Malawi Update: Overwhelming Response!

Earlier today a friend pointed me to an article that’s gone up on the Malawi Project website:

Empty Medicine Bottle Response Brings Unimaginable Response

If you haven’t read it already, here’s my piece on taking part in this project. I now keep a box of empty bottles in my kitchen so I can save up and get ready to send another box full of bottles.

If you take medication (regularly or just once in a while) consider saving up your medicine bottles to pass on to this fantastic project! If not, they also take monetary donations – each shipment of bottles costs quite a bit to send, so every little bit helps.

GUEST POST: Slaughtering The Sacred Cow // (The Hugo Awards Fiasco)

If you’ve been here for a while, you’ll remember contributing writer Matthew Lyons from his yearly film analysis, “That Said…”. Today, he’s delivering his take on the current fiasco surrounding this year’s Hugo Awards and the legitimacy of industry accolades.

Slaughtering The Sacred Cow:
The Hugo Awards, Sad Puppies, and Our Current SFF Atmosphere of Total Shitbirdery

By Matthew Lyons

In 1996, Nick Cave wrote a letter to MTV, thanking them for their support and politely asking them to withdraw his name from competition for “Best Male Artist” in their annual Video Awards, citing the fickle nature of his muse and his own desire to avoid visiting “the realms inhabited by those who would reduce things to mere measuring” upon his art.

“I am in competition with no-one,” he said.  His art was his own, independent of some tawdry award that lacked prestige and debased his artistic vision.  It was a brave thing, and the right thing to do, given the situation.

Remember this.  We’ll come back to it.

The current, drama-filled saga of how the Sad Puppies so successfully gamed the Hugo Awards has been well-documented by men and women who are far better writers  and reporters than I, so I’ll spare you yet another three or four pages telling you what you already know. Still, some context is woefully necessary; so let’s do a quick sum up:

  • Socially and politically conservative voting blocs operating under the collective groupname Sad Puppies successfully gamed the Hugo Awards this year, securing three of the five Best Novel nominations, all five Best Novella nominations.
  • This isn’t exactly a stop-inclusivity-in-its-tracks thing, but it’s not exactly not: two of the SP’s most loudly championed authors have gone on record as supporting a certain non-inclusive online hate group, and as this whole fervor seems to be centered around resistance to inclusiveness, no matter what certain people may say to the contrary.
  • They’ve been trying to game the system for three years, and only now have they really succeeded in making a real, visible impact.
  • Everyone’s shitting their pants about it.

The question I want to ask is, why?  Why do we go out of our way to act surprised and outraged when people do this shit?  They’ve been trying to get this over on the Hugos for three fucking years.  So they finally succeeded.  Big shock.

Look at it critically, friends: you’ve had these people banging at the walls of your so-called sacred institution for three years and you act all aghast and shocked when they finally break through?

Please.

You do realize that all we’re doing by acting this way is legitimizing it, right?

Honestly, I’m really asking – do you understand that?

Why put up just a big stupid stink about it?  Is it because the Hugos are an institution?

They’re only an institution because we treat them like they are.  Fifty years of tradition is one thing, but those fifty years only carry the weight we assign them.  The voting only happens at Worldcon because we all sort of, kind of agree that it should.  Prestige is a concept of perception, and if you don’t like people bloc voting, fine.  Fuck them.  You don’t have to sit there and take it.  Have another ceremony and give out another award.  Have the nominations at DragonCon or something, develop special categories for whatever art form you like.  Get weird with it, fuck, make it a party.  No one says the Hugos are the only game in town.  Stop treating them like they are.

But still we’re outraged.  A noted, publicly avowed homophobe got three nominations in the Best Novella category? So what?  No one says that nomination has to mean a fucking thing.  It only means as much as we all think it should mean.  Everybody just needs to fuck off the end of everybody else’s dick.

The stupid, ugly truth is that they’re well within their rights to vote bloc.  That needs to be said.  They can do that.  The system as it exists in its current form is perfectly accommodating of that sort of thing.  It’s not wrong, it’s just kind of a dick move.  Nobody’s disputing that, not even the folks behind Sad Puppies.

