The Deer With No Eyes: A Tale of Horror, Stand-Up Comedy, and the London Driver from Hell

This is a horror story. I’m serious. It will thick your blood with cold; it will turn your hair the color of terror. We begin in London, amid the fog and freezing rain…

As some of you know, I spent the better part of August in the UK. I went to Worldcon, I went to Yorkshire on a research trip for a new book, I met David Tennant and Peter Davison (!), saw some old and new friends, learned to take the London Tube system as my legal spouse, to love, honor, and cherish it under construction and in good service, made puns as part of a Worldcon version of the iconic British radio show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, and ate approximately All the Pies. Important to note: my partner in crime during all of this running about was one Heath Miller, actor, director, secretly a Muppet in a human suit.

The other thing we did in London? Comedy. Now, I may not have made it totally clear how much I love stand-up comedy. I love it all the way. If I could I would probably go see comics two or three times a week. Even when it’s terrible, I still love it. I can’t even really explain why. Some loves are just pure. They have no provenance. They just are. Sketch comedy and improv also, but stand-up is tops for me. I spent so many hours watching old-school Comedy Central at 3 am, and only recently have actually gotten to go see live comedy, and OMG it smells awful and the food sucks and the drinks are weak and the walls smell like cigarettes and sometimes the comics are just the most old-timey misogynist jerks and you never know whether it will be any good at all or not and it is THE BEST. I know, it’s weird. But Dave Atell showed up to do a surprise set at the Comedy Cellar and it was my birthday and it was all I could do not to scream like he was The Beatles because EEEEE REMEMBER INSOMNIAC I LOVED THAT SHOW THAT SHOW IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. He did ten minutes about dogs and cats. It was awesome.

The point is, my comedy appetite approaches the insatiable. When Heath and I first started seeing shows together, I don’t really think he believed me when I said I am a Fan of stand-up as much as I am of SFF. He thought I’d bail the first time someone got up and complained about their wife. But I know that people being awful is just a standard hazard of watching comedians, like SFF has alien words with apostrophes in the middle of them or thinly veiled versions of orcs.

So we went to Edinburgh, where I went to University for awhile, and where my dear and nearly-oldest friend Kaite Welsh lives, and it was Fringetime, so holy crap we saw a lot of comedy. Most of it was great. One was memorably terrible–but half the fun of seeing live theater of any kind is talking about it afterward. It is our general philosophy that you either get your money’s worth from the show being wonderful or from the entertainment of tearing bad art apart afterward and figuring out how you would fix it if you were In Charge of That Thing. So I get value even from execrable theater. I am comfortable with the roulette-wheel of This-Thing-Costs-Way-More-Than-A-Movie-Or-Book-And-It-Might-Really-Suck. It’s COOL.

THE STAGE, SHE IS SET. Buckle up, kids.

Picture Heath and I, at the end of August, exhausted from traveling, both of us having brought a nasty cold home as a Yorkshire souvenir, climbing into the back of a lovely black car we’d arranged to take us to Heathrow. Looking forward to a long, quiet ride. Because one thing I’ve always loved about British drivers of cabs and car services has always been that they don’t try to talk to you the whole time. Sure, they may appear to hate you like the plague, but they won’t tell you about it. Here in Maine, it’s basically a constant barrage of questions and weirdness (my last cab in Portland? The guy drove with the driver’s seat reclined all the way into my lap, complaining the whole time that he was neither high nor drunk right now and really ought to be).

Oh, we were so innocent then.

He seemed like a perfectly nice man. He started talking right away, but he was charming and pleasant. He was from Pakistan. He switched accents flawlessly about four times in two minutes while telling us where he was from and the assumptions people make about him. We were delighted. For a moment, a precious, shining moment suspended in the air like a brief, crystal raindrop, we were delighted.

Then, he put a portable DVD player in my hands. While driving. One already open, on, and cued to his performance at the Comedy Store Gong Night.

It was like looking into the abyss.

He told a couple of jokes. Not stand-up really, just question and answer jokes. The answers were 100% the most racist, sexist, ableist things I’ve ever heard out of a performer’s mouth in real life. When he ran out of those, he just tossed the mic from one hand to the other over and over, and when that ceased to amuse even the most hardcore microphone-tossing fetishist, he just dropped and started DOING PUSH-UPS on the stage. My mind has refused to retain the jokes themselves, having some sense of the traumatic ripple effect of holding those punchlines next to the more important, functioning parts of my brain. If I remembered them, I’d never write anything again. I’d just stare at the screen repeating: “If I had a dog named Syndrome, whenever someone came over to my house and rang the doorbell I could yell Down, Syndrome!” Oh, God. The emptiness. The dark.

We handed the player back, pale and shaking from our brush with utter nihilism. We thought it was over. I remember us then, so young. So gentle-hearted.

