Reviews are good for you

I semi-regularly review books on the internets and am also fairly active in the Facebook lesfic community. The lesfic community itself is kind of fascinating. There’s this lovely supportive feeling to it, likely because it’s such a small niche and a lot of people are gung ho in their loyalty to their favorite authors. Which is GREAT! It helps people get books sold and helps foster an environment of regular sales and keeps those authors writing! All good things!

However, there is a downside to this that I think needs to be addressed loudly and regularly. This loyalty can result in a flood of positive reviews for books that are objectively terrible. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to Amazon, taken a  gander at the best selling lists, saw glowing reviews for a book with a decent blurb and thought “oh this looks great, I will read it!” Then I drop 8 bucks, start reading and am appalled at what I am seeing. Tons of errors, inabilities to use commas, poor sentence structure, etc. Then I think I must be crazy because so many people think it’s the greatest book ever.

I think there are several problems we could discuss, but only one of which I can really focus on here. I think we need to continue the loyalty (yay support!) but we need to cease and desist immediately the notion of “blind loyalty.” This is the practice of “I love this author and she’s a nice person so even though this book is fundamentally flawed FIVE STARS!” I’m sure that author is super sweet. I’m sure you love her posts on Facebook and you feel like you know her and you really want to be the first to loudly decree “I love you and I will show you by pushing all your books everywhere, no matter the quality!”

We so desperately need more objectivity when we discuss books. We need to think first before reviewing things so we can say “wait, did I really love this book because it’s a good story that is well-developed with complex characters?” Or did I love it because I love everything this author does and “if you say anything critical about their books I hate you and you are mean!” Are there terrible reviewers out there that just give a “this book sux” one-star review? Absolutely. Are there reviewers that go on a long diatribe making accusations about an author’s life, bringing completely unnecessary things into the review? Most definitely! Does this mean that critical reviews should never be posted? FUCK NO.

The entire point of reviews is to let any normal person off the street be able to see if there are any glaring problems with the narrative that are on their “do not tolerate list.” Some people can not stand head-hopping POV’s. If the book does that, please say so. There’s a bunch of other people this doesn’t bother in the slightest, as long as the story is good. Those people will read that review and say “ok that’s fine” and move on. If the book needed more editing, say that. Some people (like me) will get so furious because they are reading a book that is full of grammatical errors, and would never have bought that book if that was apparent. There are other people who couldn’t care less if that’s the case, as long as there’s good sex in it. But the only way people can know that going in is from reviews. We need to stop the practice of using reviews as a way to stroke an author’s ego. Please stop doing that! You are not making reviews better, you are making lesfic WORSE. That practice makes people stop taking chances on new authors because they have been burned too many times.

Yes, there are vindictive authors and their blindly loyal followers that love going after reviewers. But let’s practice what we preach and not let their words bother us. It’s just their opinion, just as your review is just your opinion.

There are other problems, including authors that make a bunch of pseudonyms to upvote their own work. There are also companies on the internet where you can BUY five star Amazon reviews, which saddens me (if you are doing either of those things I hope karma pops your tires). But let’s all work toward making better, more objective reviews (whether they be positive or negative) and better books for us to read! The community benefits from it, I promise.

For another voice on reviews please see this very good blog that discusses a similar problem.

And if you want to see a well-known (and much more eloquent than I) author’s thoughts on critical reviews, hop over to Karin Kallmaker’s blog here.

The Frustrations of an Honest Liar

I am an exceptionally good liar. Which is actually why I don’t lie, because it kind of creeps me out how much I excel at it (except to my wife-I can not lie to her without laughing, for some reason). I don’t like how it makes me feel to lie. And I’ll often sit and think something through when I’m talking to someone, trying to figure out if I am in any way lying to myself about my feelings. “Do I mean this, or is this what I am expected to say so I am saying it?” It makes me dig a little deeper in my mind to get at the full truth of what I am trying to convey.

