rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-12-01 01:03 pm

How do you find hope in a time of despair?

Have you ever had a time when it seemed that you had lost everything you'd ever cared about, or were about to? How did you get through?

How do you hold on to hope when you can't find any objective evidence that things could ever get better? Have things ever gotten better when that seemed impossible?

Serious question. I'm asking for your own truth, not for advice. So if, for instance, your answer is "faith in God," please elaborate on what that means to you. I am personally agnostic/atheist, but that is irrelevant to the question.

There are no wrong answers. Everyone has their own truth.
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-11-25 12:10 pm

Totally Self-Indulgent Begging For Fic

Because why not.

Also because yesterday was even more spectacularly horrible than usual for completely unrelated reasons, involving a really bad thing that happened at work which I can't discuss because confidentiality, followed by four hours in the ER with my cat culminating in the vet coming in and saying, "Well… it could be a little scratch that got infected… or IT COULD BE CANCER." (I don't think it's cancer.)

Beneath the cut, I am going to put a bunch of prompts for stories, fanfic or original, in case anyone wants to pick one up and cheer me up.

I like hurt-comfort, worldbuilding, adventure, action, heroism, self-sacrifice, hard choices, camaraderie, luscious descriptions of food and landscape, loyalty kink, trauma and recovery, military settings, bands of brothers (or sisters, or brothers and sisters) and a strong sense of place. I'm fine with original characters. I enjoy gen, het, femmeslash, and slash, and I enjoy relationships of any variety, from friendships to epic romance to hot sex. I prefer happy or bittersweet endings to doom and despair.

I could write epics on what I like about hurt-comfort, but I think the key is tenderness. So many individual elements that I like - characters helping each other to walk or eat or bathe, stroking hair, cuddling, etc - come down to that. I also like the opportunities for glorious melodrama, such as desperate stumbles through the woods in search of aid, bedside vigils, delirious confessions of long-held secrets, stoicism, soldiering on with a task until total collapse (possibly while concealing an injury), etc.

Things I find hot: fantasy prostitution where it's consensual and totally a fantasy of being able to simply point your finger and get the exact sexual experience or partner you want, like the Kushiel books or that hot short story Ellen Kushner wrote in "Sirens." Strong men and their muscles, especially if they're stocky/wiry but not tall. Strong, lean, boyish or butch women and their muscles. Voluptuous Venus of Willendorf women. Slim petite women with wings. Collarbones. Breasts. Hands. Long, graceful feet. Jeremy Renner's arms. Eyes of any color, from ordinary to ridiculously exotic. Long flappy leather coats. Elaborate clothing with ribbons and complicated ties. Masquerade balls. Carnival masks. Venice and fantasy cities with canals. Passionate sex up against the wall. Corsets. Half-clothed sex. People really getting into each others' bodies. Writing on bodies.

Quiet men with still waters running deep, like Le Guin's Ged. Wizards, artists, craftspeople, medics, soldiers and warriors, chefs, musicians, DJs, dancers, acrobats, pilots, martial artists, physical and psychotherapists. Really determined people. Happy people, especially when they have not had easy lives. People with scars or disabilities, mental or physical. Found families. Friendship. Misfits finding a home. People who love their jobs, especially if they're not very glamorous. Telepathic animals. Rats. People with beautiful wings. Myth and folklore. Nicknames, formalized or not. Shapeshifters. PTSD. Hard-earned happy endings. Loyalty against all odds. Lovers on opposite sides of a war. Conflicts of honor.

Settings where everything is lush and beautiful. Settings where everything is trying to eat you. (Or both!) Deserts. Lush forests. Big bustling cities, Hostage or imprisonment scenarios. Desperate last stands. Clever escapes. Con artists. DRAGONS. Portals. Wish-fulfillment that's earned. Mist. Mountains. Journeys, into the known or the unknown. Ships or portals that will take you somewhere, who knows where, or make you vanish forever. Space explorers. Space Marines. Trapped in an evil lab. Psychic kids (or adults.) People with powers who aren't costumed superheroes. Boarding schools. Boot camp. Riding anything. Dragon hatching, cub bonding - anything where people bond with animals, that is my favorite thing ever.