He worked us over with a few “What do you call a deer with no eyes?” numbers, which we just answered wearily (No idear) and prayed for death. I can’t even watch a television show in which the characters embarrass themselves. I hide my face like it’s a slasher movie, not a sitcom. So my heart was already trying to hide behind my liver like a kid watching the Daleks from behind a damn couch.

But then it happened. He asked us how broad-minded we were. Now, normally, when asked that question, I expect something good and wholesome to follow. Something that speaks to the world becoming more open and honest. Coming out. A confession of being aroused by Victorian rocking horses. A nice threeway. Hell, even “Would you mind carrying this package of drugs back to America with you?” would be better, warmer, fuzzier, than what was actually about to fall out of this guy’s mouth. So I made a non-committal sound. A “yes, I am broad-minded but mostly I am please-stop-you’re-hurting-me-minded so unless this is going to turn into something else please stop” kind of whimper. But Heath is wiser than I. He knew it was code. Code for: how offensive can I be right now? How shit can I make the shit I’m about to say?

Heath said: We are not. Broad-minded. At all.

It didn’t matter. The ritual to raise the Old Gods was already in progress. There was nothing we could do to stop it.

The driver started talking about how you can’t make good jokes anymore. Everyone’s so sensitive. Like, he can’t even tell that Down, Syndrome! joke anymore. (Heath broke through our rictus of politeness at that point and said: that’s because it’s a terrible joke. I couldn’t manage more than a sustained, high-pitched whine like my dogs make when there’s thunder outside. Good for him. I was trained too well to be polite to strangers. I could feel my manners trying to claw their way out of my eyes and flee screaming, but I clung to them. They were all I had.) But really, it should be ok for him to make jokes like that because he can take the mickey out of himself as well. At which point streamed forth a river of blisteringly racist anti-Pakistani “jokes” (The mildest one, and thus the only one my benevolent brain has allowed me to retain is: When I tell people I’m from Lahore, they think my mother’s a French prostitute!) that made him giggle like a schoolkid while I slid down in my seat, trying to vanish into the leather, whispering to the lock: Please, God, make me a bird, so I can fly far, far, far away.

At this point, it was clear he was just practicing his “act” on us. And it wouldn’t end because we had no Gong to bang. We literally couldn’t leave. We were a captive audience–actually captives, in a four-door prison hurtling down the highway, driven by a warden barely paying attention to the road because he had to keep looking in the rearview to see our reaction to his star turn. He kept saying: you gotta have a hobby. It’s not easy, is it, being on stage. Writing material. It’s not easy!

Thing is, this driver was in a car with a writer and an actor. Both of whom have directed theater, both of whom have written comedy, both of whom are semi-professional dissectors of performance. Both of whom find being on stage and writing material pretty damn enjoyable most of the time. It is not our hobby. It is our job. So we rallied. We made the decision individually and began almost in unison. We thought: we can make him better. We can teach him. We have the technology. Mostly, we can make him stop talking if we talk louder.

We started giving him notes. Hey, you know, you’re pretty good at accents, that bit in the beginning was great, when you were telling us about expectations. You know, you could really make something of that, play with an audience so they don’t know what your real accent is, so they’re forced to examine their own preconceptions. And that really works better with story-based comedy rather than one-liner jokes, which is not really what stand-up is all about anymore. Try telling a story, something personal, something real, and shifting your voice so that your voice becomes part of the story. It could really work for you.

You see? We tried. Tried to engage, to help, to share what we knew. To steer him without pissing off the guy who held our lives in his hands, careening between cars and not wearing a seatbelt. When we die fifty years from now, grandchildren gathered around us, clocks stopped in the hall, the light softly fading on the mantle, both of us will whisper with our last, rattling breath: we tried.

And it seemed to unlock something deep in his soul. Something too big to keep inside.

“Oh!” exclaimed he. “You mean like…” And out it came. An “Asian” “accent” right out of the Breakfast At Tiffany’s school of subtle humor and sensitivity. And he did tell a story. In that voice. Nay, not a story. A folktale from the ancient mists. We’ll call it How Chinese People Got Their Slanty Eyes. (My brain was shrieking at this point: SAFEWORD NOPE NOPE SAFEWORD FUCK I NEED AN ADULT WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME I’M A GOOD PERSON). Do you want to know how? You don’t, you really don’t. No one does. Seriously, even circuit comics in the Catskills in the 40s would have thought this was a little much. It’s because they eat too much “flied lice” and it made them constipated, at which point, as a people, the Chinese nation strained so hard to take one massive, colossal shit that their eyes went slanty forever there is no God or goodness love is dead and the sun is as sackcloth. It was like being stuck in a car with a Dementor. Then he switched to a “funny” “black” voice and I felt as thought I’d never be cheerful again.

