What I Learned From the French (sigh, it’s always cynicism ahead)

I’ve been out of town and have managed to return from various nutty adventures to chaos and sadness. But, aw shucks, I’m always learning something new in the midst of life, even if it’s from an otherwise unmemorable memoir about an American and a Brit raising their children in France (Bringing Up Bebe). To be fair, I found the author’s willingness to reexamine the permissive parenting of American families in light of the more strict upbringing of French children to be refreshing. But, in general, it’s not the kind of memoir I’ll remember forever. I mean, is it really earth-shattering to realize that children are capable of eating fish and vegetables instead of chicken nuggets and French fries? Is it really so astonishing to realize even young children are capable of not acting like barbarians? The French may understand this, but they don’t have any secret weapon; they are simply parenting in the same way Americans used to parent. And of course, many Americans still do parent this way, but perhaps not in the author’s set. Conversely, there are almost certainly lax French parents who let their kids rule the roost and pig out on junk food whenever they want.

But that was simply to give you an idea about the memoir’s contents. Now I’d like to briefly discuss the new little tidbit I learned from the book (amidst the chaos, egad!). As most people know, France is a socialist country. The process of socialization begins at a very early age. That’s the choice of the French people; it’s their culture and their society. They may raise their children the way they choose. But I find the way the system was instituted to be alarming–if the memoir gives an accurate historical portrait (which you can find on pp 98-101 in my edition).

According to the book, by the 1840s, nursery schools were already provided free to poor working women. But they were only provided for children aged 2-6. This left poor working women having to keep their infants up to age 2 in dangerous conditions, or hiring even poorer women than they were to care for their infants. Along came Jean-Baptiste-Firmin Marbeau, who was simultaneously impressed by the free nursery schools and appalled that there wasn’t free daycare available for babies. With his passionate idealism, this forward-looking man managed to convince wealthy people that they should fund infant daycare centers: ‘”These children are your fellow citizens, your brothers. They are poor, unhappy and weak: you should rescue them,” he wrote in a creche manual published in 1845. Then he added, “If you can save the lives of 10,000 children, make haste: 20,000 extra arms a year are not to be disdained. Arms are work and work creates wealth”‘ (Druckerman, 100).

And thus the French daycare center, the creche, was born. Now that 80% of women work, they fight to get their children into the government subsidized creches. It’s part of their culture. They love their creches and believe they’re wonderful for children. The French creches may very well be good for children, but can we take a moment to analyze the mental shift that occurred between 1840 France and the France of today? The wealthy were convinced to fund these creches to propagate more generations of slaves to do their work for them. Do you think poor women in the 1840s wanted to toil away washing clothes or doing other unsatisfying, menial work? Do you think they wanted to spend hours and hours of time away from their children for this work? It’s highly unlikely that if given the choice, they would have chosen endless exhausting toil over caring for their offspring.

Fast-forward to today and the vast majority of French women have come to believe that being a wage slave is not only satisfying, but the best way to live. They fight to get their young infant children into creches so that they can be slaves like the drudges of the 1840s. It’s not that I believe daycare centers are inherently bad. Indeed, I have no opinion of them at all, except to acknowledge that they can meet needs, and that children are more adaptable than we give them credit for. However, I find it astonishing that human beings can be convinced that slavery is what we should clamor for. I shouldn’t be surprised after having studied as much history as I have. For heaven’s sake, I’ve even found this concept in the Bible. Didn’t the Israelites beg to return to slavery in Egypt so their slave masters might again meet their needs (and murder their children, but…)?

Ay-ay-ay!! Humans are fucked in the head. Not just the French. All of us. Sorry for being cynical. I also learned something pleasant from this book, that French food is really delicious. But I already knew that.

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Blog Hop Tour

Mike Duran, author of The Resurrection, tagged me in a blog hop last week. I don’t do much marketing. I should, but I don’t. His tagging me helped me sell a couple of books, so for that I’m grateful. Thanks, Mike! (I hope he sold some books, too.)

