Thursday, April 27, 2006

free wireless at the library

My network was down and so I headed over to the library to get some work done. It was surprisingly cosy, pleasant, and welcoming out on the sidewalk on Middlefield Road. Free wireless, cafe tables with umbrellas, and really good music on decent speakers... the only thing missing was an espresso cart. About 30 high school kids were there in a nebulous swarm, chatting, and I'd say over half of them texting on their cell phones. Something was being arranged... a lot of them were waiting for some other group which finally showed up and they all went into the library.

I remarked on the niceness of the "internet library cafe" to this guy in the photo and then on impulse was like, "Hey! Can I blog you?" He was slightly taken aback. "Yes." (unspoken: wtf! why is this little riot nrrd taking my photo? ) He (Bob) seemed like he could handle it just fine. Alas, I looked at the web site on his card and there's nothing there! But now I'm totally wondering if he's This guy and we were totally sharing a technological and social infrastructre? Or was he this guy and I could have had a fascinating conversation about the Khmu dialects & linguistics? Or is he the CTO of this company? Maybe he's ALL OF THEM.... But if so, what's with the cheap Vistaprint card and broken web site, dude?

Menlo Park... Palo Alto... check... tons of laptops. Redwood City? Not so much. I guess we're gentrifying. I hope the town doesn't lose its cool character as it gets richer and more silicon-valley-ish.

I wish some of those teenagers would have given me their myspace addresses.

Work on my thesis was horribly derailed by the lack of network at home - and by my having to pound on fixing it all day long. (After a lot of floundering, labelling everything in our co-housing network closet, 2 calls to comcast, and buying a new router, which helped, it finally was solved by upgrading my airport firmware and a restart/reset.)

The great thing about the library net cafe: I felt like it was really a public space, being used properly. A public square. There were no obnoxious rules, you didn't have to buy anything, you didn't have to be there for a particular reason. You could just hang out. No one came to give the teenagers a hard time (I *hate* that when I see it, and always speak up to point out how dumb it is.) We all spoke to each other - kids, guy in suit, and the kind of skeevy looking hairy guy in the painty shorts who was regaling the kids with stories of past drug busts as they tried to control their eye rolling and smirking and kind of failed. Anyway, it's a really nice public space. And right across from City Hall, too!

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006


While I'm writing all this feminist criticism I do find that I spend a lot of time describing and refuting sexist criticism.

There should actually be a special category or word for works that especially offend, that are so egregiously sexist that they sting feminist to action. They make it all very clear. Really, work like this does us a favor. It needs special mention, a category of its own.

This occurred to me the other night as I was talking about feminist science fiction with Laura Quilter. What to put in the femsf wiki? I was trying to argue for this "worst offenders" category for feminist sf. What are the books that outraged me when I was 12, and made me suddenly realize I was not, as a girl, included in (male) universalist claims to represent humanity? What made me shriek, "Hey! That's not ME... and it pretends to be. So I better stand up, say something, and represent." What are the touchstones of sexist thought?

Instantly a few revolting candidates spring to mind... Asimov's Foundation trilogy, and certainly Podkayne of Mars. For me, I think, attempts to create the "plucky girl" stood out more strongly than the usual objectifications of women in fantasy and SF. I identified with John Carter of Mars easier than I did Arkady Darrell, for god's sake.

Well, I'm led to think of all this again as I contemplate the horrors of Sidonie Rosenbaum's "Modern Women Poets of Spanish America." It sounds good, doesn't it? But its horrible sexism was one of the main inspirations for me to translate Juana de Ibarbourou's work. Rosenbaum praises and insults Ibarbourou sometimes in the very same sentence - she'll refer to her freshness and sponteneity and then "lack of profundity" and "superficiality of thought." She's primitive, she's ardent, etc. It's a classic example of what (in How to Suppress Women's Writing) Joanna Russ calls denial of agency. It's as if the poetry just flowed unconsciously from Ibarbourou's "brain"... not that Rosenbaum thinks she has a brain, so I should probably say "flowed unconsciously from her very being." As soon as Ibarbourou writes about anything other than "take me now, i'm nubile and willing!" then the critics slam down on her for being a) pretentious b) boringly intellectual c) pretending to have understood suffering d) being obscure e) being too complicated. Even though they were previously saying she wasn't complicated or mature ENOUGH.

Well, it's endlessly annoying.

My point is, in part, that I have a strong impulse to slam the people who are trying to make anthologies of women writers and who do it in a way that exacerbates the entire sexist discourse of what women write and how and why and whether it's "really" any good or not.

This means that as I leap into publishing my thoughts on the subject I will be criticizing pretty much everyone else in my field.

Luckily most of them are dead.

