Hot Is Heavy

I don’t usually feel the need to point to one of Zuska’s posts and say, “Yeah, what she said.” She’s got a strong voice and when she’s not reaching her audience, it’s usually either because they’re unreachable or because they already agree with her in principle and are arguing over details.

This week, though, Zuska put up a post about the ephemeral nature of hotness that I think missed its audience. The first half of the post talked about her losing her thick, abundant (hot) hair to illness, but the bits that everyone seemed to focus on were:

Hotness is a great thing, but unfortunately it comes with an expiration date. Bodies change, making hot fashions simply unwearable; joints develop aches, making fashionable footwear unbearable; hair thins and loses luster and just looks plain terrible.


Wide hips, sensible flat shoes, poor hairdo – yeah, that could be me in those photos. Dr. Isis, I’m not asking you to mask or stifle your total hotness (as if a domestic and laboratory goddess even could!) and I admire your efforts to create mass cognitive dissonance through conflation of “hot”, “mama”, and “scientist”. Just maybe be a little kinder to the old crones in the audience.

The comments could largely be summed up by this one:

Ah Zuska, you know true hotness is a state of mind.

This is fine. This is all well and good and true as far as it goes. The problem is that Zuska wasn’t merely talking about age. She was also talking about health.

Hotness, even as something that doesn’t relate to the external characteristics that people have little control over, requires resources. It takes time and attention and energy and money–more time and attention and energy to the extent that money isn’t available. (You’ve read John Scalzi on the costs of Being Poor, right?) These are resources that people who are dealing with illness and disability frequently don’t have.

When we value hotness so highly, we place additional burdens on those who already have too many. We ask those who want nothing more than sleep to maintain labor-intensive standards of grooming. We ask people with arthritis to iron clothes. We ask those in pain to be pleasant and “graceful.” We ask people with depression to keep a positive attitude.

We can tell them that we don’t require any of this of them, that all we want is for them to get better or to do the best their disability will allow, but we have to know that they’re sick or disabled in order to deliver this message. Most illnesses and disabilities don’t come with marquee lights. The message that hotness is required for the fullest participation in society doesn’t limit itself to the healthy, able-bodied population, because we don’t know, can’t know, who that is.

If you think the ill and the disabled don’t feel this pressure, ask yourself why organization such as Locks of Love and Heavenly Hats exist. Ask yourself why patients in long-term care are cheered up by a gift of pretty clothing or by something as simple as having their hair styled. Ask why those with disabilities are cheered to see others like them as models and athletes–among the hot.

Does this mean that the hot among us shouldn’t revel in being hot? Nah. For one thing, that’s never going to happen. For another, what they’re actually reveling in is, in large part, health. Having good health and having the resources to enjoy it are things worth reveling in. They are more rare than they should be.

I just think people should know that this is what they’re really enjoying and know, as Zuska and I and many others do, that it may not last.

Hot Is Heavy


The domestic and laboratory goddess, in her answer to our question about science fiction and science bloggers, talked a little about the female role models available to a young budding scientist. This prompted me to realize that I have readers, too new to have heard me waxing enthusiastic about WisCon, who would love this convention.

WisCon is the first and foremost feminist science fiction convention in the world. WisCon encourages discussion, debate and extrapolation of ideas relating to feminism, gender, race and class. WisCon honors writers, editors and artists whose work explores these themes and whose voices have opened new dimensions and territory in these issues. And, oh yes, we also like to have fun while we’re at it.

WisCon is my “home” convention, the one I attend every year, even though it’s a four- to five-hour drive to Madison to get there. It’s a convention of grown-ups but isn’t too grown-up. It has the highest ratio of published authors to fans of any convention I know, but the media programming is great too. It has an academic track, child care, a civilized con suite and commitments to access for people with disabilities and dignity for people with unconventional gender and sexual identities. Oh, and a hot tub.

The James Tiptree, Jr. Award (named after Alice B. Sheldon and supported by a bake sale and auction), is given “for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender” at the convention. This year’s guests of honor are Ellen Klages, who made a room full of people go from laughter to tears in less than five minutes two years ago, and Geoff Ryman, a former Tiptree winner and reportedly most graceful wearer of the tiara in Tiptree history.

As you can probably tell, there’s no good way to explain this convention. It’s utterly unlike the stereotype of a science fiction convention, except in the ways it isn’t. The only way to find out whether it’s for you is to check it out. It doesn’t happen until May, but don’t wait. Registration is capped at 1,000 people, and right about now is the time it fills up.

Go see, and maybe I’ll see you there.


Tradition’s End

Mme. Piggy has a post up mourning the–hopefully temporary–loss of a Thanksgiving tradition. It resonated with me in a way it might not have any other year. This year marks the end of a tradition for us as well.

For me, Thanksgiving has always meant my grandparents, my mother’s parents. They were the in-town grandparents when I was young, and Thanksgiving was always at their house. (We lived in another state for a few years, but I don’t remember those Thanksgivings.)