And yeah, it’s an easy thing to say If you don’t like it, don’t pay attention.  Don’t let it affect you.  You know what, though? The people that these Sad Puppy assholes are rallying against get that shit time and time again.  “Ignore the haters?” Fuck you.  These assholes have made themselves impossible to ignore.  Pay attention to what they do and how they do it.  Beat them at their own game or go play your own.  They’re going to keep making the same moves over and over and over, expecting shit to change.  Last time I checked, that’s the definition of something.

Don’t ignore them, but maybe be reasonable with your expectations of people.  Because motherfuckers are always going to do dumb motherfucker shit.  The poorly behaved kid in class is pretty much always going to shout “LOOK AT ME!!” before pulling his pants down so everyone looks at his dick.  The best thing you can do in that situation is not fall for that fucking trick.  Stop coddling needy people who insist on throwing public tantrums.  Stop legitimizing them by acting like they’re a bigger deal than they are.  We all know you have a dick, Trevor.  Nobody’s impressed.  Just sit down and listen to Miss Wallace talk about long division, the rest of us are trying to learn here.

You might not be able to ignore them, but you sure as hell can delegitimize the thing they keep trying to stick in your face.

That brings me back to Mr. Cave’s refusal:

Perhaps, if this were a better world, the authors who aren’t part of the Sad Puppies’ slate would politely but firmly withdraw their names and works from consideration in protest.  Wouldn’t that be a fucking revelation?  If this is how they’re going to run the Hugos, maybe you don’t want that sort of recognition.

I mean, it’s nice to be honored for your art, but do you really want to be honored by an award system run by these people?  Again: seriously, I’m asking.

If the answer’s Yes, great, carry on, have fun.  Seriously.  I don’t begrudge anybody the pursuit of recognition for their art.  Really, I don’t.  People are allowed to art and live and believe however the fuck they want.  I just reserve the right to not pay attention if your methods make you a shitbird.

But if the answer’s No, then just why in the fuck do you insist on playing by their rules?  As far as I can tell, the Sad Puppies have been nothing but clear and vocal about what their aims were, and they kept their promises.  You think they won’t do it again next year?  Or the year after that?  It finally worked, after all. Why would we count out a repeat performance?

All I’m driving at here is maybe we all need to take a step back and consider what’s important.  Is it the recognition of your peers, and the public?  Or is it that fancy laurel seal your publisher gets to stamp on your reprints, that cute little tag you get to stick in your Twitter bio: Hugo Award Winning Author/Novel/Tweeter/Whatever.  Consider why this matters to you, because you need to know that the Sad Puppies sure as fuck have.

And if you decide you don’t want to compete with their behavior and tactics?  Then maybe consider taking your name out of the running.  Consider taking some of the widespread prestige away from the awards.  Delegitimize them. Just like engaging with these sorts of dicks on any other platform, the only way to win is not to play.  We can all agree that the Hugos got hijacked, and we as a community would rather our awards be about recognition and community than tradition and prestige.  The Bill Schuckley’s Backyard Barbecue Awards would carry just as much weight as the Hugos if we all decided they did.  Probably even more, because there would be barbecue involved.

Let ‘em have the Hugos if they want them so bad.  But if the ship’s been taken by mutiny, nobody’s making you sail with them.  There’s enough ocean for everyone here, and plenty of able and like-minded sailors to help you build yourself a new ship.  An awesome one.  With flames painted on the side and a bejeweled Santa Muerte for the figurehead.  And a sweet sound system playing nothing but The Clash.  Everybody loves The Clash.

Abandon ship.  Let the barbarians have the temple.  Take the sacred cow out back and put a fuckin’ bolt through its holy fuckin’ head for steak dinner.  If it’s not working, nobody says you have to keep it.

These awards only ever meant what we wanted them to mean, after all.

Matthew Lyons can be found listening to Tool records and old Bill Hicks routines while scorning basically everything and everyone on Twitter at @goddamnlyons. He occasionally writes fiction that is somewhat less pissed off than this guest post.

Other guest blogs by Matthew:

THEATRE REVIEW: Why Torture Is Wrong and The People Who Love Them

Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them
By Christopher Durang
Directed by Thomas LaChiusa
Subversive Theatre Company

Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them by Christoper Durang, has a plot that unfolds – at first – quite neatly. A young woman (Felicity, played by Andrea Andolina) wakes up in bed with a man (Zamir, played by Michael Votta) who she doesn’t know. Who, as far as she can tell, she’s married by accident. As the action develops, it begins to take a strange veer away from reality, heading into an absurd – yet frighteningly possible – world.