I am also insanely focused. To a fault, I would argue. When I was a kid, I would be sitting there watching tv, my mom would come home, talk to me, walk in front of me and come back into the room 10 minutes later, but I would have no idea she had come home. Nowadays, if I am knitting, or engrossed in a book, I have an extremely difficult time pulling myself out of my tunnel vision to notice anything whatsoever happening around me. I thought that meant I was always a little bit of an asshole. That I ignored what I didn’t deem important at that moment in time. However, now that I’m older I’m trying to dissect what it is about me that does that. And I think I’ve figured it out. When I am focused on something, it’s almost as if my vision dims and nothing else exists in the world for me. Whatever has my attention right then, is all there is for me.

I also do this when I am trying to figure something out. It could be a puzzle, or a computer problem, a knitting mistake, etc. If something happens (anything really) that I didn’t expect to happen, I feel an unstoppable force making me pull apart all the little causes and effects that led to it happening. When I’m knitting is a good example. I get frustrated when I screw up and will not rest until I fix it to my satisfaction, and determine what it is I did to make that mistake. My wife doesn’t understand why I put myself through this, I’m sure. But there is such an absolute thrill that I feel when I come out on the other side of that frustration. When I can say “that was a mistake/problem, and it almost made me throw everything out the window and burn the house down, but I figured it out, dammit. ”

Sometimes this comes back to bite me in the ass. Let’s say someone tells me ‘X’ happened, but I would expect ‘Y’ to happen. This person might think “You’re obviously not believing me if you’re trying to figure out why ‘X’ happened, instead of just accepting the fact that it did.” I promise that’s not the case at all. What I am trying to understand is what led me to believe that it was X instead of Y? What is the knowledge I was basing this assumption on and where are the faults so that I can reconstruct it? And my mind will not rest until I have figured it out. When I seem frustrated, it is only a frustration directed at myself for not having figured it out yet. And I think that’s ok. Unless it isn’t, in which case I probably am a little bit of an asshole.

So there’s a little snippet into the insanity that is my brain. You’re welcome.

Review-God Help the Girl

I don’t often write up movie reviews on my wordpress, even though I do regular movie discussion podcasts on Cocktail Hour. However, I just got home from seeing Stuart Murdoch’s God Help the Girl and I felt like I had some things I needed to talk about. When I first saw the trailer I was so excited to see this movie. It looked interesting and musical and fun and that’s exactly what I was in the mood for. We follow Eve (played by Emily Browning), who is in a residential facility for the treatment of her severe eating disorder. We don’t really learn much about her past or her family, aside from the fact that she likes to escape her facility a lot. On one such adventure, she meets James (Olly Alexander), and begins to form a friendship with him to last the summer in Glasgow. He introduces her to Cassie (Hannah Murray, aka Samwell Tarly’s girlfriend on Game of Thrones) and they form an indie-pop band featuring Eve’s songs.

Ok, so the movie actually has a lot of great moments in it. Humor and wit and funny little moments that make you smile. However, it is also chock full of Stuart Murdoch’s written music. I have never listened to Belle and Sebastian music. And, I was quite obviously one of the few in the theater that wasn’t a huge fan. Every single song they sang sounded exactly the same. Three chords, simplistic lyrics, and I’m pretty certain there were multiple songs about a tree. I actually wrote two songs in the style of Belle and Sebastian while walking home from the theater. One was about a tree, and the other was about having low blood sugar. Both I’m pretty sure could have been featured in the film, so I’d like my music contract now.

Additionally I felt like this movie tried so hard to be indie that it ended up being too cool for itself. There was lots of Emily Browning staring at the camera while singing, awkward staging and filters, and oh geez the music. They were showing a free concert directly afterwards featuring Belle and Sebastian, and my wife (a singer-songwriter) and I just looked at each other and said “oh please no.” We didn’t bother to stay.

What I don’t get is that this movie took TEN YEARS to be made. Stuart Murdoch started with the songs and developed them until they got fleshed out into a story that could be told on the big screen. Now there were some good musical moments. Emily Browning’s voice was quite dreamy, and when a full band played with them the musicality was nice. However the over-simplicity of the lyrics grated on me until I couldn’t really get much enjoyment out of the film at all.

Do you remember that amazing movie called Once from a while back? Well, this movie was if you took Once, stripped it of it’s incredible emotional musicality, added a tiny bit of humor and an eating disorder and called it a day.

