Things Our Bodies Don’t Actually Do (But We Write About Anyway)

Someone recently told me that reading romance novels made her sad that her eyes didn’t ever flash.

I’ve met someone with flashing eyes, as it happens; she had some kind of crazy eye surgery thing and now her pupils gleam and go mirrored if you look at her from the right angle.  It’s creepy.

But for the most part eyes don’t actually “flash.”  It’s a widely-understood gloss for “that expression where you narrow your eyes as the corners of your mouth turn up and your eyebrows raise, creating an illusion of movement that draws our hunter-evolved eyes to yours.”  Which is unwieldy in a steamy seduction scene, no question.

Pictured: actual flashing eyes.

This is reasonably common practice.  It’s essentially a prose-tightening shorthand that readers have all implicitly agreed to translate for us.  Hence “rippling sinews” (which you will only actually see ripple if someone is suffering from grievously deep wounds already), throbbing members (ladies — it’s not actually a GOOD thing if I can feel that “throbbing”), and so on.

But my favorite is still “flashing eyes.”  ‘Cause lasers.  What’s yours?

Jumex

So as I might have alluded to once or twice before on this blog, I have a little, tiny, eensey-weensey thing with alcohol.  A Thing, if we like.  Capitalized.  Nothing so big that we might call it a problem, more of a…surplus of enjoyment.  Yes.  I enjoy too richly.  That’s a good way to put it.

But it’s okay.  It’s taken care of.  The Thing will remain a Thing, rather than upgrading to a Problem.  You know why?  This shit.  Right here:

Jumex.  J-U-M-E-X.  Say it slow enough and you kind of sound like the hateful commentor on a MSNBC news story, but it’s fucking delicious.  Mix it up with a little lime and tonic water, throw some ice in there, and sit back and pretend you’re pickling your liver on fruity vodka drinks.  No vodka required!  Jumex has a kinda weird metallic aftertaste that’s pretty much like vodka anyway, at least after a few days cold turkey.

If I were running AA I would have a permanent charge account at every Mexican grocery store in town.  (The AA that supports people whose Things have become out-and-out Problems, that is; not American Apparel, as was briefly confused in the comments on another entirely inappropriate blog post.)  Take that stuff back to the halfway house, set up a little bar there — some wood paneling, some mirrors maybe — and let the Recovering play around with shakers and ice and Jumex.

I’ve even got people drunk on it, or drunk-er, even, serving juice-only cocktails to people who’ve had too many and don’t take well to being cut off at parties back in my wilder days.  Sort of the exact opposite of a roofie, although I suppose it’s in the same non-consenting territory in a weird sort of way.

The spell-check does not know the word “roofie,” interestingly enough.

Anyway.  You heard it here first.  Jumex, for the recovering alcoholic.  Or the budding one.  Or just people who like juice!

Geoffrey is in no way associated with Grupo Jumex, and in fact was a little frustrated that he could pull up like six Google Image results from other sites in the time it took their antiquated website to load.

The Dinner Party Disaster

I had always thought that the disastrous dinner party was a literary trope.  I’d never had one, you see, despite several years of entertaining on my own, with O Best Beloved, and, memorably, in a house shared with a dozen other people united by a love of foam sword fighting.

My canapes were, suffice it to say, wasted on them.

But everything has always run smoothly for me — until last Thursday.

Last Thursday the temperature soared from the beautiful 50 degrees it had been when I bought the ham to a sweltering 85 before I turned the oven on.  That should have been the sign to abort; we didn’t.  So maybe we deserved it when the cat hopped up onto the futon (where one of our dinner guests was going to sleep that night), meowed loudly to get everyone’s attention — aw, what a cute kitty! — and peed on the blanket.

She no longer lives with us. Or at all.

When the paralysis of shock wore off we sprang into action that can only be described as “inept.”  O Best Beloved grabbed the cat and shoved her (pointlessly) toward the under-appreciated litter box while I gathered an armful of cat piss up against my chest, saving the futon but dooming a good dress shirt.  And then we realized we were out of quarters.

If you’ve had your own laundry machine for a while you may not remember the boom-bust cycles of the piggy bank, but houseguests tend to empty it as you frantically wash everything in the apartment.  The idea of leaving a reserve dollar or two for emergencies had never even crossed our minds until we found ourselves turning to our guests, dripping with cat piss, to ask plaintively if they had any spare change.  Right in the middle of our own living room.