Read more... )
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-11-24 05:46 pm

My apologies

I apologize to everyone I hurt with the posts I made recently. I really regret making them. You will not be seeing anything else like that from me in the future. I could go on, but I feel like this is the sort of thing where the more I apologize, the worse I make it. So I'll leave this one and the last one up (even though the last one probably counts as more of the same) and am private-locking the rest. I'm locking comments for the same reason. Of course, anyone is always welcome to email or PM me.

ETA: Sorry AGAIN, I now see that I cut off conversations in a post. I will unlock it but edit it to make it less alarming.
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-11-23 08:38 am

A change of direction

From now on, I will no longer be posting about my health on this blog. Please email me if you want an update or if you have something related to it that you want to tell me. I will, of course, put up a post if things improve or if there's any genuinely game-changing news, or if I have a specific question I need crowd-sourced.

But I will no longer be writing about my feelings regarding my health, or day to day issues regarding my health, except perhaps in passing in a post primarily about something else. I do still have people who I can talk to about it, such as my therapist. I will just not be talking about it here.

I very, very much appreciate the lovely things everyone has said to me over the last day or so. I took them very much to heart and they made me feel a lot better. (And if you ever want to add more, go ahead and email them or comment to those posts - I'm not shutting down comments.)

I also very much appreciate everyone who advised when I asked for advice. That was also very helpful.

Ultimately, however, I was clearly upsetting people in a way which ended up being upsetting for me. I don't like posting comment-disabled - for me, blogging is two-way communication - and when it comes to an issue like this, of desperate importance to me, speaking with anything less than raw honesty is far more upsetting to me than not speaking at all.

This is NOT intended to blame or guilt-trip anyone. I tried my absolute best to make this not sound passive-aggressive, but it probably does anyway. Sorry. It's a tightrope walk, and I decided to come down on the side of "passive-aggressive but honest" rather than "weaselly." The only alternative I could think of was to just never post again on the subject with no explanation, but I thought that would make people worry even more. As I said, I will still be speaking about my health and my feelings and so forth. Just not here.

Also, I am hoping it will cheer me up if I can have a space that's devoted to book reviews and hurt-comfort and psychology and "it could only happen to Rachel" and such. Part of why I've been hesitant to put up stuff like that is that for - of course - health-related reasons I've been really spacy and it's difficult to write. But I think a half-assed, semi-coherent book review is probably better than no book review. If I get a character's name wrong or criticize a character for not doing something they did in fact do, PLEASE correct me in comments. I will not be be angry or upset or offended.

Finally, I don't like to over-control other people's speech (a big part of what was upsetting me about posting about my health) but I have to make one final request in that line:

Please don't ask, "Was it me?"

It's never lupus just one person. And it's not even like anyone was doing anything wrong per se. It was just an unhealthy, upsetting dynamic.
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-11-21 06:55 pm

I'm feeling low

I already posted this under f-lock, so disregard if you already saw it.

If you have any happy memories of me, or if anything I ever did or said or wrote was important to you or made your life better, I would love a comment or email telling me about it.
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-10-09 01:36 pm

The most dangerous thing a woman can do...

…is live in a sexist society which does not care if women are harmed.

But let's narrow that down a little.

The most dangerous person to a woman - the person most likely to attack, murder, or sexually assault her - is a man that she knows. Strangers do occasionally attack, murder, or sexually assault women. But this is rare. In my professional experience counseling people who have been assaulted, the rate of attacks by known persons vs. attacks by strangers is approximately 200-1. And keep in mind that people are way more likely to report stranger attacks than they are to report attacks by people they know.

With rare exceptions, these are the people who deliberately harm women: Their husbands. Their boyfriends. Their significant others of any nature or gender. Their friends. Friends of their friends. Their relatives. Friends or significant others of their relatives. Their bosses. Their co-workers. Their acquaintances.

I very rarely encounter women who don't know the name of the person who assaulted them. It happens. But it's not the norm.

Dangerous things a woman can do: Have relatives, especially male ones. Get married, especially to a man. Have a romantic or sexual relationship of any kind, especially with a man. Have relatives who have friends. Work. Socialize. Go to college. Stay at home with her family. Go anywhere with anyone she knows.