But if you love Belle and Sebastian music, you’ll probably love it. It just wasn’t for me.

God Help the Girl

Oh I am RILED

It seems like lately I only really blog when something really tweaks my pisser. And something DID.

It’s a topic that I rarely see these days just because my friends list has gotten cleaned up. But sometimes, it’ll pop up when you least expect it. The topic? Prejudice in the lesbian community. Basically, lesbians that really don’t like anyone that does not prescribe to a very specific definition of lesbianism. From what I have gathered, this appears to only include women, that were born as women, that have only ever touched women in their lives. Now even if you may fall into that category, you must also not want to be supportive of any group of people that does not fall into that category.

Hi. I’m Nikki. I consider myself pretty gay.

I look pretty gay, usually. Also, cargo shorts.

I have only been with one woman in my entire life. That woman would be my wife. I romantically dated at least 5 guys before I met my wife (not that that’s any of your goddamn business, but it’s relevant to my ire). Did I find these guys disgusting? Nope. They were perfectly adequate. If I weren’t married to my wife would I ever consider being with a man again? Sure! I’m a bit fickle about who’s babies I would have (Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, swooooon). However, I am definitely much more attracted to women (oh hi, Lana Parrilla…) which is why I call myself a lesbian. I also have a handful of very close bisexual friends. Some of them are in long-term relationships with men (gasp). Additionally, I’d bet every single one of them have been in more same-sex relationships than I have, because it’s pretty hard to be in less than one. Does this make me less of a lesbian in your eyes? I don’t really care, honestly. Because I do not measure my merit based on the expectations of others.

Sidenote: For those of you that are confused about what bisexual actually means, it’s pretty fucking simple. It’s someone that has sexual attraction for men and women. That’s it. It has nothing to do with who they are currently sleeping with. NOTHING.

It seems that some people think anyone not following a specific set of rules should not be welcome in groups that are primarily made up of lesbians. I believe wholeheartedly in being inclusive to the LGBTQIA community. I don’t even care how many more letters we add to that. I welcome you all! I am also a firm believer that sexuality exists on a spectrum. The attitude listed above does not allow for that. Well, that may not be true. They probably agree that it exists, they just seem unwilling to participate in any groups that would be inclusive to any but the “L” in LGBTQIA. I want to go on record and say that I am a-ok with that. Anyone is welcome to hang out with and support any damn group of people you want to. You can refuse entry to your special club. It’s a free country, and a free internet (basically). Make your clubs. Put up signs denoting exactly the types of people that you will include so there’s no confusion. Then, when people like me see them we can say “oh fuck no, no thanks.”

You are welcome to do whatever the fuck you want. I am also welcome to do whatever the fuck I want.  But I am telling you right here and right now. If you are of a mind like I described above, you don’t have to worry about rejecting me from your club, because I reject you. Also feel free to block me on facebook. It helps me clean!

“But Nikki, don’t you do podcasts and shows that a bunch of lesbians listen to? Aren’t they gonna stop listening?” Probably. I do that shit for free because I enjoy it. If I lose some listeners, I don’t care. This is more important.

</end rant>

Uncomfortable Comparisons

I tend to talk to my friends a lot about sexuality and peoples’ perceptions that circulate around that topic. You can probably guess that from some of my previous blog posts. But I am also super into self-awareness and how that relates to similarities that are often overlooked for whatever reason. One thing that seems to unify straights and gays together is their distrust of bisexuals. I’ve touched on this in the past, so allow me to expand on it a wee bit. Just hear me out.

When you talk to lesbians (#notalllesbians, I know) about bisexuals, a lot of them will say “I don’t trust them, she’ll just end up with a man.” So really, they only like lesbians. Now ask straight guys the same question. A lot of them (#notallstraights, I GET IT) will answer similarly, suggesting the only “bisexuals” they like are drunk girls at college kissing girls to turn a man on. So basically, they only like straight woman that kissed another woman. You can read more about my thoughts on bisexuals and experimenters here.

