Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Finally: New Fiction!!!

I've said here before that after I finished my novel Exmormon, I switched to blogging and haven't written any new fiction since. Well that was true right up until the past few weeks: This past weekend I finished writing my second novel!!!

(Actually third, if you count The Land Far-and-a-Half Away, which I don't...)

This new one is actually shorter than the novella about Saturday's Warrior that I'm currently serializing, but I'm calling it a novel instead of novella because it's a stand-alone work instead of being part of a series. It's just a really short novel (nine chapters, a little over 15,000 words).

To give credit where credit is due, this new piece was partially inspired by a clever article on writing a novel by Robinson Wells. (He probably wasn't hoping to support the exmo arts, but these things happen when you post stuff to the Internet... ;^) )

The whole article is kind of funny-because-it's-so-true, but the specific part that helped me is the following:

A boring setting is perfectly acceptable in novel writing. While the word “boring” might be considered pejorative, there are certain books that actually require boring settings. I’m speaking specifically of literary novels. These are books wherein kids die of wasting diseases, and they’re books that win national awards.

The absence of anything interesting in the setting is done purposefully; the general atmosphere of these books screams of despondence and depression, and such things simply can’t exist in an interesting setting. Imagine Summer of the Swans taking place in Narnia, or Angela’s Ashes including a chase scene on top of Mt. Rushmore. If something like that happened, readers might actually want to read these books, and then where would we be?

I read that and thought: "He's right, you know. I need to stop writing stories set in Utah. I should write a story set in an exotic foreign country..."

But you writers out there probably already know the problem with setting a story in an exotic foreign country: Lots of boring research. Then you still get the details wrong.

So I decided to go with inventing an exotic foreign country. That way if it's convenient for the story that my new country have some peculiar custom like wearing pancakes on their heads or somthing, it's not "wrong" it's just "making your invented country a little more colorful." (p.s. I didn't use the pancake idea myself, so feel free to steal it for your own novel.)

So in a nutshell, my new novel has all of the character-driven relationship intrigues of any segment of Exmormon, but minus the angst-filled contemplation of religion, and for the underlying situation I've dumped the boring reality and replaced it with amusing fantasy. Oh and I did throw in a few Mormons because -- let's face it -- Mormons are funny.

I'm thinking of trying to find an agent for this one, but since that is an annoying, painful, and time-consuming task, I'm putting it off for now. I might start by looking for test-readers, we'll see...

Yet another feminist movie review...

An amusing thing happened the other day: the review I posted at Hathor got "farked."

What does that mean?

That means that an army of concerned readers descended upon my post and were incensed -- incensed! -- that I would dare to post a negative movie review on a movie review site, no less!!! Many of them were kind enough to inform me of the error of my ways by leaving comments telling me how stupid I am, and helpfully informing me that I need to "get a life."

To the good people of Fark -- who are apparently unfamiliar with the whole concept of how movie reviews work -- I'd like to share with you one of the first principles of the mysterious art of film criticism.

It goes like this: "Crappy movie => bad review."

Now, I don't want to be too hard on the Fark people, though, because my stats tell me that in addition to the herd of bleating sheep, the link brought in a lot of people who were thoughtful and open-minded enough to stick around and read a whole bunch of posts here at "Letters from a Broad..." So if you're one of those people -- if you came in from Fark yesterday and you're still here today -- you're welcome to stick around and join in the fun!! :D

For today's post, I'd like to introduce you to the next principle in the art of movie reviewing: "Good movie => good review."

Today I review Kirikou and the Sorceress.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Hope you have fun...

At the end of the party I was hesitant to ride home with Rex because he had been drinking. He laughed at my fears and told me that he had only had two beers the entire evening and was certainly not drunk. Still, I suggested that since I had my learner's permit maybe I should be the one to drive. "Whatever," he said, handing me the keys.

On the way home Rex told me that he was planning to edit all of the videos of the production over the weekend and asked me if I would like to watch them with him and his friends on Tuesday night. I told him that I would like to except that I had a date. Read the rest of the story >

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Today's post

For today's post, I've put up another feminist movie review over at The Hathor Legacy covering Ice Age.

