of all other considerations.
  3. Male poses do emphasize the character’s power and strength in a way many (most?) female cover poses don’t.
  4. When posed with a woman, the man will usually be in the dominant, more powerful posture.
  5. Male poses do not generally require a visit to the chiropractor afterward

Posing Like A Man

He also suggests checking out this post by LJ user genrereviews wherein she recreates side by side comparisons of male and female poses, with detailed and enlightening commentary.

These are both fantastic resources and ones I want to shove in the face of point out to everyone who’s ever said to me, “Stop bitching about how women are represented in covers/movies/comics/art/advertising because men are also sexually objectified, dontcha know? It’s just the culture! We’re all obsessed with sex!” If you’re one of those people, you need to have a good look at what Jim Hines and genreviews have done and take special note of what they say about how recreating those poses made them feel.

You might also want to brush up on the definition of false equivalence, most effectively explained here in the Shortpacked webcomic by David Willis. Just don’t read the comments. Or do. Just don’t blame me for your blood pressure. Or the resulting head-shaped indentation in your wall.

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Bad Feminist: An Unexpected Case Study

Over the past few months of my blog hiatus, I did a lot of thinking about feminism and gender issues, with particular attention paid to writing, authors and the publishing industry. After all, there has been a lot to provoke such thoughts over the past year: the Australian Women’s Writers Challenge, the announcement of the Stella Prize, the now infamous comments by V.S. Naipaul, published statistics about gender imbalance in book reviewing, and much, much more. I collected links and left a prodigious amount of tabs open in my browser, planning to write a series of posts about this sort of stuff — once I actually did start posting again, of course. Then a couple of weeks ago, I deleted them all. I didn’t have time for it, I admonished myself. It was part of the Catching Up that was actually stopping me from getting back into blogging — which was something that I really did miss.

srsly stfu

Because … oh, just look at it all. All of the research, all of the compiling of supporting evidence and illustrative links, all of the careful balancing acts and fine-tooth-combery which would be required to ensure what I wrote would be taken as a serious and informed contribution to cultural debate, rather than viewed as the subjective and unsubstantiated rants of yet another jealous, whining girl-scribbler who should srsly stfu because men have it hard too … ugh. It was exhausting just to contemplate. And besides, what good would it really do? Who was I to say anything anyway? Srsly, Kirstyn. Just STFU. You have more pressing things to do.

But, lo and behold, over the past week, my briefly pristine browser has once again become a petri dish for open tabs. Tabs which demand more than simply a quick tweet with accompanying snappy or snarky comment. And I started getting that strange, tight, swirly thing happening in my guts again. That self-defeating inner to-and-fro which goes a little something like this:

Interesting! I should blog about that. I have something to contribute!

Hmm, I should gather more information first. What I have to say might not stand up under scrutiny. 

No, screw that. It’s my opinion. I’m allowed to have an opinion. And I’m willing to stand corrected and engage in robust debate!

Hmm, am I willing to stand corrected by Teh Interwebs? Engage in robust debate with Teh Comments of Doom?

Okay, so I need to find several specific examples to illustrate the points I want to make. Plus, I should find some counter examples to show that I’m not making blanket statements and that I acknowledge that the issue is complicated. I might need footnotes and a bibliography. And I really need to think about the tone and wording because I want to be perfectly clear and don’t want to inadvertently step on undeserving toes.  In the meantime, I’ll just leave that tab open so I don’t forget that I want to come back to it. And these couple of tabs next to it as well, because they kind of relate, but actually really deserve some thoughtful commentary one their own. Which would require more gathering of substantiating evidence.

Hmm. That’s gonna end up being a really long post.

I should break it into smaller posts. A series!  A series on a theme!

Sure. Because I HAVE ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD.

Which is generally when my good intentions slink away to sulk and what I’ve thought of as my guilty conscience sits her smug self  down to gloat over all those open, unremarked upon tabs. Whatevah, guilty conscience, I’m busy enough as it is and there are heaps of people already talking about this stuff. It doesn’t have to be my fight.

Then yesterday I read this blog post by Cat Valente in which she bounces off the recent Christopher Priest/Clarke Award brouhaha to discuss how men and women commentators are treated oh so very differently when they express their opinions online:

… it’s more than lolz, he’s got balls of brass, I could never get away with those blognanigans. I couldn’t, of course, even if I wanted to. But neither could almost any other woman writer or blogger I can think of. Go after popular SF writers and a respected award? She’d have gotten death threats, rape threats, comments telling her everything from shut up and make [unnamed internet male] a sandwich to wishing she’d be raped to death because that would shut her right up.

shut your whore mouthOffering several links by way of example, she talks at length about the types of double standards, misogyny and false equivalences that were the subject of so very many of the tabs and links I’d been hoarding. Her post echoes much of my own thoughts on these same subjects, including how a female writer might have been treated had she voiced the opinion that Christopher Priest did. “The fact is, to be a woman online is to eventually be threatened with rape and death,” Cat notes bluntly. “On a long enough timeline, the chances of this not occurring drop to zero.” This is, of course, nowhere near the first time I’ve come across such sentiments. Some of the links I jettisoned a couple of weeks ago included food blogger Shawna James Ahern discussing the hateful comments she receives (via  John Scalzi talking about the types of comments he doesn’t get), Seanan McGuire detailing the vile unsolicited emails sent her way when Amazon made the paperback edition of her latest novel available before the kindle version, Helen Lewis and Laurie Penny reporting in the New Statesmen and the Independent respectively — and attracting the precise flavour of commentary with which their articles were concerned. But towards the end of her post, Cat Valente says something that struck me harder than it should have:

That’s the line I walk, and most female authors and commentators walk. On one side of it is a silence which we can’t afford and on the other are the blowback and threats, which come quietly and secretly through email or boldly and baldly in comments.

