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visit to a small country

Posted on 2014.07.09 at 19:05
I have returned from a visit to the country of pain, a place where all of us stop from time to time, and some of us live. It is a small country, to hold so many of us; small enough to crawl over, to learn each stone and shard of glass in the road with a sickening familiarity.

My own sojourn began without any real warning -- just a sharp ache in my hip which soon spread east and west. Friends had advice: "Try lying on the floor with your legs on a chair." "Try ice." "Try heat." "You know, it's okay to take four Advil at once. My doctor told me once." Nothing worked. I saw a doctor, who suggested that I might have bursitis, or the beginnings of arthritis, and declined to prescribe any medication. I asked about an injection of painkiller, or possibly an anti-inflammatory. He waved such ideas away. "Let's see how it goes," he said.

This was the beginning of my rough education in pain management. Two days later I was on the phone begging for medication, which was granted (albeit slowly through the layers of bureaucracy); three days later I'd received two separate injections, each of which was wonderful... for several hours. And four days later I was a screaming, crying wreck who was taken to the emergency room. Not by sitting in a car seat; that was impossible. I crawled into the back and lay there on my stomach, knees bent.

I'd never gone to an ER for myself before -- I'd only brought other people -- and I'd always considered it a sort of waiting room for Hell. Avoiding hospitals in general had been a priority. My regular provider, however, was perfectly clear on the phone: "We can't help you. Go to the ER."

And here is the first lesson: that pain scale from one to ten? Don't be conservative. Be communicative instead. The scale suggests that ten is the worst pain you can imagine; well, I don't know about you, but I can imagine quite a lot. So fuck that. Here is my new standard:

(1) If the pain seems unendurable, and you don't know how you're going to get through the next five minutes, though you also know you have no choice; and
(2) If you were told you would have to live this way the rest of your life, you would kill yourself --

--That's a 10. Really, it doesn't have to mean burning alive while demons eat your entrails. Your doctor isn't going to understand you grade on a curve. If you desperately need help, let them know you desperately need help.

A few hours later I was discharged from the ER, having had two shots of morphine that just took the edge off. "Get a referral for an orthopedist," they told me. Also, "A hot shower will help." My friend explained, "She tried that this morning. It didn't do anything." The doctor repeated slowly and firmly, as though no one had spoken: "A hot shower."

They did offer me a walker: "If you're willing to have one."

"Why wouldn't I have one?"

"Some people associate it with the elderly..."

I suddenly recalled a time, years previously, when I'd been in Chicago to visit the set of Early Edition. I was hit for the first time by a burning case of plantar fasciitis, and needed to keep weight off the soles of my feet. I'd been offered a walker by a man in a pharmacy, and had been appalled. "I am not using a walker," I'd said firmly. Instead I opted for two canes, which I managed in tandem like crutches.

This time my attitude was different: give me the fucking walker. As I made my way slowly down the hallway toward the exit, I passed through a small group of paramedics, who, seeing my pain, offered to help me get back to my room. "She's been discharged," explained the friend who'd driven me here, blackly amused at their taken-aback looks. I crawled into the back of the car again -- lying on my stomach provided some relief -- and we returned home.

I spent the next five weeks lying on my stomach in my living room, alternating between pain and a pain-nausea pas de deux. It was hard to tell whether the vomiting was caused by the pain or the medication, which was heavy on acetaminophen. ("Am I destroying my liver, or am I just paranoid?")

My friend/assistant moved in and slept on the floor beside me in the living room, with a Doberman and a Bichon curled around her. She (or sometimes, other friends) got me what little food I could eat and brought it to a table by my bed; I ate lying down, or stood up with the walker for a brief period in an attempt to soothe my digestion. Sitting was out of the question.