Things changed, of course: more leaves in the table as more kids came, a kids table when we became too many, a shift to early Thanksgiving when my grandparents became snowbirds, adult grandchildren bringing dates. But my grandparents were the constant.

There was a brief break in tradition when my grandparents shifted to a longer snowbird schedule. We had to choose between early Thanksgiving and celebrating the fall birthdays. The birthdays won, and Ben and I started hosting Thanksgiving in our new house.

Hosting was much more convenient for us. It allowed us to combine family obligations from both sides in one place, and our kitchen is much more able to cope with preparation for a feast. Still, it felt wrong without my grandparents, like a fake holiday, like we were playing house while the grownups were away.

Then they sold their place in Arizona and started coming to our house for Thanksgiving and all was well again. Sure, my grandpa keeps thanking me for all the good food as though my husband doesn’t grill the turkeys and make gravy and as though no one else brings anything to share (instead of him being the only one), but there are some things that aren’t worth trying to change. We had a tradition going. “Over the river and through the hood to Steph and Ben’s house….”

Then there’s this year.

During the fall birthday celebration, my grandmother started hinting about how they don’t get around so well anymore and how it’s so nice that everyone else comes to them and maybe Thanksgiving? I changed the subject.

She called a couple weeks later to make the suggestion explicitly. I put her off until after the election.

I knew then we’d go, and we will. Tomorrow, we’ll pack up a ridiculous amount of food and cooking gear and carefully coordinate the use of a tiny kitchen. It’ll be tricky, but we’ll manage.

Much harder will be facing what the end of the tradition means. My grandparents are both in their nineties now, and neither is as hale as they once were. It won’t be that long before the feast moves back to our place.

But will it be Thanksgiving without my grandparents?

Tradition’s End

Grandma’s Cranberry Relish

Or, how to make all the kids eat their cranberries. Seriously.

3 12-oz. bags fresh cranberries
2/3 c. granulated sugar
1 large can crushed pineapple
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 lb. mini-marshmallows

Wash and drain the cranberries. Grind using a medium die.

Mix in sugar and let sit overnight in the refrigerator.

Drain the crushed pineapple thoroughly. Mix the juice with some rum. This is for you, not the kids.

Whip the cream to very stiff peaks, just shy of butter.

In a bigger bowl than you think you’ll need, mix the pineapple and marshmallows into the cranberries. Fold in the whipped cream just until you have no large red streaks.

The end result is fluffy, unthreateningly pink and has distinct sweet and tart elements. Serves dozens and freezes remarkably well.

Grandma’s Cranberry Relish

Arbitrary Things

Eek. Tagged again.

  1. Link to the person who tagged you.
  2. Post the rules on your blog.
  3. Write six random arbitrary things about yourself.
  4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
  5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
  6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Thing One
I was, quite literally, a poster child. Back in the days when in-home daycare was a radical choice, my mother was involved in promoting it. Pictures of me as a very smiley, very blond two-year-old were used to show how happy children in daycare really were.

Thing Two
I have discovered, through a certain amount of experimentation, that overly sweet candies can be much improved by roasting them over a fire. Circus peanuts and peeps are particularly good examples.

Thing Three
I’ve never had a driver’s license. I can drive a manual transmission and downshift around a corner, but I’ve never taken the test. There is no good reason for this.

Thing Four
My laugh is preserved for posterity. Neil Gaiman recorded material for his spoken-word album, Warning: Contains Language in front of several live audiences. Most of what made it onto the album was recorded in a studio, but “Chivalry” is the live version. That very loud, very distinctive laugh that’s just a little early? That’s me.

Thing Five
My music collection contains fairly complete discographies of a number of eighties “one-hit” wonders: Soft Cell, Men Without Hats, Thomas Dolby, Falco, Kate Bush, Yaz/Alison Moyet, Dead or Alive, Simple Minds, Madness.

Thing Six
I was in a play about seventeen years ago that the playwright came to see. It took me until this summer to ask the director, “So, did he actually like it, or was he just being polite?” Yeah. I still get stage fright too.

You may have noticed that I’m not very good at following rules. No this is not one of the arbitrary things (it’s fundamental), but an explanation of why I’m only doing two-thirds of the list. If you want to consider yourself tagged, I’d love to hear more about you, but I’m not passing this one on otherwise.

Arbitrary Things

Internet Annoyances

I’ve spent much of the last two days with patchy and unreliable internet access. This has recently been fixed by (a) restarting the router again, although that hadn’t done anything earlier, (b) my husband closing and restarting Firefox on his computer (uh, huh) or (c) something further up the line that we had no control over but that happened in conjunction with the other two.

In any case, the whole experience reminded me of other internet annoyances. Here are a few tips on how to not make truly annoying websites.