I feel like London was with us in that car. Sitting between us with a beer and a microphone yelling: YOU LIKE COMEDY, DO YOU? I HEARD YOU LIKE A BIT OF COMEDY. BIT OF NICE COMEDY ALL UP IN YOUR EARS? YEAH, COME ON, YOU LOVE IT. COULDN’T LET YOU GO WITHOUT A BIT MORE, COULD I? WHY, YOU WERE JUST SAYING YOU WISHED YOU COULD STAY A LITTLE LONGER AND SEE A FEW MORE SHOWS IN MY WEST END, WEREN’T YOU? YEAH, YOU WERE. WANTED YOUR GIGGLES, DID YOU? WELL, HERE YOU GO. DON’T SAY I NEVER DID ANYTHING FOR YOU. A WHOLE HALF HOUR SHOW, JUST FOR YOU. YEAH, I KNOW WHAT YOU LIKE. GET IT ALL OVER YOU, ALL OVER YOUR FACE. STOP COMPLAINING. COMEDY’S THE BEST. YOU SAID SO. YOU SAID YOU COULD SEE IT EVERY NIGHT. I HEARD YOU. I LOVE YOU AND I WANT YOU TO BE HAPPY. STOP PLUGGING YOUR EARS. WHY ARE YOU CLAWING AT THE WINDOW? COMEDY, YEAH, LAUGH IT UP, YOU COLONIAL FUCKING PEASANT PILLOCKS, LAUGH!

And I was. Clawing the window. Tapping the glass. Crumpled against the arm rest, my back turned toward the driver to protect my precious internal organs from shrapnel. I envied the birds outside, trying to land on pigeon-proof spikes. What is freedom? What is life? What is silence?

We kept trying. We were valiant. We would not give up on him. No, no, that’s still racist, we insisted. Like really, really racist. Tell a story. About you. About your life. Something personal. And for a moment, just a moment, a little butterfly of a moment flitting through the summer grass, he seemed to stop and think. And said: “You mean like…my father came to this country in 1963 with only five quid in his pocket.” Yes! “That’s the great thing about Britain, you can come with nothing and you can really make something of yourself.” Yes! “And now my Dad still has five quid in his pocket–it’s the same five quid!” No! Well, I mean, it’s the least racist thing you’ve said, only implies that Pakistanis are cheap, so I guess that’s progress? It’s not good but it’s better…

And with manic glee, he looked back at me and said: “Listening to my wife is like agreeing to the Terms of Service on a website. I have no idea what it means but I always click ok!”

ARE YOU A ROBOT? A ROBOT PROGRAMMED WITH NOTHING BUT JOKES WRITTEN BY HATEFUL TIM, THE HAPPY BIGOT, WHO LIVES UNDER A ROCK IN BRIXTON AND DEMANDS TRIBUTE FROM ALL WHO PASS HIM BY? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME? I AM A WOMAN, WHY DO YOU THINK THAT ONE WOULD REALLY ZING ME? AM I ON SOME KIND OF PRANK SHOW? IS IT THE CASH CAB? IT’S THE CASH CAB ISN’T IT? THERE’S A SECRET CAMERA IN THE DASHBOARD AND NOW I’LL WIN A HUNDRED POUNDS BECAUSE I DIDN’T CRY. PLEASE SAY THEY HAVE CASH CAB OVER HERE. OR CANDID CAMERA. THE WORLD WILL MAKE SENSE AGAIN. NO, BAD ROBOT! STOP TALKING. STOP. STOP WORDS. WORDS OVER.

Heath opened his mouth to cry uncle. To surrender and beg for terms. Just stop. Whatever it takes. Just stop the violence. But we were pulling into Heathrow and it didn’t seem worth it. Nothing seemed worth it. All hope had fled the universe. We stumbled out of the car and held up our arms in the rain like it was pure Shawshank up in that car park and we’d crawled through a river of shit to come out clean. He tried to overcharge us– 20 for the ride, 10 for the show, I guess–but we had strength enough left to refuse. We watched him drive away, our ears still ringing. Did that just happen? Is that a real thing that happened in the real world? How can we ever be whole again?

So we did what we could to heal. We went to the airport bar. And alcohol said: I am a merciful god. There, there. Tell me what the bad man did. And then tell the Internet, and Lo, you shall be cleansed.

And it is done.

Kitty’s Pride and the Mutation of Story

Sometimes when I am on a deadline, my brain wanders off into traffic with a propeller hat on and its shirt pulled up over its head because SCREW YOU IMMA THINK ABOUT EVERYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD EXCEPT THAT BOOK YOU LIKE SO MUCH WHEEE IS THAT A FIRETRUCK? And by sometimes I mean always.

At the moment, my brain is jumping up and down on a stop sign hollering I’M GONNA THINK ABOUT X-MEN ALL THE TIME HA HA YOU CAN’T STOP ME. My brain is a stone cold doofus a lot of the time. After my chapters are done for the day, I go straight to reading about the goddamn X-Men. I’ve watched or re-watched five of the seven movies in the last week and fallen asleep three separate, majestic times with my phone in my hand, glowing with the useless, mocking light of a wikipedia entry on Genosha.