Here is what I learned: pain is a box. A light, bright trash compactor that takes your life and squeezes it into about a foot square. Anything outside that box has no interest for you, and soon begins to seem unreal. I'd been negotiating to buy a small place in the country -- a place for the future, a place to write those novels that have been stacked up like planes waiting to land; a place with trees and acreage, where I could walk my dogs off-leash. Suddenly it was hard to imagine that I would ever have a life outside the bright white box; this talk of colorful future days seemed like some sort of fever dream. I put it aside. Besides, who could deal with the complexities of buying a farmhouse? I could barely make it to the bathroom and back.

I remember turning my head one afternoon, and glancing from my mattress in the living room straight back through the dining room and kitchen and out the window to the yard, where dappled sunlight gleamed on the waving leaves of a ficus-fig tree. It seemed as though I were looking at an alien planet.

The next lesson: illness begets illness, as other things happened that I could not account for. I got a sore throat and my voice changed. I saw flashing images in the periphery of my vision -- not, as it turned out, a sign my retina was detaching, but that the blood flow to my head had been affected; better see a neurologist. Spasms would descend on me suddenly, usually in the evening, getting worse as the hours progressed. I recall one particular night, at about two in the morning, as my friend desperately massaged me in an effort to lessen the pain. I'd mentioned the ER as the pain wall climbed, but she tried to talk me out of it -- I know she felt, Been there, done that; let me go back to bed. I couldn't blame her. "What can they do for you at this point?" But after another hour of screaming I crawled into the car again, and off we went. There was black humor in it; as I paced with the walker, crying, the patient who was ahead of me in line said to the admissions woman, who was asking about his address, "Um, maybe you should talk to that person first."

They added a muscle relaxant to the morphine injection this time, and it was a blessing from heaven.

Through all this, I would think blankly, "Two weeks ago I was fine." "Three weeks ago I was fine." "A month ago, I was fine." How was this possible?

The hip specialist, when I finally saw him, took one look at me and said, "I've never seen a hip patient lying on their stomach. And I've never seen bursitis cause this much pain." He said that he believed the cause was actually in my lower back (which felt fine). "We'll get you an MRI. I'm betting it'll show herniated disks."

So I was scheduled for an MRI... about a week to ten days later. And here is the other great lesson I learned from my sojourn in pain country: I'd always assumed that if someone was in great pain, the wheels of the bureaucracy would turn quickly. In fact, they turn at exactly the same pace as before. You'll get an MRI in a week or so, unless, as we did, my friend called the MRI place and asked if they had any cancellations sooner. They did -- but we had to be active about it, and then beg. So, victory at getting the MRI that Friday... but then, someone has to write up the report. Heavens, you wouldn't expect that to happen on a weekend. Hopefully he'll get to it on Monday or Tuesday... if you call and push. But then you'll need another appointment with the orthopedist (this time, the spine specialist). With luck, maybe you'll get that another week or ten days after the MRI.

By then, you've heard that magical word, "Epidural." You crawl into the car to see the spine specialist, expecting that now, with the MRI information, he can perform such a procedure. But he doesn't do that; no, you need to make an appointment with the pain management specialist. By now you're a few weeks into this, and it's the first time anybody's suggested that pain management specialists exist.

"And don't think you'll get the epidural then, either," the orthopedist warned, having heard the somewhat unhinged hysterical laughter made by the two friends who'd brought me in. "That'll just be the consult." Which will be in another week to ten days. And unfortunately, nobody can call the office of a pain management specialist and ask to get you in quickly "because she's suffering"; everybody who sees him is suffering.

And so on and so on. Accompanied, of course, by the requisite bureaucratic torment beloved of my health insurer. Scramble, scramble for those referrals. The first orthopedist's referral, we found out as we were leaving, was for the brother of the doctor we saw (they share the office, and of course, the same last name). Insurance won't honor it. Call back the primary doctor and get a new one for his brother, quick, because they won't honor retroactive referrals either. Then you're returning to the same office to see the spine specialist? New referral. Pain management? "You'll need a new referral. His office won't even book you till they get it." What about the epidural? "We'll need to put in for authorization." "How long will that take?" "Sometimes two or three weeks."

