Anyone who has experienced entrapment might find a resonance with this tale. The genders of the victim and the perpetrator are deliberately undefined.
What is interesting about this is that the ‘lanky blonde girl’ did something more men than women are inclined to do – she took a risk. But then if you look again, she had nothing to lose, which is a different thing altogether. Whatever happened, she would come out a winner. To raise the bar in whatever we do may mean risking losing all that is important to us – credibility, status, respect, resources – and it has certainly happened in the past to innovators disparaged in their lifetimes and lauded after a glimpse through the lens of history. I’d like to think I’d have the courage (and the talent) to risk failing my MA but who does that? Would you?
Originally posted on paulgapper:
Readwave is a well-presented site for writers-looking-for-readers and readers looking for something bite-sized to read. Anyone can post a piece of flash (800 words – longer pieces have to be broken up) and your stats are clocked up next to each entry. While I’m not sure that a ‘read’ always means what it says, you do at least know someone looked and that your treasured bit of prose isn’t all on its lonesome any more. Upload is a simple copy/paste process with boxes for title and short description, and a place to put tags.
There is a limited range of images available as headers which are rather nice but for variety and relevance, you might want to source your own. Copyright-free of course, or keeping it in-house, something you chased up on Photoshop.
Scribd is an option for longer pieces which are uploaded as documents . If you want an attractive image to accompany the piece, you must incorporate this in your document and experiment with positioning so that it looks good on-screen. Again, there are stats which tell you not only about ‘reads’ but also whether or not your piece has been embedded in someone’s site. Documents can be downloaded so it’s probably important to copyright your document before posting. Scribd hosts a much wider range of documents – everything from how-to manuals through scientific reports to previews of whole books – and you can set up collections.
They are everywhere, aren’t they, those annoying little intrusions? Visual shorthand for the inarticulate; signposts for the emotionally illiterate; and evidence, as if more were needed, of the effect of the internet on our increasingly soggy brains. Or are they?
Recently, a dignified row broke out on an academic forum because a student had used a smiley in a thread dedicated to formal critiquing of submitted work. The argument was that, as the course was about writing, writing should be the medium by which ideas and views should be communicated, and this should be constructed so as to convey maximum meaning without the need for artificial aids. Fair dos, but how did we get to this? How come some of us are unable to resist littering our text with the little blighters and others have no idea how to interpret the meaning of a message without them? Has our ability to construe/parse/inhabit our own language really deteriorated so rapidly that we have regressed to the level of cave painters in just a few short years?
At first, I thought yep, that’s it for language – regression to the mean, lowest common denominator, and all down to the demon MSN Messenger where teenagers hung out in droves until their parents found it. Now they’re trying to escape them on Facebook and wondering how their Nan got into twitter. But here’s a thing – written language for the masses is pretty recent and it’s evolving as new words are invented and make their way into proper grown-up dictionaries. This year we got selfie although nobody told my spellcheck. Before written language, stories and news were delivered orally by visiting messengers, town criers, fable tellers, wise elders, and senior family members (your Nan again). These were obviously told in words and so language was in pole position. But with story tellers, there was also body language – grimacing, arm waving, eye-rolling, and intonation shifting – the gruntings and flappings that added contextual information to the words and embellished their meaning. Quite possibly, people’s vocabulary was extended in this way, hearing words in association with particular gestures and sounds. Although with much ecclesiastical delivery being in Latin, the only message you needed to get was fear, awe, and obedience which was not very complicated.
A telling change in the presentation of written material came with the advent of printing when people needed to be told how to break up the text in their heads according to syntax instead of just running out of breath during an oration[i] [ii] [iii]. Were these the first emoticons? Symbolic cues to interpretation, rhythm, pace, and meaning? Certainly, as written language became more complex with new words creeping in by stealth (other cultures popping along with their own dictionaries – beef and pork[iv] for instance), theft (people visiting other cultures and nicking words they liked – bungalow, cha[v]), and florid imagination (Shakespeare’s anchovies and puppy dogs) – rules for punctuation had to be consolidated so that everyone knew what it all meant, and so that greengrocers subsequently could annoy the hell out of everyone else by sticking inappropriate apostrophes to their sprout’s.
But then along came film and TV and, unlike stage plays where projecting to the back row and acting one’s face off in the interests of communication were an actor’s staple skills, these instead required and allowed the projection of nuance – tiny flickers of emotional content – right into our heads. Suddenly, exposure to intimacy of feeling was possible and it was right there on our screens, supported by graphic imagery, a simultaneous oral thread, and quite often, musical ‘gesture’ enhancing or clarifying the mood in case we were confused. Video clips are now ubiquitous, TV is on your phone, your tablet, your computer, and even your TV. Imagery is everywhere.