Things a woman can do which carry a low risk of rape or assault: Go places by herself. Be alone where nobody knows her. Walk alone. Travel alone.

And yet, what are women told not to do? Be alone! We are told that being alone is reckless, dangerous, tempting fate. Walking alone at night is asking to be raped. Camping alone is the height of stupidity. Women must keep people they know around them at all times, because otherwise they'll be assaulted by strangers.

We are safer with strangers.

A lonely street at night is often safer than one's own home, if that home is shared.

This message is brought to you via Blairmcg, who took the terrifying, reckless, foolhardy risk of... camping alone.
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-09-30 10:33 am

Disability in the Change series

Sherwood and I posted on disability in the Change series at Diversity in YA.

Everything I write stems from personal experience, even if it’s set in a post-apocalyptic world where people have mutant powers and the trees can eat you.
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-09-28 12:15 pm

Friend's husband in a bad wreck

The husband of a friend of mine was badly injured in a car crash. While driving a huge company truck, a woman in a small car swerved into him. He went off the road to avoid a full impact with her car, which certainly would have destroyed it and might have killed her. As a result, her injuries were minor but his were serious - he broke bones in his back and it took hours to extricate him from the truck. He will be out of work for some time and has enormous medical bills, and it is looking unlikely that either his company or a lawsuit will cover them.

If you have some money to spare, he could use it. Even five dollars would help.

Help with their medical bills here.

If you want to cross-post this to Facebook or Twitter or some such, it would be much appreciated.
rachelmanija: (Bleach: Parakeet of DOOM)
2015-09-21 01:16 pm

Today my Pillsbury buttermilk biscuits exploded

While I was sitting peacefully in my kitchen, I heard a loud bang, immediately followed by a clatter. I turned around and saw a sight which I am now sorry I did not photograph. It consisted of the trash bag into which I had chucked a large unopened can of Pillsbury buttermilk biscuits upon cleaning out my refrigerator and discovering that they had expired months ago, the open and empty can standing upright all the way across the kitchen from the trash bag, and three uncooked buttermilk biscuits scattered across the kitchen, like pale cow pattys.

This is not the first time I've had something explode in my kitchen, but it was possibly the most spectacular.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-09-07 10:22 am

I wrote some Narnia fanfic

I wrote Narnia fanfic! It was a treat for Snacky, who mods the Narnia Fanfic Exchange. Her prompt was “Rilian wanted to explore Bism in The Silver Chair. I'd love a story about him going back to the Underworld, after he's King, and looking for a way to Bism.”

If you don’t recall that bit, which obviously she and I found extremely memorable, it’s after Prince Rilian has been disenchanted. All the Earthmen, who had also been enchanted by the witch, are fleeing back down to their home at the center of the Earth. One of them invites Rilian to visit his home:

“I have heard of those little scratches in the crust that you Topdwellers call mines. But that’s where you get dead gold, dead silver, dead gems. Down in Bism we have them alive and growing. There I’ll pick you bunches of rubies that you can eat and squeeze you a cupful of diamond juice. You won’t care much about fingering the cold, dead treasures of your shallow mines after you have tasted the live ones in Bism.”

“My father went to the world’s end,” said Rilian thoughtfully. “It would be a marvelous thing if his son went to the bottom of the world.”

However, Rilian is not able to go. He says, “But I have left half of my heart in the land of Bism.”

I’ll Squeeze You A Cup Full of Diamond Juice.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-08-17 11:56 am

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, by Lauren Esker

A completely adorable paranormal romance about the forbidden love between a werewolf boy and a weresheep girl.

The Capshaw sheep shifters and the Wolfe werewolves have carried on a feud for generations in their small town. It’s less murder in the dark, and more avoiding each other, getting in fist fights, and bringing up thirty-year-old fender-benders at inopportune moments. But Julie Capshaw and Damon Wolfe secretly befriended each other as little kids, until it ended disastrously when their families found out.

Julie went off to college, while Damon stayed home. But her English literature degree was about as profitable as one might expect, so back she came to help out at the family farm. Her future stretched before her, long and dreary and full of potatoes.

Needless to say, Julie and Damon’s childhood friendship turns into a very adult romance. But can they overcome his abusive father who rules the pack with an iron fist, the asshole alpha of a neighboring pack angling for an arranged marriage with Damon’s sister, and millennia of bad blood between wolves and sheep?