1. What am I working on?

I’m working on three projects: a coffeehouse memoir with photographs; a collection of short stories; a science fiction novel. The first is a hobbyist project, so I’ll ignore that one for now.

This fall, I’ll be publishing a collection of short stories called The Jaybird’s Nest and Other Stories. Many of the stories have run on this blog, but most have been extensively edited for this collection. I’ve also added some new material. They range in tone from absurdist sci-fi shorts about Dr. Gillilander, pet psychologist and creator of chimera creatures, to a fantasy short about a woman who has a trepanation cure to open her “third eye”. Taken altogether, it will provide a glimpse into my weirdness.

My science fiction novel is slated to come out at the beginning of 2015. It’s about a maverick neuroscientist who’s on a mission to make money for the future and recompense for past wrongs [yes, that WAS a zeugma].

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I’ve been indelibly AND incurably influenced by Jonathan Swift. I keep a copy of Gulliver’s Travels by my bed. I’m also happy to read Don Quixote whenever I need a fix of pure joy-light-energy. If you take into account the time I’ve spent reading magical realism past my hyper rational years, you will find that my writing is unwittingly tinged by stories such as La noche boca arriba.

I’m not sure if I’m answering this question appropriately by giving my influences. But what it comes down to is that I’m an absurdist at heart. I don’t take myself too seriously. When I combine all the disparate elements, not to mention all the years of dwelling inside my own head, I arrive at a delicate dry infusion of fruity tarts squared through the unending digitization of real numbers. And I really prefer to drink Chianti with medium-rare ribeyes.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Before I changed over to speculative fiction, I wrote detective stories. I like detectives because they’re logical. Or they can be. However, I don’t care for the detective fiction I’ve authored and I hope that it never sees the light of day. I mean that. For those of you out there who have copies, a good reminder is in order. Small acts can have serious consequences. I switched to spec fic because I like to play with ideas. In general, I write because the world is a frustrating place. When I get enough of it, I disappear and write the ideas in my head.

4. How does my writing process work?

Make coffee. Evacuate noise. Then sit down to write. Break for lunch. Exercise [use this opportunity to count squats, push-ups, kicks, etc]. Dinner. Wine. Lie awake at night working out scenes and ideas. Then panic because the plot isn’t doable and acknowledge lunacy. Relate all woes to husband, who won’t seem surprised or concerned. After enough days of this, disappear inside closet and bang head against floor in a kind of religious supplication. Husband will still not be surprised or concerned, and children will laugh delightedly as they navigate the prone figure on the floor like an object in a parkour cityscape. Finish book. Spend the next five years laboriously rewriting every word.

I’ve asked these three writers to take part in this blog hop next Monday the 18th:

Robynn Tolbert. Her debut fantasy, Star of Justice, is a fantastic read, and I really want to know what’s next.

Kat Heckenbach. She’s delivered 2 out of 3 of a trilogy; Finding Angel is the first. Well, will she finish the trilogy or publish something new and different?

Jay Dinitto. Years ago now, I first read his short story collection, Bored in the Breakroom. It’s classic, intelligent writing.

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Manifest Destiny and Its Destined Manifestation

Manifest Destiny is a term that one hears in university classes, usually to deconstruct any ideal of the goodness of white American settlers. It’s used in a nasal tone, sarcastically, and is meant “to wake up” ignorant white privileged kids–or to make them squirm in their seat. It bothered me back then, and it bothers me today when the term is tossed around willy-nilly yet treated as inarguable at one and the same time.

The willy-nilly use of the term–as in, everybody knows white Americans believed in Manifest Destiny–bothers me because it was political terminology. It was coined by John O’Sullivan in 1845 in the United States Magazine and Democratic Review, which was a prominent journal of the day. It was largely pushed by the Democrats, but had little support with the American people, many of whom did not believe that imperialism was what the American people were about. As with any other political movement, there were people who believed in the idea in one form or another; there are always noncritical thinkers, idealists, and/or amoral people around. Of course, the political push for Manifest Destiny had a devastating impact on the Mexican people in the form of the Mexican War, and it has had an impact on our relations with our southern neighbors to this day.