So what do we do now with those bald pieces of text by which we communicate something that isn’t worth downloading Photoshop or a video editing suite to cartoonify? I think what we do is revert to our stage play phase – exaggerating humour, sadness, excitement, joy, with every symbol we can get our hands on. Multiple exclamation marks, question marks, ellipses … littered messages long before we knew how to LMAO or require others to STFU. Once we did, we added a whole new vocabulary (Shakespeare would have been proud of us) in which almost anything could be expressed – including humility (or maybe passive aggressive appeasement) by delivering a scathing review with an IMHO tag. Emoticons are what happened once digital conversion really took off so that they could be imported easily into anything without having to remember which combination of letters and dots made the face with the cool glasses and which the one with its tongue sticking out.
Perhaps this means that, rather than being less emotionally and technically literate than previous generations, the converse is true. We appreciate the mistakes that can be made within a brief communication if our nuance is misconstrued, and we do our best to clarify by using all means our disposal. This is not an argument for the inclusion of emoticons in all our written works – especially if that might be at the expense of fully realised language – but it may mean we should accept their role in our developing communications armoury the way punctuation had to be accepted by the traditionalists when the masses began to read for themselves. And anyway, Moodle – the academic platform for many universities – has them built into its messaging options now. Resistance, it seems, is futile
And from The Conversation 6th Feb 2014: Watch where you put that emoticon AND KEEP YOUR VOICE DOWN
I had just started writing this when I saw that the author of Digging Deep, which followed mine on EDF, had done exactly the same thing. His account of the genesis of his story lets us into the history of it, the emotional drive, and also the subtext that, for better or for worse, is so often implied rather than exposed in very short fiction.
Aaron Polson wrote in his blog about the intensity of feeling that underpinned Digging Deep because he wanted us to know, I imagine, how deeply he felt that connection. It is important to him and it adds deeper currents to the stream of his story. I liked his story and I felt a great deal of his connection with the theme, but his account of its inception adds another colour to my palette of appreciation and it enhances my satisfaction with the whole. Why? Because I know more now and I like knowing a bit more. It does not detract from the fiction, or rationalise it or subvert it or explain it or in any way make up for any perceived inadequacy in it. It is instead the thing upon which it rests, the mount that enhances it and adds new light and shade.
So what about No Animals? This was not universally loved, it must be said, with at least one person unable even to read it all the way through. Others liked the feisty heroine and gave it five stars, while some were confused about what was happening. If they read it the way I read most of the non-literary fiction I have delivered to my inbox, I am not at all surprised much of it escaped people so that all they were left with was a character some people really did not like and a scenario they found difficult to understand. These are the issues I was aiming to present, and they are admittedly, unlike Aaron’s, somewhat explanatory:
- Difference and the inability to ‘see’ another group, race, or identity. Setting aside the actual likelihood of there being a species so utterly unlike ours biologically, these people are nevertheless much like us in that they are sentient, they like to be entertained, and they have codes of practice, yet they could not recognise sentient life when it was so different from their own. I wonder how much better we would do in similar circumstances.
- The role of women in fiction. In so many TV and film productions, they are just victims – there to scream and be helpless while the hero sets about either saving them or investigating their death. This character is neither, instead she wise-cracks her way to a death that is not investigated but is certainly regretted. Real women do wise-crack in adversity, despite what the media would have us believe.
- Victim-blaming. There is also the commonly held belief that getting wasted makes whatever happens to you, especially if you are female, pretty much your own fault, and this character has been on a celebratory bender that might have been exacerbated by spiking of her drinks by her colleagues. Subsequent to that is the ‘hazing’ to which she is subjected – shoved out into space by workmates as drunk as she is on the assumption they can haul her capsule back in again when they wish. So who is to blame for this? All of them for getting drunk? The tradition of bullying that is titled ‘hazing’ because it is accepted? The character for buying into it? And is it worse, more blame-worthy, because she is a mother?
- Responsibility and culpability. We live in a litigious and often scape-goating world but most mistakes for which individuals are blamed are actually systemic. The main character’s crewmates make an honest if stupid mistake when they send her out in the capsule. The aliens make an honest if ignorant mistake when they fail to see her as sentient. What is to blame there but, for each of them, a failure to take all eventualities into consideration, and how many of us do that?
