Archive for April, 2022


A Royal Scam

Since the book I’m working on falls roughly into the category of “historical fantasy,” I did a lot of reading about history to research it, and a lot of that involved reading about various royals. The more I learn about royalty, the more I think that the concept of royalty is one of the biggest scams ever perpetrated by and on mankind.

The earliest royals were probably tribal chiefs who won their position through some kind of conquest, whether defeating another leader and taking control or helping defend the group against someone else and being acclaimed as the leader. But then from there it became an inherited position, and they supported the idea of this as a divine right. If they’re in charge, that must mean that God wanted them to be in charge, and therefore any rebellion against the king is a rebellion against God, and therefore a sin. And then there was the idea that royal blood was somehow different from regular blood. The royalty, nobility, and gentry were physically superior to the peasantry. As late as the 1800s, the quite progressive for her time Charlotte Bronte had her character surprised that the coarse peasant girls in her school were capable of learning in spite of being of inferior birth.

And yet if you look at the actual royals, it’s hard to imagine these as superior human specimens. I don’t see how royalty stayed in power in Spain after the later Spanish Habsburgs who were so inbred as to be barely functional. They actually looked at these people and thought God wanted them to rule, and they were superior to the people they ruled? Well, probably not. This is a case of what I mentioned last week, where there was an infrastructure in place of people who benefited from the power structure and supported it. Most of the people didn’t know how sickly and deformed their rulers were, and the people around the rulers were hanging on to their own power, so nobody said, “You know, I don’t really think God is blessing this guy’s rule.”

Where it gets really wacky is the idea that royalty is so important that it supersedes ability or even being from the country they’re going to be ruling. For instance, when the British ran out of Stuarts they wanted anywhere near their throne, they reached back to the great-grandson of a previous king, someone who didn’t speak English, had never lived in England and knew little about it. Ironically, that previous king got his claim to the throne via an ancestor whose claim to “royal blood” was somewhat dubious (though his wife did have a bit more of a claim). I guess your blood suddenly becomes royal once you’ve put on a crown and your descendants forevermore are royal.

That even continues into modern time. When Norway got its independence from Sweden in 1905, they decided they wanted a king. Instead of finding someone in their country who would make a good leader, they imported a Danish prince — I guess because royalty was all-important. The current king is the first king of Norway to have actually been born in Norway in something like 800 years. His grandfather was Danish and his father was born in England (his father’s mother was a daughter of the English king). And the next king of Norway will be the first one in a long time who’s at all Norwegian, since his mother is Norwegian. Until now, they’ve been Danish and Swedish (and English, but in the English royal family, that meant German at that time). Greece also imported a Danish prince to be their king, back in the 1800s, which is how Prince Philip was a Greek prince without being at all Greek (he was Danish, German, and Russian).

I wonder if this kind of stuff is why there’s such a tendency toward “chosen ones” in fantasy. We’re trying to make sense of the idea of royalty, where there is actually something magical about it, some supernatural reason why this person is elevated above others. It makes it feel like the person might have actually earned it. That farmboy who turns out to be the long-list prince proves himself somehow, usually gaining acclaim from great deeds before anyone knows who he is, so it’s like he’s earned his throne rather than merely inheriting it. I love what Terry Pratchett did with the trope, where the long-lost “one true king” is just a cop. Everyone kind of knows who he really is, but no one talks about it. He’s capable of rallying the people when necessary, then goes back to working his beat after the crisis is over. He’s worthy because he’s a good man, not because of his ancestry or the fact that he has a birthmark in the shape of a crown, and because he’s a good man, he has no interest in taking power.


Writing Status Update

I’m still plugging away at the book I’ve been working on. I’ve passed what should be the halfway point, based on my targeted word count, but I’m not yet really at the midpoint of the story. Either this book is going to be a lot longer than I planned, the “midpoint” event is actually going to be at the 3/4 mark, or I’m going to have to do a lot of editing. Possibly all of the above.

I’m going to try not to worry about that for now. I’m going to just keep writing and then I’ll know after the first draft is done what I need to do in the second draft — if I’ll need all the setup scenes, if the subplots I set up early in the book will actually come to fruition or if I can cut that setup, if there’s stuff I can trim. Or I can reconsider some things and pull back to just one or two points of view and let the readers have the same amount of knowledge as the main character does instead of showing what’s really going on through other perspectives.

