Feb 11, 2018

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The Refrigerator Monologues

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente is a gut-punch of a collection. As a woman who grew up with comics, I have rage for this thing that I have loved for years. I found both the rage and the love on the pages of this book and it was good.

On the surface, The Refrigerator Monologues is a collection of stories from the point of view of dead women. Women who were somehow adjacent to men who are superheroes. Some of them were the reason behind those men’s superpowers, some of them were girlfriends, some of them superheroes in their own right. But all of them, for some reason or another, are now dead and forgotten, as the name would imply. Just in case, dear reader, you’re not familiar with the trope, refrigerators refer to the trope of women in refrigerators, a term coined by the great Gail Simone to describe the tendency of comic books to kill or depower their women, usually in particularly nasty ways. The term itself refers Alex DeWitt, once Green Lantern’s girlfriend who finds her killed and stuffed in the refrigerator to provide motivation for him. There are, of course, other examples, some of them more egregious and some of them less so. Batgirl’s spine gets broken and she can’t walk, forcing her to become Oracle; Batman’s spine gets broken and he muscles his way to recovery, coming back better than ever. I love Barbara as Oracle, but there’s a double standard. A double standard that Valente’s book drags kicking and screaming into the light.

When you look deeper, however, there’s also a long-lasting love for the stories that did these things to all these women. Valente has clearly spent a lifetime among these comics and while some of the details have changed, it’s kind of exciting to see when you can guess which story, which refrigerated woman’s story she’s telling now. And it’s kind of wonderful to see all the stories that were already right there on the page if the original writers had just bothered to look a little deeper. And ultimately, it also comes down to the reader. The stories were there for any reader to find as well. And that’s where the beauty of The Refrigerator Monologues lies for me; these are all stories that I’ve known and hated because of what they did to the women. Some of them almost turned me away from reading comics altogether. But Valente managed to find the love buried deep, deep inside those stories and bring that to the light as well.

While I love a lot of Valente’s writing, this one is very close to stealing the cake. It’s at the very least a close call between this and Deathless. I think that anyone who loves Valente’s writing or loves comic books will find this an enjoyable read.

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Feb 5, 2018

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Hunting for meaning

I started writing again in 2009 when I had my first and so far, thankfully, my only burnout. The first novel I ever started writing was about two sisters drifting apart because of life who come together because the younger accidentally kills her boyfriend. This was back when I was still trying to write contemporary. A doomed idea if ever there was one. As I wrote, the boyfriend came back to haunt them and they had to pull together to get through the situation.

Anyway, I’ve been essentially trying to write this novel for almost ten years. Over time I’ve started it over and over and over again. Sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for bad. And somewhere along the line, I think I got used to just having this thing always be there. It’s always been perfect in my mind, even if not in execution. I feel like I have a lot of things to say about all kinds of subjects and somehow this book has become the thing that somehow needs to encompass all the things and end up being just as perfect as it always was in my mind. So while the heart of the story has always been in the two sisters’ relationship, the theme and events have kept on changing.

But, as my friend Jay Wolf pointed out, the time has come to push it out the door, whether I want to or not. And oh my is it scary. But because gamification and accountability really work for me, yesterday I sent out the latest draft of chapter one which is actually the first draft of this particular iteration, to my alpha readers. These poor, unfortunate souls are getting the very roughest of the rough drafts but I’m hoping this will actually compel me to finish this novel without me getting 40 000-60 000 words in and deciding that I need to completely restart the whole book.

It’s time to finish this thing.

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Jan 26, 2018

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Podcasts I’m listening to

Human hand touching an android hand. Digital illustration.

I listen to a lot of spoken word stuff. Audiobooks and podcasts are my constant companions and since my lists do change a bit and it’s been a while, here’s what I’m listening to here at the beginning of 2018 in no particular order.