Also for your reading pleasure, my two favorite carnivals are up: the Carnival of the Godless (I've got a post in there this time) and the Humanist Symposium!!!

Note that the Humanist Symposium has some slots open for hosts, so if you like this carnival, don't be shy about bringing it home to your own blog!!! See Daylight Atheism for details.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Paris Exmo Expo 2007!!!

What a trip!!!

A huge thanks to Sister Mary Lisa for organizing this!!! I had a fantastic couple of days in Paris with the fabulous exmo ladies of Europe and Montana that you see pictured here: Aitch, Rip Zip, me, Sister Mary Lisa, and Wry Catcher!!! In this cartoon we're anxiously engaged in the time-honored exmo tradition of going out for a beer. Here you see us eagerly awaiting our beers at "The Kingdom of Beer" (La Royaume de la Bière).

The next day I got to meet another fabulous exmo blogger, Montchan. I'm hoping to arrange another trip to Paris with her for a little shopping and a visit to An Gel -- that looks like so much fun, and my hair could really use the attention... ;^)

During this visit unfortunately I only got to meet Montchan for a short breakfast and I wasn't really at my best. I like to claim I wasn't hung-over, but you can judge for yourself from the photo:

Chanson hides from the sun while breakfasting with the radiant Montchan.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Trying to make things right again...

I inserted the pills the next morning as instructed. Even though the counselor had explained what would happen, I didn't know exactly how it would go. It seemed to me like it wouldn't be a good idea to go to church, so I got back into bed and asked Joy to tell Mom and Dad that I wasn't feeling well. Read the rest of the story ->

Friday, November 16, 2007

Porn and Me

At one point during the fabulous Paris Exmo Expo 2007, I gave my usual spiel on porn and feminism. I can't remember why the hell I brought up porn at the "Kingdom of Beer" (and the other ladies are probably also wondering). But since the subject came up in the meatspace version of Outer Blogness (and because we've been talking about people's biases here lately), I figured perhaps I'd share with you my history (hence bias) on this subject:

I was raised in a religion (I'll just let you guess which one) that is extremely patriarchal as well as repressive and negative towards sexuality.

Then, when I gave up that religion at the age of seventeen, I was free to embrace my sexuality and my feminism with equal abandon. (Obviously feminism and women's sexual freedom go hand-in-hand, right?) So I became more and more interested in reading books and articles about feminism. To show you just how ready I was to accept and embrace any and all of feminism, I stopped shaving and wearing a bra for a few months for no other reason than because I'd heard that that was some sort of feminist thing to do. And as I was reading along, I learned that the feminist movement is opposed to porn.

My first reaction was surprise and bewilderment. Agreeing with the church on any sex-and-gender issue seemed like a humongous red flag. Those shame-sodden lectures that taught me I was a deviant for fantasizing about sex and that I'd be as worthless as chewed gum if I acted on my desires: they also contained a message about how pornography leaves your mind permanently impure. Naturally I had filed all of these hate-your-sexuality messages in the same mental drawer -- and later moved them all together into my mental garbage can.

My post-Mormon experience with porn started when I took a look at the magazine collections of various boyfriends. (Yes, they were physical, printed magazines. Yes, I'm that old.) I also watched some porn movies with another boyfriend. I didn't find any of it particularly objectionable. As a straight woman, I figured that being aroused by the sight of naked women was an appropriate quality in a boyfriend.

Naturally I also looked for materials that would be arousing for me. I found that stories did more for me than pictures, but even sex stories aimed at women left me going "meh" if they were really graphic. I liked the erotic scenario better than having the mechanics spelled out for me. And one of the main themes in my favorite erotic scenarios was the thought of a man being aroused by seeing and/or touching a woman (see here). I guess that makes me a rather unique type of pervert.