I feel like the book is starting to hit its stride. I’m enjoying the main characters, and the humor is starting to really come out. I hadn’t thought of this book as a comedy, but it’s got more funny stuff than I expected. I just can’t seem to help myself. But funny is good. It’s part of what I’m known for. In fact, it’s kind of a relief that funny stuff started showing up.

This book seems to be coming more slowly than usual. I’m spending the usual amount of time writing every day, but have fewer words than I usually get from that amount of time. And yet I’m also spending a lot of time planning each scene before I write it. I guess I’m having trouble translating those ideas into actual words.

I’m planning to have at least two books in this series written before I start worrying about publication, so I have no idea when it will make its way out into the world. It will depend on whether things speed up and how much revising I have to do, and then whether I can use my planned book 2 or if something else will come up. So I’ll just keep writing and see what happens.


Frustrated Gardener

Over the past five or six years, I’ve realized that I’m a frustrated gardener. Gardens are my happy place. I like to be around flowers and plants. I read gardening magazines and watch garden tour travel documentaries.

Alas, I don’t have a garden or even a yard. I have a very small patio that only gets a few hours of sunlight a day. I can maybe get a bit more by moving the plants around the patio to follow the sun. I have about a foot of dirt between the concrete and the fence, but that gets even less sun, so there’s not much that will grow there. There’s some jasmine planted there that seems impossible to kill (it even came back after last year’s deep freeze), and I planted some mint last year in one of the bare spots left after the deep freeze, and it’s coming back this spring. Nothing else I’ve tried in that spot has done well. So, potted plants, it is.

I usually plant a few morning glory seeds because those bring me so much joy. I have a big pot with a trellis in it, and it’s on a wheeled dolly so I can move the pot around the patio to get enough sun. The last few years, I’ve had celosias, thanks to a “cutting mix” packet of seeds and then the plants re-seeding themselves. I guess I’m a lazy gardener because I don’t plant much. I just let whatever grows on its own grow. I might start some celosia seeds I’ve saved and then put the seedlings in pots.

But aside from herbs (the mint, basil, parsley), I haven’t been able to grow vegetables. I tried lettuce a couple of years ago, but between rabbits (there’s one that sneaks under the fence) and just general life, it didn’t do well. I got maybe one salad, and that required mixing in some store-bought lettuce.

But a couple of weeks ago, I read an article online about vegetables from the grocery store you could regrow. They said you could put the core from a head of lettuce in a dish of water, put it in the sun, and it would re-grow leaves. I was near the end of a head of green leaf lettuce, so I gave it a shot.

A week later, I had actual leaves growing. It works!

Small lettuce leaves sprout from a lettuce core in a dish of water

So, on the next head of lettuce, I left the smaller inner leaves on to see if they would keep growing, and that seems to be working. I don’t think I’ll be able to stop buying lettuce at the store, but I’m curious to see how far it will go. I may be able to fill in gaps between grocery trips.

I may see if I can sprout some garlic, and I’ve heard you can get green onions to sprout again. That would be handy because I often have recipes that require just a little bit, and it would be nice to snip some off instead of having to buy a whole bunch.

I still would love to live in a place where I can have a real garden, a full vegetable garden and a real flower garden, but given the way real estate has been going, that’s not going to happen unless my career makes a drastic change. I’ll make do with my kitchen table lettuce garden and a few plants on my patio.

Life vs. Fiction

I think events of the past few years have killed a lot of popular plots for fiction. Maybe they were never actually realistic, but we could at least believe them. Now, I’m not sure they’d work anymore without a lot of adjustments or explanations of what the specific circumstances are that make them work.

First, there’s the “get the message out/publicly reveal the villain’s crimes” plot. In this one, our plucky band of heroes finds out about the villain’s wrongdoing and overcomes all the odds to spread the word far and wide, leading to the villain’s downfall. Or they might step up in a public forum with the key evidence that reveals the villain’s wrongdoing. Or they might trick the villain into saying the quiet part out loud, so that they rant about their evil scheme or say what they really think while on an open microphone, on the air, or in some other way that people can hear it.

Of course, as soon as the people hear this, it brings the villain down. The evil regime is overthrown, the villain loses all status, or the people rise up and make the villain account for his crimes. Good prevails!

