The birth of meeeee!

Tomorrow (Friday, July 26) is my birthday. I’m telling you this now because one of the main ways to celebrate my birthday worldwide–by which I mean it happens in both Eagan and Apple Valley–is to have something unusually awesome for breakfast.

I am a big fan of breakfast. No matter what a crappy day I have had, I can go to bed and think, “Well, in the morning I get breakfast.” Even when I have a stomach bug or food poisoning, I go to bed thinking, “Maybe in the morning I’ll feel good enough for breakfast.” Sometimes it’s really very simple.

So! I always felt weird about having no better answer than “Thanks” when people said happy birthday to me, so now I answer, “Happy my birthday!” Because really! There’s no reason you shouldn’t have a happy my birthday as well as a happy your birthday. And one of the best ways to do that is with a croissant or apricot breakfast crisp or weird fruit fridge porridge or french toast or…breakfast stuff. It’ll be good.

I am like a twelve-year-old when it comes to my birthday. I have been poking at the packages on the hearth for days now. Poke…poke…pooooooke…. It also turns out that Amazon will display your wishlist with the items obscured, so you just see how many there are, which is like the digital version of poke…poke…poooooke…so, being mentally 12, I do that too.

I love birthdays. I really think this is going to be a good one. For all of us, I hope.

Cool stuff: the illustrated edition

I have had my share of horrific cover art/illustrations for a short story writer, or possibly more than my share. So when I get really good art not once but twice from the same artist (and the same art director: thanks, Irene and staff!), I sit up and take notice. That artist is Julie Dillon. I’m so glad other people are noticing her work enough to nominate her for awards like the Hugo, because she is doing just lovely stuff.

You can look at Julie’s website here, and it’s full of links. She did a zodiac calendar with images like this one–no, I’m not a Pisces. My birthday is Friday. But I really really like this Pisces. There’s also a place to order prints, like this one I dearly love.

Or, of course, you can get a closer and more detailed look at the two illustrations she did for my post-nuclear fantasies. Mmmm, art.

Name changes

Last week I was doing a polishing draft of a book of mine, working with my agent* to make sure it’s the best it can be when she shows it to editors. And one of the questions we’d talked about was a name change.

In the first version of this book, there was a major character whose name began with the Kj- dipthong. But when I was first writing this book, I had a different idea about its audience than I do now–specifically, I was imagining the average target a few years older. I don’t want to make young readers bounce very early in the story with something that can be fairly easily changed, and it turns out that this character’s name actually could be. This took me a bit by surprise, because the last time I did a name change on even a minor character, I had to change parts of her dialog and even some of her actions. She was going from Laura to Lucy, and Lucy simply would not do the things Laura would, or at least not in quite the same way. (This got even more difficult because my brain decided that Laura was Lucy’s younger sister, rather than being nonexistent, and now there is a Laura story rattling around somewhere in here waiting to be written. SIGH. BRAINS.)

But this time around, it only took a few hours of letting the idea percolate before I decided that Kjartan could become Tryg. Readily, happily, no emotional balking whatsoever. Hurray! Surprise! But. This meant switching from someone who mostly went by his full name (Kjartan) with occasional uses of a nickname (Kjar) to someone who mostly goes by a nickname (Tryg) with occasional uses of his full name (Trygve). So while it was a lot emotionally smoother than I expected, there was no way I could do a simple search-and-replace, even with a name that was not going to have any false positives. I had to read each line that referred to him and make sure that it was not one of the rare cases where his first name would appear.

This was not hard, but it was a bit tedious, and with obsessive brain tendencies, I ended up doing it and the rest of that polishing draft work…all in one day. So that was Friday. Go team Mris. But uff da.

I appear to be growing brain back now. I seem to be able to do useful things in a fictionward direction. But even when name changes appear easy, they’re not. Really, really not. Because names are complicated.

*Yep, as those of you who read the briefer social media (G+ and FB) know, I have an agent now. Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Agency will be representing my long-form works. Many thanks to my good friend Jaime Lee Moyer for introducing us.

Awesome things: the Spellbound edition

You all remember when I linked to the Spellbound Kickstarter, right? And lo, it came to pass, that there was once again a children’s fantasy magazine in the land? Well, shocking all of us who know here, Raechel Henderson’s goals have not stopped there. She’s doing another Kickstarter, this one for companion volumes of Spellbound and an adult anthology, retelling fairy tales from the full spectrum of humanity. All races, sexes, sexualities, and abilities are welcome in these fairy tales.

