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Posts by Kate Paulk

Blast From the Past: The Good Kind of Othering

It’s late Wednesday night, I’m tired, and eagerly awaiting the vacation I start in just over a week’s time. I’m also as scatterbrained as hell and have been for most of the year. So, have a blast from the past.

The Good Kind of Othering

In an attempt to stay well away from the toxic soup of political matters, I’ve spent a lot of time this past week doing Other Stuff. This, I promise you, is a Good Thing, because my snark-o-matic was maxed out and the uber-cynical button stuck in the ‘on’ position.

While I’m quite sure there are those who enjoyed the results, it’s tiring and kind of draining when it lasts long enough: I’m the kind of extreme introvert who needs plenty of down time to recover from bouts of mega-snark.

Which means that I really, really shouldn’t go near the rather sad rant of a certain award-winning author who managed to let slip that she knows she’s a token winner but still thinks that’s okay because those who disagree are ___ist.

Sweetie, I’m humanist (as opposed to humanitarian which, like vegetarianism, is a dietary choice I’m not ready for). I don’t give a flying what sub-sub-group of humanity you belong to. My criteria for books I’ll read is “a good book”. My criteria for people I’ll make friends with is “a good person” (for values of ‘good’ which are somewhat quirky, but that’s Odds for you).

Books – fiction of all flavors – tend to work better if authors treat their characters the same way. Let them be people first and vehicles for the plot or theme or cause or whatever very much second. It’s not even that difficult to, provided you actually have some notion of how people work.

The first thing to remember with character-building is that no, not all people think the same way. We tend to assume that everyone thinks just like us (this is, in my view, one of the rare advantages of Oddity – you tend to find out relatively early that you don’t think the same way other people do. Then you often need to work out that other people are still people, but that’s a different issue). It’s one of those human failings and why so many folk don’t understand how anyone could possibly believe [insert religion or ideology here].

It works kind of like this: when we’re babies and toddlers, we learn really quickly and tend not to forget what we learn – but the knowledge we pick up shunts off into the automatic systems where it gets used without any conscious input on our part. How often do you think about how to walk? But there was a time when you had to work really hard to coordinate your legs and arms and the precise tilt of your body, and if you got it wrong you fell over.

As well as the obvious stuff like how to walk and talk and so on, we also picked up our basic view of life – call it the personal Theory of Everything – during that time frame. This is mostly when we humans learn what not-family people are “our kind” (generally, anyone who looks or acts differently than what we were around when we were growing up is not “our kind”), and what the rules are for interacting with other people.

Authors are supposed to make it possible for us to live inside the head of someone whose basic ruleset isn’t the same as ours. To do that, authors have to be able to imagine and understand someone whose life follows very different rules. This is a dangerous undertaking: it brings the risk of losing oneself to the Other (hence the heated debates that follow when someone tries to understand the motives and motivations of those who commit horrific crimes – there’s an almost atavistic fear that understanding something well enough will lead to it consuming the one seeking understanding… Where did you think the Cthulhu mythos came from? Whatever else he did and was, Lovecraft understood human fears like few others), as well as the fear that one will find it harder to mete out justice to someone whose motives are fully understood (this one does hold a certain amount of accuracy).

A good part of the whole notion that authors can’t write something they haven’t experienced or a person from a culture different from their own stems from this reflexive belief – as does the idea that a reader can’t identify with a character that isn’t enough like them.

To which I say bollocks. Humans aren’t telepathic. We don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s head – but despite that we manage to be incredibly good at figuring out what other people think and what they feel. Of course we authors are going to use that in our characters, and of course readers are going to be able to identify with it if it’s done reasonably well. It’s one of the skills that we as a species are very good at.

Pity those who refuse to try for fear they will lose themselves to the Other. Pity them, but don’t let them make your choices for you.

Catching Bombs

On the day job – as a software tester – we refer to those derailing incidents that leave what you’d planned to do in ashes as “bombs”. Possibly because they bomb your plans and schedule to hell and gone.

I’ve been juggling the bloody things for way too long.

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Some good news

The Bugger-cat had an oncology appointment on Tuesday, and he’s gained a whole pound since the last one. This is very good news: he’s gone from six pounds to seven – he’s still very underweight since his height and length are about the same as Her Royal Highness Princess Buttercup who weighs in at 16 lb (and is rather more substantial than she should be but there’s no way we’re up for putting one cat on a diet while trying to get the other one to eat more).

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The Giving of Thanks

When this post goes live it will be Thanksgiving Day in the USA. There’s a bunch of traditions around the day, many of them involving eating oneself into a food coma – which, for this particular holiday is a legitimate thing – and the one I find most important, the notion of giving thanks for the good things in one’s life.

Obviously, this is something that shouldn’t be limited to a single day, but having a day specifically devoted to giving thanks is a good thing. The Thanksgiving mythos – starving settlers spared by friendly local tribes and having a big harvest feast together in friendship and of course said settlers being exceedingly thankful for the help – may or may not accurately reflect what actually happened back then, but it’s a good myth to have.

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I have returned

I have survived the trials of shitty hotel wifi more or less unscathed, and had a wonderful time at the test conference. I’m also kicking myself a bit, since said conference was in San Francisco, on the harbor, and Thursday morning was picture-postcard perfect.

Alas, I did not think to take any photos, and by mid-afternoon smoke had started to roll in from the wildfires in the valley. Friday was so hazy that the organizers were recommending that people not go outside unless they absolutely had to, and providing masks for anyone who did go outside.

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Scattered Blastiness From A Past

The Bugger-cat has started on kitty-chemo, which is helping to reduce the… erm… liquidity of his indiscretions. The frequency remains kind of variable (but still “too high”) but at least he’s not in imminent danger of immediate dehydration.

That said, I’m reaching levels of nasal paranoia and possibly hallucination which have me thinking I smell feline indiscretion regardless of whether there actually are any fresh deposits or not. I also get paranoid about scratchy noises because it could mean he’s got the urge and is getting ready to drop another stink bomb.

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Ye Saga of Ye Sick Cat Continueth

On the plus side, we have a diagnosis of the Bugger-cat’s woes. On the minus side, we have a diagnosis…

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