It was humiliating, it was brutal; it was followed by a busy fifteen minutes or so up to my elbows in soapy water and cat pee as I scrubbed the blanket by hand (we only scrounged enough quarters for a dryer cycle).  Things limped along from there only because one of our houseguests was already trapped into staying the night and the other was brand-new in town and desperate enough for friends to give even the cat-pee-blanket-quarter-scramble people as much benefit of the doubt as possible.

But on the bright side, I now know that authors aren’t making the dinner party disaster scene up.

The Sign of a Good Book Might Be That You Can’t Make a Movie Out of It

Some days my titles for these posts don’t even fit into Twitter.  True story.

Anyway, remember that list/flowchart of sci-fi/fantasy books from last week?  I got to thinking, they’ve tried to make movies out of a lot of those, especially the older ones.  Some were good and some were bad, but there’s pretty much a universal impulse to make movies out of old science fiction or fantasy titles — seriously; check out the list in ranked format rather than flowchart and run down it.  You have to get to #8 (the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov) before you find one that hasn’t been made into either a feature-length movie (often multiple versions) or a televised mini-series or both*.

But it’s important to note that a lot of people have never seen, or even heard of, the movie versions of a lot of these.  A 1998 Brave New World featuring Leonard Nimoy, seriously?

It happened.

A lot of the movies are just really, really bad, no way around it.  Totally forgotten because they were totally forgettable.  And I’m starting to wonder if maybe there isn’t something about good writing that makes for a bad movie.  The Lord of the Rings series were enjoyable books that made enjoyable movies; Ray Bradbury’s books were a little more thoughtful and made for a whole pack of really terrible movies.  Harry Potter, fine on screen; The Last Unicorn, beautiful and complex and utterly destroyed in its animated form.

I’ll think about it for a while and look for exceptions.  The Princess Bride, I suppose — wonderful movie, wonderful book.  A world of difference between the two, though.  Maybe a better thesis would have been “The sign of a good book might be how much you have to change, cut, or simplify to get a good movie out of it.”  That accounts nicely for the basically straight-to-screen translations of things like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and the struggles people have had with Orwell and Asimov.

* Even that one’s questionable:  the Foundation series technically includes the various robot books, a couple of which have been made into films.  And there was a trilogy of Foundation movies in production that fell apart and were replaced by, fittingly enough, #1 on the list, the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

How to Generate Traffic (by Offending Everyone)

Wouldn’t it be nice if the most popular, successful articles on the internet were, say, stories about adorable puppies finding good homes?

Okay, those actually get pretty good traction.  How about relevant journalism exploring under-reported issues?  Or even just a well-told story?

Pretty much everyone loves puppy stories.

But the reality of it is that most people save their attention and especially their repeat readership for things that upset them.  Human nature, I guess!  People love to come back to articles like  a Gawker blogger’s insulting recap of her date with a Magic: the Gathering champion or Scott Adams’s misogyney (link is to Feministe‘s coverage, since Adams took the post off his own blog) and leave incensed comments, and comments on comments, and comments on the comments on the comments.  It’s all the adrenal thrill of righteous indignation without any of the risk-taking involved in actually taking action for an important cause.

So, sez I, why fight it?  If the ol’ blog’s struggling, just…get out there and offend a little.  Tread on some toes.  Seem insensitive.  Watch the numbers climb — remember, it’s all about the ad revenue!  Every tic in the “Page Hits” column is real money in the bank!  Only be careful — there’s a fine line between “retweetable” and “too ignorant to bother with.”  You’ll need to put some thought into your thoughtlessness…