Of course they can! It’s a romance! But a romance that takes some rather unpredictable turns in the middle, giving it excellent narrative drive. In other unconventional elements, it has a lot of focus on the families rather than just on the main couple, and not just on characters who can be paired up in later books. I especially enjoyed the rifle-toting sheep grandmother.

And, of course, there’s the sheep. The worldbuilding is sketched in lightly but convincingly and originally for both species, from the different ways that sheep eyes work to the different cultural attitudes toward romance. And all the descriptions of sheep running around being heroic and the heroine’s little sheep hooves clattering over the floor never failed to crack me up.

If you enjoyed my Mated to the Meerkat, you will enjoy this – it’s funny and sweet, instant comfort-reading. If you generally dislike romance, this is not the book to sell you on it.

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing was written under a pen name by Layla Wier, aka Sholio/Friendshipper. (This is not a secret.) She’s a friend of mine, but I promise you that I would have adored this book anyway.

Only 99 cents on Amazon. I’m sure you could get an epub copy upon request.
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-07-29 09:15 am

Baahubali: The Beginning

In brief, AMAZING. If it’s playing anywhere near you, run and see it immediately. (It only has about two more days left in the USA.) If not, see it on DVD when it comes out.

This is a difficult movie to review because I don’t want to give too much away. It not only has several surprising plot twists, but also a lot of gorgeous imagery that’s wonderful to see for the first time, when you don’t know it’s coming. So I won’t say much about the plot.

Baahubali is an original historical fantasy that plays out like it was based on an ancient myth. Though it doesn’t have the complexity of character or moral ambiguity or intellectual heft of The Mahabharata or Ramayana, those epics and other the ancient tales of India clearly inspired its epic scope, archetypal themes, and magical imagery.

Classic tropes from Indian legend – the boon, the rivalry between princes with disastrous consequences, the humble but loving mother who adopts a son with a destiny, the mountain in the clouds, the war formation the enemy doesn’t expect, the woman wronged who demands bloody revenge – all make appearances here, and are given their proper, larger-than-life weight. The hero reminded me of Bhima in personality and physique, but a number of incidents were clearly inspired by the life of Krishna. For instance, the baby held above the waters echoes Vasudeva crossing the flooded Yamuna to hide away the infant Krishna.

The song I linked in the last post is a version of a hymn to Shiva, the Shiva Tandava Stotram, which is attributed to Ravana. I’ll quote some of it because even in translation (by P. R. Ramachander), you can feel its power and beauty and sensuality. (Remember how magnificent it sounded in Telegu.) That is the sort of ancient writing, still living today, which inspired this movie.

The celestial river agitatedly moving through his matted hair,
Which makes his head shine with those soft waves,
And his forehead shining like a brilliant fire
And the crescent of moon which is an ornament to his head,
Makes my mind love him each and every second.

He, with the shining lustrous gem on the hood
Of the serpent entwining his matted locks,
He, who is with his bride whose face is decorated
By the melting of red saffron kumkum,
And He who wears on his shoulder the hide
Of the elephant which was blind with ferociousness,
Makes my mind happy and contented.

A lot of the movie walks the fine line between magnificence and camp, but even when it’s ridiculous, it’s gloriously ridiculous. This is what you get when you put together an extremely talented director steeped in Indian myth, a brilliant cinematographer determined to tell the story visually so even people who don’t understand the dialogue will love it, and a totally committed cast, and have them all go for broke. Sometimes this results in "Did somebody order a LARGE HAM?” hamminess. More often, it captures the larger than life spirit of myth.

When a woman reveals her secret plan for revenge, a strong warrior staggers backward from the force of it. A desperate prayer to Shiva is answered with a boon that allows a dying woman to walk underwater. A man whose destiny is to climb the unclimbable mountain falls a thousand feet, only to rise to climb again. A sleeping warrior on a riverbank, her arm dangling in the water, is seduced by a prankster lover who swims through schools of bright fishes to paint a tattoo on her hand. If you ask why he was in the river and where he got a set of underwater paints, you’re missing the point.