It’s not really my fault. Days of Future Past came out, and my descent into mutant madness began with watching X-Men: First Class, which I had only seen half of on a trans-Pacific flight with the sound broken so that the only dialogue was the intermittent apologies of a harried flight attendant. Which was much more genuine and interesting, it turns out, than what January Jones was actually saying. ZING. Anyway, the X-Men have always attracted me in concept, if not always in execution–it appeals to my love of categorization, of pantheons, of chosen family and marginalized groups. And matching outfits.

And so, at first, I was a happy little squirrel searching out delicious walnuts of storylines both familiar and un-, because holy cats is this shit convoluted. But then I got mad. It usually happens eventually, when it comes to blockbuster mainstream intellectual properties–and yes, the X-Men are mainstream now. Indie niche uncool flicks don’t have $100 million opening weekends. I didn’t even see X-Men: Last Stand until last week because I didn’t want to see Dark Phoenix turned into a nuclear vagina on the fritz who ruins everything with the power of kissing. Spoiler: it was as terrible as I thought it would be! Yay!

But everyone said Days of Future Past erased all that! It is so awesome, you guys! 91% on Rotten Tomatoes! Quicksilver! Time travel! Beloved arc from the comics! Mystique gets to do things other than be naked and barefoot in Xavier’s kitchen! Well, great, let’s make this happen! To the sensible compact car!

Perhaps you can see, even now, the dark stormclouds of my fury gathering in the distance. Perhaps the severity of my side-eye can be seen from space.

Because here’s the funny thing about that beloved arc from the comics. The filmmakers looked at it and clearly thought to themselves: yeah, yeah, this is all great. Everyone loves this story about a woman who takes the fate of the world into her own hands and goes back in time, with the help of another woman, to fix history and avert the horrible deaths of everyone she knows and pretty much everyone she doesn’t know either. Fans have loved it for thirty years, men, women, kids, adults. It’s universal! Literally no one has ever had a problem with the protagonist being female, which is pretty damn impressive, if you think about it. We’ll make a billion dollars. One problem, though! Women are the fucking WORST. Nobody wants to watch a chick do things unless they are sex things or secretary things or sex secretary things or sometimes bad things that the men can come clean up because, as previously mentioned, they are the worst. So here’s what we’ll do! Even though we could literally act out a comic book with stick figures, play-doh, and a fifth-grader who just woke up from a nap and still fall asleep on piles of money come opening weekend, we can’t have a girl in our clubhouse! We’ll just replace that big dumb girl with Wolverine! That way we don’t have to get any cooties on our movie of Masculine Glowering. We’ll put her in there somewhere, just so the fans know we know what we did, but don’t give her too many lines. After all, if women get more than 20% of the lines in a summer movie, the moon turns to sackcloth.

YOU SIR, ARE A GENIUS, HAVE A YACHT.

So they did it. They pulled a Morpheus and turned a strong female protagonist with agency and a storyline of her own into a Duracell battery. Instead of being the one to go back in time and make decisions and affect the course of events, Kitty Pryde sits very still, grits her teeth, and provides transportation for the male hero she’s been replaced with. She barely speaks. She gets wounded, but only because nobody thought strapping down the guy with knives for hands might be a good idea. No one gives her medical attention, though they do pet her hair and tell her she’s doing great, like she’s a dog at the vet. She moans a lot. They took her story, gave it to a man, and made her a prop.

(And look, yes, before you say it, I know she wasn’t born in 1973. If it’s cool to change the protagonist of the story, it would not be sacrilege to make her just physically go back in time instead of the younger-body-consciousness thing. Or if it really is impossible to have a woman onscreen without a chaperone, send her and Wolverine back together. Or do another damn story arc. Wolverine has shit-tons of his own. Writing is choices. Narrative is choices. The writers made a choice. And their choice sucks.)

But the thing that really gets me is The Hobbit. Non sequitur, you say? NAY, say I. See, when word got out that Peter Jackson et al were adding in a new character to their Hobbit films, a non-canon character, a female character, fandom collectively lost its fool mind. You can’t just change Tolkien! Oh no! (Except for cutting out the end of The Lord of the Rings which is totes fine even though it changes the entire meaning of the story.) Cram in a whole mess of The Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales and the Appendices and whatever the lead animator dreamed about last night until the poor Hobbit burst at the seams into three unnecessary movies, but not a GIRL! Heavens to Betsy! (Not that that excuses Tauriel, who is awful, and exists for a romantic subplot and little else. But it’s not being a girl that makes her awful. It’s just bad writing, which knows no demographic.)

We cannot have a female Doctor! We cannot take men’s stories and give them to women! It would never work! The sexes are so different! It would be silly to have a woman acting like a man! But a woman’s story? Well, who cares? Give it to someone more interesting. Someone more worthy.