Now onto a slightly different (but I promise is eventually related) topic. There’s a lot of discussion on the internets about guys feeling like they are owed sex from women. These are the guys that keep using the term “friendzoned.” They like women who don’t like them back romantically and begin to feel resentment towards women that don’t. Now, let’s talk about lesbians that fall for their straight friends, or bisexuals, or other lesbians even (are you still with me?) These women want their friend to begin liking them romantically. They are there for them. They listen to them. They will do anything for them. And they may begin to resent their friends for not giving them what they feel they will eventually get if they stick around long enough. Now, how is that not the same thing? If you hear a lesbian talk about a woman that she never had a happily-ever-after with, and you hear her say negative things about that person for not returning her advances, how is that not exactly the same thing? I argue that it is. And resenting someone for not returning your feelings (whether you are a man or a woman) is unilaterally unacceptable. You can see my blog post all about the mentality of entitlement here.

It seems to me that the men and women that I have described parallel each other really closely, but would likely never admit it. Now, let’s move onto sexism (because I haven’t pissed off enough people yet). I have friends across the country that represent quite the spectrum of sexuality, looks, and experiences. I have also heard stories (and witnessed some instances) of lesbians slapping other women on the ass (without their permission) and have heard statements that boil down to “women in skirts can’t be taken seriously.” I have heard things like that from lesbians about other women. That a woman in a skirt is somehow lesser than a woman that wears a suit. That she is there to be pretty, basically. Now the vast majority of lesbians really aren’t like that. But I believe there are an uncomfortable number of women who are. If you saw a man slap a woman on the ass or say the things I am talking about, we would jump up enraged that he would dare be so sexist. But when a lesbian does it it’s ok because a woman can’t be sexist? I call bullshit on that. Sexism is sexism, and if you think guys are assholes for doing something but you then turn around and do the same thing, you’ve got problems.

 

Vivid dreams and goodbyes

A very good friend of mine lost  his battle with brain cancer recently, and I’ve been kind of torn up about it. I haven’t had much experience with people being taken from this earth way too early, and it has been a difficult adjustment. I knew it was coming, but you can never really be prepared for something like that. You always think you’ll see them one last time up to the very end. I am glad that I told him I loved him every time I saw him in the last 6 months, and he said it back, so I feel at peace with how we left it. But still, it’s awful. It makes you rage at how cancer can pass up a million assholes but attack one of the greats.

I think I’ve had a lot of stress lately because of it, which I’m sure contributed to the four day sinus headache I had this week, finally culminating in a migraine last night. I went to bed early and ended up having some of the most vivid dreams I’ve had in a very long time. Now, I’ve always been a vivid dreamer. My dreams are like short movies where I can see vibrant colors, feel many different emotions, and recognize textures by touch. They have plots and even have fully fleshed-out characters sometimes. Those dreams stick with me, and there are some nightmares that I remember every detail of even though it’s been at least a decade since I experienced it.

Well last night one dream in particular really hit me. I came into work and saw a coworker helping the newly deceased Mel bringing furniture into his lab space. I walk over and offer to help, and excited to see Mel again, I go over to him to give him a big hug. He jumps back, hands pulled back and says “oh no, I’m dead, don’t touch me. Trust me, you’ll think it’s weird.” I stopped in my tracks for a few moments before grabbing an end of a table to help him move it. More and more people showed up, some I recognized, some I didn’t. They were all a bit emotional, but all helped him consolidate his things. I came to realize we were helping him bring all his stuff together so that his family could come and bring them all home the next day.

It was so nice to see him again, and he was his old self. He had energy, smiled easily, and was joking with everyone while packing up the pieces of his life. At one point I was looking down and organizing something when I heard him say “Ok it’s time for me to go now.” When I looked up, Mel was quickly becoming whiter and whiter, and ice was forming on his body. I reached out to him and touched the tip of his fingers, which were now blue, cold and damp. The next thing I knew, he was just gone and I started bawling uncontrollably. My coworker and friend (he was her mentor) broke down and I hugged her for long minutes while everyone tried to process that he was really gone now.  I’m crying a bit now just writing about it.

I think I needed this dream. Yes it was hard to experience, but I felt like it gave me some closure, because it allowed me to go back to a time when the tumor in his brain hadn’t yet erased us all from his memory. Do I think this was Mel coming back to say goodbye? I don’t know. I’m sure it was my brain working through the stages of grief, but it’s a nice thought that he would say goodbye.