Feicity is, throughout the first act, constrained by the barely-restrained violence of combating Alpha males Leonard (her father, played by Victor Morales) and her new husband Zamir. Her mother Luella (Christopher Standart) has disassociated from the world, relying on absent-minded discussion of Broadway hits (Wicked, A Chorus Line) and is at odds with her daughter’s desire to tackle problems in the here and now. Namely, the problem of Zamir. He might be a danger. Or a terrorist. He’s already shown some tendencies toward violence – if not physical, yet, the certainly verbal – and while Felicity wants her parents’ help in getting an annulment, she also doesn’t want Zamir hurt. It’s a pretty morally admirable decision, given Zamir’s actions towards her early on. Still, one cheers a little when he and Leonard stand off. The delicious whiff of mutually-assured destruction is in the air.

The play strikes the same cheery, sick satirical chords as something like Torben Betts’ The Unconquered, or (if I’m giving his an even darker comparison) Sarah Kane’s Blasted (if Blasted were played for laughs without any on-stage violence). Some cultural force has warped our male leads, and one almost hopes the dystopia of the outside world is bad enough to justify the chill that runs through Durang’s script when it comes to his character’s brutality. One suspects that world might be reality, while hoping that isn’t the case.

Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them is a funhouse-mirror post-9/11 dark comedy. The metaphors for punishment without trial, racial profiling and next-generation “patriots” (the kind who take selfies flanked by flags and guns and government conspiracy theories) and domestic violence are present. It asks us, as viewers: how does a person cope with all that? Can we, as society, stand our ground and demand the ability to effect change (Felicity’s stance, in the first act), or disassociate into a disengaged enjoyment of our Marxian opiate of choice?

Luella, we see, has chosen the latter. While her husband waxes poetic about “Father Knows Best,” exploring the taste of calling his daughter the pet names from the kids in the classic TV show, Luella wears matching floral house dresses and insists on lighthearted conversation about the Theatre and French Toast. While she develops into an ally for Felicity as the play moves on, one can never be sure of when Luella’s small-chat fog may be sliced open by razor lucidity.

As for Leonard, everything we hear about his contact with the government? We hear it from him, or from one of his co-conspirators. In other words, it’s not hard to imagine that his Shadow world is, just like Luella’s also turtles all the way down. It might as well be self-contained. If Luella has floated away, maybe Leonard and his fellow nutjobs aren’t far behind.

If so, then what can be made of the final movement of the script, where Felicity’s compassion for Zamir – a man who has threatened and intimidated her – allows her to finally wrest away control of the situation’s swiftly deteriorating violence? She takes charge and the axis of Durang’s play starts to twist. A voice that’s been speaking to the audience throughout the play – Becky Globus, who also takes on several other roles – smashes through the 4th wall, and Felicity wills a feat of metatextual narrative timetravel. Her drive to change what’s happened drags the whole cast, including a pornographic priest (James Cichocki) and one of Leonard’s whackadoo comrades (Mike Seitz), back to a point before the play even started: the night Felicity and Zamir meet.

Conjured back to their ground zero, Felicity searches for a way in which the best aspects of herself and Zamir can be together – while also setting clear and entirely reasonable boundaries about what she wants as the end result: a world where things turn out differently. She directs the conversation carefully, laying out boundaries and guidelines, until she’s coached both herself and Zamir to what might be their “best aspect”. Zamir wonders if this even leaves him as the same same person, but Felicity’s insistence carries the day. Have they truly time-traveled, and will they now create a better future? Or has Felicity just experienced just had a disassociative snap, her mind creating a false reality to protect her from the world’s harsh truths? Has Felicity just found her delusional opium?

That I’m left with questions like these (and more) is a testament to the quality of Durang’s script, Thomas LaChiusa’s direction, and the cast’s ability to seamlessly integrate the two. Subversive’s production is tight and focused, an achievement for a show gets farther “out there” than normal. It’s easy for a play that toys so much with fantasy and reality (including metatextually) to drift aimlessly, but Why Torture Is Wrong…keeps its feet on the ground. And that makes a huge amount of difference in its ability to hold the audience over the course of two hours, as well in its ability to spark thought afterwards.