But replace wholesale the female protagonist of a darling comic arc with a man? Crickets. Everyone is fine with it. Oh, a couple of feminists are all buttmad, but they don’t count. Most reviews I’ve seen don’t acknowledge it, or if they do, they praise the filmmakers for making a “better” choice. Who cares? That Quicksilver scene was so awesome! Yes it was. I’m so glad yet another woman was erased from her own narrative so we could have another cigar joke. It really is a better choice. This way, no one will make the mistake of thinking there were ever women in comics, and those icky girls will stop trying to read them and everything can go back to the way it was when the real comics fans were eleven and girls were just scary aliens they could keep out of their rooms. Except in 1981, we were allowed to have a marquee comic book story that revolved around a woman. Marvel thought people would like that–lo and behold, they did. And in 2014, it doesn’t make sense to anyone anymore. That just breaks my heart. Really.

It also feeds into something else I’d been thinking about since seeing About Time, in which time travel is explicitly only possible for men, for literally no narrative reason whatsoever, just because. See, women don’t get to time travel much in the movies. Beyond Peggy Sue Got Married, which is explicitly about time traveling for romantic/reproductive purposes, the protagonists in time travel movies, and much of TV, are men. You can say it’s because history is hard for women, but it doesn’t really wash. If men can get away with clothes and words and abilities that are all wrong for the eras they travel to, women can get away with being women. Give her a strapping male intern to keep off the barbarians if you like–it’s more than Kitty Pryde gets to do. An escorted woman can go more or less anywhere, and honestly, a woman can find out more information in a drawing room in Edwardian England than a man can on a battlefield in Crimea. And there’s always, you know, the future. But no, a time traveling woman would get all her periods at once or something, so she has to stay home. There’s even a sneaky little through-meme of men not even telling their wives, girlfriends, or female friends that they are time traveling. Don’t worry your pretty head about it. Sleep on the porch.

Comic book movies are, increasingly, the only cinematic game in town, at least to bring in billions and go up on every screen in the world. In part because they take advantage of the big screen in a way most of our home theaters, awesome though they are, can’t quite duplicate yet. In part because no part of my generation’s childhood is safe from being packaged and marketed back to us. In part because they present a comforting black and white moral universe in which arms dealers are really charming heroes, honor equals military service, and there will always be some big strong man to save us whose personal integrity can be unerringly and unquestioningly relied upon. And if that sounds a little fascistic to you, well, it is. The fact that these movies, these vast cultural events, have settled into a self-satisfied world of representation that would be outdone by any 90s SF/F television series, in which one woman and/or one person of color is sufficient, especially if they are wholly defined by the most stereotypical traits of their gender or race (Black Widow and Bumblebee, I’m looking at you), to stand in for, you know, the majority of the human race that is not white, not male, or both, is alarming. When stories are taken away from a woman and given to a man, when a woman is reduced to a power source (oh, irony) for a big, strong, straightest of the straight man, what should we make of it but that she is simply not worth our attention? It teaches everyone, kids and adults, what stories are worth telling. Whose voices count. Who is allowed to act. Who is allowed to decide. And if you don’t think people carry that into their everyday lives, I’ve got a Brooklyn Bridge to destroy for you.

Nominees for the Nebula and Hugo Awards announced!

Nebula nominations are in, and CMV is very pleased to announce that Six-Gun Snow White has been nominated for Best Novella! The 49th annual Nebula Awards will be awarded in San Jose, CA, on the weekend of May 16th, 2014. While only members are eligible to attend the Nebula Awards themselves, there will be an autograph session open to the public – see the full list of nominees at the SFWA’s website, and find more information about the Nebula Awards Weekend.

The Hugo Awards nominations are also in! They were announced via live feed from Glasgow on April 19, and CMV is quite excited to share that Six-Gun Snow White is up for a Hugo in the Best Novella category. Read up on all the nominees here, and then purchase a membership to Loncon 3 if you’d like to vote. (Remember, you can vote for the Hugos even if you can’t attend the con itself via a supporting membership.) Find everything you need on the Hugo Awards ceremony, including livestream news and how to vote, at the Loncon 3 Hugo Awards website!

Captain America and Easter Snow Oh My

It is April 16th and there’s like 2 inches of new snow out there and I am NOT OVER IT OK.

However, I am still alive, contrary to the outrageous claims made by the date on my last blog post. I’m even nominated for a Nebula for Six-Gun Snow White and going to be Guest of Honor at Minicon in Minneapolis this weekend. Which means no Easter Egg dying for me this year, but panels for everyone!

Also I saw Captain America 2 last night and am mildly obsessed with reading the VERY FEW negative reviews because if it’s Marvel critics are now required to like it or face a personal visit from a hungover Iron Man, so that I can dissect how entirely I felt it went wrong when I loved the first one–really the only superhero movie of the current coolkids vibe that I liked on its own merits. I’m endlessly fascinated by stories that seem to almost work but blow the dismount in some way.