I was thinking about this a few weeks ago when Arnold Schwarzenegger recorded his video aimed at the people of Russia about how their government is lying to them about Ukraine, and I allowed myself a moment of fantasizing about the people rising up and removing Putin from power. Then I realized how unlikely that was. The misdeeds of a lot of “villain” type people around the world are pretty well-known, and it doesn’t seem to affect their popularity or power. The realistic response to the heroes getting the message out would be for maybe some people who already didn’t like the villain to get angry and for everyone else to either not believe it or not care because they like some of the things the villain is doing or are getting something out of the villain’s regime. Odds are that all that effort to get the message out would end up coming to nothing.

It might work on a smaller level if the people hearing the message were victims of the villain and this information reveals that he was the one behind it, and if they had the power to actually do something. But on a larger scale, odds are that nothing would come of it.

Which brings me to the other popular plot: The evil overlord has been overthrown or killed, so we’re all free and there’s dancing in the streets.

The problem with this is that an evil overlord doesn’t get to be an evil overlord without having a critical mass of people in critical positions supporting him. I suppose if magic’s involved it might work. If the villain created a magical army or used magic to force his army to fight for him, then if he died the army would either dissipate or wake up and stop fighting. But otherwise, if the evil overlord is killed, likely someone else would step into his place, and there would still be plenty of true believers in positions of power to keep things going. The police force and military would still be out there enforcing the laws, and there would likely be plenty of people who benefited from the rule of the evil overlord who wouldn’t be happy about his death and wouldn’t want things to change. You don’t get into power or stay in power if no one else supports you and unless there’s been a massive war that wiped out all those supporters, those supporters would keep the regime going with a new leader.

I know a lot of Star Wars fans were mad that the sequels seemed to undo everything accomplished in the original trilogy, with yet another Empire-like organization to fight, but that was actually pretty realistic. What was less realistic was the stuff added to the end of Return of the Jedi in the special editions showing all the dancing in the streets. That might have happened in some of the places that were subjugated by the Empire, but in Coruscant, the capital, where people had it good, odds are they wouldn’t have been happy about the end of the Empire. A lot of the rank and file Stormtroopers might have been conscripts by the time of the rebellion, but there were probably still a lot of clones who’d been brainwashed to support the Empire. Then there were all the governors and officers and other elites who benefited from Imperial rule. Killing the Emperor and losing his henchman wouldn’t have changed society that much. There would have been a ton of clean-up work and re-education to do in order to completely rebuild society. And even then, a generation or so later you’d likely have people who didn’t experience the bad parts romanticizing the past and trying to revive it, working alongside the people who remembered it and liked it. That 37-year timeline for the rise of a new Empire-like regime is pretty realistic. Thirty years seems to be about the average between the fall of one totalitarian regime and the rise of the next one.

It seems like there are some interesting stories to be told about the aftermath of taking out the evil overlord, the people who have to go in and dismantle all the stuff surrounding the overlord, deal with the power structure, and convince the people that there was a problem with their leadership, but we seldom get that part of the story. It’s just, kill the Emperor, we’re free, the end.


Toy Stories

Over the past few weekends, I’ve rewatched the first three Toy Story movies and watched the fourth, which I didn’t see in the theater, for some odd reason. These films are so clever and imaginative, and it’s fun to track the progress of the Pixar technology from the first through the last one. But watching these has made me wonder if maybe I was a bad toy owner as a kid.

I don’t recall having a “best friend” toy like Andy had Woody. I might have when I was really little, before I have clear memories, but I certainly didn’t have one who stuck with me to the point I was planning to take it to college with me. I guess I did have my R2-D2 action figure, but that was more about showing my fondness for Star Wars, and R2 is kind of a personal mascot. I didn’t have any particular feelings for that figure.

My toys were generally my cast to play out stories I made up, so whatever feelings I had for them were for the roles they were playing at that particular moment. The object itself wasn’t that important to me. I didn’t sleep with toys. My parents didn’t do the “you can bring one toy with you” thing when we went to restaurants. If I ever did bring something with me, it was most likely a book. A toy on its own wouldn’t have been any fun unless I could have it acting out stories, and I couldn’t do that properly in public.

