So. That sure was a year that happened.

I think we can all agree that there has rarely been a year that needed to be kicked to the curb as badly as 2020. Let’s just write this one off as a loss and try again with a new one, huh?

A few good things did happen to me personally, though. I got my first short story published! (It’s in an anthology of superhero romance, available here.) I also gave my first solo filk concert at OVFF, which I’d love to return to in person next year if “going places in person” is a thing we’re doing by then. Podcast writing foundered for a while, but we’re up and running again and getting some scripts ready for Season 1. (Maybe by the time we’ve finished them, the cast will all have been vaccinated and we can record in person again…) In the meantime, I got to write some short films and Zoom plays, and you can see one of those here.

Writing 500 words a day for last year’s New Year’s Resolution went really well for me, and I’m going to try and keep that up. For this year… I don’t know. The problem is that there are too many things I want to improve all at once. There isn’t one Grand Unified Resolution that will fix my sleep cycle, keep me focused at work, help me submit more writing to publishers, get me in the habit of practicing music more often, curtail my Internet time, get me to drink more water, keep my house clean, find time for me to read more books, etc. And if I make a laundry list of resolutions it just becomes easier to ignore all of them.

I suppose resolutions to change don’t have to be attached to the turning of a calendar page. It’s just a convenient reminder to take stock, the way you’re supposed to use Daylight Savings Time as a reminder to change your smoke detector batteries. And a year is a nice long deadline. You can make resolutions like “I will write my novel this year” and it seems like enough time. Whereas if you say “I will write my novel this month,” you sound like a crazy person. (Having done NaNoWriMo many times, that’s certainly what it feels like.) But with a deadline that long, it’s also easy to let a project slide again and again until it just… doesn’t get done. Do I need to make some shorter-term goals and try to improve little by little on one thing at a time? And how do I make my brain cooperate when the size of my to-do list already intimidates me on a daily basis?

I’ll have to think about it some more. Maybe have monthly projects? Or see if those books I’ve been reading about habits and brain chemistry have any ideas? In the meantime, here’s my annual recording of “Auld Lang Syne.” I’m not always sure if I can detect my progress from year to year… but I do think I sound pretty good by now. Must be all those Zoom song circles.

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This is why we can’t have nice things

There are four types of authors. Or rather, there are two axes you can sort authors along: quality of writing, and personal behavior.

In the best-case scenario, you get an author who is both good at writing and a lovely person. There are many of these! In this case, all is rosy.

Sometimes you get an author who is an obnoxious person who also turns out bad books. Your Terry Goodkinds, if you will. This is unfortunate but you can largely ignore them.

Sometimes you get an author who is personally decent, but their writing is lacking, which is sad. Sorry, Christopher Paolini–you seem very nice! (To give Paolini his due, he was lucky–or unlucky–enough to have his juvenilia published, and gets judged by that standard. He has a new book coming out that he wrote as an adult, and for his sake I hope it’s good.)

And then there’s the fourth case. When authors are good at writing, but their personal behavior or opinions are… problematic. And that one hurts.

It used to be my example for that category was Orson Scott Card, and I still think of him as the archetype. But he’s not an example that hurts for me personally; I never liked (or finished) Ender’s Game, and while I devoured the Prentice Alvin books for a while, I was eventually bothered by how messianic they were getting. And in hindsight there are some other elements that make me squirm… but the point is, I was put off by the content of the books, not by the author’s public and raging homophobia, which I learned about later.

Unfortunately, there have been more and more examples in this category lately, some a lot closer to my heart. I’ve heard some things about Isaac Asimov that make me uncomfortable. I can’t watch Firefly the same way I used to now that I’m giving more scrutiny to Joss Whedon’s feminist bona fides. And now, even more painfully, it’s J. K. Rowling.

It was bad enough when she didn’t get why people might be a little uncomfortable about the reveal that Nagini is actually an Asian woman who eventually becomes Voldemort’s slave-pet. Or when she declared Dumbledore to be gay, but wouldn’t make that explicit in canon–which was fine in the original series, when Dumbledore’s personal life was tangential at best, but pretty glaring in Crimes of Grindelwald when his supposed ex-lover is right there. Those could be written off as her trying for representation and bungling the execution, which isn’t great but seemed well-intentioned. And yeah, when she got TMI about wizard toilet habits it was probably a sign that she should stop worldbuilding while she was ahead, but that was only embarrassing, not hateful.

But she’s really doubling down on the transphobia here, isn’t she? Worse, she’s playing the “people calling me a bigot means I’m the real victim!” card, which is never a good look.

And I know this is an area where I’m not without sin; I’ve probably said ignorant things about trans people, especially when I was younger. I’m sure I owe the trans woman who lived in my childhood neighborhood plenty of apologies for misgendering and deadnaming her behind her back. For which I’m sorry, and I can only say–not that I’ve learned better, which would imply a state of wokeness where I’m beyond such mistakes. But I’m learning better, and if I mess up again, I hope I’ll learn better from those mistakes too.

