I watched the recent 6-part Monty Python documentary all in a gulp and it fills me with a strange nostalgia, a sadness, I suppose, but one that’s bittersweet and perhaps more on the side of sweet. Those are the types of unclassifiable feelings that lead to posting at 1 am when no one is reading.

See, I’ve loved Monty Python since junior high school. That’s actually not too long in geek circles, in a lot of ways we hold competitions to determine who got geekiest soonest. I’m sure some of you were reciting the parrot sketch in utero. And I hate to say it was my boyfriend who introduced me to it, but it’s true. Everyone has that member of their circle, if they are so lucky as to have a circle, who comes running up to you at lunch to tell you about the Thing they have discovered with all the joy and naivete of Columbus. A whole new world, and I’m the only one who knows about it.

I learned about Python from this boy who I was friends with–a weird, up-til-then homeschooled, awkward kind of kid my other friends and I kind of picked up along the way and then one day woke up and realized that I was in love with him and also that his rucksack full of geeky interests–Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, and Python, had mated with our neo-pagan teen witch drama club sensibilities and made something that a decade later would be indistinguishable from alpha-level mainstream geek culture, but then, in the absence of the internet, seemed new and precious and unique.

I learned about Python in quite an analogue way for 1993 and 4. By my boyfriend reciting the sketches, and then listening to an actual record of the Hollywood Bowl show and others. Doing the Great Geek Work of memorizing the Python rosary. We’d ride our bikes home singing the Philosophers Song, we sang the Galaxy Song to the stars while camping in Yosemite. We did the Inquisition sketch for the school talent show. Much as kids have and probably still do, we watched the movies and immediately started running the lines ourselves.

Yes, everyone can recite the Holy Grail. But we didn’t know that. We thought we were specially devoted. It’s a luxury almost nobody has now–you know what everyone else is interested in. Profiles and interests link every possible Python fan. We know that everyone can recite the Holy Grail so it becomes unnecessary to ever recite the Holy Grail. And there was an infant internet going then, I just didn’t know or care about it. And that subversive sense of feeling like you’re the only one who’s uncovered this odd thing from the 70s that your mother doesn’t laugh at–even though she’s more of an age with the Python guys than you–well, I remember that with fondness. It was genuine. It was not to show off or win a geek plumage contest. It was just because it was funny and speaking in a British accent drove everyone else absolutely crazy and we were all high-functioning performer types who needed things to sing together. We lived in a bubble. It was nice. It was peculiarly Spielbergian, in the mild California nights, our awesome bikes pounding down the trails and our voices all together.

So, I am the cliche, my boyfriend got me into it. I needed someone to, because I was far too inward-looking and bookish and stubborn to find things myself that were not in the orbits of my own obsessions. I picked it up and ran with it. Obviously the boyfriend and I did not stay together, and to be honest he doesn’t talk to me anymore because he thinks I am Awful on a number of levels, and shit like that happens when you grow up and life just loses that Spielberg glow. Ironically, I am now much more invested and involved in geek culture than the guy who first told me what a convention was. So it goes, as my man Kurt said.

Still, I remember that time with such terrible fondness, and since it is gone, sadness. I liked not knowing. I liked singalongs. I watched the Python boys all talk about creating what they did, which is relevant to my interests since creating things is what I do. I found it interesting that they often didn’t get along all that well, and it broke my heart when Cleese read the litany of euphemisms for dead at Chapman’s memorial service. I kind of want to watch Life of Brian again. It strikes me that they are Boomers, even though I think of them as perpetually young. People who got in on the BBC early, and had opportunities I hardly think young TV writers will ever get again. It’s all interesting. But mostly I think about growing up and my old boyfriend and shopping for red capes for a sketch that must have seemed so strange to the teachers, seeing the comedy of their subversive youth done by tiny kids. I think about it all and I love the world that has things like Monty Python in it.

And I have confirmed that at thirty-two, I can still sing every word of the Galaxy Song. I think it will always be my favorite.