Anyway, I'd analyzed my own sexual responses, and found the anti-porn faction of feminism treating me every bit as much like a piece of chewed gum as the church had: they told me, in essence, that I should feel ashamed of turning men on with my body; of letting a man "use me for his pleasure." It was a harsh blow to see feminists -- the people I hoped would counter shame I learned from the church -- were giving me the same "poor, fallen woman" crap in new words.

But I was determined to be a feminist, so I was determined to figure this one out. Then I learned the slogan "Porn is the theory, rape is the practice."

"Aha," I thought. "Pornography is bad because it causes rape. Well, if porn has been shown to cause rape, then I certainly agree that it's bad." The next natural question was "So does it lead to rape? Is there some hard evidence to back that up?"

Um, no.

Reading along in various feminist publications, I discovered a curious excuse as to why it was okay for feminists to fight to suppress porn -- on the grounds that it leads to rape -- despite the lack of real-world evidence to that effect: Women can see intuitively that porn inspires men to harm them, and we women need to value women's type of reasoning (intuition) more highly than we value masculine reasoning (logic and evidence).

Let me tell you that I was about to breathe fire when I saw that argued as a feminist position!!!

Now, I really hope that I misinterpreted that feminist article I read so many years ago and/or that it was just in some student publication or something. Because if any serious, respected feminist intellectual argues anything even remotely like that I really, really, really don't want to know about it. There I was -- a female Mathematics major -- fighting with all my heart and soul to demonstrate that reason and logic aren't something unique to men, and that girls can do math too if they're encouraged to try.

So I fundamentally disagreed with the anti-porn squad on practically every level right from the beginning. (Did I mention censorship? And how obscenity laws often get used first against gay materials and women's health information? And how a Dworkin-inspired anti-porn law has been ironically used to censor Dworkin's own anti-porn book?)

Yet I've never really been an activist about this subject. I read a few books (like Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights). I canceled my subscription to Ms. when I got fed up with its Dworkin-MacKinnonite stance and what a waste of feminist energy it was: a bunch of privileged white women navel-gazing about whether they feel "degraded" because some schlub is masturbating in the privacy of his own bedroom. Then I figured I was being a hypocrite since what am I on this issue but a privileged white woman navel-gazing about my sexuality? So I decided social justice was more important, and kind of put this issue on the shelf for a bit and focused on other issues.

I still think social justice issues are more important, particularly as they pertain to building a sustainable future for our species.

So why am I bringing this up now?

Hell, this is a blog -- I can talk about whatever I want. Navel-gazing about porn is no more a waste of my time than posting pictures of whale genitals... ;^)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The grace period

When I woke up, Jake was already in the shower. I rested in bed listening to the water and gathering my strength.

Jake came out of the bathroom in his boxers and started getting dressed. "Well? You'd better get up and take your shower," he said. "You've got a big day ahead of you."

In truth I was terrified even after Jake explained that this morning's appointment was just the warm-up.

Read the rest of the story ->

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A couple of parables about belief

Suppose two students are taking a math test. Suppose that for a particularly difficult problem one student writes "7" as the solution and the other writes "65000*pi/sqrt(3)". It is reasonable to conclude that at least one of the two students got the problem wrong. Is it also reasonable to conclude that at least one of the students must be an idiot? No.

Does it mean they can't be friends? Of course not. (They might have difficulty collaborating on an engineering project that uses the same techniques as the math problem, but that's not the only thing in life.)

Is it reasonable to conclude that the two solutions are equally valid or equally likely? Not necessarily, but it depends on the problem (both solutions may be completely and obviously wrong).

As you've probably guessed, all of this is to explain how I can consider myself a strong atheist and at the same time caution against dismissing religious people as stupid, closed-minded, or willfully ignorant.

Why do I think my conclusion about God(s) is right?

Imagine there's a street sign near my house that I pass every day. Imagine that one day there's a bright red political sticker sticking to the middle of it that wasn't there before. I don't know how it got there, but I can make some conjectures:
1. Some person came by and put it there.
2. A race of sentient bats made the sticker and stuck it there (but no one has ever seen them because they're invisible).
3. The sticker was actually applied at the factory when the sign was made, but it just wasn't visible until recently because it was made with a new technology of perfectly invisible stickers that become visible after a fixed length of time.
4. The sign and sticker don't exist -- I'm really just a brain in a jar, and my entire reality is an illusion.