Walking a line. That’s exactly how I feel. That’s what the strange, tight, swirly thing in my guts is called. It’s not being overwhelmed by the amount of time and effort it would take to write an intelligent, considered and substantiated post on any particular subject. (Because I haven’t done that before.) It’s fear, plain and embarrassingly simple. And it’s really difficult for me to acknowledge, let alone admit, which is possibly why it’s taken this long to work up to it.

Because here’s the thing. In the offline world, I consider myself a  smart, confident, capable woman. A proud feminist. A good feminist. And I’ve worked to get there. I constantly push past my innate introversion and insecurities to make sure I actually engage with people at social gatherings, at conferences, at conventions. I voice my opinions and listen to the opinions of others. I volunteer to be on discussion panels and committees, and I’ve helped run conventions. Hell, I’ve convened a huge — and hugely successful — convention. I have my own small business that I built from scratch. I don’t shy away from controversial discussions. I don’t retreat into the background when Men Are Speaking. I don’t mind expressing disagreement or opposition to what someone has said and I will point out — as diplomatically as the situation requires — if they’re possibly making a dick of themselves. Most of the time, I know how to pick my battles. I’ve verbally defended myself (and occasionally my female friends) in awkward or quasi-threatening situations. More than once, I’ve gotten myself out of an actually threatening physical situation. I get scared — a lot — but I get through it and I try not to let fear put too many barriers around my life and my ambitions. Particularly not that special icky kind of fear that tries to tell me I can’t possibly do something simply because I am female. Fuck that shit, for reals.

sewn shutAnd yet. And yet. Here I am, putting aside and ultimately putting off writing blog posts about Feminist-Issues-Oh-My because … what? I’m scared? Surely not. Me? Really? Really. That put me into a mental tailspin yesterday. Why on earth should I be scared of saying something on my blog that I would be quite happy to say to someone in person? Why? Because it’s not the same. Not by a long shot. In person, the vast majority of us are actually quite civilised. We can have a discussion, even a heated argument, but that’s where it’s generally gonna end — with an exchange of words and both parties going their separate ways at worst believing the other to be an irredeemable moron. It’s not going to end with complete strangers bailing me up en masse and yelling at me for hours about how fucking stupid I am for saying what I said, not to mention how I’m so fat and ugly that no one will listen to me anyway, and making such a noise that passers by come over to yell at me some more and tell me how I have no idea what I’m talking about and I wouldn’t know what real inequality was and maybe I should go live in Afghanistan if I care so much about women’s rights, and how I’m just a frigid bitch and should just get myself laid, or better yet someone should teach me a lesson and rape me. Rape me to death.

(And if you think I’m exaggerating, just go read the comments to some of those articles I mentioned above.)

Because, you know, if all that did happen in the offline world, if I saw it happening to women all the time … I don’t think I’d be game to open my mouth in public nearly as often as I do. I would walk in the silence that Cat Valente talks about, just as I seem to be walking in the silence online. And that realisation scares me more than anything else.

The realisation that, online, I’m a Bad Feminist.

Lately, I find myself intimidated by gendered power structures that, offline, would scarcely faze me, and I allow myself to remain intimidated. I don’t speak about things that bother me, things that I object to, things that I believe should be discussed. I tiptoe around the edges of controversial issues, leaving occasional comments in the safer space of other people’s blogs, or sending brief and ephemeral missives into the twittersphere. Because I don’t need to contribute, not really.  Because, despite the fact that I am a woman and a writer, this doesn’t have to be my fight. Because if I am quiet and polite and accommodating, then I can simply go about my business without risk of bruising or breakage. Subconsciously I’ve managed to internalise a very real chilling effect, all the while believing otherwise.

It’s sobering to step back now and realise that, online, I don’t recognise myself. Or rather, I all too clearly recognise the girl I used to be. A lonely, insecure girl who knew all too well what it was like to be bullied, to have no friends, to be the target of gender-specific mockery, to be always on the outer. A girl who just want to be liked. By everyone. A girl who knew how to keep her mouth shut unless she was making jokes. A girl who, quite honestly, I thought I’d left behind many years ago. The fact that this blog has been one huge swathe of silence for more than half a year, despite my obsessive collecting and collating of Links Relevant To My Interests, speaks volumes to that bit of self-deception. And it’s sickening to think that it really took so little to stitch me back into her skin: I haven’t experienced such brutal online abuse personally; it has been enough to witness it happen to others. To witness and to not speak about it. Because my opinion wouldn’t make a difference; I could let others speak for me. I didn’t pick any battles — because, really, it didn’t have to be my fight.

Bad, Bad Feminist.

All that needs to change. I don’t precisely know how — seems there’s a lot of toxic crap to expel from my overly complacent mind yet again — but pressing the Publish button on this post feels like a good place to start. Because everyone needs to call themselves on their own bullshit from time to time.

And because, yes,  it is my fight.

I am a feminist