I’m particularly interested in the response Raechel got from making explicit in her guidelines what has always been implicit in her attitude to the world: that she welcomed diverse tales. Apparently the act of stating that has made a huge difference in the stories she’s receiving for the regular issues of Spellbound, and I’m really excited to see where she can take it with a special Kickstarter project–especially because of the adult/kid anthology pairing. I’ve never seen a pairing like that before, and I think it’s awesome. So go forth and support the awesome.

Books read, early July

Saladin Ahmed, Engraved on the Eye. Kindle. Short story collection, some in the same world as Throne of the Crescent Moon and others not. The former are the collection’s better stories, I feel; too many of the latter are an idea without an arc.

Joan Aiken, Go Saddle the Sea. Kids’/YA Napoleonic adventure tale ranging from Spain to England. A quite competently executed example of its type, and sometimes swashing and buckling are exactly what’s called for.

Scott Carney, The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers. This book was extremely short for something that was attempting to deal with all forms of commerce in human tissues (except, apparently, prostitution). It was, as expected, quite unsettling, but in some ways having the topics jumbled up together made some seem less horrific just by contrast. I expect that each of the chapters would probably have been more effective as an essay, given its own mental space.

Tina Connolly, Copperhead. Discussed elsewhere.

Junot Diaz, This Is How You Lose Her. More Junot stories. I think the general improvement here over Drown is even clearer because they’re similar kinds of story, but Diaz is a more mature writer now.

Graham Farmelo, The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom. I am pretty uncomfortable with this book. There’s the whole “strangest man” conceit, which looked more and more dubious the further I read. Either Graham Farmelo is not a very good writer, or P.A.M. Dirac was…not that strange really. If I got together the strangest twenty people I know personally, from this account it looks like Dirac would be less strange than all of them. As I read on, it was looking more and more like Dirac was someone who had some high functioning atypicality in his neurological makeup and possibly some mental illness issues from his family. (Nature, nurture, the Diracs had it all.) I am really uncomfortable with armchair diagnoses in retrospect, but I’m even more uncomfortable with a default What A Weirdo narrative when, really, not so much. And then I got to the end of the book, and one of the last chapters was a badly researched chapter on autism that perpetuated several stereotypes about autism and autistic people. SIGH. Add to that the general dryness of the style and approach, and I’m afraid I can’t recommend this one.

Rudyard Kipling, Maugham’s Choice of Kipling’s Best. Grandpa’s. An odd assortment for an odd reason: Somerset Maugham wrote the introduction to talk about what he picked and why and what he felt Kipling’s flaws were. And, the times and Maugham being what they were, it did not occur to him that Kipling literally calling the entire continent of Asia a whore for no particularly well-laid-out reason but pithiness might be considered a flaw. No, literally. He called…yeah. It was…a thing. Kipling has that authoritative voice that’s so easy to read, and some of these stories were great fun, but some of them also highlighted why the authoritative voice is not an unmixed blessing.

Louis L’Amour, Hondo. Grandpa’s. I run into a lot of discussion of romance novels and what non-romance-labeled things are “actually” romances or “near” romances or inspired by or deal with similar issues. And for some reason–possibly the decline of the Western as a genre?–hardly anybody is talking about Westerns as essentially romances that were acceptable for men of their time. It’s striking, though, how much the basic plot of a Western is similar–and the sensory focus, albeit through a different stylistic lens. Not my thing, not going to be my thing, but interesting to look at.

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Saltation. The thing that really makes me role my eyes about the Liaden books is how much they tend towards a model of the One True Excellent Person and everyone else being either bland background or not structurally on the same level (teachers/mentors/etc.). The OTEP story can be fun to read about, but in this case it felt very much like filler, because the OTEP didn’t run into things that were genuinely challenging and definitely didn’t grow in her interpersonal behavior. I like a popcorn space opera from time to time, but this is not my favorite example of the sub-genre.