His memorial service is tomorrow.

Yarn therapy

Way back in 2008, my former work spouse Judy told me that I was too fidgety and that I needed to either start smoking or take up knitting. She was a knitter, and knew that having something constructive to do with your hands could help center and calm you. Or, it could make you murder people with sticks out of sheer frustration. 50/50 chance.

I decided to take her up on it. I had spent so much time staring at her needles while she was creating something and it just didn’t make SENSE. I kept trying to logically understand how the moves she was making could possibly result in different textures in the yarn. She kept telling me “stop trying to figure it out, just accept that it works.” Once she showed me how to knit and purl, I made one practice square and then I went kind of insane. Something about it automagically clicked with me and I started making hats. A lot of hats. Then scarves and gloves and bears and dragons, etc.

However,I never really learned how to read patterns, and every time I tell myself “ok let’s do this, let’s use a pattern,” I spend approximately 3 seconds looking at something someone painstakingly figured out and made explicit instructions for and I have no frickin clue what they’re talking about. It’s just letters and numbers and k2tog m1 ssk blah blah blah. So instead I just say “ok it needs to generally look like that? Then I’ll just screw around until I figure it out my damn self.” This means that I have never properly learned how to do lace work or change colors or do anything particularly useful. If you are looking for instruction, I’ll happily help, but don’t expect for it to be the “right way” to do anything. I feel like an idiot going to yarn stores, because they ask what style of knitter I am, and “did you see our new malabrigo? Oh you must!” I had no idea there were styles of knitting and couldn’t care less what malabrigo is. I know that people who sneer at acrylic yarn love it, though. Look, I only spend more than 5 bucks on a skein if there is a REALLY GOOD reason for me to. Piss off, cashmere. We don’t want your kind here. What’s that, Caron Simply Soft for 3.99? I’ll take 6!

But really, what I want to talk about is what knitting does for me. When I said it can center you, that’s 100% accurate. If I am having a terrible morning (such as this morning) and everywhere I turn things irritate me (ugh Sun you are warm and delightful and PISSING ME OFF), I turn on my mellow playlist and start yarning. I sit there and the rest of the world fades away. All my troubles, all my worries get set aside. Sure, the problems are still there when I’m done, but they’re muted, because I’m not ramping myself up about things that I can’t do anything about at that exact moment. You know that saying that goes “I knit so I don’t kill people”? It’s true.

I also believe it makes me a more generous person. I went to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival last month and someone asked if they could sit by me and my wife to eat lunch and she said “why am I even asking, look where I am, of course you guys are nice!” And it’s true! Every single person there was kind, generous and welcoming. Even the most selfish knitter I know (self-proclaimed) still spends hours on presents for newborn relatives and friends occasionally. It is an extremely generous art form at it’s core. There are groups all over the internet of yarn crafters making hats for homeless people, veterans, battered women, cuddle monsters for children exposed to domestic violence, the list goes on and on. And there are yarn bombers that spread colorful joy in the simple act of making a hat for a statue, or a cozy for a tree. Just a little bit of art but it never fails to brighten someone’s day when they see it.

Honestly, I believe even the most generous yarn gift is also kind of selfish. It genuinely gives me endless pleasure to give someone something I made. There’s gratitude and surprise in their eyes that you get to witness because they appreciate it, knowing you spent a lot of energy making something specifically for them. It’s like a physical embodiment of telling someone “I spent 20 hours (or more) on this for you because you deserve it. You are worth the effort to me.” But it’s also selfish, because the act of passing on these items is good for our own souls. It makes me a better human, and I firmly believe I would be an angrier person if I stopped.

Which is also why I really don’t sell things I make anymore. It made it feel like a job, and there is just no way to knit fast enough to make it worthwhile without charging a fortune. I have a very small circle of friends (and family) that I will make anything for (within reason). You all know who you are. There are others, of course, that I like to make things for simply because I know they would never ever expect to get something. Those are my favorites. Then it’s like a little love bomb.

I am so glad I found you, yarn. I will love you forever.