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Flora & Fauna & poems, oh my

Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.
I help to organize the Art21 series of poetry readings in Palo Alto, and am going to miss tonight's reading. But I had to drop by in the afternoon to drop off the amp and microphone, and so got to meet Becca Goldman, the artist whose work is up in the gallery right now. I really enjoyed her graceful paintings... and it was nice to meet another sort of punky GenX-y person (she has a tattoo inside her ear) who is seriously into beauty in this complicated but gentle way. I sometimes write about punk rock lesbians smoking crack in the gutter while smashing guitars, and sometimes about lilies and egrets bending gracefully in the moonlight, so I'm down with the multiple facial piercings next to bunny rabbits and camellias.

I also love her for watching M. for a minute while I ran back to the car for the amplifier! She showed him a book about elephants who paint - he was charmed - and I tried to make him have an Educational Experience by pointing out that Becca was an Artist and look at all her paints and palette and stuff... "She is an Artist, just like your Auntie." M. acted nonchalant. I think he does not like to be observed in the act of learning something - he likes to know everything already when you tell him, but that's difficult when you're only 6 years old.

Tonight's reading features Sharon Olson and Murray Silverstein - both with books from Sixteen Rivers Press. I haven't yet read Sharon's book, "The Long Night of Flying," but I've heard her read for years at Waverley Writers, at Jeff Grinnell's Tuesday nights at the cafe on California Avenue, at the old San Jose Arts League, and at Art21. So I'm extra sorry not to get to hear her read a lot of her work all at once - it's good!

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Friday, April 14, 2006

all the poets, they studied rules of verse....

It's not the first time I've noticed but I'm annoyed this morning at how Spain is apparently not part of "European poetry". It must take a lot of effort to keep doing the Spain Is Invisible Dance.

You know a lot about medieval French verse forms? Great! I love you! Bring it on! But you don't know everything, so don't act all like, You Are Europe. (Note the sidebar.) And Spain, how is that Not-Europe? All the Germanic languages? Everything else? (Oh... we meant only the most important and influential European forms.)

Of course we all know what it is. It's paternity anxiety, cultural inheritance, and the geneological tree - in that model, it goes Greece- Rome - Italians - France. Potency, real virility, can only reside in one cultural empire at a time, in the head of the household. Bastards aren't so important in that family tree and in fact might even be embarrassing. And there is room for only one tree. The whole rest of the world is bastards.

Is it too much to hope for, that the AAP might just mention Uncle Garcilaso or Uncle de Leon?

Leaving aside the bigger questions of the poetic forms of the entire rest of the world which also might... just might... have "influenced" someone.

"... and the ladies, they rolled their eyes."

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

More about the SXSWi women's visibility panel

(reposted) Here's my notes from before the panel. It's still rough notes - I tried to lay out the idea very quickly.

I also want to note that Ayse, Jan, Tara, Virginia and I all talked a lot over email and then again before our panel, and it was super interesting to see the evolution of our conversation. And I hope we can all post some of those conversations as well as what we said on the panel!

An immodest proposal

We need protocols for identifying authorship. At BarCamp at many of the women's discussions, we talked about people as tag clouds. Gender is just one of the possible tags. Put gender, identity into html markup just like the xfn markup for relationships. Or create some other protocol or standards.

Try doing some studies. We know what importance rankings look like with a genderblind algorithm. Then try labelling authorship and identities, try dividing the web and see what happens. Actually test it. Then re-integrate.

If you are going to ask a question like "who are the most important/relevant (to a topic) women bloggers" then you need to be able to identify them. Right now we can't.

Other people could maybe tag or ID you, but your self-identification is the one that counts in the most important way for most algorithms.

More information is good. The individual author or blogger has control over their own flexible cloud of identities. More information could then be put into transparent algorithms that are flexible, so you can have a technorati-like engine but adjust it to your own (or someone else's ) vision of importance.

Think of it like thermodynamics... through the identity-tag webs, right now you have a power imbalance on the net echoing existing power inequalities. I have this whole weird analogy of patriarchy as maxwell's demon, as an invisible, imaginary gatekeeper that keesp imbalances going. If this system existed, then, what mechanisms would you invent to reverse its workings? You can't kill Maxwell's Demon - that's not allowed, and it's just too hard. Making it past the gatekeeper on an individual level is how you get tokenized, and it also keeps up the myth of meritocracy. You have to invent structural workarounds, other maps and roads.

It's cheaper to experiment with restructuring technological spaces than it is to restructure society.

I think women need to be visible *to each other* in order for important conversations to develop. Trying to be "genderblind" doesn't help women, because we still have many systemic inequalities which stack the deck against us. I think self-identification in the form of tagging, or identity authentication like I've heard Kaliya (Identity Woman) talk about, or a new XML standard, would help with this: if we're going to ask who the most important women bloggers are, then we need to be able to find them in the first place. I'm arguing for identity-based markup and search, not just for all genders, but for any kind of identity like race, multiracial identifications, class, ethnicities, age. Authorship and identity in the mind of a reader (and the mind of a search algorithm) can't be separated. Self-identification should be differentiated from the ways other people identify an author. Visibility should also be broken down into frames of references, so that we can ask, "visible to who?"