While John Kennedy and Michael Lodick’s set doesn’t quite evoke the luxury the script indicates, it’s unclear if that’s because the wealth isn’t translating physically, or if – like Zamir’s insistence on being somehow Irish – it’s yet another place where character’s perceptions and reality diverge.

Why Torture Is Wrong… is at the Subversive Theatre in Buffalo, New York through April 12, 2015, and I hope you make the time to see it.

Tickets were comped for this production.

Also of interest:

Update: Cutting Out Fabric #ThePeggyCarterProject

wpid-0316152218.jpgJust a quick update re: my progress on The Peggy Carter Project. After one unsuccessful attempt at cutting out my design in cotton muslin, the second attempt went much more smoothly. This time, I knew to cut out the little notches, and properly cut along the fold – so that my earlier panic about the fabric not encircling my ample waist proved to be a result of my learning curve, and not of the pattern being screwy.

wpid-0321151431.jpgThe next step is stay-stitching the tops and bottoms of each panel. Which will require finding the instruction book for my sewing machine, since in the couple weeks since I did my mini-project I’ve forgotten how to make the needle go backwards.

I’m also waiting for the lightweight interfacing to arrive, since my local sewing shop doesn’t appear to stock the right weight.

I also ordered some ribbon for my hat.

And started a Pinterest board for this project.

Boeing, Boring: Boeing Boeing at the Lucille Ball Little Theatre, Jamestown, NY

Oh, reviewing pen, it’s been a while. Mostly because I haven’t been able to sit for the length of an entire play for a while, but also because the only play I’ve seen since Cabaret in NYC was a local production of Spamalot. But tonight, I dug my reviewing pen out and headed to Jamestown, NY to see the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown’s presentation of Marc Camoletti’s Boeing Boeing.

I’m almost sure I’ve seen this play before, but I’m not sure where – London, Edinburgh, New York, Buffalo – and other than broad strokes (a playboy trying to keep three flight-attendant-fiances in his orbit) I didn’t remember much about the plot. It falls into the strange realm of what I think of as “French living-room plays.” Like Art and Carnage. Which is weird, because neither of those are farces, and they’re both by the same playwright.

Boeing Boeing is a farce, though. It’s a farce set in the 1960s, at the dawn of newer, faster plane technology. One expects the play to have a certain “snap,” so to speak. Noel Coward with more ennui. Then one looks up the play’s running time. Two and a half hours.

Um.

There’s a line in Boeing Boeing that goes, “No panic, no problem.” But this is exactly the problem. While the actresses playing the fiances – Amanda Melquist (Gloria), Carla Kayes (Gabriella) and particularly Holly L.J. Weston (Gretchen, the passionate German) – inject their scene with dimension and energy, both male leads (Vince Liuzzo as the playboy Bernard and his older brother Carl Luizzo as Robert) seem far too comfortable, too lackadaisical. Occasionally, their back-and-forth rises to a fever pitch, but for the most part it’s the women who set the pacing for each scene – which would be fine, if not for the fact that Bernard is the protagonist. There’s a hint of this early on, when Betsy Trusel’s Berthe brings character-acted comic relief as Bernard’s frustrated domestic servant. Slick and charming, Bernard only becomes “real” in contrast to his demanding cook and cooing (but surprisingly steely) fiances. Other than occasional fluster when two of the women might interact, in which cases each Liuzzo takes their character from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye, the characters contribute to the show’s biggest problem: pacing.

Often times, I watch plays and wish the writer’s words had been given more room to breathe. In this production, I spent more time wishing someone would deliver CPR to the script. Weston had a lock on the urgency of her character’s lines, and Kayes hit all the right beats with her domineering and frustrated Italian, but more often than not, Luizzo, Luizz and Trusel seemed to linger over lines that would have benefited from a dash of Basil Fawlty.

Costumes and set, both credited to large teams in the program, were spot-on for this naturalistic play. In a moment that took me by complete surprise, Berthe actually lights a real cigarette on stage. (Some history: while I was reviewing in Edinburgh with The British Theatre Guide, laws were passed to ban smoking from the stage – even herbal cigarettes. Thinking back, I don’t recall a single time when I saw a real cigarette being smoked on stage But Berthe’s ciggy was definitely made of real tobacco.)

