On Courtesy

I’ve been meaning to do a better job of posting on the blog, but when I’m drafting most of my creativity goes into the book. Fortunately, I have enough cranky in my pants today to make this entertaining, I think. Lately, it occurs to me that courtesy is a dying art. I don’t just mean people who hold the door for others, or say “please” and “thank you” to strangers, although that’s certainly a part of it.

Specifically, I’m thinking about the writing world. We’ve all run across users in our journey, those who want something from us, and they only play nice as long as they reckon we can give them what they want. I hate seeing it happen to people I like because it’s hurtful. I’ve certainly been in that situation a time or two, and it stinks, seeing people you thought were your friends turn. Sometimes success causes it; sometimes the lack of success. Either way, it’s an unpleasant revelation.

Being courteous and polite to everyone, no matter who they are, is a great idea. Not because they might someday be stupidly famous and they will remember your douchebaggery, but because it doesn’t cost anything. It makes no sense to blow people off or to treat them as lesser beings. No matter what someone else has achieved, we are, at base, all human. Celebrity doesn’t change that–and if it does, then something has gone horribly wrong. I’m not a celebrity by any stretch; I don’t mean to imply that. But even I have people who dismissed me quite cruelly before I sold anything. Now those same folks are obsequious in their desire to curry favor. Do they honestly think I don’t remember?

Sometimes people act like niceness is a crime, something you don’t want to be. But I miss it. I miss the days when it wasn’t okay to interrupt someone’s award acceptance. I miss the days when people were allowed to finish their sentences without being attacked. I rather loathe the new sensational standard, where people are hungry and addicted to drama, and to that end, they put the worst possible spin on anything. Sadly, people seem eager to conform down. We treat each other like nobody else matters; self has become the altar of ultimate onanism. I do wonder if this is how the Victorians felt at the turn of the century, as if civilized behavior was on the decline. The world didn’t end, of course. Our standards merely changed.

But in a world where oil gushes endlessly, mountains fall, sinkholes open, earthquakes rock already impoverished islands, and all people want to do is make fun of Al Gore for caring, where are they going from here?

Showing Empathy

Have you ever thought about what this means? Are you a good listener? By which I mean, you’re not thinking about other things or plotting a scene in your head, or deciding what you’ll say when it’s your turn to talk next.

Maybe it’s because authors can become egocentric that I’m thinking about this today, but I decided to write this post because I think it’s an important reminder for all people that the world is a big place, and everything isn’t about you.

I mean, we all have a tendency to make things about us and filter things through our experiences. Sometimes we don’t get what the other person is saying because of it. We all have a tendency to do it. But we can’t let our self-involvement get in the way of caring and making connections. We can’t let jealousy or envy color our responses. We live in an age of ennui, when there’s an excess of everything except compassion and kindness. sad_smiley

I challenge you to think about your last conversation. Were you an engaged listener? Did you come into it without an agenda? When was the last time you talked to someone just because you wanted to, not because you had something you needed to get out of it? To some extent, this behavior is natural and human. It’s only when it occurs to the exclusion of showing empathy at all that it becomes problematic.

If you tell me your sister has broken a bone, and I’m like, I broke a bone once, that’s a problem. The proper response should be along the lines of, OMG, how? Is she ok otherwise? I hope nobody else was hurt. Are you all right? Or some combination thereof. Not because you know your friend’s sister or because it impacts you in some way, but because her hurt presumably hurts your friend. Right?

I wonder if all the modern conveniences have impacted our ability to focus on other people. We live in a me-world, and sometimes it makes me sad.

The trip in review

We got up on time on Thursday, got ready and loaded the car. It took a little more effort to convince the dog that getting in the backseat was in her best interests. When we first snapped the leash on, she was very excited, tail wagging over a walk, then she realized she wasn’t going walkies. Talk about a depressed dog.