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I have so much frustration right now.

I really should talk to my friends about medication before I take it–they’ve all been on a lot more than I have and know more. Almost as soon as I said something about being on Ativan wednesday gave me the heads-up that it wasn’t right for insomnia. I kept taking it anyway, even thought it helped less and less. But wait! There’s more.

Apparently, Ativan is not often prescribed as a first try at insomnia treatment, rather, it’s mainly an anti-anxiety drug with sedatives. With a notorious track record for tolerance-building and just ceasing to work eventually. But it’s what I was given–how should I know? But my friend W was over tonight and asked about my medication–which I’ve been on for about a month, and it doesn’t help with not sleeping at all really. W said that Ativan has serious cognitive side effects as it’s a depressant, and he’s fought not to be on it in the past, because its depressive qualities last into the next day, interfering especially with creative work. It slows down your brain. And it continues to slow it down after you wake up.

Well, what do I do for a living? Nothing where I might need to be happy, whimsical, imaginative, creative. Where my thought processes need to be nimble. I’m certainly not trying to write a book for children, full of magic and laughter and fun.

I have never been so depressed, anxious, easily upset, or as unable to work creatively as I have been in the last month. It’s been crippling. And I still can’t sleep, the worst insomnia I’ve ever had, and Ativan doesn’t help at all. I have barely been able to work at all, my brain has simply not worked as it normally does, and I’ve had middle of the night panic attacks–something I have never in my life experienced. I’ve assumed that I am just a terrible person and broken and lazy and nothing will ever be right again. It seems a lot more likely that the inappropriate medication I have been on has been fucking with me in a major way.

I’m out now. I took the last of it last night. Of course I’ve been near tears for no reason all day, and have not been able to work. I have an appointment to get something else tomorrow. I’m just so angry and frustrated that I’ve been taking something totally wrong for me that has been undermining me and I didn’t even know. I was just desperate to sleep. This has been a horrible month, one in which I’ve been convinced I’ll never be all right again.

It’s amazing how chemicals can affect you. Of course, we’re just chemicals in a squishy container. Adding or taking away one should have an effect. But we treat emotions as something not chemical, something esoteric that comes from a place other than chemistry. I’ve never been on serious medication. I am not used to thinking about myself in terms of meds-me and not-meds-me.

Oddly enough, my doctor was kicked from her HMO shortly after she prescribed this for me, so I won’t have her again. I don’t know whether to be glad that it’s fixable or furious at this lost time. I’m still messed up and I don’t know how long it will take for a month of meds to clear my system. I have barely survived these last weeks, while trying to keep a happy face on to the outside world. I can’t anymore. And I’m angry at being given chemicals that were never appropriate to my condition, and kept on them for a second round when I told my doctor they didn’t work.

And maybe I’m a little angry at myself for being so strongly affected. I just want to be ok again. I have not been ok. Maybe I can be better soon.

But I still can’t sleep.

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So. A Thing that has been brewing is a novella I wrote called Silently and Very Fast. This is a novella about the slow, gnarly, horribly human development of AI in the hands of several generations of a very peculiar family. It is the evolution of ideas I’ve had for years, and very soon, it will be readable by other humans.

You can order it here–the print run is very limited, 500 copies, all signed, and being put out by WSFA as part of Capclave. You don’t need to go to Capclave to order a copy, but you get a discount if you do. Also check out that gorgeous cover! Mira Grant and Gardner Dozois seem to think it’s pretty spiffy, as they were kind enough to blurb it.

I am very proud of this little book, and even more proud that beginning in October, it will be serialized in Clarkesworld Magazine in three installments, and subsequently available through them as a standalone ebook. I am very grateful to CW for taking it as their first serial project.

So, you’ll be able to read it all online, but in three sections. If you snap it up now you get the whole thing at once. Many choices!