Val McDermid, Trick of the Dark. This was in some ways a lovely and twisty mystery novel. I enjoyed it greatly. It bafflingly lacked one word, however, and that word was “bisexual.” When you’re dealing with women who have been romantically involved with men…and now are involved with other women and are dealing with coming-out issues with friends/family…wouldn’t you think this would at least be an option to be discussed? Maybe? Even if it was only to say, “No, it turns out I’m not bisexual, but I see why you might have thought so under the circumstances”? But no one in this book appears to have heard of bisexuality. Very strange. (And before anyone asks, it was published in 2010, which is well after a random reader would have heard of the concept, much less an out lesbian like McDermid.)

E. C. Myers, Fair Coin. I found this compulsively readable. It was not always enjoyable, but it dragged me headlong through when I intended to only read a chapter or two, and I really respect the things it was doing with “wishes” and personal autonomy–that we make the decisions we make in part because of who we are, and some of those decisions cannot be fundamentally altered without fundamentally altering the person not only after but before the decision is made. That was very, very well done. I’m eager to see what Myers does next.

Roger Parker, The Oxford Illustrated History of Opera. By which we mean Western opera, apparently; from reading this you’d never know that the Chinese had opera. It managed to educate me more generally about the evolution of opera in Europe (and a bit in North America, but mostly Europe) without telling me even a single one of the things I wanted to know going in. There were some interesting tidbits that made up at least some of the lack, but in general–meh. Meh, I say!

Tim Parks, Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics, and Art in Fifteenth Century Florence. This is a light, fluffy, fast read. If you’re looking for something deep and chewy about the evolution of Italian banking, this was not it. On the other hand, it’s got fairly good personality sketches of several key early-mid Medicis.

Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria. What a lovely book. You know that depth of texture and style that often goes with a wandering plotlessness? Samatar has managed to wed it to a spirally unfolding plot in ways that don’t cut down on the texture. There is foreign travel and being the titular stranger, but the travel does not become random travelogue structure. And the ways of the gods and the dead in this set of foreign-to-the-protagonist places are very interesting indeed. I can see why this made Jo’s list of exciting fantasy novels from the last decade; I will definitely want more of Samatar’s work when more is available.

Janni Lee Simner, Faerie After. A fitting conclusion to the series. I think it would stand all right alone, but a lot of the emotional weight of the series comes from already knowing the people and what they’re up to; I’d recommend starting at the beginning. I particularly liked the handling of the stone hand, in case that’s as intriguing to anyone else as it would be to me.

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The Laughing Policeman. The title should not lure you into thinking that this is an upbeat and cheerful Swedish mystery novel, for lo, it is not. There’s a reason we have a serving size on these things.

P.G. Wodehouse, Tales of St. Austin’s. Kindle. I was looking for something short and light to read when I was feeling ill, and these are so much The Sort Of Thing He Does that I did not fully remember that I’d read it before until I was halfway through. Which is in some ways fine–still served its purpose–but in some ways underscores how much this is not a life-changing classic. Well. Not everything has to be.

How I decide when to post about politics

(Or, why I talk about the Minnesota Orchestra so much.)

I have seen several people referring to their political posts today as “obligatory,” and it makes me wince every time. Blogging, tweeting, and other social media posting is generally optional, folks. You don’t have to use social media to wish your cousin a happy birthday. You don’t have to use it to tell us what you had for lunch. And you don’t have to use it to talk about the politics of the day. All of those things are choices. Sometimes they’re really good choices, for various reasons, sometimes bad choices, but this stuff is far, far less obligatory than we’re trying to convince ourselves that it is.

My rules for how to decide when to make a political post are mine; they are not meant to be universal or to tell you when you should make political posts. But here’s what I do.

1) I ask whether I have something new to say on this topic, whether I have a pithy way to say things that are already being said on this topic, or whether I am just attempting to express some kind of solidarity. The last option gets the least weight, honestly: troops sometimes do want rallying, and choirs do sometimes enjoy really good preaching, but those things go lower on my set of priorities.

Some people do serve as sources of breaking news for their social circles, and so they relay things even when they don’t personally have anything to say at all. That’s not what I’m doing here. It’s a valid choice, it’s just not my choice. Occasionally I am emotionally overcome by something political to the point of posting, “aughhh” or “woooo!”, but usually I think it’s better energy allocation to do that aloud and keep working on other things rather than posting to social media.

2) I ask who I will likely be reaching with my actual post. Sometimes things get linked and passed around, either locally within a community or more broadly than that, but you can’t plan on that, and you particularly can’t plan on it if the people most likely to be interested and pass around your link have no mechanism for seeing it in the first place. So if my answer to the first question is that I don’t think people in Group A have heard this point I want to make, it doesn’t matter, if I have no way of getting Group A to see it in the first place.