All the set pieces were there, albeit run through the guts of the same desaturation engine that video games seem to be churning merrily through at the moment. (Seriously, 4 color panels are starting to look downright lurid in comparison) But they were just set pieces, and not even superhero set pieces so much as Jason Bourne set pieces glitter-glued onto a We Stand With Snowden plot, which actually doesn’t play that well with a superhero universe where all solutions must be phraseable as personal mottos and tie into a movie that won’t be out til next year and also magic. Plus, don’t ever ever mention where all the money to build these evil systems comes from or any kind of class issues while trying to say something about contemporary politics, because the whole genre sort of winces at 1% issues and goes “Oooh! Look over there! Tony Stark is so cool!”, or show anyone but the 20 people allowed to live in a single-hero film/province of MarvelWorld so that there can be a PG 13 rating and we can ignore the massive civilian casualties which are actually inevitable during the pitched machine gun broad daylight super secret “spy” battles. Instead, Twitter stands in for the rest of planet Earth. Which leaves one with a feeling that you can always spot evil because it’s blowing things up, when the truth is the worst things happen without a sound, behind closed doors, with a handshake and a smile. And the Greatest Generation that Captain America provides such a nice clean altar for us to worship, far from being a bastion of wholesome morals, shook a lot of those hands before most of us were born.

The first film actually wanted to dissect some (SOME) of this stuff. The strange obsession with superheroes and simultaneous terror of dictators when it really just takes one bad day to flip one to the other, propaganda, the military using up bright and beautiful young men until they turn into monsters. But somehow Winter Soldier just really wants to be a mainstream spy thriller, and seems wholly uncomfortable with its speculative trimmings, and has in fact trimmed them down to little more than your average James Bond jaunt. Captain America is in the actual military doing straightforward pirate boarding missions. There was a sinister story to be told there about how militaristic and frightening superheroes actually are, but they didn’t want to tell it, along with about five other more interesting stories hiding between the lines. What they did want, as many interviews have attested, was to make “an old school 70s spy thriller.” Oooook.

I feel like there’s something going on there, that filmmakers want the geek money that comes with any superhero franchise at the moment, the longing to see these characters onscreen, but is still deeply ambivalent about the subject matter. Either because there is a desire among those for whom these films are passion projects to make what was once mocked as being childish Extra Serious and Adult, or because those for whom they are not want the money without having to dip their fingers into anything so unsavory and suspect as, like, color, or fun, or magic/tech/mutation that doesn’t stand in for the civil rights movement. Either way, every “geeky” intellectual property seems to be getting the artistic equivalent of Captain America’s transformation: something weaker and smaller and weirder with a good heart being pumped up with industrial chemicals until it looks like some higher-up’s idea of a real man.

And, you know, be sure to never let Black Widow have a story of her own outside of bending over center screen, booting up a Mac, and worrying about the real hero’s relationship status because, well, girl, am I right?

In other news, April 16. Snow. What.

The Girl Without Hands: Writing, Carpal Tunnel, and Silence

When I was ten years old, I ran through a plate glass door. I thought it was open; it was, rather emphatically, shut. My legs were cut to pieces, including an extremely severe gouge to my right thigh. I ended up with a couple of hundred stitches and a chunk of missing muscle in that thigh. It kind of looks like a giant was playing golf using me as a tee and took a divot out of my leg on his upswing. My doctor took a kind of Swedish Chef approach to sewing me back up again and left messy, ropy, uneven scars which, a number of plastic surgeons have told me, represent some of the shoddiest patchwork going in the 1980s.

It took all summer to get to the point where I could walk and run again. I remember the fantastic luxury of getting to spend my days in my mother’s huge king size bed playing Nintendo and reading–and nobody could tell me to go outside and play and get my nose out of books or quit rotting my brain with video games.

Until this Christmas, that was my only experience with compromised mobility, with an injury that brought my life to a screeching halt. This is what’s called able-bodied privilege, and bow howdy, is it a thing.

Carpal tunnel is, if your work involves keyboards, more a question of when and how bad rather than if. Of course I’ve had aching wrists before at the end of marathon writing sessions, banging toward a deadline with my usual barrel-girl over Niagara Falls habits. And yes, my hands had been going numb during those last weeks of the book. I woke up in the night completely fuzzed out from the forearms down. But I didn’t think much about it, because I don’t think about much else when I’m pushing my body to finish a project. And then, some combination of finishing Radiance and immediately sitting down at my spinning wheel for hours on end to make Christmas presents pushed me over a line I didn’t know was there. I woke up, not numb, but in agony, with a burning ache in my wrists and forearms and hands. I was trying to cut up fennel for dinner and couldn’t keep a grip on the knife; I dropped it, my hands shaking.

And that’s how I became the Armless Maiden, the Girl Without Hands.