To me, choice #1 is the reasonable conclusion, and I would feel very confident that it is the correct answer -- it conforms with experiences and observations. I don't think that #2 or #3 is rational conclusion, even though I can't disprove either one. I would be willing to reconsider my rejection of #2 or #3 if someone showed me evidence that the species (resp. new technology) exists. I think Greta Christina covered the solipsism argument (#4) pretty well. I'll just add that I've never met anyone who seriously believes that the solipsistic model of the universe is correct -- it's typically just thrown out there to bolster the post-modernist argument that we can't be sure of anything, so theories contradicted by evidence are just as reasonable as theories that are consistent with evidence.

This is the reason I feel completely confident in my conclusion that God(s) -- as typically defined by humans -- do(es) not exist.

I also know that if you are religious, you probably disagree with my second parable and/or my interpretation of it. That's fine -- I'm not trying to debate you on your perception of the universe. I'm just explaining what it looks like to me.

Around the Internet, I see a lot of people trying to explain away people who disagree with them. There's a whole lot of "those guys just won't listen to reason because..." These assessments are essentially always wrong (in my humble opinion). Or to be more precise, I think they're a little bit right mixed with a whole lot of wrong. In my experience, most people have many complex reasons for believing as they do, and what's more, just because two people have reached the same conclusions it doesn't mean that their character, motivations/biases, or even their reasoning style is the same.

It is false to say that all people who believe X are closed-minded and refuse to listen to anything but what they want to hear. It is false to say that all people who believe X have failed to think critically about their beliefs. It is also a fallacy to confuse confidence in a conclusion with closed-mindedness: Just because you've analyzed a question and feel confident that your conclusion is right, that doesn't mean you wouldn't consider new evidence and new arguments.

So in short I recommend critical thinking and sincere introspection (for everyone, me included). And I'm not going to look at your answer and from there presume to tell you how you reached it.

Friday, November 09, 2007

I love Ernie and Bert!!!

Ok, I normally don't devote a whole post to these silly quizzes, but...

I was obsessively reading my blog stats as usual, and discovered a fabulous new blog linking to me here, with a bunch of amusing stuff in the sidebar including a cute quiz result about a beloved childhood gay icon: Velma, from Scooby-Doo.

So I had to take the quiz myself, and even though I honestly answered the question about losing my glasses all the time (seriously, it's ridiculous, and I can't see a thing without my glasses!!!) I didn't get Velma. Here's what I got:

You Are the Very Gay Bert and Ernie!

Two grown puppets living together, sleeping in the same room?
They've even got coordinating striped shirts!

So cute -- I love watching their song about the boogie-woogie sheep with my kids. :D

Plus, I really am wearing a striped shirt right now!!! I thought that question was going to land me on Mo (from DTWOF, another fave of mine!), but of course she's not a childhood icon...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A favor for a friend

In the morning Rex dropped me off at Jake's house. Jake already had his motorcycle out in the driveway and was working on it with some tools. I hoped that it was just some last-minute adjustments and not that something was wrong.

"Thanks for doing this, man," said Rex.

"No problem," said Jake. "Like I said, I was planning to ride to Vegas one of these days anyway."

Then Rex turned to me and sighed. "Good luck," he said. "And try to... try to have some fun on this trip if that's at all possible."

"Thanks," I said.

"Don't worry about Mom and Dad," said Rex. "I'll take care of damage control on the home front if anything happens." Then he got back in the car and left. Read the rest of the story ->

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Humanist Symposium #10

Welcome to the 10th edition of the Humanist Symposium!!!

I know I said earlier that this one was going to be "the dirty edition." But the problem was that (aside from that ex-Mormon serial novel which has taken a rather questionable turn lately) nobody sent me anything dirty. They just sent me a bunch of articles related to "Humanism." And some fantastic ones at that!!!