But we delivered her at the kennel, where she has space to run and other dogs to play with, no problems. Then we made the drive to Acapulco. The new highway is really lovely. Such vast, unspoiled mountain ranges, first lined with fir trees, and then more tropical growth as we got closer. It’s just breathtaking all the way. Sometimes we went for miles without seeing civilization. I saw a lonely house on a mountain with no power lines, just a donkey track leading up to it. I imagined what life would be like there.

After about four hours (not counting the time it took to get out of DF), we arrived at our destination. Princesa That’s our hotel pictured there. It was really gorgeous, reminded me of a ziggurat, and the landscaping truly captured the essence of “tropical paradise.” It’s like a luxurious Mayan fortress full of people anxious to pamper you. Andres and I snagged the ocean view room, of course. If you’re interested in seeing more, there’s a slideshow here of where we stayed.

Once we put our things upstairs, we rested a bit and then changed into swimsuits. We spent an hour or so down at the pool. Then we had a welcome dinner to attend. The food was fantastic, some of the best BBQ ribs I’ve ever eaten, and the curried rice was lovely too. There was a totally kick-ass show with Cuban dancing, lots of nearly nekkid people. Afterward, we chatted a bit with people, but the kids were tired, so we went up to the room and got to bed relatively early.

Friday morning, we joined the extended family for the breakfast buffet. At that point, I discovered we were sharing the resort with the national soccer team from Monterrey. I had wondered why there were so many young, hot, totally ripped dudes wandering around. The kids spent the day at the pool with their grandmother, and I worked. Andres had a business meeting to attend; the vacation wasn’t all play for him, as it was a pharmaceutical convention as well. In the afternoon, we met up for lunch, and then we all went to the beach. Once we were done bodysurfing in the ocean, we headed for the pool. By nighttime we were exhausted, so we went upstairs, showered, and got in our jammies and ordered room service, which was delish, and watched a couple of movies. First we watched Alvin and the Chipmunks (not terrible) and then just before bed, we watched Mr. Woodcock (beyond terrible).

Saturday, we went down to breakfast again, but we were running late, and Andres had to be at the conference at 10, so we hurried. Then I took the kids upstairs to let their food digest. Just before noon, we went down to the pool. They weren’t interested in the ocean, and I didn’t push. We swam and played for a few hours, then they decided they could use some lunch. We got sandwiches at a little cafe on site, took them up to our room to watch Nancy Drew and eat. By the time we were done, Andres was finished for the day, so we went back down to the pool. Swam and played some more, lazed in the sun, and generally had a wonderful time. My sister / brother in law came in with their toddler, which delighted the kids. We stayed down there until almost 7pm, when we had to get out to get ready for the closing events banquet.

At eight, we went down to the restaurant, looking fine, and enjoyed an “Under the Sea” scene with sea horses and fish covered in glitter, white plaster brightening red brick walls. The place was right by the ocean, so we watched the sunset on the waves as the program went on. It was beautiful and very romantic. We had another show with a different troupe of dancers. This group pulled people out of the audience and made them dance on stage, which was hilarious as long as you didn’t get tagged. We had a good time, but once again, the kids were sooo ready for bed by ten that we said our good nights, and headed for the room.

I wasn’t ready to call it, so I read a Julia Spencer-Fleming novel, and then turned the lights out sometime after midnight. Might I add that I’m highly annoyed that I can’t get all her books in e-form? I got the first two free from the promotion they ran, but now I want the third one and I. Can’t. Get. It. It would take weeks to get here and I’m leaving in three! Which means I may as well wait until I’m in the States, but see… I HATE waiting for things I want. Grumble.

Anyway, Sunday… today… we got up in a lazy fashion, packed up and ordered room service. Breakfast was absolutely lavish. If you’re looking for a seriously decadent place to stay, try the Fairmont Acapulco Princesa. Ordinarily I wouldn’t recommend Acapulco for tourists because the old zone can be dangerous if you don’t know where you’re going. But they’ve been giving the zona diamante a real facelift, trying to make Acapulco a luxury destination in line with Cancun — and after having stayed at the Fairmont Princesa I would have to say they have succeeded. I came away feeling like I’d had a hell of a weekend vacation.