But it was still not a philosophy that was widely held and supported by the American people. Rather, it was one that was voiced loudly for a couple of decades in those prime moving and shaking years between 1840-1860. Those in power saw it as a great opportunity to expand borders and steal land from Native Americans. It also planted monster seeds in the American psyche: the vestiges of the philosophy are still seen today with the strange notion that the United States’ divine purpose in the world is the expanse of democracy everywhere, even in those places that don’t want it (which is in itself ironic, being that we aren’t precisely a democracy). And although many Americans are skeptical of this thousand-points-of-light ideal, some believe in it wholeheartedly because the seeds were allowed to nurture.

This is the way political propaganda works. Instead of rolling our eyes sarcastically in university classrooms, it would be better for us to examine the way this kind of propaganda makes bad policies and illegal or unjust wars possible within a limited framework. After all, once you are aware that this kind of propaganda is happening right here and now in present-day America, you are hopefully also able to connect the way our current politicians operate with how politicians operated well over a hundred years ago. The War on Terror; the Spread of Democracy; Immigration Reform–these are all just new ways of expressing Manifest Destiny. They’re using these ideas on us and despite us–manifesting their destiny as powerful men who salivate for control.

And we’re losing. We’ll continue losing if all we can find to do is feel interminable guilt over a political term that our ancestors may or may not have ever espoused.

As Russell Means said before he died–God rest his soul–The United States is one big reservation, and we are all in it.

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The Pink Tentacles of Literary Angst

I have no idea who ESR is (should I?), but he writes an intriguing post about the sci-fi culture war:here. At the crux of his argument, he says, “No, I judge that what is dessicating and poisoning the Rabbit version of SF is something distinct from left-wing political slant but co-morbid with it: colonization by English majors and the rise of literary status envy as a significant shaping force in the field.”

Although I have an English degree–or because I have one–I can concur with his posit. However, I believe there is more to be said on this discussion. He makes the point that humanities departments are filled with and/or run by lefties, which is why we confuse the culture war for a political one. Well, perhaps. But what do we really mean when we bring up divisive terms such “leftist politics”? It is my opinion that what is really at heart is a foundation of postmodern philosophy. ESR hints at this when he says, “[English major literary fiction types] love them some angst.”

The very essence of postmodernism is angsty. Before postmodernism brought us the universal truth that there is no universal truth, that all truth is relative, modernism brought us a forward-looking world of scientific optimism, which devalued a need for God. Science fiction sprang from modernist philosophy and served as a necessary critique thereof, and in its later years was probably a reaction against postmodernism. Daniel Eness discusses this in his article A Good Weird is Hard to Find. Scroll down to the comments section, and you’ll see I’ve practically quoted him: “What is interesting is that science fiction provided some of the earliest critiques of modernism as well as a viable alternative to postmodernism.”

Fantasy, by comparison, is a return to the kind of myth brought to us by the premodern era. Much of what some people call “pink” sci-fi is also an attempt at returning to the tropes of premodern mythology. However, the grand majority of it is painted with postmodernism, which insists that truth is relative–even truth that has been wired in the human soul for eons, such as the balancing and necessary aspects of masculinity and femininity. What postmodernist fantasy has attempted to do is skewer premodern archetypes, thereby rendering them meaningless. To be honest, I can see this same kind of postmodern painting in my own urban fantasy book, Anna and the Dragon, which I self-published a little over a year ago. While that may be true, I’m operating off a fundamentally different worldview, one in which there is, indeed, universal truth. So what I was attempting may have been influenced by my stint at university and my upbringing in a postmodern world, but in the end, the book is about an angsty postmodern protagonist who must go on a soul journey in order to wake up the masculine in her life, which allows her to also wake up her feminine nature.