3) I ask whether I have the time/energy to deal with the likely ensuing comments. Sometimes I’m wrong about how many comments a post is likely to get–but most of the time I post things where I don’t feel like I am going to have to watch things like a hawk lest assholery ensue. Most of the time if people post links, there would have to be someone in an epically bad mood for it to result in a jerkalanche. But some topics require a lot of moderation, and frankly there is just not that much Mris these days. A lot of moderation might well mean that moderation is the only thing I’m doing that day. Not a win condition.

4) I incline towards positive rather than negative commentary whenever I can manage it. This is not true of what I mumble to myself when I’m reading the paper (including the online version of “reading the paper”), and I don’t always succeed at it online. But I would rather be able to say, “X is good,” or even, “Y is broken, and X is one of my theories about how to fix it,” than just, “Y is sucktastic!” whenever possible. Some things just are sucktastic, and that’s worth pointing out. But for my personal skew, I would prefer positive/solvable whenever possible.

Which is why the Minnesota Orchestra stuff is a perfect storm. My likely readers are people who care about the arts, and about music in specific, and sometimes even about music in Minnesota in specific. But my likely readers do not seem to be people who are all up on the situation with the MN Orchestra, so I’m likely to be saying things that are new to them. Nobody is showing up to be jerks in the comments, and if they were I have fairly strong expectations that it would not be people with whom I have standing relationships, whose jerkitude would take more energy, more tact, more emotional engagement. And I do have a positive stance (Orchestra Good!) rather than just a negative one (Orchestra Board bad…but can freely choose goodness from here if it likes, so again: fixable).

See what’s not on the list? What’s not on the list is an assessment of how tragic or important something is. I do not make a policy of making some comment on every single thing I find important, and I have that policy in part specifically so that if I am exhausted or ill or distracted, nobody can take that as a definitive statement of priority ranking.

What’s also not on the list is whether someone on the internet is posturing about how people who have not made any comment on [insert important thing here] must hold that [insert odious view here]. One of my friends posted that this morning one of her social media acquaintances noted that he was keeping track of who was not posting about the events in the last few weeks that he felt were socially important, and was drawing his (unfavorable) conclusions about their views from their silence. But I will bet you money that this man has not been following developments in law and regulation of Bangladesh garment factories after the fire and posting extensively about that, or the rise of the right-wing in Hungary. Does that make me think that he is a callous jerk who does not care how many people die for his T-shirt, or whether fascism makes a terrifying comeback? No. It makes me think that time is limited and we all have to do what we can. And it makes me think that there is always, always something awful happening in the world, and if you insist that all of them must be mentioned in a particular way, you will run out of time for the fact that there is always, always something wonderful happening in the world, too.

A Time for Merry Persiflage

Tonight Mark and I and his parents went to the Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company’s free outdoor summer performance of “The Mikado.” They’re doing it again at the Lake Harriet Bandshell (where we saw it) tomorrow night at 5:30. I recommend it to Twin Cities residents if you can make it–there aren’t many mosquitoes down by Lake Harriet yet this year, and it’s free, and you will have before you such joys as Christopher Michela playing the Mikado.

(As far as I am concerned, he can reprise that role yearly. They can put the Mikado in “Yeomen of the Guard” and have Christopher Michela play him. They can put him in “Othello” for all I care and suddenly I am trying not to let my brain work at that for fear of what would come out.)

Among the joys of this production is that the entirety of “I’ve Got a Little List” is modern reference, which is entirely appropriate for Gilbert and Sullivan. Better still, they specifically called out the Orchestra Board as people who renovate the hall and then lock out the musicians. They got cheers for that line, more prolonged than for anything else in the song. And yes, I did clap and hoot. Loudly. It was not even a slightly mixed reaction from that crowd.

This week the Orchestra management canceled the Summerfest concerts to the surprise of precisely zero people. They offered, when they were canceling the last of the season, that we could have Summerfest tickets, and we said o ho ho it is to larf. But we weren’t actually laughing then, and we’re not laughing now. Mark is reading a book about music theory–I’ll get to it when he’s done–and one of the things it talks about is how venues shape types of music. Orchestra Hall without an orchestra is frankly a pretty dumb concert venue. You can put a folk concert in there, or a jazz combo, or a rock band, and we’ve been to all of the above. But it is for orchestras. It’s for our orchestra.