After we finished breakfast, we were ready to go. We enjoyed great roads, little traffic, and wonderful weather on the way back. Once more, I appreciated the beauty of the scenery between Acapulco and my home in Naucalpan. Though I wasn’t born here, I have come more and more to identify this country as my home. I take such pleasure in the mountains. That’s why Puerto Vallarta is such a favorite for me; it has jungle, mountains and ocean, all right there together. It’s like the best of everything combined. Sooo beautiful. Every year I find something else to admire about living here… and the best part is… even quickie weekend trips are thrilling because I see parts of the country that are new to me. I loved going to Puebla.

We even managed to get home before the afternoon storms set in. So I’ve been sitting here listening to the rain drumming on the rooftop as I type. I love the smell of it on the tiles outside, damp clay and cool mist coming through the green leaves and red blossoms on the Noche Buena tree. The sky is damp charcoal, kissed with violet, and I’m happy to be home. Wang Chung is playing on my Itunes right now, so I’ll leave you with this particular profundity:

We were so in phase
In our dance hall days
We were cool on craze
When I, you, and everyone we knew
Could believe, do, and share in what was true

Don’t you wish you had my life?

The expensive car across the street that the owner refuses to park in his garage has an equally expensive, hyper-sensitive alarm system. It goes off at the drop of a hat. Or the drop of a pin.

6am — the car alarm has been going off for 15 minutes. Foul oaths in Spanish are hurled out of various windows, along with shoes and bottles. Nobody comes.

7am — someone finally comes to turn the alarm off.

8:15 — the alarm goes off again.

9:00 — someone turns it off. I pray for battery death. Working is a joke. Good thing this is my day “off.”

10am — (Can you guess?) the alarm goes off… again. Two men arrive to work on the electrical system in my house because everytime I use the microwave I get mildly electrocuted. This probably explains a few things about me.

11am — Car alarm is squalling again, but I’m in the shower. My head feels like an anvil. But onward! I have errands to run.

11:55 — the husband asks me to bring him back some food because he’s supervising the workmen (ie playing Drake’s Fortune on PS3. Thanks, Bettie Sharpe!)

12:20pm — I’m still sitting in the gas line at the station. Naturally, I picked the side with only one working pump. I am praying the car won’t run out of gas before I get there.

12:45 — I’m at FedEx trying to remember how to pronounce “Y” in Spanish because I’m overnighting a book to a reader; her ARC was lost in the mail, so I want to make it up to her.

1:00 — I’m at Subway and there’s only one guy running the whole place. It’s empty when I walk in, and then WHOOSH, suddenly there’s a crowd jostling behind me. The old lady right next to me in line could use a mint. She also has a terrible hacking cough.

1:30 — I check on the special order for the custom designed necklace (part of my prize package in the Grimspace Juggernaut). That will be ready after 5 today. But Tete doesn’t want me to get out quickly; she’s a family friend, so it means lots of smooching on cheeks and talking in Spanish. My head still hurts, and I’m having more trouble than usual following. My side of the conversation consists of “Si” and “bien.”

2pm — I’m back home, delivering sandwich, cookies and soda. Workman are still hammering and the animals are agitated, meowing, barking. Only the turtle is quiet. I set to answering emails, visiting blogs where I’m featured, and parceling up prizes to be mailed tomorrow.

2:30 — car alarm, again. I want to hurt someone.

3:28 — the cat sounds like he’s being run through a juicer, so I finally go see what is ailing the whiny bastard. He’s gotten his foot stuck in the toilet somehow. Perhaps it’s something to do with the bird sitting on the top shelf in my guest bathroom. Ok, WTF? BIRD? WHY is there a bird in my bathroom?! I free the cat and scream for my husband.

3:30 — my husband shoos the bird, which flies around the house, bangs into walls and windows, exciting the dog and cats who are giving chase, barking and meowing at the same time. Dog knocks me down, bird flies out open door, and the cat has been whining in disappointment ever since. Now I have a damp, sullen toilet-smelling cat who hates baths.