I was also pretty fickle. I might be really into a new toy soon after getting it, but then I’d move on. I suffered a lot from 70s TV commercial oversell (as the fourth movie so hilariously depicted), so the toy that looked like so much fun on TV, that I desperately wanted and begged to get for Christmas or my birthday, ended up not doing anything like what was shown on TV. I remember in particular the Baby Alive, a baby doll that would actually eat and drink and then you’d have to change its diaper (it came with this powder stuff that you made into a glop with water to feed it). I’m not sure why that sounded like fun, but I had a baby brother at the time, and I guess I wanted my own baby to feed. One time dealing with the grossness, and I didn’t use that feature of the doll again. As I recall, if you “fed” the doll, you then had to pour a lot of water through it to rinse it out, and it was more trouble than it was worth. Then there was the bride doll I desperately wanted, got, and then wondered, “Now what?”

When I was little, I mostly played with the Fisher Price “little people.” I had the house and the school, though the school also got turned into things like churches and auditoriums. My brother inherited those, and he also got the farm and the airport. One house where we lived had a full basement with a room we got to use as a playroom, and we set up a whole town for the people, with other buildings built out of blocks.

My Barbie dolls were mostly used to act out plays and musicals (I’d make up stories to connect the songs on my record albums, so I guess I invented the “jukebox musical” decades before that trend hit Broadway). They also served as models for clothes I designed and made. In that same house where we had a full room as a playroom, I set up a kind of town for my dolls. I had the Barbie Dream House, and I built all kinds of additions to it, including a fireplace and balcony. I was around 10 during my most intense Barbie phase, and I think I used that as a way to imagine what my ideal adult life would be like. I had a Malibu Barbie, but my primary doll was actually a Francie, who I think was Barbie’s cousin. She was brunette, a bit less voluptuous and had slightly flatter feet instead of being designed for high heels. Mine was the “quick curl” model, with wiry hair that you could curl with a “curling iron” plastic rod. But basically, her hair ended up all clumpy and frizzy, which meant she was just like me. At one point, I tried to fix this with scissors, and that never goes well. During that more intense Barbie phase, when that doll was pretty worn out, I got a PJ (a brunette Barbie), sent my Francie to a spa for a makeover, and she came home as that PJ, so I saw her as essentially the same doll. Then about six months later we moved, and I pretty much stopped playing with Barbies. We didn’t have a good place to put up the Dream House, and since I was going into junior high, I didn’t want it in my room.

I have that last doll in a box in my closet, and I guess it’s weird that the one I kept is one I didn’t play with all that much. According to the Toy Story films, that’s been a horrible fate for that doll, to be boxed up in a closet and never played with. I don’t have a daughter to give her to, and given that she’s more than 40 years old (yikes!), I’m not entirely sure how safe she’d be. There’s no telling what they were putting in toys then.

Now that those movies have made me feel bad, maybe I should find her and let her look outside, or something.

I did have a bit of a Toy Story 3 experience with my books. My parents cleared out their attic with boxes and boxes of childhood books. I knew I would probably never have kids, but my church works with a summer program that provides summer enrichment for kids in disadvantaged neighborhoods. As part of it, they have a reading program, and they like for the kids to be able to take home a few books of their own to keep. I donated all my old books to that program, and I felt like the end of Toy Story 3, in which a grown Andy gives up his childhood toys to a child, when I handed over all those boxes. I did feel attached to some of those books, and now I like to imagine children who didn’t have books of their own bringing those books home with them, and maybe getting even more attached to them than I was because these might be the first books they got to own for themselves.


Pacing Perception

At the end of last week, I’d reached the 1/4 of the book point, if this one is going to be the length my fantasy books usually are, and I felt like I’d only barely started to really get into the story. I wondered if the pacing was all off and this book was off to a slow start, so I reread what I’d written so far.

That reminded me that writing pace is not the same as reading pace. It had taken me weeks to write that much, and I read it in about an hour and a half—and that wasn’t even normal reading speed. I was trying not to edit as I read, but when you see a typo, you have to deal with it immediately because you might not notice it again. What feels slow as a writer because it takes you days or weeks to write may feel fast for a reader. In fact, I find that the fast-paced, action-packed scenes are the slowest to write.