Non-fiction

  • My Favorite Murder – Two funny women talking about murders all across the US and sometimes abroad. Their tagline “Stay sexy. Don’t get murdered.” says it all.
  • Stuff You Missed in History Class – Two women teach things, events and interesting people from history at depth from all over the world.
  • Freakonomics Radio – A team of podcasters explains the hidden side of everything through economics.
  • Iroquois History and Legends – The name pretty much says it all. American history from an Iroquois viewpoint with myths and monsters added in other episodes for good measure.
  • Making New Worlds – An astrophysicist and space travel enthusiast explores the ethics of space travel from all kinds of perspectives.
  • No Such Thing as a Fish – Four comedians share random facts for an hour.
  • Sawbones – “A marital tour of misguided medicine” a married couple talks about quackery through the ages, teaching and making jokes.
  • Talk Nerdy – Interview programme where scientist, science communicator and skeptic Cara Santa Maria scientists and science communicators about all things science.
  • The Skeptics Guide to the Universe – A group of skeptics talk science, skepticism and science fiction once a week.

Fandom and pop culture

  • All Comics Considered
  • Dirty Old Ladies – Three women making comics – two of whom write sexy comics – talk storytelling, business and all around all things comic.
  • Doctor Who: Verity! – Six smart women talk about Doctor Who. Need I say more?
  • Fangirl Happy Hour – Two smart, funny and unapologetically fannish women talk about pop culture, science fiction and fantasy literature, and fandom politics.
  • Galactic Suburbia – Three lovely Australian women talk pop culture, politics, history, comics and science fiction and fantasy literature. I’m sensing a theme here…
  • No Story is Sacred – Four siblings who grew up among stories because their parents are writers and editors take stories apart and it is glorious. (Although I may be slightly biased since my friend Pippin is one of the people on it and she is also glorious.)
  • Switchblade Sisters – Film critic April Wolfe has a woman filmmaker join her to discuss their favorite film and their own work.
  • Tea & Jeopardy – Tea, conversation and mild peril! Emma Newman interviews science fiction and fantasy authors over tea before they end in mild peril.
  • The Skiffy and Fanty Podcast – The podcast is what it says on the tin. A panel of experts talks at length about all things genre.

Fiction

  • Apex Magazine – Fantasy and science fiction with a dark twist.
  • Uncanny Magazine – Space Unicorn Ranger Core brings all good speculative fiction. Not that I’m biased or anything.
  • Clarkesworld – Science Fiction that brings you new worlds and new ways of being human.
  • Lightspeed – Science fiction (and sometimes fantasy) about humans doing amazing things.
  • Nightmare Magazine – Horror reimagined!

Writing and Publishing

  • Ditch Diggers – Authors Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace talk about the business of writing, treating it as a job among others.
  • Get to Work Hurley – Kameron Hurley talks about stories, storytelling, politics and the business of writing.
  • Print Run Podcast – Two agents who represent wildly different genres talk about the business of publishing.
  • Unreliable Narrators – Four Viable Paradise graduates discuss the craft and business of writing
  • Writing Excuses – Brilliant authors of science fiction, fantasy and comics talk craft for 15 minutes every week.

Self-development

  • Happier with Gretchen Rubin – The happiness and habit guru Gretchen Rubin talks to her sister Elizabeth Craft about habits.
  • You Need a Budget – podcast by Jesse Mecham of YNAB with short bits of encouragement and advice for budgeting.

Wow, that’s a lot of podcasts. Fortunately, I love them all and they keep me company on so many days.

What are your favorite podcasts?

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Jan 22, 2018

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Quit social media for 30 days

On the evening of December 21st, I was re-reading Cal Newport’s book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, which is an interesting book that is all about working on cognitively demanding tasks in a focused way. One of the things he talks about is dramatically cutting down on social media, and to be able to estimate which social media sites you actually want to keep, take off social media altogether for 30 days. So I removed all the apps from my phone and blocked access to the sites on my computer, certain that was all I was going to need.