  • Pick relatively mainstream issues.  Feminism?  Yes.  Religion and its role in social issues?  Perfect.  The purity of Arayn thought?  Not so great.  Sure, it’ll offend people, but it’ll offend them so much they’ll just go away, and the only regular commentors you’ll get will be neo-Nazis.  Not great conversationalists.  Reel it in a little.
  • Seem blithely ignorant rather than aggressively offensive.  Just pretend you don’t know any better.  You have to seem a little hapless, or people don’t get that teaching impulse that encourages them to leave long, wordy posts detailing the errors of your ways (which other people will then pick apart for errors as well).
  • Abuse evidence.  You should ideally pick a troubling thesis — “Children are Happier when you Beat Them,” etc. — and then back it up with facts that prove some other conclusion entirely.  Leave some glaring holes for people to pick out.  Odds are at least some of your commentors are going to need you to kind of put the ball on the tee for them — don’t make it too hard to spot logical inconsistencies.
  • Read and reply to comments.  Terrible advice, right?  No one should ever read the comments.  But you’ll need the space to post condescending replies.  Be sure to stress over and over again how it’s not your opponents’ fault that they’re wrong.  They’re just not as smart as you.
  • Don’t actually do any of this.  No one was taking this seriously, right?  (Right?)  You don’t want to be the center of a shitstorm of digital indignation.  Most of your traffic will get leeched by whatever bloggers pick the “story” up and pick it apart on their own site anyway.  And do we really need any more cynicism in the world of online writing?

I don’t know.  You tell me, down in the Comments section.  Don’t make me offend you first.

Steve Jobs: Grief Gone Viral

There’s a very understandable temptation to lead any Steve Jobs article with the wondering observation that right this second you are writing on a machine he created.  It has a dogmatic sort of appeal:  “Our Inventor, on Whose machine I write, hallowed be His name.”

Celebrity deaths are always a little weird.  There’s a subspecies of Ordinary Person that reliably takes every famous person’s death as a personal loss.  They make good sound bites, so the media encourages the frenzy and overcovers the hell out of the initial death, the life retrospectives, the memorial ceremonies and funeral, and so on and so forth.  We’ve been here before, so the news of impromptu shrines and wreath-layings at Apple stores around the world (to say nothing of the #iSad outpouring on Twitter) is in one sense just business as usual.

But in another sense there’s something very eerie about the immediately-trending grief.  The wave of slightly overwrought grief actually preceded the news cycle this time, in part because word of Jobs’s death broke late in the day on Wednesday — by Thursday morning you were behind the times if all you had was word that Steve Jobs was dead.  He was out; coverage of the reaction was in.

So there’s something William Gibson-esque about the speed and ubiquitousness of people’s Steve-Jobs-related grief.  The impact of his death rippled outward from cyberspace — much of it on Apple products — rather than happening on TV and in newsprint first and being regurgitated later by online sources.  By the time the news got there the story was already what people were doing with the information their iPhones had given them.

It’s a very ghost-in-the-machine sort of feeling, all these reactions to the omnipresent, electronic grief around us.  The original architect and visionary of digital wish-fulfillment — the man who wanted you to have everything you wanted in your hand, instantly — is now there as long as you want to wail and gnash your teeth about him, beamed live and ad nauseum to your iPhone or iPad or boring old desktop iMac.

The king is dead.  Long live the king, at least until you run out of batteries.

The Best Way for SF/Fantasy Fans to Waste Time EVER

This is the kind of thing the internet is really great at.

So first we have NPR’s listener-chosen list of the top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy books.  Because the world needs more lists!  Sure.  Why not.

Then we have SFSignal‘s flowchart of all 100 books and whether you, personally, want to read them.  I’ve posted the flowchart below, but it’s far too mighty of a graphic for this blog’s scale.  You’ll have to click on it or follow the link to blow it up to even readable-if-you-squint size.

And finally we have the fully-interactive version, where you can lose yourself in a maze of queries and pithy little tongue-in-cheek descriptions that leave you thinking oh I totally know what book this is going to be.  Do I really know what book this is going to be?  Oh it has to be the book I’m thinking of.  I’m so clever.

Or maybe it’s just me?

My personal favorite query from the interactive flowchart so far, from deep in one of the Fantasy > Series chains:

Off you go now.  Talk to you in an hour or three.  If you’re feeling really excited about this new toy come back and tell us; I suspect that a lot of my regular readers are going to have things to say to one another about the minutiae of the flowchart (Kushiel’s Dart as “alternate history,” for example — really?  “Alternate history” usually implies some re-interpretation of actual history, rather than just reinterpreting “sexual abuse from an early age” as “part of a feminist and sex-positive message” and setting it somewhere with bad French accents.)

…there, you see?  That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.  Off you go.

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