A lot of the power of myth is in its lack of naturalism. Events occur and choices are made not because of the realistic motivations of ordinary humans, but because archetypal stories are playing out. If Baahubali had been more realistic and less theatrical, it wouldn’t be half as magical.

It was the most expensive movie ever made in India, and while the CGI is occasionally a little shaky, it uses its budget to the max. When CGI first came upon the scene, I thought it would be used to create fantastical worlds and creatures – sense of wonder brought to sight. And sometimes it is, but more often it’s used to create big, pointless, repetitive explosions. Baahubali uses CGI to create beauty and wonder. Just look at the waterfall and the city in the trailer. The entire movie is like that.

(Plus blood-splattering battle sequences and bull-wrestling. I’m glad they put the disclaimer that no animals were harmed and all animal falls are CGI at the start of the film rather than the end, because otherwise I’d have been concerned.)

Though I’ve emphasized huge! Epic! Grand! In my review, there’s also lots of nice little touches. Many of the characters have marks on their foreheads, like bindi, which helpfully identify them when you’re trying to distinguish Magnificent Warrior Dude # 1 from Magnificent Warrior Dude # 2. (This isn’t usually difficult. They all look quite different, and also have different Magnificent Moustaches. But given my general terrible facial recognition skills, I appreciated it.) The hero has a coiled cobra, the mark of Shiva. A pair of princes are marked with a sun and moon. There’s a complete throwaway bit, lasting maybe five seconds, where a pair of bull-masked dancers butt heads, that is SO COOL. I also enjoyed the funny-on-purpose moments.

My only real criticisms are political rather than artistic. There’s a song/dance number where the hero melts the warrior heroine's icy heart via stylized fighting and pulling off her clothes. It’s clearly meant to be about him breaking her emotional barriers with his sincerity, sensuality, and passion. But, well. Not to mention the unfortunate implications of what was actually intended, where she embraces her femininity and warmth… and then totally forgets how to fight so he can rescue her. And then there’s the attack of the dark-skinned barbarians, with its own set of unfortunate implications.

In a more enjoyable use of traditional gender roles (traditional in India), there is not one! Not two! But THREE awesome middle-aged moms! One is a loving mother raising a son she doesn’t quite understand. One is a total badass who rules a kingdom with cool authority after taking on a regency with a baby in one hand and a bloody dagger in the other. The third initially seems passive, turns out to be anything but, and has one of the best scenes in the entire movie. (For the benefit of my one reader who’s actually seen Baahubali: a handful of twigs.)

Be warned: Baahubali ends on a very dramatic TO BE CONTINUED!!! Well, it is subtitled “The Beginning.” But I ate up all three hours and would have happily sat through three more. The first hour, especially, is pure magic. I haven’t felt so transported in a movie theatre since the opening scenes of The Fellowship of the Rings.
rachelmanija: (Default)
2015-07-28 09:52 am

My Favorite Movie of the Year: Baahubali

I will write a real review later, but in brief, this is a south Indian historical fantasy that plays like a myth transferred straight to the screen. It's absolutely gorgeous to look at, is full of moments straight out of legend, has a fantastic score and amazing action sequences, and also has a number of surprising plot twists.

It's only playing in the US for about two more days, and should be seen on the big screen. I haven't enjoyed a movie this much in literally years.

Trailer. (Not subtitled, but the movie has English subs.)

One of my favorite songs.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-07-01 01:16 pm

The Girl With All The Gifts, by M. R. Carey

I HATE zombies. And body horror creeps me out. And child-in-danger stories are usually annoying and manipulative. So I can’t believe I am actually recommending a child-in-danger zombie novel that is chock-full of disturbing body horror… but this one is really good.

It opens with a heartbreakingly charming narration by Melanie, a bright little girl who adores her teacher, who secretly slips her a book of Greek myths. Melanie loves the story of Pandora, the girl with all the gifts. But she doesn’t understand why her beloved teacher often seems so sad, or why she and the other kids have to be tied to chairs to attend school. Why is almost immediately clear to readers – it’s after the zombie apocalypse, and she’s the rare intelligent zombie that scientists are experimenting on in the hope of finding a vaccine or cure – but there are many other mysteries that are less obvious.