On the first day, within the first hour of waking up, I broke the ban not once but twice! A friend tagged me on Facebook and I clicked the link out of habit on my work computer which didn’t yet have a blocker set up. And then my phone popped up a notice from Instagram which I had failed to delete. Then when I went to fill up my water bottle, and my phone came out of its pocket virtually on its own, I realized just how habitual social media had become for me. Then I spent the rest of the day noticing things that I really wanted to Instagram and share with the world! There was a random office chair on my commute home. Right there in the middle of the street! Taunting me with its existence! And then come the Twitter jokes about those feelings when…

By day three, Facebook started sending me my notifications by email. Every day. Thankfully, most of the end of the year went by in a haze of trying to get all the things done and most of January has gone by with me being sick and spending that time chilling with John Oliver and Knitting. It was great. I didn’t get a lot of stuff done during this time, but it’s been wonderful detaching myself from all the things I thought I needed.

Cute dreamer boy playing with a cardboard airplane. Childhood. Fantasy, imagination. Retro style.

The most interesting thing is, I thought I would miss Facebook the most and that’s the one I’m actually considering giving up altogether. I’d been having issues with my browser crashing which all just basically went away during my hiatus. I didn’t notice this until I came back and within five minutes of opening Facebook, I got my first crash in weeks. I think Facebook might be reacting badly to my adblocker or something because I don’t see many other people having this problem. Facebook is the place where I keep up with a lot of friends but, honestly, I’m not loving what they’re doing with the timeline and the notifications. I’m also not wild about the fact that they’ve started to put up notifications about my friend’s Instagram activity. Facebook, for me, has gotten to the point where I’m getting way too many pointless notifications and I can’t seem to control which of them I actually want to receive without hours on end of configuration. And who the fuck has time for that? So I’m going to be paring down my activity on Facebook a lot, leaving groups and all that jazz. It’s still the only place I find many of my friends, so I’m not going to cut the cord completely. But it’s become more about cat vacuuming than actual engagement.

Instagram was about what I’d expected. I’ve gotten into the habit of sharing knitting and lovely things I see every day on Instagram and that turned out to be a lot more addicting than I thought. But the real surprise was Twitter. I haven’t been using Twitter all that much lately, but that’s the one that I missed most. Whenever I came across an interesting article, I thought about sharing it. I thought about sharing short snippets of my days. And then were the links that people on slack sent around. The puppies mobbing a cameraman, the octopuses, oh the octopuses. Twitter is going to stick around for at least a while longer.

In the end, I cannot recommend this experiment highly enough for anyone who is able to do it, meaning anyone whose income isn’t directly related to their presence on any particular social media. It’s really helped me be more deliberate about how I spend my time and that’s always a good thing, given just how limited my time is, and how much I want to get done during the hours that I have left. And very little of it involves endlessly scrolling through Facebook.

So, dear reader, which social media do you think you’d miss most?

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Jan 2, 2018

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I Need A Budget

I’ve never been good with money, mostly because for so long I never had any. Then I got my first IT job and my first credit card and promptly had less than nothing, despite the fact that I was making more than I ever dreamed I might just some five years earlier. These days I make almost twice as much and yet, somehow, it feels like I can never get ahead. Enter budgeting.

Some three or four years ago I was constantly anxious about my money. I kept putting money into my savings but then something unexpected came that wiped me out. I loathed every time I had to go to my savings account or ask my partner to bail me by paying bills that I was supposed to handle. I was in desperate need of a budget. So, my partner researched budgeting software and got me an application called YNAB, short for You Need a Budget. Turns out, it was much more than what I was looking for.

Most budgeting is simple; this is how much you make in a given month, this is how much you have to pay in bills, this is how much you should put into your savings, this is how you should invest. YNAB is some of that, too, but it’s also more than that. It starts with figuring out what’s most important to you in the big picture. I want to be a full-time writer someday and to make sure I won’t tear my hair out because of money, I want to have a full year’s expenses in the bank before that happens. I want to get rid of my mortgage and buy an apartment for my mom to live in so that she can have more financial security and do more fun things. And I want to travel. Any one of these alone would require a huge commitment in any budget. One of the things I like about YNAB is that it makes me make actual choices about what I want my money to do for me most right now.