At least it’s for what’s left of it.

We’re trying to figure out what to do about the SPCO season, because it’s a very different kind of orchestra than the larger, fuller Minnesota Orchestra, and frankly we like the MN Orchestra style better mostly, and also (again speaking quite candidly) the MN Orchestra at its best is a better orchestra. I don’t mean anything against SPCO–it’s amazing that we can have two professional-quality orchestras at all, if in fact we can. But SPCO is not generally asked to play Carnegie Hall. And the SPCO musicians…were not, shall we say, treated ideally in their settlement.

So what do we do? Do we act like the SPCO season is our main chance at orchestral music for the year and plan accordingly? Do we get tickets for one or two shows that are the really exciting ones and hope for a MN Orchestra settlement? The paper ran an article about how this time around the management did not get nasty and personal with the propaganda around the cancellations, and I stared at the page, thinking, “Really? That’s what we cling to as a sign of progress? That they rested on their ad hominem attack laurels rather than reiterating them?”

That’s so depressing that I’m going to go think about attack laurels instead.


Oh, people. People, people, people, I am so tired of dislike of needlework being used as a stand-in for making a young female character actually interesting. I see this mostly in middle-grade fantasies, mostly. Not so much in YA, although I don’t know if that’s because I’m not seeing as much secondary world YA as I’d like. It sometimes goes with not being boyyyyyy crazy. Because girls who are interested in boys are stupid and hate everything that is fun and good and probably will grow boobs early and never ever ever have adventures. (Also girls who are interested in girls are invisible and don’t exist. So basically if you have proto-romantic feelings before age 18 or preferably 21, you stink. Thanks, MG tropes!)

Several things about the needlework thing annoy me, though. One of them is that it’s the cheap shot among “women’s work” stuff. It’s the one that middle-grade readers of the present are by and large not being asked to do, or at least not insistently/universally. Some girls are crafters as a hobby, but very few of them would self-define as doing “needlework.” So it’s a lot safer for an author aiming at a tomboy everygirl, because, hello, third wave! Tomboy everygirls can love making cookies or soup or whatever. And nobody* really says, “I adore cleaning. I live for cleaning. Cleaning is so awesome.” You can have your character announce that she hates scrubbing the floor, but nobody thinks that makes her amazing, they just think it makes her normal.

The other thing that ties in with this is: needlework used to be a lot like cleaning, in that it used to be necessary for continued health. Sure, you can choose whether you want your home spotless or a little messy, but you do in fact need to wash your dishes, one way or the other. That’s a health issue. And before industrial textiles, you had to do a million textile-related chores in order to keep your family healthily clothed. Mending. Taking things in and letting them out and altering them for younger/smaller family members. Even tapestry, while it is an art form and was used for self-expression, was also used to keep the walls of those stone castles and houses from turning the wenches into wenchcicles. Even in post-industrial textile societies, you will see a very realistic concern for what torn clothing and clever needlework can mean if you read the books of Noel Streatfeild, where the cost of a dress to put a family member in a good position to gain economic advantage is really non-trivial. I would love to see a parent or sibling in a fantasy novel react to a character’s stated hatred of needlework in one of these contexts–basically someone treating it as the protag saying, “I want you to buy me a better cell phone and data plan and all the other bells and whistles I want,” or else, “I hate cleaning the toilet,” rather than, “I am so interesting and independent!” I don’t expect that soon, though. It’s pretty embedded.

So where does all this come from? Two places: resentment of early twentieth century middle-class Anglo/American enforced femininity, and the Victorians. A lot, a lot of the women who pioneered the fantasy genres–especially children’s fantasy–chafed at the roles they were slotted into in the rest of their lives. And the “needlework as a useless pastime for enforcing female idleness” is straight out of Victorian life, where manufacturing endless unwanted decorations for the parlor and the jumble sale was, in fact, some women’s lot. But the Victorians were substantially along the line of progress of industrial textiles; a vicar’s daughter who spun flax would be distinctly odd, because that sort of thing was done in factories by then. Taking those frustrations and plunking them down wholesale in medieval-inspired cultures is understandable for those who lived them and witnessed them firsthand–Edith Nesbit, if ever you do that, I forgive you. (But notice that Nesbit has an unusual regard for the consequences of the children’s rash behavior on servants and the family budget. This was not much replicated by her imitators.) For those of us for whom they are historical study, it’s just plain laziness.