I’m still not entirely sure what I think about this book. It reminds me of the meme showing a beautiful oil painting of a horse as “the book in my head” and a child’s stick-figure drawing of a horse as “the book when I try to write it.” The weird thing with this one is that the story is pretty much playing out according to what was in my head. The scenes are all there. And yet they’re somehow lacking. I think part of it is that the book in my head was like a movie trailer. I wasn’t necessarily seeing the whole scenes. I was seeing the highlights, the key moments. It skipped the parts that are necessary for getting to those moments or for getting from those moments to the next key moments.

Then there’s the fact that as I write, the book becomes even more vivid in my head, so there’s a huge disconnect with what I can put on the page. I’m bad about not getting much description in during the first draft, but even in a final draft it’s impossible to fully describe every little detail of what’s in my head. It would be a boring book if I did. The trick is figuring out exactly what needs to be described and finding ways to fit that in so that it’s not an obvious chunk of description, and even then, what’s on the page can never be as vivid as what’s in my head because it requires putting images and sensations into words.

This book is a bit different for me because it has multiple viewpoints, and each of those viewpoint characters has his or her own story. The stories will eventually meet up and mesh in the main plot, but I have to get them started separately and get them all to the main plot. If I were only dealing with one viewpoint character, like in most of my books, then the story would have moved a lot more quickly, and I’d be long past the point of the main character “crossing the threshold” into the main part of the story. But since I also have to set up the subplots with the other characters, it’s taking longer than I’m used to. I think that there’s some tension in seeing how those subplots are coming together to create a situation that’s going to hit the main character like a truck. We can see the disaster she’s heading for, but she has no idea when we’re just in her viewpoint, so it feels like her story is only just starting, but we know from seeing all the other stuff that she’s in for some trouble. I suspect this book may be a bit longer, as well.

And then there’s realizing what I’m writing. In my head, I saw it as epic fantasy, but it’s really more of a courtly intrigue and comedy of manners story. There aren’t any quests or battle scenes, just scheming and plotting and trying to cope with new situations. Part of my brain is going “this isn’t very exciting,” and I’m reminding myself that this isn’t an action-packed story.

I’m sure I’ll do some trimming in later drafts. There are some concepts I’ve had characters explain multiple times, since there are multiple people who need explanations, but the reader doesn’t need all those explanations, and I can maybe replace one or two with something like “he explained how it worked” and then move on. But then I’ll probably also be adding description and detail, so the length won’t change all that much.

writing life

Things I Hate Being True

One of my hobbies is optimizing my life. I love finding productivity methods and other tricks to make life work a little better or to make things go more easily. I’m always looking for some new thing that will improve my life. But there’s a lot of advice I resist because I don’t really want it to be true—and then I finally give in and try it and find out that it works even if it’s not fun. So, here are the things that I have found to be true, even though I hate that they’re true:

1) My day goes better when I set an alarm in the morning, even though I work for myself and don’t have to be at work at any particular time.
Not only do I get an earlier start (though not much earlier; we’re talking 10-20 minutes), but I’m more alert and less groggy, and I fall asleep more easily at night. I’m not entirely sure why it works this way for me. It may have something to do with the kind of alarm clock I have. I have a light alarm clock that wakes you up with light. Half an hour before the time you set, a light comes on, dim at first and gradually growing brighter. If you haven’t turned it off by the time you set the alarm for, it will play some kind of sound. I almost never make it all the way to the sound. Usually I wake up about 10 minutes after the light comes on. I love this clock because it makes me feel like I naturally woke up at the time I wanted instead of being startled out of sleep by the alarm. It’s possible that the light does something to reset my circadian rhythms and that’s why setting an alarm makes me sleep better at night.

Anyway, I kind of hate this. I’d rather just sleep until I wake up every morning, but I have to admit that my days go better when I set an alarm. One other good thing is that it makes weekends and holidays, when I don’t set an alarm, feel different from my weekdays.

2) Exercise first thing in the morning gives me more energy all day.
I really resisted this. I thought if I didn’t eat breakfast as soon as I got up, I’d feel awful. I thought I didn’t have the time. But once I started walking in the morning, I had to admit that it made things better. Ideally, I go walking outdoors, but when weather, or sometimes time, doesn’t permit, I may do yoga or even just do some jumping jacks, windmills, or other exercises. Even if it’s just five minutes of movement, it really helps set up the whole day, and I hate that. I’d rather lie in bed and then drag myself to the kitchen for breakfast.