After that, you “just” follow the four rules:

  1. Give every dollar a job Basically, every money that comes in is working toward a specific purpose. Whether it’s rent or a personal satellite, every money has a job. It also doesn’t matter as such where the moneys are located, whether it’s a bank account or inside your mattress, as long as it has a job. Although there are a thousand reasons why you shouldn’t have your money in your mattress. And you only ever budget the money you already have available. This seems like a no-brainer at first, but it took me embarrassingly long to understand. For example, one of my priorities is paying for a tattoo sleeve from the supremely talented Linda Räihä at L&R Tattoo and Art Alliance. So a portion of every budget is going toward paying for it.
  2. Embrace your true expenses There are some things that you have to do; you have to pay for your electricity and groceries to be able to keep going. Most likely you’re also paying for internet and whatever else. Maybe you ´don’t know how much these are going to be but you know it’s more than zero. For example, I get an electricity bill once every a quarter. That’s a long enough timeframe that I’m never entirely sure how much it will be. But I know it’s going to be more than a certain amount. So I budget enough every month that by the end of the quarter I have at least that much on my account, ready to go.
  3. Roll with the punches Sometimes, a high priority bill comes and it’s more than what you’ve budgeted for and you just have to deal with it. I’ve been stuck in this place for a long, long time. I get paid on the 25th of each month, so by the time I get paid, the money is more or less already gone, especially since a lot of my bigger bills also fall due on the 25th. Look how that happened. More on that in a bit. But the beautiful thing about YNAB is that there should always be lower priority categories. And if not,
    it might be time to see if there’s a way to cut back.
  4. Age your money This is the thing that I’m working on right now. Like I said, by the time I get paid, most of the money is already gone. YNAB assumes a first in – first out mentality about the moneys in your budget. The age of your money is the time it takes from when money enters the budget to when it’s used to pay for something in the budget. The age of my money right now is 20 days, which is a little terrifying, considering that I get paid every 30 days. I’m planning to run lean for the first quarter, only paying the absolute necessities, which means that I’ve stopped my subscriptions for a whole heap of services. No more HBO until April. I’ll miss John Oliver terribly. Anyway. The idea is, that by the end of March, my money will be a lot closer to 60 days old, from where I can then get back to my regularly scheduled saving goals with some reasonable spending included.

Those are the basics and the rest is essentially implementation. I’m really excited about this system right now, because Jesse Mecham – the guy who built the system – just came out with the YNAB book and the system finally clicked home for me. I realized that if I did a lean January and more or less drained my savings account, I could get a full month ahead in my expenses. My January pay will actually be funding all of my February expenses as well as part of March expenses, which means that by the end of March, I should be able to start funding May expenses. Doing that made me feel like a weight had been lifted, even if I am fairly secure in general. It feels like I’m making actual headway in my long-term goals and dreams, which is basically turning me into a new convert preaching the good word of YNAB to all who will hear it.

The YNAB software is available as a cloud-based software, but the system is the thing and if you like or don’t have the $45 to put in an annual subscription, you can totally do the thing in Excel. That’s how Mecham started out. They have a great Youtube library full of free resources, but I still recommend at least getting the book, which is a surprisingly fun read and explains the system in great detail. Mecham is such a nerd that it’s also a really enjoyable read. I am especially fond of this book because as previously mentioned, it made the whole system really click for me and it completely changed the way I look at my money. I honestly never thought I would be excited about budgeting.

So. What is it you want your money to do for you?

PS. Just in case you, dear reader, should feel like it, here’s my referral link for the cloud-based YNAB. With a referral, we both get a free month of YNAB. It’s a win-win situation in my book!