Phone call after phone call. And I know from experience that my insurer will deny receiving referrals about half the time anyway. I could understand why I'd heard that the mother of a boy with a degenerative disease, who shared my insurer, was reduced to tears at least once a month simply from trying to deal with this.

And then there's the dearly won knowledge that one must ever keep track of how many pain pills you have, and whether they will get you through the weekend, or rather, whether they will get you through the next four days, as it's late on a Friday and your orthopedist won't get the message till Monday and his office is adamant that it's a 48-hour turnaround. And the many phone calls that go with this, and the constant fear that your request will be declined -- not that the doctor's office will ever call and tell you this; you'll only find out as you continuously check the pharmacy.

I told the pain management specialist that I didn't care whether the epidural was insurance-approved or not; I just wanted it, and I'd pay whatever it turned out wasn't covered. He agreed to set a date three days later. There are people in the world who can't make that kind of offer. And there are people in the world who'd lose their jobs (and possibly their apartments or their cars) if they were absent from work for a month or more. I am fortunate.

I am fortunate. I have had three epidurals, and physical therapy will soon begin. My dog was able to sit in my lap, briefly, for the first time in seven weeks. The sounds I make have dwindled to the occasional yelp. I am on the tarmac, my plane accelerating, ready to take off from the country of pain and show me the curve of the globe beneath my window. I was only a tourist after all.

Some of us live there.



Posted on 2013.10.14 at 19:54
Have you been wondering what I’ve been up to? The answer is REIGN. As I tweeted back in May, “This show is crack, people. Expect chocolate AND peanut butter.”

It’s about Mary Queen of Scots as a teenager, but that barely scratches the surface. This is a historical fantasy, a romp with dark edges -- a brilliant fever dream of what it might be like to live at Renaissance French court. The dress, for example, is a hybrid of period costume with things like the Elizabethan-inspired gowns of Alexander McQueen, fantastic and dream-like. The “four Marys” who accompanied Mary to court have been given non-Mary names. And of course, the main characters are pretty darned good-looking, as in… ninety-nine percent of all visual entertainment. Beyond certain crazy bounds, though, we’re trying to be fairly historical -- by which I mean, for example, that in episode three, when the son of the king of Portugal shows up at French court, we have to face the question: was there really a son of this age, and did he ever go to France? If not, we must say he's the bastard son, and that's why the history books have never heard of him.

That's rather the conceit of the show: untold history, written between the lines of the official story. "You think our characters should be wearing those neck ruffs? My goodness, didn't you know they only wore those for portraits?" "Yes, Francis the Dauphin was said to be weak and sickly. Heavens, didn't you know that his enemies put that rumor around?" There’s a lot of playground here since, of course, painting is not photography. (After being primed by Holbein’s famous portrait of Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII claimed to be disappointed in the actual woman.)

And who wouldn’t want to be on a show with Catherine de Medici as a character? I have long had a soft spot for a fine villainess -- my two other favorites being Livia of I, Claudius and Phoenix of Dream of the Red Chamber. In Catherine, though, we get the exquisite antagonist of artifice: the woman who introduced France to a legion of painters and sculptors; high heels; the rudiments of what led to ballet; even the fork. And who, legend says, had a secret “flying squad” of beautiful spies and a secret cabinet of poisons. How can you not love this woman? Embrace her as I do!

So there you are. I can’t even define what genre this show fits into. But mix in strange and bloody happenings in the primordial forest around the castle, a mysterious haunting, politics and pagans, and really, I have to say “chocolate” is not enough. Dark chocolate with caramel would be closer.

Alex Koppelman is suspicious of the White House’s early response to Benghazi. It seems that:

“On Friday, ABC News’s Jonathan Karl revealed the details of the editing process for the C.I.A.’s talking points about the attack, including the edits themselves and some of the reasons a State Department spokeswoman gave for requesting those edits. It’s striking to see the twelve different iterations that the talking points went through before they were released to Congress and to United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, who used them in Sunday show appearances that became a central focus of Republicans’ criticism of the Administration’s public response to the attacks. Over the course of about twenty-four hours, the remarks evolved from something specific and fairly detailed into a bland, vague mush.”