I wish the production left a more positive impression on me, but its by-the-book approach to a classic text paired with timing that never quite worked up to the pacing necessary to really give me a good chuckle. While much of the audience seemed entertained, laughing on cue, when the interval finally arrived I had to take the state of my back into account, and leave the second half of the show unwatched. I simply didn’t receive enough meaty enjoyment from act one to make the literal pain in my lower back worth staying for act two.

Note: Tickets were purchased for this performance.

 

Malawi Needs Medicine Bottles

Early on in dealing with the back injury that laid me low last year, I realized there were going to be a good number of prescription medication bottles floating around my apartment. I couldn’t stand the idea of throwing them all away. Thinking of the sad state of American medical care, I thought, “There’s got to be some kind of art project in this.”

I thought my chance had come last Halloween, when my friend and I did a joint costume at a science-themed Halloween party. She was “old medicine” (Victorian dress and a bottle of “snake oil,” a.k.a. whisky) and I was “new medicine” (a fluorescent orange t-shirt with a billion empty prescription bottles hot-glued on) and the whole thing was pretty hilarious.

wpid-screenshot_2015-03-11-19-09-19.pngAfter the party, though, I still couldn’t bring myself to throw away all those little orange bottles. So I threw them in a storage container and figured, sooner or later I’d find the reason I was hanging onto them.

That reason turned up in my Facebook feed the other day. A friend posted a plea from a group called The Malawi Project, asking that people clean and donate their old medicine bottles to help provide safe and clean medication storage to the people of Malawi.

wpid-0314151851.jpgEarlier tonight, I started cleaning my old medicine bottles. It took two and a half hours, but  I boiled, scraped and cleaned each bottle  (the remnants of glue were particularly annoying). It wasn’t fast, but after a while I got into a rhythm, and at the end I had a full box of medicine bottles that I’m going to post out to the Malawi project this week.

wpid-0314152131.jpgI know a lot of people who take regular medication, and while it’s a little time consuming, this is such a great way to help others and keep plastic out of landfills. Set up your laptop, start up a show you enjoy, and presto – a few hours later, you’ll have done something to help others in a really concrete way. And if you do, leave a note below – and help spread the word!

Mini Sewing Project #1: Draft Blocker

Screenshot_2015-02-19-21-04-58

While it’d be awesome to be able to sew this flawlessly and right out of the gate, I’m trying to be realistic.

 

In my quest to create an Agent Carter costume, I knew I’d have to undertake a few smaller projects along the way.

I just finished my first one: a draft blocker for my front door!

Skills acquired:
– Pinning fabric along a seam
– Sewing in a straight line
– Re-threading the needle
– Using a seam-ripper
– Changing a broken needle (yup! Broke one on my first trip out!)

Lessons learned:
– Oh my god this is going to take so much patience.
– No, really. SO MUCH PATIENCE.

wpid-0301151455.jpgSince I didn’t start off thinking I was going to make anything useful, I kind of just folded over one of the fabric remnants I’d bought last weekend and started sewing. It fast became obvious that I had to actually pin the edges of the fabric together if I wanted to have something that didn’t taper into a point at the far end.

Enter the seamripper. It took a little googling to figure out the most effective way of using it, but once I had that down, easy-peasy.

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Next, the tedious part: pinning along the entire outside of the folded fabric so it wouldn’t slip and become uneven as I sewed. That took about ten minutes. I played videos on Hulu while I worked on that.

wpid-0301151526.jpgOnce that was finished, it only took a couple of minutes to sew the seam, then flip what now looked like a sock flag inside out – so the hem would be on the inside. Not bad!

wpid-0301151534.jpgFinally, I stuffed it full of actual socks, those with holes and some that I’d lost the mate to, until it was long enough to fit (almost) all the way across my door. Since I didn’t feel like getting back up to grab a needle and thread and finish sewing by hand, I just tied off the very end, which I think is kind of cute anyways. And – ta-da!

wpid-0301151617.jpg

My suit fabric is meant to arrive tomorrow, so I’m hoping to share a few photos of my supplies later this week. I also have a second length of fabric and one more door that could use a draft blocker, so I might try and do that later this week-  though I’ve used up all my dead socks, so we’ll see how it goes.

For now, I’m feeling pretty accomplished. So accomplished, in fact, that I’m going to go eat a bagel pizza. Nom!