3:32 — now that the alarm has finally been shut off (or the battery ran down) the cat won’t stop meowing.

Soon, I have to pick up the kids and then, more errands. I can tell you’re all jealous.

Perverted sci-fi to avoid

This thread tickles me. You can go read it for yourself by clicking the title of this post, but I’ll share the crucial bit.

I’m no prude, but I hate reading about sex in SF, especially when it’s pornographic or dirty. Am I alone in this, or do others hate it, too? Here is a small list of books which have had me wince, moan with disgust and temporarily throw the book down:
Dawning Shadow – Somtow Sucharitkul
Throne of Madness – Somtow Sucharitkul
Alien Years – Robert Silverberg
The World Inside – Robert Silverberg (THE worst book I’ve ever read)
Camouflage – Joe Haldeman
Cradle – Arthur C. Clarke & Gentry Lee
Ringworld Engineers – Larry Niven

Of these authors, Gentry Lee and Silverberg are the most perverted. I read reviews that Rama II (written with Gentry Lee)was perverted so I haven’t read that one. Anyone else has any more books to add and avoid?

I’m beyond astonished. Good grief, these books made him moan with disgust? *wide-eyed* But the funny bit is the addition of the word ‘temporarily’. You think he finished the books as a mercy read?

The first thing that occurs to me, however, is that sci-fi has long been the province of adolescent males. Understandably so, the genre offers tales of adventure without the added weight of mature relationships, which carry with them the danger of sexual contact.

*whispers* Coitus.

I’m madly curious as to what’s in these books that got them dubbed “pornographic”. It’s hard for me to imagine venerable authors like Silverberg and Clarke writing in a sweat-soaked frenzy to come up with something truly filthy, just for the sake of shocking this poor reader. Perhaps Silverberg and Clarke are dirty old men?

Heh. I must rebut!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cM53z_jwUbc]

In any event, it makes me wonder how ‘classic’ sf readers are going to respond to my work. The protagonist is a female — and not a man in a woman’s body, as some SF heroines seem to be. A real honest-to-God woman, complete with emotions and everything. Do you think people will complain that I’m smearing my girl cooties all over the purity of the genre?

We have our romance novels. Why must we write in other genres too?! SF should be a manly bastion without sex, emotion, or other squishy stuff, right? It should be solely devoted to killing aliens and flying ships and discovering new worlds. The male hero, if he ever had a relationship, should be alone now. Perhaps his wife died. Yeah, that works. That way, he’s had the sex, but readers aren’t confronted with the horrid reality of recreational coitus. (I said it again!)

Coitus.

So our lone wolf hero can sail away into the stars. Alone. Maybe he can have a robot as his sidekick. But not one who cusses, like Bender from Futurama. That would be dirty and perverted. And his adventures should always glorify violence, and show that the best way to solve a problem is with a ball-peen hammer. Or a laser pistol. Whatever. As long as something dies.

Why are emotional arcs and sexual content dubbed dirty / pornographic? American television is the same way. Insane levels of violence are permitted, but flash a little boob, and people freak out. It’s definitely a yin / yang sort of thing, but yin is seen as more deviant than passive these days. So tell me. Why do we celebrate a cult of death and destruction?

the changing nature of language

As usual, I’ll have a review over at It’s Not Chick Porn.

Check this out. These panels make me think about the changing nature of language. I wonder how JR Ward’s books will stand up in twenty years? Will her slang hopelessly date her? School kids today find Shakespeare all but unintelligible. English has changed a lot.

Are you more concerned with telling the story / entertaining than producing timeless literature? Do you think genre fiction has the capacity to transcend genre and become a classic? Can you think of any examples where it has? Name authors and titles for me please, ya’ll.

I never read comics as a kid, but I’m starting to wish I had. My favorite is the Joker’s Boner. What’s yours?

Link courtesy of my husband, bored at work