So I'll just be presenting these articles to you, and my original contribution as host is a Humanist side illustration "Helping Hands."

Humanist Theory:

As a Humanist, you have to find or make your own meaning and purpose, but we're up to it. Lynet presents some hauntingly poetic musings on tragedy while Greta Christina covers both life and death. On the spiritual side, David talks about what it means to be fully present. And Miller talks about the value and excitement of being an active participant in the trend towards atheism.

Paul has written a clear, concise explanation of universal moral grammar: how the moral framework we're born with isn't quite the same as absolute universal morality.

Then Dale wishes us a very Merry Christmas! while explaining that whatever Christmas's origins, the combination of public and private meanings attached to it have developed according to no one's conscious plan, and will continue to do so. Then to celebrate our place in the universe, the Ridger has written a song: "We Are Starstuff".

Humanist Practice:

One of the first steps towards helping other humans is education. Vjack states it clearly: "If we are serious about every child deserving the opportunity to succeed in college, then we need to get serious about making sure they are adequately prepared." Black Sun cautions against widespread homeschooling because of the many ways it can limit a child's educational experiences. PZ has persuaded his readers to lend a helping hand on science education (though he'll be scandalized that by including him here I'm hinting he may be a humanist ;^) ). And Holly Ord gives some amusing examples of educating the public through non-theistic billboards.

Joel McDonald has saved a few trees by suggesting electronic alternatives to procedures that required excessive document printing -- the sort of improvement that could be made in so many workplaces if people care enough to think before always hitting "print."

GrrlScientist reviews a book that explains the basics of cloning and how it can benefit humanity (while creating some interesting new questions for us to deal with.)

Theory and Practice:

How do our proverbs fare without God? Lubab No More still follows the golden rule. David discusses the serenity prayer noting that we shouldn't be too hasty about accepting the big problems of the world if we can change things at least a little.

Speaking of how to handle the world's big problems, James suggests that if the various religions can't live in peace, perhaps we should go with none, and Shaun Connel explains that violence should not be used to deal with non-violent people.

And I've posted about how our human values are starting to change in the right direction so that reducing wasteful consumption -- thinking of the future -- is seen as the highest virtue. This essay completes own overview of strategies to cooperate and build a sustainable future for our little species!

I hope you've enjoyed this Humanist Symposium!!! The next one will be held on November 25 at the Greenbelt!!

Friday, November 02, 2007

A future for everyone's favorite species?

With population pressure mounting, environmental degradation increasing, and the precipice of "peak oil" just ahead, it's easy to lose hope for our future. Will we end up like yeast trapped in a sealed bottle of grape juice, eating all the sugar until our own waste renders our environment toxic to us and kills us? Or are we smart and adaptable enough to face this challenge and build a sustainable society?

It won't be easy, and it will require some real global cooperation. I've just finished a series of posts to outline some basic ideas and strategy:

First, people are far more willing to cooperate with others and plan for the future when they have enough resources to ensure their own health and the health of their children. In fertility, mortality I talked about how lowering infant/child mortality leads to parents choosing to have only a few children and investing an enormous amount of effort on each one. In is religion the problem? I argued that people of all nationalities, ethnicities, and religions will increase their racist element and find excuses for war when competition for resources becomes critical (and by contrast will be better off cooperating/trading with different groups when they're doing okay). Then in stand by your home-grown tyrant I discussed the fact that people will often side with a local leader -- even an obvious bad guy -- over a foreign invader if the foreign force's motives are tainted (by desire to control and take resources).

Second, we all need to get serious about limiting our own waste and excess consumption. The biggest, simplest strategy is to move towards low-to-no car urbanism. In living downtown and car-free I talked about how it's not just a question of saving the planet -- it can make your life simpler and more convenient in tons of ways. In European dream I argued that urban living can decrease racism (as kids grow up familiar with kids of all different backgrounds) which increases willingness to cooperate with other nations to save our planet. Finally, in earning admiration in today's world I discussed how our human values are starting to change in the right direction so that reducing wasteful consumption -- thinking of the future -- is seen as the highest virtue.