Also, hopefully, at Capclave, you’ll be able to pick up a copy of Myths of Origin, an omnibus of my early novels. It also has a beautiful cover, though this one isn’t quite final, and it’s my first sort of Works of book and of that I am making much squee. You can pre-order it now. (The old cover is still up on Amazon, don’t be confused.)

On top of all of that, The Folded World, sequel to The Habitation of the Blessed, my Prester John series, is coming out in November! Harvest time in House Valente! It also has a beautiful cover, and I have an ARC I’ll be giving away sometime tomorrow.

So proud of all my babies! Look at them growing up!

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I have two television thoughts to share.

I’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix, which is a not-as-terrible-as-I-thought Knitting Show. Knitting Shows are ones I am not a fan of per se, but are mild and pleasant enough to knit to. Mostly procedurals, which I cannot watch without something to do with my hands. My attention wanders. Anyway. I’m in season 2 and it’s not half bad.

But the title sequence makes me crazy.

The difference between Grey’s Anatomy and ER is pretty much that there are a handful more women on the show. It’s the same medical drama format that has been used since St Elsewhere and probably before. Slightly more protagonist-centered, but it’s Scrubs without jokes, the same interns-in-crisis thing that’s been making money on TV for years.

But the title sequence is basically: show medical thing, show girly thing. Lather, rinse repeat. Show clamps/forceps, show eyelash curler. Show a WOMAN’S red shoes among all the REAL DOCTOR SHOES! Show an IV dripping into a cosmo. WHAT.

This is not what the show is about. No one on the show drinks froofy drinks or obsesses over shoes or is really all that traditionally feminine. Yes, they are attractive, but this is television. Meredith is actually kind of plain. It’s a show that easily passes Bechdel, but doesn’t really tackle head on the issues of being a woman in a male-dominated field. To this point, everyone in a position of power is a dude. (Bailey is a resident, and though she has some authority over our protagonists, she is not part of the power structure of the hospital.) Yet the titles make it look like Sex in the City: Hospital Edition. There was plenty of romance in ER and it never got this treatment. (Also, the title, which I thought a cute pun at first, is actually kind of icky.)

All I can think is that this is the thing where if there are women onscreen, they must be frivolous and OMG SHOEZ AND BOYZ! The show undermines itself with this weird title sequence, because it clearly wants to be at least most of the time a serious show, but in a world of amazing titles–there really must be some kind of contest over at HBO–Grey’s Anatomy is selling itself as something it’s not, and it leaves me with a gross taste in my mouth. More than two men onscreen, that’s normal. More than two ladies onscreen, it’s a chick show about chicks and boning, and they must be talking ab out shoes, amirite? (Sorry, the red shoes really get to me. NO ONE ON THE SHOW WEARS THOSE SHOES.)


Second thing. I was over at a friend’s house the other night. This friend is possessed of young children. These children like to watch a show called Caillou. The baby asked for it by name and thus I sat through an episode of it. Holy crap.

Ok, first off, Caillou is this (weirdly totally bald?) little boy who learns lessons about things, I guess. Par for the edutainment course. But I cannot express how different this show is than anything I watched as a kid.

No one is ever mean to Calliou. No one ever tells him no. His life is awesome all the time. When he toddles up to some bigger kids (middle schoolers it looks like–Caillou seems like a kindergartner) on the skating pond and asks to play hockey with them, they’re like: Sure kid! We’d love to play with you! Then Caillou’s dad takes him to buy a bunch of expensive hockey equipment and they go back to the pond, whereupon the big kids play with him.


Allow me to tell how how this would have gone down if it were a 70s/80s era kid’s show.

The big kids maybe would have said they’d play with him. Maybe. Depends on the genre. They might have laughed at him and called him names right there. But when Caillou got back with all that equipment? They would definitely have beaten the shit out of him and stolen it, leaving Caillou to learn a hard lesson about how people are the worst. Or enter a fantasy world of magic and enchantment where he would make friends with a lion-bear or something and come back to get revenge on the bullies. Revenge was a big theme back then. If you had a bike, a bigger kid would magically manifest out of the air to beat you up and steal it. If you were in a movie for kids, you were an underdog, and anyone in a higher grade than you was pure evil. Sweep the leg, Caillou!