JKR… does not seem to be learning better, at least not yet. Which puts fans in the painful position of feeling that the thing we love has been tainted after the fact, even though it hasn’t changed. Even though I’ve mostly left that fandom behind, Harry Potter was a foundational text for me. Should I be taking down my Harry and Hermione bookends and my Ravenclaw fridge magnet, or can I invoke Death of the Author and say the books still mean something independent of her? And what about derivative works? Surely no one involved with Puffs deserves blame or backlash for this, or A Very Potter Musical, or Potter Puppet Pals.

I don’t have good answers. But I don’t think I’ll be doing my “Trouble with Hogwarts” song at filk circles anytime soon.

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Podcast debut!

Remember that podcast I mentioned yesterday? It’s out now! I co-wrote the script with my brother; I play Em, one of the leads, while he has a cameo as the Robot Butler. Probably no one reads this blog who doesn’t also follow me on other social media, but in case I have any unsuspected fans out there, here’s the link:

https://www.cctvcambridge.org/crimeandspace

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It’ll probably be a year or two until I stop writing a 1 in the date.

Happy new decade!

My 2018 New Year’s resolution, bullet journaling, looks to be sticking for the long term. 2019’s resolution was to do creative projects that stretched me. Oddly enough, I managed to keep that one even though I forgot about it after a while. I got a short radio play into PMRP’s Halloween show, Beyond Grimm, and I signed up to write for Theatre@First’s upcoming 24-hour show.

Sadly, I didn’t get far on the novel, but–big news–my brother and I started a podcast! The pilot is right on the cusp of official release, and I’m so excited to get to work on the rest of Season 1. This is partially thanks to me reading The Artist’s Way this year, and I’ve amassed a pile of writing and creativity books since.

So this year, I’m making a simple, concrete resolution to keep it all going: write 500 words every day. It can be anything: my novel, podcast scripts, even blog posts (we’ll see if that results in more posts here…); however, I’m not counting my Julia Cameron-prescribed Morning Pages, another habit that stuck surprisingly well this year.

And finally, as I’ve done a few times before at New Year’s, I’ve recorded myself singing “Auld Lang Syne”. I think I’m starting to hear the improvement in my singing over time. This is also the first time I’ve recorded it on guitar instead of ukulele, which as a side effect means I’m singing in a higher key, so I’m proud of that added degree of difficulty.

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Adventures in local politics: the ranked-choice roller coaster

What an Election Day it’s been! National politics, of course, continues to be a tire fire, but I got to enjoy some excitement at the local-politics level–in a good way! I feel like I just watched a come-from-behind sports victory.

(A disclaimer: these are only the preliminary election results. Who knows what might change once absentee and auxiliary ballots are in; in the wacky world of ranked-choice voting, a few votes can have a big ripple effect. I just felt the need to recap the ups and downs of the results.)

First, some necessary background information: I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which uses ranked-choice voting. Voters rank the candidates in order of preference. When the results are tallied, votes are first distributed to each voter’s first-choice candidate. Anyone who exceeds a certain vote quota is immediately elected; above that number, any further votes for that candidate are distributed to the voter’s next available choice. Then one by one, candidates with the fewest votes are eliminated, and their votes are redistributed to the next available candidate on each ballot. This continues until all seats have been filled. In the case of the city council, there are nine seats available.

The top issue for Cambridge voters is affordable housing. I support the plan put forward by the political action group A Better Cambridge Action Fund (ABC AF), but currently only five of the sitting city councillors are in favor, and apparently six are needed to get anything done. ABC AF has endorsed nine candidates, and needs at least six to be elected.

Now, fast-forward to round 13 of the vote-tallying. Two of the three councillors elected so far are ABC AF’s candidates. We’re now down to eight candidates competing for six seats, with five ABC AF candidates left in the mix. We need at least four of the five to be elected. Unfortunately, the candidate with the fewest votes now is the ABC AF-endorsed Burhan Azeem, so he’s eliminated. And the two next-lowest are fellow ABC AF candidates Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler and Alanna Mallon, so one of them is probably next. It’s not looking good.

But! Remember what happens when a candidate is eliminated? Their votes go to the voter’s next choice.

It turns out that supporters of ABC AF candidates tend to overlap… so Burhan’s votes go primarily to Jivan and Alanna! In round 14, thanks to Burhan’s redistributed votes, Jivan and Alanna both leapfrog to the top of the pack and are immediately elected. With fellow ABC AF candidate Marc McGovern also making his quota in this round, the count of ABC AF candidates elected rises to 5.

With Jivan and Alanna safely elected, the lowest vote total now belongs to non-ABC AF candidate Craig Kelley. He becomes the last candidate eliminated, guaranteeing a seat to ABC AF-endorsed Tim Toomey. And… that’s six! We did it!

I don’t know if this sounds as exciting when told secondhand. The vote tables I linked to probably don’t look all that exciting, without the context. Plus, you know, who knows how the affordable housing plan will actually turn out. But it was nice, for once in the past three years, to be excited about politics and feel like we won something.

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