The first section and denouement of the novel are the best parts; the first because of Melanie’s narration, the last because it’s an absolutely perfect climax, satisfying on the all levels. In between is a more standard but well-done zombie novel. In particular, the mechanism of the zombie apocalypse is pleasingly clever and well-worked out. But the beginning and the end really make the book.

Right from the start, Melanie is explicitly compared to Pandora, so it's clear that in some way, she will unleash horrors upon humanity, but also hope. And all through the book, she does, in ways that change as she changes, learning more about the world and herself. It's beautifully done.

I don’t often like horror. When I do enjoy something marketed as horror, it’s often despite rather than because of the genre. For instance, I love the author’s voice (Stephen King) or prose style (Tanith Lee) or psychological insight (Melanie Tem) enough to get me past that horror is a genre of emotional atmosphere, and the specific emotions of horror – fear, dread, horror, disgust – aren’t ones I usually enjoy.

But there’s another emotional state that horror can evoke, which is something akin to Aristotle’s idea of catharsis. It’s horror as transcendence, where terror and horror are also beautiful and awe-inspiring. It’s probably not coincidental that the authors I mentioned above hit that mark for me – not always, and not in everything they write, but sometimes. C. L. Moore’s stories “Black God’s Kiss” and “Shambleau” are like that, too: creepy and disturbing, but also seductive and full of sense of wonder.

The Girl With All the Gifts hits that mark, off and on, until coming to a conclusion that’s viscerally horrifying but also beautiful and transcendent. The characters other than Melanie are sketched in, plausible types rather than three-dimensional characters, and a late reveal about the teacher’s past is reductionist rather than revelatory. But the beginning is brilliant, the middle is solid, and the ending is haunting in the very best way.

The Girl With All the Gifts
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2015-06-30 09:55 am

The Just City, by Jo Walton

Apollo wants to understand why Daphne would rather be a tree than have sex with him. Athena wants to find out what would happen if she took everyone throughout time who has ever prayed to her to let them live in Plato’s Republic, gave them a doomed island, a bunch of robots, and children to raise as per Plato’s ideas, and told them to go for it. A young Victorian lady named Ethel renames herself Maia and devotes herself to the Just City. Two children, taken from the slave markets and given to the Just City, come to opposite conclusions about its worth.

Out of all of Jo Walton’s strange premises, this one takes the cake. Even more than “Framley Parsonage, but everyone’s a dragon.” But I love that she thinks of ideas like this, has the chops to carry them out, and is supported by a publisher who will publish whatever bizarre book she chooses to write. The Just City is a terrific book that I can’t imagine anyone else writing.

It’s a novel of ideas in the very best sense, full of complex and interesting questions with no easy answers, and populated by three-dimensional characters who care deeply about and are profoundly affected by the issues at play. (The issues include but aren’t limited to consent, free will, nature vs. nurture, whether the ends justify the means, and how idealistic movements and planned communities succeed and fail.) Since I grew up in a planned community, I found the book particularly interesting. It does not escape Walton that one of the most toxic issues in a planned community or progressive movement is the willingness to sacrifice vulnerable members for the supposed good of the whole, nor that the same community can be a utopia for one person and a dystopia for their neighbor.

This is the first of a trilogy, but comes to a conclusion that’s open-ended yet satisfying, shocking but inevitable in retrospect. I guessed where it was going in general, but was completely surprised by the details.

You don’t need to be familiar with or care about Plato’s Republic to read this. The book explains everything you need to know. It’s much more about larger issues of utopia/dystopia than about the Republic specifically, though the actual specifics are from the Republic. Note that it contains rape, slavery, child harm, and other disturbing things, and also characters endorsing all sorts of terrible opinions. This is not a book to read if you want the voice of the author interjecting to assure you that terrible things are terrible. It’s very much a book where many opinions are presented and it’s left to the readers to draw their own conclusions.

If you intend to read this, avoid reviews. There’s several plot twists that will be more satisfying if you don’t know about them in advance. Spoilers are fine in comments.

The sequel, The Philosopher Kings, is out now.

The Just City
rachelmanija: (Naruto: Super-energized!)
2015-06-26 11:46 am

The US now has same-sex marriage nationwide!

Says it all.

I look forward to summer weddings and news outlets filled with photos of happy couples.