The conflict in this episode came from Caillou not being super awesome at hockey right away, and learning that maybe he’d have to practice or something, which bums Caillou right the fuck out. Also earlier, it didn’t snow when he wanted it to. I…have no words.

Listen, Charlie Brown not only never got to play football, but Lucy stole his ball, abused him verbally and caused him to hurt himself repeatedly, and then charged him for therapy. And the Peanuts are SUPER wholesome entertainment for children of all ages! I was waiting for this to be a bullying episode, where Caillou would learn something about something, but no, everything was awesome in the beginning and slightly more awesome in the end.

I don’t want to be all KIDS THESE DAYS but I can’t see how, exactly, you function on planet earth if this is what sets up your expectations of human interaction. If your idea of a bad day is when everyone accepts you and is extra nice to you only you weren’t better than them at their own hobbies. I don’t even want to meet adult Caillou, who has got to be some kind of monster of entitlement and douchery. He might have straight up murdered the first person who didn’t want to go out with him.

I know childrens’ innocence must be protected, but eventually they do have to learn that people are the worst, and they are a people, and therefore they have the capacity to be the worst, too. At which point other people will react to that, and the world will keep going round. Caillou is distraught that it didn’t snow on his schedule and that his cat wasn’t that into learning a trick. I mean, it is a baby show (though everyone is very articulate and talking in long dialogues, so not that much of a baby show? They aren’t teaching simple words or anything. There’s a plot.) but I just couldn’t get over how not-my-childhood’s-television this was. It made the Muppets look like the fucking Wire.

Of course, what I learned as a kid was that a luck dragon was a good tool for conflict management, so who am I to judge?

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Having read two “classic” books recently, I was struck by the sheer quality of both of them, but also by where they drastically differed–their relationship to their female characters.

People have been telling me to read Bridge of Birds for years. Extolling its virtues, singing its praises, going so far as to lend me a copy. And it is a very good book, delightful and funny and it even involves one of my favorite Japanese festivals/folktales in its Chinese iteration. But no one, in telling me how much I’d love this book said: just try to overlook the gender issues. It was written twenty-five years ago. No one even brought it up.

See, the whole time I was nodding along and thinking, wow, this is really pretty great, I was also waiting. Waiting for a female character who was not a horrendous villain or a perfect, virtuous ghost. A non-grotesque, non-dead woman with any agency at all. A girl or woman allowed to speak for herself or act on her own behalf. I thought, toward the end, that a certain princess might be it, but no, she’s really not much more than a McGuffin, and waits around for the very clever boys to rescue her, while having been presented throughout the book as really pretty awful, just like all the other living women.

I mean, at one point, “Henpecked Ho” (charming) is roundly praised for brutally murdering his wife and “seven fat sisters” with an axe. We never saw the wife or sisters or heard their side of anything, only that some of them were fat and Henpecked Ho didn’t like them. He apparently did well by chopping them all to pieces. He then murders another (this time villainous) woman with the same axe and the mess of her entrails are played for comedy. Wow. Go team? And then there’s the scene where our hero is locked in a room with a concubine and told to have sex with her–her desires are not in question. But it’s ok because even though she starts out terrified of the guy whose nickname is Number Ten Ox looming over her, by the end she likes it! Yay!