More than that, it’s attempting to make traits and interests exclusive that frankly aren’t. My friend V., for example, crocheted me a hyperbolic plane. She is interested in fiber arts and in math. She didn’t have to choose Boy Stuff or Girl Stuff–she can like some gendered activities and a great many activities like fiber arts and math that are not essentially gendered. And we lose a great deal when we accept shorthands for characterization too easily, too readily. “She’s a tomboy, not a girly girl.” “He’s a brain, not a jock.” We make our own cultural pitfalls in creating supposed opposites that aren’t really opposed more universal than we mean to when we import them whole cloth into secondary worlds.

Honestly, though, it’s just boring. It’s a trigger for me to say, “Another one of those, author getting lazy,” and put the book down. Find something else to express your character’s adventurous soul. Or don’t make them have a standard-issue Adventurous Soul TM in the first place. Whichever.

*Almost certainly somebody says this, because, well, people. They vary. And almost certainly there are loads of women who hate “needlework.” I am not a seamstress or a crafter myself. My complaint here is not that girls who fit these traits are unrealistic or do not exist, it’s that the traits are being overused and used cheaply.

Personal rehabilitation and the community

So yesterday the Wild upset me and Tim by getting rid of Setoguchi and using the money to get Matt Cooke. I know this means nothing to you, so let me give you some background: Matt Cooke is a goon. This is the nicest language I can use, because I don’t want to distract anybody with exactly how angry I am: it is an objective fact that he is a goon, that his hits are dirty and his play unacceptable.

And my team is keeping him around. Is paying him a non-trivial amount to do so. Is associating him with people who are interested in professional hockey in general, and with the Minnesota Wild in specific.

This is, to say the least, pretty upsetting.

See, hockey is a rough game. Anybody who talked about the unique physicality of a hockey game would be right; professional hockey is really pretty unique that way because it consists of very large men on an enclosed slippery surface. And because people have not chosen to take steps to make it not that way, which they could do. But there are hits and then there are dirty hits. Hits to the head. Slashes to tendons. Things that fans of a player might want to look at and say, “That was an accident,” but they just can’t. Because it wasn’t any accident. Because when you are a hockey player, it is your job to have enough control over yourself and your play not to have that kind of accident.

Matt Cooke has seriously injured several other players with head shots. The management of the Wild knows it. And they have chosen to employ him anyway. I love my team. They entertain me. They do really fun things, and I love, love having them in town. There’s no one else in the game quite like them, for me. And they have chosen to employ Matt Cooke.

So…Matt Cooke has assured the world that he’s rehabilitating himself. That he is turning over a new leaf and becoming a new kind of player. Tom–I’m sorry, why was I thinking Tom? Chuck Fletcher has assured us all in the Strib today that he believes Cooke is going to be a fine contributor to the team and not cause the kind of problems he’s caused before.

And me, I believe in rehabilitation. I do. I believe that people are allowed to become better people. I believe in helping people learn from their mistakes.

But there’s got to be a line drawn, and my question is where is that line drawn? Where do somebody’s repeated mistakes make you think, “Okay, buddy, why don’t you become a better person tending bar at Applebee’s somewhere, or selling Kenmores at Sears? Why don’t you become a better person in a field that is not quite so fraught with baggage as this one? Run a soup kitchen. All the best to you. Get out of my field.”

I think Matt Cooke is past that line for me. Because not only is this a person who has had egregious dirty hits. He’s had them after he said he was going to change his game. After his behavior was specifically pointed out as unacceptable; after his own coaches and teammates said that it was the kind of stuff the game did not need. After. This is not an inexperienced kid who has never played the game before. This is not a clumsy guy who just picked up hockey later in life. He had his chance to learn appropriate behavior in his field as a young person, and then he had another chance when people noticed that he hadn’t learned it.

And as long as a major company in his profession continues to employ Matt Cooke, even if they say he’s turned over a new leaf, I just don’t believe that he will. I believe that they’re enabling him, and they’re using one of my favorite teams in my favorite sport to do that. And that upsets me. It makes me angry. The guys on the other teams should not have serious reason to fear when one of our players is on the ice. Fear that they’ll get checked into the boards, sure, that’s hockey as it is played. But fear that they will be deliberately concussed or crippled, given injuries that will drive them out of working in their field of choice, not accidentally but deliberately? No. That’s not okay. And when it’s my team, in some sense they’re doing it in my name.