3) When writing is the first thing I do in my workday, I get so much more writing done and am more productive all day.
I resisted this one for decades. I thought I needed to ease my way into my day, and it was important to check my e-mail, in case there was some important information I needed to know. I’d sit down at the computer and start by reading e-mail, then social media, message boards, etc. Then I’d draft my blog post and make another round of social media, etc. I’d post my blog, check around again, and then lunchtime! Finally, I might start writing after lunch. There was no way I’d be alert enough first thing in the morning to write anything worthwhile.

Well, I finally gave it a shot, and it was amazing how well I could write first thing in the morning. Doing that before I started all the other stuff gave me a lot more focus. I reduce temptation by putting my computer to sleep at night with the browser minimized and my current document up on the screen, so that’s the first thing I see when I wake up the computer. I think keeping with this routine has improved the quantity and quality of my work. And I kind of hate it because I really would prefer to spend the morning drinking tea and surfing the Internet.

If your schedule doesn’t permit writing first thing in the morning, this applies to the beginning of any writing session. Do the writing first, the other stuff later. It’s amazing. And terrible.

4) Having a schedule makes the day go better.
One of the things I love about working for myself is setting my own schedule. I do what I want, when I want to. Except I don’t. Strangely, I’m bad about not getting around to doing things I want to do, often because I’m sidetracked by other stuff. I’ve learned that making a schedule makes me more likely to get to all the stuff I want to do. A lot of that has to do with how willpower and decision-making work. You really do run out of energy for making choices, especially late in the day, so if you make all the “what should I do today?” decisions early, then all you have to do later in the day is follow the schedule. My work routine has fallen into habit well enough that I don’t have to make a formal schedule unless there’s a change I have to accommodate, but where I really benefit from this is on weekends. Having a plan means I actually get to the fun stuff instead of just puttering around and then hitting Sunday night and wondering what happened to the weekend.

5) You see more progress when you do something daily.
I am pretty good about writing daily (except I give myself weekends off). It’s everything else that I tend to do weekly. I’d take an exercise or dance class that met once a week and not do anything in between. I had choir practice but wouldn’t sing the rest of the week. But last year, I started doing daily yoga, and it’s amazing how much a difference that made compared to the once a week class I used to take. I’ve been doing daily Norwegian lessons on Duolingo for a couple of years, and I feel like I’ve made more progress with just 15 or so minutes a day than I did in all the years I took Spanish classes in school. I need to get back to doing music this way. I’ve just about lost my singing voice after two years of barely even speaking, so I should start doing daily voice work so I can eventually get back to choir. This also works for housework, doing small things daily instead of doing it all on the weekend (or not doing it at all).

These all work for me, but may not necessarily work for everyone, since we’re all wired differently. But since I was absolutely certain they wouldn’t work for me until I tried them, it’s worth giving it a shot and seeing if these things work for you.



It’s amazing how a little thing can end up making a big difference. A couple of weeks ago, I splurged and bought myself a “zero-g” lounger. This is a lawn/patio chair that creates the position your body naturally falls into in a zero-gravity environment, with your upper body and your knees elevated. Supposedly, this position is particularly good for your back. My patio is small, and I hadn’t bought any kind of lounge chair because I didn’t have room for it, but this one folds up so I can get it out of the way when I’m not using it, and since it doesn’t lie flat, it doesn’t take up as much space as a regular lounge chair.

And I must say, it’s been an excellent purchase so far. It has multiple positions, so you can sit almost upright, lean back slightly, or go full zero-g. I’ve learned that you need to sit at least partially upright if you’re eating or drinking, but even that position is very relaxing. I’ve been spending a lot of time reading on the patio in this chair. Yesterday, I was doing brainstorming, so I sat out there with a pen and paper, figuring out the next scenes in my book. I haven’t yet tried actually writing in it, using the laptop and a lap desk, but I should see if that works.

On the first day I had it, I didn’t want to come inside, even when it got dark, and then I got the bright idea to bring it inside. I don’t have room for a recliner in my living room, but since this chair can be put away when I’m not using it, it works brilliantly for movie watching. I just swing the coffee table out of the way and set up this chair in front of the sofa, facing the TV. To make it more like an indoor chair, I put a down-filled throw over it for some cushioning and have pillows for my head and back. The only problem is that it’s so comfortable that I have to fight not to fall asleep during the movie.