Know the basics of don’t: splash screens, Flash-based navigation, media that loads without warning, flashing text, mystery meat navigation and text/background color combinations that will trigger a migraine.

Do not accept any ads you can’t wall off from the rest of your layout. Last month, one of the very large internet ad companies was experiencing slow servers, and I don’t know how many pages I couldn’t see until the ad servers responded. Browsers just didn’t know how to draw the pages without the ad information.

Don’t design something that looks like navigation but isn’t. If that link is on what looks like a button, particularly if that button changes color when moused over, I had better be able to click on the whole button, not just the text. Yes, really, companies do this.

If you can, try not to cram a bunch of links up against the right side of the page; i.e., the scroll bar. Even a few pixels of clear space makes a difference.

Yes, I get that your website is complicated. However, if you’re providing information that is available from every publicly traded company, there is no excuse for burying it six to eight clicks deep. It should take me one (easily found) click to get to your corporate site, one to tell you what category of information I’m looking for. At that point, give me a page with a lot of links under different headings instead of making me guess which link I have to click to get to the next step.

Check your traffic logs every now and then. I know of one Fortune 500 company whose website–the main page–has generated errors every time I’ve tried to load it in the last six months. That doesn’t help either of us.

There, just a few tips to make my life more pleasant. If everybody follows them, I can stop being annoyed and get back to writing something interesting.

Internet Annoyances

Bad Ad

Seen on a billboard for a local auto repair chain:

We’ll leave the hoist up for you.

Proof positive that advertising account executives not only have no idea how to care for their own cars but also have no interest in knowing anything about it. The hoist, of course, is only accessible in the down position.

Ironically, many shops do put the hoist up before shutting off the power and going home, but this is to make it inaccessible. Silly ad people.

Now someone just has to explain to me how they got the company to buy the slogan.

Bad Ad

Not of the Tribe

So, last night I was working on a roundup of some of the cool blogs that have been recommended in the responses to our questions on science and science fiction, when I made the mistake of taking a break to check in on some of the blogs already on my blogroll. I was completely derailed.

DrugMonkey had a post up about the tribe(s) of science and action for the common good of the tribe. It was, if I’m reading him right (no guarantee), an introduction to some thoughts on applying humanity’s tribalist tendencies to achieve a greater good. It’s an interesting idea, and I agree with the goals…but he said, “tribal.”

I reacted. Nothing out of line, just a pure emotional response. So, of course, I have to break it down.

I don’t belong to any tribes. The whole idea makes me itch.

I belong to a couple of small, manufactured families, but at least in this day and age, that’s not the same thing. Knowing with whom I chose to spend my time doesn’t tell you much about me. Not the same way that being part of a tribe would. I like my families, but I don’t identify with them. I am not them. They are not me.

This isn’t true in tribes. The premise of a tribe is that the tribe’s welfare is your welfare. In order to make this real, the tribe’s identity also has to be your identity. You can have your own place, yes, but only as long as it fits within the tribe.

To take a nice, contentious example, I’m female (physically, genetically). I don’t communicate “like a woman.” I don’t solve problems “like a woman.” I don’t accept the roles of enforcing social norms or making peace or having or raising children. The majority of my allegiances are to men but are neither sexual nor power-imbalanced. I don’t fit comfortably within the feminine tribe.

I could do what others do and try to stretch the tribe itself to fit me better. There are no guarantees, though, that this will happen. Look at the resistance others get when they try. And even if I were to fail, the tribe would have demanded my cooperation during the trial.

I’ve lost the benefits of being part of a tribe along with the obligations, of course. After all, your welfare is also the tribe’s welfare. It could be a lonely type of freedom if I weren’t an introvert. Still, I think I prefer this to a lonely belonging.

There is a piece of writing advice that says to claim for yourself the identity of “writer.” It’s meant to carry the writer through the times when it doesn’t feel as though progress is being made–the middle of the novel, incoming rejections, having to practice and practice a particular skill to get it down. So far, so good.

There is also a bit of advice that says simply, “Writers write.” It’s very practical advice that says you’ll never have a finished product worth publishing if you don’t sit your butt in a chair and crank it out. Also good advice.

However, these two pieces of advice together have caused some serious heartache for people whose writing has been interrupted for long periods by, well, life. Being one of the few tangible rewards for most people who write, tribal identification is highly prized, but it slips away with every day not spent writing. I’ve seen an award-winning author ask, “Am I a writer?” because she writes slowly and in spurts.

So, no. I write, but I am not a writer. I geek out, but I am not a geek. I have U.S. citizenship and take an active role in politics, but I am not an American. I am not my school, my hometown, my local sports team, my hobbies, my career, my gender, my body shape, my political beliefs, my socioeconomic status, my health issues, my pet ownership, my musical preferences, my clothing choices, my operating system. These things are part of me. I am not part of them.

I belong to no tribe.

Not of the Tribe