- Reality TV and the treatment of vulnerable participants. So often, we see people whose personal difficulties make them good TV and ‘willing’ victims who will suffer without knowing why. In this story, the aliens are trying to avoid harm by only using non-sentient artificial intelligences for their extreme reality shows, and in their ignorance, they fail to recognise this woman as a life form. Why? Perhaps because, like much of our own media, theirs is populated by arts graduates who have not the faintest idea of anything scientific, so they take the data they are given as absolute and make no further checks of their own. They do not recognise life because they are incapable of thinking outside their box, in the same way that many of our own reality shows fail consistently to recognise participant vulnerabilities because they are not trained, and also they do not wish to see them. They have a schedule and that is their priority – a recognisable problem for many of us.
- Ethics and how these can tie us in knots. The aliens here are conservers of both life and materials and so they clean up near space and use only robotic entities for entertainment in situations that are likely to end in perceived (by the audience) destruction. This combination of ideals is central to the terrible consequences that ensue.
So the subtext of No Animals is ethics, ignorance, honest mistakes and their implications, bullying disguised as tradition, and gender role stereotyping. I am a fan of ethics, I understand how people make mistakes, but I abhor remediable ignorance, bullying, and unwarranted gender based pigeon-holing of individuals. This story took a bit of a pop at all that and yes, thank you, I feel a lot better now!
- NO ANIMALS WERE HARMED… – by Suzanne Conboy-Hill (everydayfiction.com)
An SF piece in Every Day Fiction today and not for the claustrophobic: ‘[Neela] squinted into the matt black dark, wishing her optical enhancers would come-the-hell on line. She pushed up, kicked; no movement. “Shit!” [She] raised her legs, then both arms, braced her body to test the surfaces above and below. She made a snow-angel. Smooth, top and bottom — but where were the sides? Why couldn’t she feel the sides?’
There’s been a right old rumpus going on via twitter, Facebook, blogs, and latterly, the national news here in the UK, over a Halloween Fright Night offering by Thorpe Park. This is called ‘Asylum’ and features ‘scary mental patients’, actors who chase and threaten visitors through a maze set up to look like a hospital. The issue, that a proportion of people don’t see, is the stigmatising association of mental illness with horror, fear, danger, and threat. Not to mention the idea that being scared witless by ‘mental patients’ apparently qualifies as entertainment. The whole back-story is here, if you’re interested, and there’s an update here
For obvious reasons, I’ve been part of the campaign to get Thorpe Park to at least revert the event to its previous iteration – The Freezer. Just as scary but not stigmatising and harmful. But, as objections rolled in I found myself dealing with questions about the portrayal of mental illness in fiction – mostly films, it has to be said. Many of these were ignorant and spurious, but it doesn’t negate the question. We’re all aware of racist/sexist and other terms that, if used carelessly, are offensive, but what about bonkers, crazy, mad, loopy?
I have done some searching. So far, there is nothing that helps with the use of language that, in many cases, no longer belongs to mental health but has seeped into our common referential lexicon: cf You don’t have to be mad to work here but it helps which quite obviously is not a slur. It does, however, suggest a measure of unconventionality, unpredictability, ‘zaniness’, so is it still ok?
Googling ‘writing characters with mental health problems’, I came across a set of links – all pretty much on the first page – that are well worth passing on. They all make the same points: the mental illness is not the character, the character is a person first, everyone is different and so will be the way the illness manifests, don’t make your character stereotypically evil/weak/an object of pity/an idealisation, and do your research – don’t pick and mix symptoms, get them right.
My suspicion is that, if we do those things, the language will follow. We will show characters doing or saying things for reasons well founded in their context and not according to assumptions based on inadequate knowledge. Getting it right is important – one in four of us has or will experience a mental health problem and everyone is a potential reader. In addition to the moral consideration, that’s an alienation we can do without so getting it right has to be a win-win, doesn’t it?
Here are the links:
- Thorpe Park ‘Asylum’ Halloween attraction slammed by mental health campaigners as thousands demand name change (mirror.co.uk)
- This is what a mental patient looks like (purplepersuasion.wordpress.com)
- Thorpe Park defends Asylum horror maze after mental health criticism (theguardian.com)
- Thorpe Park: Royal College of Psychiatrists’ open letter (demtigerpaw.wordpress.com)
- NAMI co-hosting mental health discussion (mercedsunstar.com)
Within the hour, all four were done up like dogs’ dinners, installed in a stretch limo with cheesy piped music, and deposited in front of a gilded reverend of questionable denomination.