Wow. Just the way television shows are made!

That was my first thought. My second was, only 12 iterations? Given the number of people who were probably giving notes, they’re lucky it was that few.

Koppelman writes:

“The initial draft revealed by Karl mentions ‘at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi’ before the one in which four Americans were killed. That’s not in the final version. Nor is this: ‘[W]e do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qa’ida participated in the attack.’ That was replaced by the more tepid ‘There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.’"

I guess someone who writes for the New Yorker has little experience with the Darwinian pressure from multiple note-givers that ruthlessly levels out anything that might be eccentric, specific, or interesting. (Or in the case of talking points, anything that might let the Administration be tempted into making claims they were unsure of. As with scripted drama, it’s all about the audience.)

I’ve been fortunate to be on some shows that allowed for breathing room. But the flattening process happens, and when it does it’s often at the beginning of development, at the point where a pilot or the first few episodes are greenlit for shooting. This is why pilots I’ve read that really excite me will sometimes turn into processed TV food by the time they reach the screen. And it’s not even that the people giving the notes are stupid -- by and large these are intelligent, well-read, well-educated people of taste. No, it’s a matter of statistics.

Let’s say you have a scene in which your hero, though fairly standard in other ways, has some eccentricity; suppose, after parachuting out of a 747 and wrestling with the villain in mid-air, he recovers the missing Faberge egg, flirts with the love interest, and returns to his hotel that night, battered, proud, and (though he would never admit it) a little lonely. There he finds two men sitting at a piano in an empty auditorium, singing Cole Porter -- all that’s left of a wedding reception held earlier in the day. They stop in the middle of a bar and start arguing over the lyrics. The hero says, “No, no -- it’s ‘I love a prizefight that isn’t a fake!” And he sits down and starts to play, revealing an unexpectedly fine baritone. This is a guy who up till now you only imagined as a bit of an asshole.

Those are the moments in a script that are specific, unusual, character-revealing, and often not directly connected to plot. They are the first to go.

Your script begins its adventures at the production company, where two or three people read it and give you notes. Anything that is bland and generic will probably get through, because there’s nothing to object about; everyone has seen those scenes a million times, and we all understand them. But anything specific or odd or unusual or funny will (in the parlance of Hollywood) “bump” somebody.

I hate the bump. The bump means that they were turning pages, and everything was going smoothly, when they hit a rough patch – right here. Could you smooth that rough patch out, please?

And here is where we get to the statistical part. Let’s say there are maybe ten of these moments in your script. Ten things that are a little bit different. The script goes to the production company, where it’s read by three people. Person 1 bumped on two things. Person 2 was fine with the things that bothered Person 1, but has a different thing that bothered him. Person 3 bumped on one of Person 1’s bumps, but nothing else.

Everything that bothers anybody has to be changed or removed. Seriously. That’s the way it works, pretty much. What a lovely house! But could you take out that niche with the Spanish tiles, please? Just plaster it over with Navaho White, thanks… pat down that part there, no one will ever know.

So the script is revised and sent to the studio, with three of the less predictable moments gone. At the studio, four people read it. Person 1 has three bumps…

By the time the four readers at the studio have given you their notes, there are maybe three good moments left. The new script goes to the network, where six people read it…

Are you getting the picture? The script gets smoothed down, like a stone in a stream, till there’s nothing left anybody could possibly object to. And remember, nobody “bumps” on generic.

Should any moment of eccentricity make it through all that, the highly paid network star who picks it up might easily say, “This is really great, but that scene with the gay show tunes? I don’t think my fans want to see that. Mind cutting it? It’s just a little thing, doesn’t affect the plot.”