[rest]

It’s been this way for two months now. At first, I couldn’t do anything. I had to keep my wrists immobilized completely or the pain was overwhelming. Even laughing too hard or nodding too vigorously jostled my hands and caused pain. I got arm braces, thinking it would help, but they made it worse. After wearing them for three days, the muscles in my forearms weren’t even up to the minimal activity they’d been able to manage before. My world shrunk down until it was just barely the size of my body inside my house. I couldn’t manipulate anything. I couldn’t use my touchscreens–that thumb-scroll motion was too much. I couldn’t type, which meant I couldn’t work. I obviously couldn’t knit or spin or cook or walk my dog. The cold made it worse, so going outside became a needs-only proposition.

I decided I would use the time to read–I’d had so little time and space to read and love books the way I wanted to. It would be good for me. And when I tried to lift a book to read, my hands crumpled. I didn’t even have the strength to hoist a paperback. I burst into tears. You use your hands for everything, everything.

I have never felt so helpless in my life. And embarrassed. Humiliated by the failure of my body to keep being a body, to keep being useful, to keep being good. I felt inhuman–our opposable thumbs, our ability to manipulate objects, use tools, affect the materiel of our environment, is a defining characteristic–what we get to play with in the animal kingdom instead of claws or razor teeth or spots or tails or exoskeletons. And I couldn’t even feed myself.

And I couldn’t work. All the stories I’d been working on froze in place, schedules rearranged around not knowing when I’d be functional again. But my mind wasn’t numb. My mind kept churning along, making things and planning things, but it had no fingers to make them happen, to make them real. I can say I felt impotent, but it doesn’t begin to cover it. So much of my pride, my emotional life, my sense of self, rests squarely in my work, my feeling that I am worth the air I displace, that my life has motion and a shape. And it was gone. I couldn’t even talk to most of my friends, who are so far flung that the tap tap of the keyboard is our speech and hugs and warm smiles. The world shrunk and shrunk and I couldn’t do anything about it. And the intense boredom of being forced to be passive ate me up inside. I could read or watch. I could not write or act.

I’ve been lucky, I’ve been cared for by those I love. No one is at their best when they’re helpless and in pain, and they deserve all the cake and cocoa for putting up with sick-Cat, which is the worst-Cat.

[rest]

By the fact that I’m writing this, it’s probably clear that I’m better. Better, but not the same. I suspect never the same again, or at least not for a long time. The last few weeks have been a slow improvement. I can do more, though it hurts afterward. It’s better than doing nothing. I use creams and anti-inflammatories and ice packs. I’ve read like Cookie Monster, if he ate books–and I feel so full of those books and grateful for them. I soaked up unlimited reading time the same way I did during the Plate Glass Summer and it has been intensely good for me.

I got a SafeType keyboard, which looks like something out of Star Trek and has a learning curve like a sheer cliff. I tried, I really tried, but it made me feel like a stupid child, plunking away at keys at the fabulous speed of 4 words a minute. And as there’s no place to rest your arms, you end up needing some real endurance to hold your arms up for hours at a time. After two weeks of practice and pain, I got up to 24 before realizing that the cost in hopelessness wasn’t worth the benefits. To every day feel like this act which has come to define your world is impossible is an all-access pass to the pits of despair. I found it easier to learn the accordion. I’m writing this on my old keyboard, my wrists resting on a towel. I’ve ordered a different brand of won’t-break-you keyboard, hopefully it will be better. (And hey, if anyone’s in the market for a SafeType…)

[rest]

But things have changed. I thought they would change back quickly, a couple of days of rest, no problem. Or maybe a couple of weeks. But it hasn’t yet. My world is ruled by a simple question, asked every morning the moment I wake up:

How bad is the pain today?

Not am I in pain? That answer is always yes. Every day. It’s only a matter of how bad. What can I do today? What will I suffer for tomorrow? I’ve never had to ask that question–and that’s privilege in a nutshell. Your privilege is comprised of the questions you’ve never had to ask. Which questions, how many, how often. Having gone through my life without chronic pain, the utter tyranny of this question presses damnably hard on my heart and my spirits. To all of my friends who’ve lived with pain for much longer (and with much worse) than I–I only understood intellectually. I get it now. I get how hard it is every day to do simple things. And I’ll tell you something–it’s nice to not get it. It’s nice to feel sympathy without a concrete idea of what is happening in the bodies of those you love because yours is fine.

This is the first day I have felt I could work, and I am trying. I have given myself two hours to write what I can, resting when I need to. I’ve noted when I had to stop writing this post because my thumbs had gone numb or the ache got to be too much. It is hard. To have a blog post be a physically punishing task. I have blogged for all of my adult life. And now I ration my strength for it. I have been saying for years that I need to slow down and figure out more sustainable work habits–well, my body has decided it’s tired of waiting for me to figure it out and holler as loud as it can.