I’m finding that sitting like this for my leisure time is good for my back and shoulders. I have good posture when I’m standing, but I have terrible posture when I’m sitting. I have a bad habit of folding myself up in chairs, sitting half sideways so I’m twisted around. This chair forces me to sit in a proper alignment, but it’s so comfortable that it doesn’t feel like I’m being forced into a position. I may sit badly the rest of the day, but if I sit on the patio for a little while in the evening or watch a movie, it’s like it resets my back.

I found this one just by doing a Google search on zero-g patio lounger. I have a fairly small one. I’m not sure how well it would work for someone who’s taller and heavier than I am, but there are bigger, more sturdy ones. The one issue I have is that it can be difficult to get in and out of it. Even when I bring it fully upright, it’s not exactly graceful to get up from it. Once I have it set exactly the way I want it, I hate to bring it upright, so then it’s really awkward to get up and down. I’m glad there’s no one else around to see me!

This is also helping me cope emotionally with the coming of summer. I decided to “celebrate” the coming of warm weather by buying this. It feels a little silly to be this excited about a new patio chair, but it’s 2022, and you have to take your joy where you can find it.

writing, movies

Specific and Universal

I was surprised to see a criticism of the movie Turning Red that suggested it was too specific in its setting, that it would only appeal to the filmmaker and her friends, people of Asian descent who grew up in the early 2000s in Toronto.

I found that rather baffling because stories are supposed to be specific. The whole idea is to take something universal and put it into a specific place and time. I’m not of Chinese descent, was a pre-teen long before the early 2000s, and have never been to Toronto, and yet I related quite strongly to the characters in that movie. It reminded me so much of my seventh-grade year at a US Department of Defense school in Germany in the early 80s.

I have to wonder if this reviewer has ever seen any other Pixar movies. Last weekend, I watched the first two Toy Story movies. I am not a cowboy toy owned by a little boy, but I related to the fear of being replaced. That sort of experience comes up so often in life, like when your friends really seem to like the new kid in school and you worry you’ll lose them, when that new employee is so slick and cool that you’re worried your career is going to come to a screeching halt, when get a baby brother or sister and worry your parents will have less time for you. It’s a universal feeling put into a specific setting.

In fact, just about all stories are like that. You might be able to find a few things that are about someone exactly like you who’s experiencing something exactly like your life, but I’d think they’d be kind of boring. Why read or watch a story that’s basically about your life? We’re not space knights, superheroes, princesses, 1940s private detectives, or any of the other heroes that show up in fiction, but we can still find things about them that we can relate to.

That doesn’t mean, though, that not everyone needs to be represented or to see themselves in stories. Every so often it’s fun to find something that you relate to not only on a universal level, but also in something specific. I was in my 40s when the movie Brave came out, but it still gave me a huge thrill to see a curly-haired heroine—one who had real curly hair that acted like real curly hair, not like a straight-haired actress who’d had a curling iron waved in her general direction. Even better, she didn’t get a makeover in which she suddenly became beautiful when her hair was straightened. If that movie had existed when I was a kid, it would have had a huge impact on the way I saw myself. I think everyone needs to see themselves in stories at some point.

I suspect this writer thought the setting should have been more “universal,” like middle America. We need to get past the idea that white middle America is some kind of default that’s universal. It’s not, really. For one thing, which America? A town in the deep South isn’t the same as one in the northeast, and both are different from the midwest, which can vary depending on whether it’s north midwest or south midwest. There is no “universal” setting. I suppose the Toy Story movies do take place in some kind of generic suburban middle America, but since it’s seen through the eyes of toys, they have no real experience of the world outside Andy’s home so they have no idea where they are. Their specific world is Andy’s home.

When you try to have a generic setting with real people, you get a Hallmark Christmas movie, where they talk about the city without naming it and the small town may have a name, but you never know where this town actually is. The cars all have generic plates, if they show the license plates at all, so you can’t even tell what state they’re in. It’s just generic middle America, and it doesn’t seem like a real place. That’s the irony: the less specific you are about your setting, the less real it feels. You don’t find the universal emotions in the story when the setting feels fake. You’re more likely to relate to something in a specific setting that’s far from your personal experience because it feels more real.

This applies to made-up places, too. You need to make up a place that feels specific, like someone who grew up there could tell you exactly what it was like. Otherwise you get those generic quasi-medieval European-ish fantasy worlds.