In Which We See the Strings

15 May 2003

Woke up at 5:30 this morning. I'm pretty bright-eyed. Obviously: if I hadn't been awake-awake at 5:30, I wouldn't have gotten out of bed. There'd be no reason for it. Nowhere I've got to be. Lots of stuff I've got to do, and does it look like I'm going to do any of it before 8:30? Not hardly. I may be a morning person, but I have a pretty firm understanding that the world doesn't revolve around extreme morning people. The library won't be open until 11:00. And even I know that this is no time of the morning to be mopping.

I have no explanation for why I woke up hungry and with an aching back this morning. It's just one of those things. I ate plenty yesterday, pancakes and cantelope and salad and ravioli and ice cream and a few other things I forget. And I didn't do anything in particular that could be considered bad for the back. So, search me. But the combination was enough to get me up an hour early, after I went to bed an hour late. Right now I feel fine. We'll see about later.

The Wild folded like a napkin last night. It was pitiful. Mostly it was the second period that was the problem. In playoffs hockey, you're not allowed to have an entire period be the problem. I talked to Ceej for part of the game. It was better that way.

Timprov's medical appointment went well, but he's got some return visits scheduled there next week and also has been routed back to a previous doctor for some additional tests. Which is fine: he's got insurance, and it's progress towards getting him feeling better.

I sat in the waiting room and read A Game of Thrones. It got me pretty well into high fantasy brain at that point (200 pages at a stretch will do that), so I think I'll go right on to the sequel when I finish this. The thing that bothers me about this book more than anything else is how clearly you can see the strings. Well, how clearly I can see the strings, anyway. Now you will feel this way! Now you will feel that way! Now you will be X degree of suspicious of this character! I think that, more than anything, was what gave me the sensation of having read it before the first time I read it. (The first time I read it, I kept checking the copyright date, because I was absolutely sure I'd read it before. But that was pretty impossible considering when I got it and when it was published.) Even his use of POV characters is set up so that he can be blatantly manipulative with them without it being quite as noticeable, as he subscribes to the David Brin school of POV. (If one POV character is good, twelve are better. Ummm, no.)

The one line that really killed me, though, was when someone was talking about the younger, feistier daughter of the family of main characters, and he said, "I've never seen such anger in a girl" or something like that. That just did it for me; I giggled and giggled. I know that there are and especially were cultures in which that made sense, in which the women were expected to repress their anger and be meek and mild. I know that intellectually. I do.

It's just that it's so distant from my own experience of the world that I had to laugh. I mean, I have The Aunties, the ones who made me despair of finding Mother's Day cards because they were all about being sweet and gentle (the cards were, I mean; The Aunties have never been all about being sweet and gentle, and we're all happier that way -- it's less scary). And that's the immediate stuff. But then you look back, what I was exposed to culturally, what I read as a kid, what else have you got? You've got the sagas, for heaven's sake, where you've got Freydis Eriksdottir, heavily pregnant, slapping her sword on one of her bare breasts to scare the attacking foe, and slaughtering them in their terror. This is where I come from: The Aunties and the sagas.

And my mom would occasionally tell me to sit with my knees together when I was wearing a skirt, but on the whole, being a wimp was a much, much worse offense than being unladylike, when I was a kid. And my mom is a pretty feminine person. I don't think my mom could manage "butch" on a dare. (Neither could I, I don't think. Hee. I asked for straight-hemmed no-lace plaid flannel nightshirts when I left for college in the lovely frigid north, and my mom was dissatisfied with them. "They look like a boy's!" she complained. My dad gave her a Look and said, "Hon, nobody is ever going to mistake our daughter for a boy.") So what got internalized was that being feminine and not being a wuss were intimately connected, not opposed. I always had some awareness that other people had a dainty princess idea of femininity, but that never felt like it had anything to do with me. Our kind of people weren't like that, and that was the end of it. My mom made sure I knew what being a ballerina did to your feet, so even the years of dance didn't bring on floaty princess notions.

I realize that part of this, a big part, is that I was born at the right time. But a lot of it is family/cultural, too. And I think some of the rest is that I never had to worry about whether I seemed feminine enough. Even when I got treated as asexual, I never felt like it was because of some flaw in my own femininity -- it was just that geeks were treated as asexual in a lot of high school circles. Didn't matter if you were male or female. And most of the time, I don't get treated as asexual at all. That's not a complaint, but it's also not bragging, as this is not something on which I've spent any time, really. I mean, I kept wearing dresses in the summers even when I was a physics major, but I don't really count that as effort.

Aaaaanyway. Given how many women are going around throwing temper tantrums in A Game of Thrones, the bit about the one girl having the strongest anger the speaker had ever seen just didn't ring true to me, even once I could stop giggling and get back from my own world to the one Martin set forth. I'm hard pressed to come up with a major female character in this book who isn't furious. But the reader is supposed to think of Arya as the feisty, rebellious daughter. And this is a small example of what I mean by being able to see the strings. When a comment fits with the setting (and, although it isn't as much an issue in this case, with the character making the comment), when it doesn't jolt you out of the book, you don't always see that you're being told what to think of a character. But when it's obtrusive like that, the writer is attempting to hand you characterization cheaply. See? This is what this character is like. Only it doesn't quite fit. It's subtler than the bad submissions I read for Why I Hate Aliens, where there were paragraphs like, "You could say that Jane was unpleasant. She was a very unpleasant person. 'Jane is just unpleasant,' said Anne. 'I don't like her.'" But it's the same problem.

While there are sympathetic characters in more than one circumstance in this book, Martin also gives you no chance of sympathy for the big villains. They're not just vain and cruel! They're also incestuous child-killers! (This will not spoil anything, I assure you.) Just because they can! They're that evil that way!

Sigh. There's something to be said for some clear-cut battles of good vs. evil. But I prefer to see that in terms of actions rather than people -- not because nobody is "truly evil" but because externalizing villains allows us to close our eyes to our own faults. We can fight people who are doing something really evil without having to be convinced that we are pure as the driven snow ourselves. We can try to improve both sides. Really.

(Frankly, I think this externalization of evil is a big reason why homosexuality is a popular thing for some classes of evangelists to rant against. If they went with envy or avarice or anger, they might have to examine their own consciences, but many of them can say for certain that they have never had sex with someone of their own sex. And nobody can prove anything about what thoughts they may or may not have had, of course. So they dive on the idea of homosexuality as sinful, and more sinful than anything else worth mentioning, because for most of them, it will be someone else's sin. And someone else's sin is always more comfortable than one's own sin. "What do you mean I have had an uncharitable spirit? Never mind that now, there are men getting nekkid with other men over there! And isn't that a much bigger problem than my disregard for my fellow humans?")

Oh! It's now a humane hour of the day, sort of, and I've realized that Mark needs the car later to go to both offices. So I'm getting cleaned up so that I can go to the store. I can't imagine what we could possibly need at the store, after I got so many things there last week. But luckily for me, I don't have to imagine, because it's written neatly on the whiteboard on the fridge. Have a good day.

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