And the infuriating thing is, most of the people along the way are just doing their job. They’re supposed to tell you when they have a problem with something. When I read other people’s material, sometimes I bump on things too. When we read a book, we may not like every single thing in that book; when we go to the movies, we argue with friends, coming out, about what we thought worked or didn’t work.

It’s the process that kills. Twenty people reading the same thing, all with the power to edit. It’s not about a specific person’s taste; it’s about evolutionary pressure.

To get back to Koppelman:

“But the mere existence of the edits—whatever the motivation for them—seriously undermines the White House’s credibility on this issue. This past November (after Election Day), White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that ‘The White House and the State Department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of those two institutions were changing the word “consulate” to “diplomatic facility” because “consulate” was inaccurate.’"

"Remarkably, Carney is sticking with that line even now…‘The only edit made by the White House or the State Department to those talking points generated by the C.I.A. was a change from referring to the facility that was attacked in Benghazi from “consulate,” because it was not a consulate, to “diplomatic post”… it was a matter of non-substantive factual correction. But there was a process leading up to that that involved inputs from a lot of agencies, as is always the case in a situation like this and is always appropriate.’”

Koppelman finds this highly suspicious. He seems to think human beings don’t behave this way unless they have some dark agenda.

In my world, I find it standard practice.


books books books

Posted on 2012.11.07 at 22:46
I am in a hotel in an undisclosed location, pondering my life. I want to write more books.


My soul rises up in a curl of repudiation, like my elder dog facing a coyote. When can I write books again?

I don't mean to be dramatic. I'm quite obsessively fond of the television show I'm on. It's just that every now and then the leash tightens, and I look to the mountains, and wonder when I can run free through the meadows toward those steep blue shadows.

It will be a few years yet, I'm afraid.


the artifice of eternity (Sherlock spoilers)

Posted on 2012.05.10 at 22:13
Well, Sherlock's second season has with maddening desultoriness finally wended its way across the ocean. Could it have taken longer? I've been pacing like Penelope waiting for Odysseus to get off his ass and show up to set things right.

And what did we get for our patient waiting? Before all else, "A Scandal in Belgravia" is an edifice of cleverness. An edifice made from clever bricks derived from clever straw that was gathered by artificially intelligent harvesters and stored in silos of towering smartassery. The cleverness is nonstop. Now, when the word "nonstop" is used in current entertainment, it usually means that one suspense/chase sequence follows quickly on another, in a routine and expected fashion. In "Scandal," clever things are flung at you so quickly you barely have time to duck before three more are winging toward your head. Thank god there was such a long hiatus between seasons, and that there are only three episodes in each. Because this couldn't be written in the week and a half that an American network television schedule tends to allow. Mind you, you could, potentially, write a fascinating script in that time, layered with character and buzzing with electric dialogue -- but you can't plot the Allied invasion in a week and a half, and that's what this is. (And if someone who knows better tries to tell me that it was written in a week and a half, I'll put my fingers in my ears and say la la la, because my entire understanding of reality would be up-ended.)

Let's peel apart the cleverness!Collapse )


the end

Posted on 2012.04.21 at 03:09
Just back from the House series wrap party at one of my favorite places in Los Angeles, the art deco Cicada Club and Restaurant. Built by a wealthy haberdasher (!) in 1928, the building’s a gem of deco splendor, and once a week you can enjoy dinner and dancing to a vintage jazz band.

Tonight, though, it was host to all things House. I kept getting tapped on the shoulder by people I know, dressed, as the invitation said, “to the nines.” My favorite story of the night came from -- well, I suppose I shouldn’t tell you, since I don’t have permission, but my informant said that after the final bit of shooting and speeches on set, a phone rang. Thinking quickly, he said, “It’s Doris!” -- and got a laugh.