That is quite possibly the first and last literary critique I will do of my own work. I may have failed miserably in my attempt at writing fantasy, but at least I can gain some self-awareness from the venture. Ripping out the roots of postmodern philosophy will be essential to my growth as a writer because it will allow me to be honest about human archetypes, what they are and what they represent in humanity. Without that kind of understanding, I’ll be stuck writing the kind of poor excuse for sci-fi that SRE discusses in his essay, one that doesn’t resonate with the human soul because the human soul is wired with universal truths.

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Elysium: We Should All Be Gods If We Could Manage Not to Be Slaves

Every once in a while, I get the hankering to watch a good sci-fi film. I’m admittedly not that much into pop culture. TV, movies, even popular books–they just aren’t my thing. When I watch films, then, I’m often behind the curve. Both the films I watched to fill this craving came out in 2013. First I watched Ender’s Game. I liked it so well that I watched it two nights in a row. It’s a stellar story that makes a great film. All the archetypes are spot-on. There is cause and effect in place and essential growth for the main character.

On the third night, my husband suggested we watch Elysium, as neither of us had seen it (husband keeps up with films better than I do). Where do I begin when expressing my enormous distaste for this film? I found it infantile and manipulative. Was it because the hero gets radiated, stabbed in the gut, suffers from multiple gunshot wounds, etc., and still survives until the end? No. Was it that the mercenary bad guy gets his head blown off with a grenade, only to have it magically regrow in an atomizer machine? No. Was it the hauntingly exotic music througout that expressed the beauty of all foreigners everywhere who happen to be the oppressed non-white elites who need to be saved? Kind of. Was it that everybody’s problems were magically fixed with one line of code, thereby allowing the hero to sacrifice his life for a good cause? Getting warmer.

The basic set up of the film is this: the US is a shitty, impoverished land of rubble, where the rabble act as criminals and have no care for their environment. This is contrasted with the ordered, civilized land of the elite, which is a pentagram up in space. The elite keep the uncivilized rabble out by not allowing them citizenship and by protecting the space borders around their beautiful, cultivated, clearly satanic pentagram world (ha, ha, joking about the satanic, but…) Oh, by the way, the elite and gorgeous Elysium citizens own private MRI machines, where they can reatomize their bodies when they become ill. You guessed it; the rabble down on earth don’t have access to the elite medical technology and are still suffering under old-school medicine (you know, what we had until the ACA).

You would think the rabble would get sick of their environment and would rebuild it. Good leadership and a revolution would do the trick. They could clean up their world and rebuild infrastructure. And as the atomizing technology already exists, they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. They could reach a point where they themselves build it and begin offering it as a service in their new, functioning world. But will the rabble do that? No. The rabble don’t have what it takes, apparently. They are too easily exploited into being a slave class for the elite Elysiums. According to the film, the only thing the slave class is capable of is stealing what the civilized elites WHO DON’T EVEN LIVE ON EARTH have cultivated. So these earth “revolutionaries” zip on up to Elysium in spaceships and force themselves into citizen status of Elysium with ONE LINE OF CODE. Great, now the rabble have access to the atomizer machines and will be healed one and all, before one of two things occur (post end of film, of course, because the film refuses to look honestly at cause and effect): the elites will quickly change the one-line code back (duh?) and evacuate the illegals; or, the illegals will pull the civilized Elysium down to their level (that is, wrecked infrastructure and chaos).

The moral takeaways of Elysium are these: open borders will heal everybody and universal healthcare will, too; if you can’t build it yourself, steal it from somebody who can.

My takeaway moral is this: unless good leadership rises up amidst the slaves and inspires the slave class to build their own infrastructure rather than hijacking it from SATAN (oh, come on, Jodie Foster does bear a striking resemblance), then they will forever remain slaves to those who are stronger and more capable of being evil in a thoroughly civilized manner.

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