‘Dog Day’ is the story of an easy marriage that rumbles along until the social wheels fall off. For Alice and Frank, this could be a breaking point. On Ether Books today.
You’ll recognise all those descriptions of how easy it is to write – ‘stare at the page until your eyes bleed’, that kind of thing – and they work for writers because we have been there. But what about the people who can’t? How do you describe the process in a way that puts them in your space? And what about really understanding it ourselves so that we can be more efficient about our own writing process? Bleeding eyes is not a good marker for success.
Yesterday, struggling first to get ‘out of the room’ as it were, because someone was coming later to fix the dryer and I couldn’t focus, I was suddenly hauled back into the room by a man wanting me to sign for next door’s parcel. It was like being on the end of a bungee – not that I’ve ever been there you understand but I’ve seen what happens – springing back into the real world from the deep pit of my imaginary one and with no time to even drop an anchor.
And there was the image: my writing process involves sitting in automatic mode above ground while my imagination climbs down a long, long ladder into a deep, deep well. Unfortunately, it has a rope around its waist and this rope is attached to the door bell, the calendar, the dog, the radio; any and all of which can drag my precious thinking back up and out into the daylight without warning. There is no opportunity to put my short term memory buffer into freeze frame, no pause button, and no instant replay. It’s like getting the mental bends and it can derail a whole train of unformed thought. Imagine the wreckage!
Of course, I can go back down once the interruption has been dealt with, but not only is the original impetus lost, the only way down is via the ladder – a long slow process made worse if there is further anticipated interruption on the cards. So my imagination hangs there half way down, stepping back and forth like a mantis and getting nowhere at all. Up to now, I’ve needed so much time around the descent and ascent that even the thought of interruption makes arriving at the bottom of the well less likely.
But when I do get down there, instead of an homunculean replication of blank paper, there is a pile of coat-hangers. Wire ones – plain and simple and empty. There’s also an empty clothes rail which I slowly populate with these little moveable structures upon which I will later hang detail. Unlike Stephen King who reportedly prunes his first drafts, I build on mine. The rail and the hangers are the skeleton of the story; they’re the elements of it and I often have no real idea of what they will be before I begin. Once I have them, I can add the colours and textures, shift them around to manipulate time, layer them, mix cardigans with posh frocks and lace with denim, then stand back to see how it all looks. Sometimes I throw the whole dressing-up box at the rail, other times I’m aiming for minimalist chic so the favourite old boots and scarves are packed away back in the repository.
For me, there’s nothing like conceptualising something to enable better management and I find visualisation is invaluable. Now that I have this in mind, I can be more confident about my process and less swayed by the advice of others to ‘do it’ this way or that. I reckon I might also become better at using smaller tracts of time – getting down into the well more quickly and having more control over the return to the surface. I think I will be pulling out the ladder, cutting the rope, and installing a lift.
And now for the imagery, a clear vindication of my brief engagement with Fine Art:
I wrote this in a poetry workshop so it must be a poem, yes? But when I sent it out into the world to be appraised for publication (I know, delusional) they said it wasn’t really. It’s been hanging around on my blog ever since, puffing out its chest and posturing to make up for its perceived inadequacies. So in honour of, or more likely a threat to, National Poetry Day, I give you:
He is brazenly, brilliantly, brassed off by the polished politics of the righteous right.
He heats arguments on pupils bright as buttons of molten jet in eyes alive with intellectual trickery.
He rolls concepts and ideas over the strop of his tongue like globules of mercury, loosed from the tedium of measurement.
His love of chase is betrayed by tiny garnet blushes on nose and cheeks; cooing infants to his icy fire of victory.
He scrubs the thoughts of neophytes with the steel wool of Socratic questioning.
Deftly iterating incantations of hegemonies, he hides exquisite diamond cuts in the woollen clouds of distracting verbiage.
He wears iron filings on his chin and calls them his beard; a professorial promulgation of proletarianism.
His wisdom does not come in glossy spheres to be cast before swine, but in the weft and warp of knit-one-purl-one patchwork blankets of the Workers’ Struggle.
Ideas settle like wise moths in the old, gold grail of his ancient and modern mind, to feed on dusty nets of idealism.
Like neglected and slowly rusting scaffolding, his body is there only to house the sapphiric laser of his intellect.
He chisels and chips at the coal face of complexity, mining for perpetuity in the legacy of runes.
©suzanne conboy-hill 2011