There were exchanges of gossip and intel, and the question always was, “What are you doing now?” This is staffing season for network television, so people are out making the rounds. It’s like musical chairs; when the shows staff up, you either have a place, or you don’t. With all the House folks let loose at once on an innocent city, the conversation runs toward, “Have you met on that show?” and “I hear So-and-So is difficult to work with.” Along, of course, with pictures of dogs and children and delectable gossip about mutual acquaintances shouted in one’s ear above the sound of the band. The television industry’s a community, like any small town.

Most parties with TV folks end by 11:00 or so, for we are a race of puritans who know the work starts early the next day. But this time people lingered. It was 1:30 before I drove home on this cool and misty night along surface streets, through Silver Lake, to the hills. Then, still in my long dress, I took my dogs for a walk.


success (it seems)

Posted on 2011.12.21 at 14:37
Thanks to everyone for your help! estara managed to locate a page on Amazon UK that had one copy of the book listed. Once I fell into the ruts of bureaucratic routine, suddenly everything became easy, and it went from a belated Christmas present to a guaranteed Friday arrival.

I consider learning other methods of bookstore location as a bonus. And I return to Act 3 with a lighter heart.



Posted on 2011.12.20 at 21:07
I'm being driven mad. I'm trying to send a hardcover copy of Jo Walton's Among Others to a friend in England. I have tried Amazon and Amazon UK, and I've tried just putting the title into Google in the random hope that a physical bookstore that carries it will somehow pop up (none did). Nothing works, at least not if I want to send the book as a gift.

Apparently the only places that carry the hardcover just now are those associated sellers whose names come up when you click on Amazon's "available from these sellers" button. But if you choose one of them, there are no gift options -- and I'd like to enclose a note. And leave off the packing slip with the price, which always seems a bit awkward.

You'd think you could contact the seller to arrange that, wouldn't you? There's even a button for contacting the seller. I've sent a number of emails, and in one case, tracked a source down and left a phone message. Nothing.

I can't even send my own copy of the book, as mine's on Kindle. And my giftee doesn't have a Kindle or an iPad, before you suggest that.

I will take the energy of my frustration and put it into the script I'm writing. Let my producers beware.

I've been reading The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Lemmon, a nonfiction book about a young Afghan woman who starts a dressmaking business under the Taliban. The story begins as the Taliban are rumored to be approaching Kabul; we meet Kamila as she's getting her diploma -- which is about to become a worthless piece of paper -- and stay with her through her new firsts. The first time she looks out a window and sees a woman beaten, knowing intervention would be pointless; the first time she must go to the market accompanied by her younger brother, navigating with difficulty in a chadri with a small, obstructed view of the world. When her parents are forced to leave the city, Kamila must find a way to support her sisters without leaving her home. Though she's never sewn in her life, she decides to start a dressmaking business -- a business that eventually takes over their house and provides a living for a number of families in the neighborhood.

It's an interesting book in all the ways you might imagine; the things that people living under a tyranny can do to help each other, or not; the braveries and the turnings-away; the small dignities and the things that must be let go. The ways that human beings are always more than the sum of their society's rules. The view from the ground when the shelling started.

All that aside, however, I was struck by how much it reminded me of a certain type of science fiction story -- and particularly, of "The Screwfly Solution" by James Tiptree. "Screwfly" is the story of a biological instinct gone wrong. Gradually, in a wave starting out in the tropics, the urge to mate is replaced in human males with an urge to kill. Women (and, of course, some men) begin being violently murdered. No one knows what's happening or why, though all sorts of useless committees meet and the outbreak of "femicide" is deplored. One of the viewpoint characters, a male scientist, returns from an extended stay in the tropics to find a United States that is quietly, eerily different. The hotel he's in seems normal, but when he goes outside he sees that it's mostly men on the street. There's a small group of young women in baggy clothing, subdued and walking quickly; the only lone woman nearby struggles to catch up to them, though she doesn't seem to know them; and wordlessly, they accept her.

At the end, one of the few remaining women realizes the human race has been "treated" by aliens, as we might treat a colony of pests. A simple biological fix to interfere with our reproductive cycle, and the species will end itself, leaving the world untouched and available.