I can’t help it. This bothers me. And one might say well, ancient China yes? Not so many actualized women back then. Totes fair to ignore them unless you want to faceplant your hero in some titties (actual scene). Not only is this not true, (and a sad thing people somehow keep saying about every single historical period even though I am hard pressed to think of one entirely unpeopled by powerful women, not to mention just women, living their lives, having brains and thoughts and struggles of their own–history seems to be a place where writers feel “safe” perpetuating the worst misogyny) but seeing as it’s a “Novel of a China that Never Was” I fail to see why that favorite bit of social history has to be set in stone. All the women in the story–and there are several–are relegated to beautiful tragic robots (ghosts behave remarkably like robots in this setup) or monsters of the first kind. And even the monsters don’t get any real personality. She’s awful and greedy. That’s enough. Miser Shen joins the party for awhile and is totally redeemed–can you imagine the Ancestress or Fainting Maid allowed to do the same? I can’t. Why could not the handmaidens or Bright Star or Lotus Cloud not be given some stake, some point of view, some voice? They are classic NPCs, but I guess they don’t end up on the business end of an axe.

It’s a good book, as I said. It really is. It’s just awfully tough for me to give it the adulation so many of my friends do. I kept waiting, and in the end, I was served the same dish of women don’t have stories, they are setpieces for men’s stories, also they are terrible that I so often get plopped on my table. And I just don’t want to eat that shit anymore. And 1984 really isn’t so long ago that I can say it’s of its time, on account of the book I read right afterward.

Which was The Haunting of Hill House.

Holy crap! This book is so good! I know this is all I Should Have Read It By Now territory, but I hadn’t read it before and it is just so very awesome.

And lo! It has a female lead! With an internal life and thoughts and difficulties! She is not a kickass heroine, nor is she perfect or fabulous, she cares a little about shoes but in a very human way, and she has no superpowers. But look! She has a mind! She wants things! She takes action to make her life less shitty! And in less than 50 pages I loved her and felt sorry for her and wanted nothing bad to happen to her, which is of course the kiss of death in a horror book, but lo once more! Is her death played for laughs? Is it gratuitous and full of nudity and sexualized violence? Does it happen merely to further a male character’s arc? Nay, I tell you! None of these things! (That long scene of her driving to Hill House is just masterful character writing. Wow. I cared so much about her. It really blew me away. Horror films and books on this very famous template seem to so often skip the part about a fleshed out character we care deeply about.)

Now, hold on. I am going to blow your mind.


Who is a lesbian! (I’m not crazy, right? Theo’s totally a lesbian? That whole “friend” she shares an apartment with thing? Boy nickname?) A lesbian who doesn’t murder anyone or molest anyone or go crazy from her lesbian-being! Just a girl in the fifties who happens to be a lesbian which is a rough fucking gig, and she isn’t always perfectly nice but you know, the house is haunted and shit gets pretty real, you’d be snappish too. And these women! They have a conversation! About their lives and wants and minds! A couple of them actually! And they become friends! FRIENDS. Subtle currents of desire that you couldn’t even entirely say are there or not there, yes, but friends. And they do not immediately vanish when the dudes come on the scene.There is even a THIRD female character, who is admittedly awful. But she is allowed to know things and take action, even if they are stupid things and stupid actions, because when women are treated as people they sometimes are idiots, just like men.

And this was written in 1959. That’s pre-Mad Men, for those of you playing along at home. A period where folks feel totally safe sidelining women of all kinds. (I think part–and only part–of where the recent filming went wrong was in updating the time period, as the narrative really needs the subtext of everything going on genderwise in 1959, that even wearing pants feels like rebellion to Eleanor, the relationship between a woman and a house, the free-radical carcinogen of a woman when she does not have a house to contain her, the repetition of home as both promise and threat, all of it. Without that it’s just a horror flick template.)

So yeah, no, I can’t give 1984 much of a pass. And I know, I know. Cat, it’s just a fun romp of a book! Why does everything have to be all srs bsns?

Well, because fun romps are where you see what people really think. What they think is funny, who they think is a good butt for a joke, which broad stereotypes they think are valid and which they think should be subverted, what they create when they think it’s just for fun, not for literature. It doesn’t escape me that one of these was written by a man and one by a woman, but I don’t really chalk much up to that. I don’t know Hughart and I sure didn’t know Jackson, and some great books that do not offend were written by men.

But Hill House was like a drink of fresh water after a long glass of wine slightly gone to vinegar. Sigh.

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