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Dec 30, 2017

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2017 Year in Review

The road goes ever on and on

2017 has been an odd year. At large it seems like the world is a trash fire; nazis marching the streets at home and abroad and people wringing their hands about the various ways people are mean to the literal nazis. Loved friends having a hard time whether it’s because of divorce or otherwise ending relationships, losing healthcare or a career, facing financial hardships just in general.

And in the meanwhile, personally, I’ve had a very good year. I’ve gotten to know some amazing people, after years of applying, I finally got in to the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, friends came to spend time in Helsinki, I did some well-received panels at Worldcon, I got a lot of lovely knitting done, read a whole heap of lovely books, took part in a productivity workshop for creatives and all in all had a good time. I sold nothing but that’s okay because I have high hopes that selling will start happening next year.

This year in numbers:

  • 40 000 words 1n a first draft of a new novel
  • 160 books read
  • 15 rejections garnered
  • 12 shawls knitted
  • 6 weeks spent abroad
  • 5 short stories written
  • 4 Bullet Journals used up
  • 3 museums visited
  • 2 short stories edited
  • 1 new tattoo

Here’s to a better 2018.

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Dec 19, 2017

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Knitterly Pursuits

Over this year I have been knitting furiously. As such, that does not distinguish this year from any other. What is different is that I’ve been knitting shawls. So many shawls. Almost only shawls. This is because sometime around the last New Year’s I somehow got the idea that taking part in the 12 Shawls in 2017 challenge over on Ravelry. I’ve finished 9 shawls all told and unfortunately, I have 6 more heading toward the finish line that are unlikely to make it all the way there. One more, maybe two are in the cards still for this year, others will need to wait.

Next year, I’m thinking that I’ve had enough shawls for now. The cupboard is overflowing and several have gone to friends and family, so it’s time to turn my eyes elsewhere. And oh hey, look. I’m in need of sweaters and cardigans. And since my Work In Progress pile is getting kind of ridiculous, I’m also turning my hands back to the sweater projects that I’ve abandoned over the years. At least for some of the time. The goal is to finish 12 sweaters in 2018, regardless of when they were started. It’s time my startitis took a back seat from actually finishing stuff.

That said, I love all these knitting challenges. I’m always knitting anyway so it gives me such joy to get stuff off the needles. And I’ve made no secret of the fact that gamification works really well for me in all areas so why not knitting, too. And with my self-imposed yarn-diet almost over, I’m really looking forward to being able to plan projects around what I want rather than the yarns in my stash. All in all, it’s been a good year for knitting and I’m looking forward to a wonderful 2018.

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Dec 6, 2017

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Finland centennial

Aerial view of Helsinki capital of Finland

Today marks 100 years of Finnish independence. I’ve been baking pretty much non-stop since I woke up this morning but I thought I’d take a moment to acknowledge the occasion. It’s no secret that I love this country even if it sometimes also infuriates me. Medium happily put together a list of 100 things that make Finland a kick-ass country.

For my part, I love the food. Karelian pies, rye bread, reindeer. I love that wherever you go, you can get at least fair coffee. I love that we, at least for now, have an assumption that everyone should be equal, even if we sometimes need to be reminded of that. I love the language even if my own usage of it is pathetic. I adore the mythology where it’s just assumed that everyone does magic because that’s what Finns do. I love that the mythology more or less explicitly recognizes the differences in people like the fact that there are people for whom a length of silk cloth is a bigger draw than sex. I love that enduring is so codified in our society that it is considered one of our primary virtues while recognizing that that codification probably contributes to the high number of suicides. And I love the fact that we’re so far up north that we get such long summer days, even if does mean that we get endless winter nights in return. I so many words, I love Finland.

There are serious problems that we as a people need to deal with, the rise of the far right and the infinite patience the police hold for the same, for one. But I’m hopeful. In the last 100 years, Finland has dealt with some huge problems and come out on the other side. Battered and bruised, maybe, but still standing.

Happy birthday to Finland.

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