The concept itself is mechanical; the glory is in the execution. The quotation at the beginning of the story is from Schopenhauer: "All man's religion and metaphysics is the language of his glands." The tyranny of instinct (specifically, sexual instinct) and our enslavement to it is one of Tiptree's themes ("A Momentary Taste of Being," "Your Haploid Heart," "Love Is The Plan, The Plan Is Death," "And I Awoke and Found Me Here On the Cold Hill's Side") and she delineates with painful clarity how beautiful, how compelling, instinct seems when we succumb to it. "Painful" clarity because she was clearly not someone who privileged the "natural" or took refuge in the idea that instinct was given us by a merciful God to show us the path. On the contrary, God's will may just be the pretty embroidery we create around what we're already drawn to do by our self-interested DNA. She ran a cold-eyed, investigative stare over the whole process, with a logic that leaves you more uncomfortable when you finish one of her stories than when you picked it up.*

In "The Screwfly Solution," new religions spring up built around misogyny; women are the dirty, wrong, evil part of the human race that God wants gone. When a young soldier has this explained to him -- by the person who killed the woman who was with him -- he's deeply moved, and later says, "It's like he was my father; I can't explain it better than that." You have to think it must also feel right and good when the female preying mantis snaps the head off her mate -- that if mantises were intelligent, that would probably be a sacred moment. Because if something feels deeply meaningful, it must be deeply meaningful, right? Ha, ha, human race. Not in Tiptreeland.

(By the way, one of Tiptree's other major themes is the need for kindness. Of course there's a need for it, in the universe as she presents it. Whenever I re-read her, I'm struck by how the two authors I consider most insightful are so completely different. Surely I can't think both Tiptree and Austen are right about the world? And yet I do.)

But back to Khair Khana. I wasn't reminded of "Screwfly" simply from the Taliban's misogyny. It was the transformation of the familiar world -- the same sort of thing that gives, say, zombie movies their power. The idea that you could be walking peacefully down the street in front of your house, and suddenly a group of apparently normal people will rush toward you and try to chomp out your intestines -- or rush toward you with nightsticks and begin shouting abuse because you spoke too loudly or your clothes rustled when you walked. (Indeed, this was one of the hallmarks of the Taliban's religious police-- they were unpredictable. It wasn't enough to wear a chadri or be accompanied by a male relative or refrain from addressing men. There was no moment of safety.)

When Kamila walks the streets of Kabul, she wears baggy clothes under her chadri. She goes carefully. She makes sure to have her younger brother with her when she can, and to have a story ready. To take the back streets. To not engage notice.

It's a new world. And it happened quickly. Just like in zombie movies.

I remember when "Screwfly Solution" was published, and the author was accused of being a paranoid feminist with an ax to grind. I thought, "You're missing the point of the story! It's not a prediction. It's not about villains, either." And it's still not a prediction, but I never thought that a couple of decades later I'd find eerie similarities. That damned Tiptree was just too good in working out details.

So: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana. I'd feel better if it were science fiction.

* And if you find this view of life as disquieting as I do, you may also enjoy this story by Seth Fried.


Open, Closed, and the Moment They Figure It Out

Posted on 2011.05.09 at 01:17
(Long post warning: we’ll get to some Dr. Who eventually, but bear with me. This is the way I watch television.)

There’s an old Hitchcock anecdote about the difference between suspense and surprise. If a bus suddenly blows up, that’s a surprise. If you see a man get on a bus with a box, and you know there’s a bomb in that box, and you ride along for a little while watching all the ordinary people sitting on the bus and standing in the aisles, not knowing they’re about to be blown to smithereens… that’s suspense.

Another way to describe it is “open” or “closed.” If you’re playing a storyline open, the audience sees and understands everything that’s happening. If you’re playing it closed, the audience doesn’t know a character is even in danger till you pull back the curtain and they gasp.

The Moment, Etc. and Too Many FootnotesCollapse )

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