So I am trying to think of my daily work not in terms of wordcount but in terms of time. Two hour segments. Not pushing so hard I feel like my eyes are bleeding. Tortoising it up–slow and steady. Anyone who’s met me knows how much that galls. But pain is a wonderful enforcer. You change or you suffer.

But this is the first day of me being, tentatively, back in the land of the living. Reviving this blog, which went rather dark last year for a whole host of other reasons. Getting through the backlog of emails. (Please be patient!) I’m at the outer limits of my ability to not speak–online, in my books, with the keys that are the core of my life. The Girl Without Hands got new ones, eventually. I hope, with all my jangled, pinched-off nerves and frenetic brain, that I will too.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s an icepack with my name on it.

[rest]

Traditional Awards Eligibility Post

Welcome to the yearly accounting of my published works, in handy list form for those who are inclined to nominate works for awards. (Also for those who don’t nominate, but would like links to things I’ve written!) Hugo nominations opened last week, and Nebula awards nominations are open until February (as are nominations for the Rhysling Award). If you’re a member of the World Fantasy convention, you can nominate works for the World Fantasy awards through May.

Novels

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two (Feiwel and Friends)

Collections

The Melancholy of Mechagirl (VIZ Media LLC)
The Bread We Eat in Dreams (Subterranean Press)

(Most of the stories in these collections were published elsewhere prior to 2013, but the collections themselves are still eligible for the World Fantasty award.)

Novellas

Six-Gun Snow White (Subterranean Press)

Short Stories

We Without Us Were Shadows (Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy)
The Shoot-Out at Burnt Corn Ranch Over the Bride of the World (Subterranean Press Magazine)
Ink, Water, Milk (The Melancholoy of Mechagirl)
Aeromaus (The Bread We Eat in Dreams)

Poetry

A Great Clerk of Necromancy (Apex Magazine)

Thanks for your consideration! And if you’re not into nominating, I hope you enjoy these things I’ve made!

Let Wrist Articulation Be Forgot…

So!

I had every intention of starting the year by revitalizing this blog, with many exciting posts about things both significant and insignificant. But instead, my body decided it wanted to celebrate the new year with a vicious flare-up of carpal tunnel. I am dictating this blog post, which is extra fun since I am historically unable to dictate so much as a post-it note with any felicity of language. SO FUN.

I haven’t been able to use my hands for anything more strenuous than feeding myself for the better part of a fortnight. On the bright side, I have cool robotic arm-bracers that make Terminator-like clicky noises when I adjust them. So I have that going for me, which is nice. Actually though it is not nice. I’m improving somewhat but it sucks and it is slow and it is frustrating. Also — it’s one thing when I slack of from work to play videogames, its quite another when I can’t work at all and I hate it. LISTEN UP WRISTS, I GOT FAIRIES TO MAKE OKAY?

So the upshot is, I have been invisible and absent but I have a really good reason. I don’t know when I’ll be able to be a full-time primate with the use of my opposable thumbs and tools again but I hope it is soon. In the meantime, I had a new short story collection come out over the holidays: The Bread We Eat in Dreams which includes my last two years of published fiction along with several new stories. The New York Times liked it and stuff. Though the trade edition sold out in a day there are a few (less than fifty) copies of the fancy leather-bound limited edition left here, along with my notes on each story. There are however infinite copies of the ebook, for just five tiny dollars. You can still listen to the Audio Christmas Cracker edition of one of the stories, Twenty Five Facts About Santa Claus, read fabulously by Heath Miller anytime you like. It will stay up throughout the year.

See you all when I am fully functional again. (clicky clicky)

An Audio Christmas Cracker

Good morning everyone! Whether today is a Holiday Eve for you or not, I hope it is a lovely day full of goodness.

As a small gift sent out into the world, I present this audio Christmas Cracker (for my American brothers and sisters, a Christmas Cracker is like a little foil happybomb that goes BANG and then there’s a little present and a paper crown and a joke inside). It is a short story from my collection The Bread We Eat in Dreams, called Twenty Five Facts About Santa Claus, read wonderfully by Heath Miller, and given free to all this rollicking cold December. (Or rollicking hot, depending on where you are.)

Twenty Five Facts About Santa Claus

Please enjoy this little tale, and the carnival of lights and sleighbells and occasional warmth that goes up this time of year. From the islands of Maine to all of you–may the new year best the old and bring your wishes to your hands.

Upcoming AMA on Reddit

CMV will be doing an AMA on Reddit this Wednesday, October 30, from 3-5 PM EST!

If you’re not familiar with Reddit’s AMAs, here are the facts: AMA means “Ask Me Anything.” On October 30, from 3-5 PM, you can find a thread posted on Reddit on which you can ask any burning questions you may have for CMV. She will read your questions and respond! We will post a link to the thread on the day in question, and the best place to get last-minute reminders are CMV’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Ready your questions, people! And kids, get your parents to help you with participating on Reddit. CMV can’t wait to talk with you!

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