I want somebody to grab the guys in juniors and in the minors who are watching Matt Cooke and say, “Look, this is not a way to be. This is not a way to get a career. This is not our game.” I want somebody in the community to intervene–and to intervene believably–to show younger men that Cooke is not their role model and that this behavior will not be accepted. I want to catch them before they become this guy. Cooke’s not the first. I wanted it with Todd Bertuzzi, whose name in this house is That Little Bastard Bertuzzi. I’ve wanted it with half a dozen other players at least. Because this kind of bad behavior can taint an entire field. Can hurt people and ruin lives. And if you pay the guy, you’re supporting it.

You know what I mean?

Subtitles: a request

One of the great things about Netflix, I have discovered in the few months we’ve had it, is that I can watch a variety of foreign films and TV without having to pay through the nose for it. Hurrah, Netflix! Yesterday I watched a Chinese movie with my workout, and today a Danish cop show, The Eagle. Both were fun, and I am definitely continuing with the Danish cop show. I especially like to language-geek about translation choices: I only know about ten words of Chinese, but one of them is “kill,” so I can tell when the crowd is chanting that rather than the “Fight!” the subtitler has chosen to put at the bottom of the screen. And I love thinking about choices like that and when it’s a matter of bad translation, when it’s a matter of cultural difference being recognized, when it’s a matter of subtle shades of meaning.

But the last few days have given me a new plea for subtitlers.

Subtitlers: please, please, please indicate change of language in the conversations you’re subtitling. I can hear the difference between Danish and Icelandic*, but I’m not sure that should be your default assumption when you’re subtitling in English–especially when there’s characterization stuff about who reacts in which ways to the Icelandic. And once you get into Middle Eastern languages, I can tell you that the characters have stopped speaking Danish, but I cannot tell by ear what language they are speaking, except I can tell Indo-European from non-Indo-European given enough time and sample sentences, mostly, sort of. And therefore rule out Pashtun, Persian, etc. if I’m lucky. In the case of this show, I assume that the characters who were not speaking Danish, Icelandic, or Arabic (which was clearly labeled in the dialogue that the character would speak it and why, so good there) were speaking some dialect of Turkish, because culturally that is who is likely to not get labeled in Denmark as unusual or in some way interesting. But it still would have been nice to not be just completely guessing.

It is pure blind luck that I know enough Japanese language structure to be able to say, “Wait, that was Japanese, not Chinese,” and again: only if I am really paying attention to the dialog as it is spoken by the actors and not just as its meaning is conveyed by the subtitles. That is a level of attention I don’t always have available to use, and I can easily imagine situations in which I could not perform the analysis required to get there. And while it can be a fun intellectual exercise, it’s generally not supposed to be the point of the viewing experience for most viewers, I wouldn’t think. It makes the focus on the meta-story instead of the story.

So please. Use different colors of subtitling, or put the language marker in brackets at the beginning when they change, or something. Dumping it all into English–or whatever else you’re subtitling it in–is not enough. I get why, for example, in many Asian languages the translator will choose to use some form of the character’s name when that’s clearly not what the actor is saying: because many of the social-honorific forms don’t really translate to English without needless exoticizing. I just don’t think that switching languages within a subtitled work falls into that sort of subtle judgment category.

So what are your favorite subtitling problems, bloopers, or beautiful incongruities?

*Here is your quick and dirty, entirely parochial, guide to distinguishing the Scandinavian languages by ear: Danish is the one that sounds funny. Icelandic is the one that sounds fancy. Swedish and Norwegian both sound normal, but Swedish sounds the pointy end of normal and Norwegian sounds the squishy end of normal.** And Faroese sounds like you’re trying to talk with a sheep on your head. You’re welcome; don’t say I never gave you anything.

I have no idea whether this is useful to anyone but me, actually, but that’s how I do it.

**Once you’re distinguishing between Nynorsk and Bokmål, you’re a) very inside baseball, and b) really talking about dialect rather than language inasmuch as the two categories are distinguishable at all. So just give yourself a gold star at that point and move on, unless you actually, you know, speak Norwegian.