For example, we could do a gender-based technorati search to see which women other women think are important; then which women men think are important; then which women everyone does - and see if those rankings are drastically different. I suspect they would be different, and those differences would be *interesting information*.

We need many ways of looking at visibility. If I'm a firefly, I don't care if humans see me. I want other fireflies to see me. Humans might *want* to perceive me. Or to put it another way, if I were an alien fnnargh artist, doing the fine art of fnnargh for other aliens, those aliens would want to be able to judge my fnnarghing compared to other aliens' fnnarghing. Humans might think fnnarghing is totallly hilarious and weird and cool, and so they might want to be able to find it too and talk about it compared to opera; but the aliens don't *care* what the humans think or how Snarx's Forty-Third Fnnargle is really similar to Wagner. And if they do, they can search on what humans think, or on what humans think with a little bit of what aliens think weighed into the mix. In other words, we need identity, authorship, and open, flexible search parameters.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

the poetics of programming

I've been getting tech recruiter calls steadily for the last few years. They've stepped up in the last couple of months. The deal is, I don't have control over an old server I used to be on, and so can't change or take down a set of old web pages including my resume from 2001! So headhunters see 1999-present as a programmer and start drooling. Since I lost my job in late 2001 in the crash, and had 6 months of futile jobhunting... I have not kept my hand in with the programming. I told this to today's recruiter, who blustered, "Aw, you'd be back up to speed in a month!" While this is true, I'm not sure where I stand on going back into a tech job.

If the people were super smart and nice... and know how to communicate... and are sane... and the job was poking around in someone else's giant mess of Perl hackery and twiddling it... I would likely be quite happy. There is something nice about a huge data set and messing around with it and "seeing" into it various ways. On the back end - not live. And about the process of understanding someone else's code... very much like the logic of translation. I especially enjoyed the spamhunting part of my old job, where I could imagine being a keen detective or a spy. I'd go back to translating 1 night a week and on one weekend, like I did when I worked at That One Dead Search Engine Company. But is the company high-pressure and will they want me 12 hours a day? No way could I do that!

The thought of having oodles of money again is tempting. I could save it up like crazy. And yet I could also be quite happy with my plan of teaching community college part time and finishing the Wittig book and then the huge anthology.

going to talk to them. Mostly because their site is good and slick. If it was dumb I would not be tempted for a second.

I'm on the fence!

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Lambda Lit night

I blame the Lambda Award reading last night and "Betty's List" for this photo of me feeling good and just a little tipsy. I will now regale you with my shallow comments on fashion! And a few responses to the actual literature!

The reading was in the Hispanic Room at the SF Public Library. "Do you think there will be real food? Or just cheese and crackers?" I asked... "Oh, they said 'catered' so probably something like real food. Maybe. But you might be allergic to all of it." The food was great; these endive apple cheese things, tomatoes and mozzerella with basil leaves, sandwichy wrap things, hellish lemon squares and brownies. All good and super fresh...

The room started to fill up. I bought a copy of Bullets and Butterflies: Queer Spoken Word Poetry. Between being tired, distracted by thoughts of my giant anthology project, and stuffing myself full of the mozzerella tomato things, I wasn't feeling too chatty. But I did talk with Horehound, and with Nikos Diaman who is an artist and novelist and was super nice. And then I went up to talk to Charlie and complimented the chick she was talking to's nifty fluttery-sleeved black gauzy trench coat thing, and she turned to me automatically in this certain way that was graciously accepting of my starry-eyed fangirl love, which was great except I had no idea who she was even when she said her name - it was Kate Braverman. I must fit the profile of her adoring fans... perhaps I'll join the throng of KB minions out there! She seemed rather mad and charming. "Are you a writer?" "Er, mutter mutter, um, yup." "You are? How come I haven't heard of you then?" I'm sure she meant it kindly. I'll hear her read this Saturday at Writers with Drinks!

Some library guy introduced things. Gayly. Then Charles Flowers did some more introducing and talked about the Lambda Awards & how they're important to the country... to declare our diversity and say "here is the best of what we're making, and it's part of the mainstream of culture too." I applauded this heartily!

Charlie Anders read from her fantastic novel "Choir Boy" - a few pages where Berry, a teenager who has started taking hormones so his voice won't break, gets awarde the "mack hat" by his fellow choristers and then talks to his choir director about music and "signal vs. noise". "If music is just about itself, then what makes it ... goddy?" I've read Choir Boy twice. I highly recommend it! Charlie's retro-stylish black dress fit her curves perfectly and I also loved her shiny-toed velvet and vinyl pumps. The dress was also cute with sneakers and a leather jacket, later.

Joshua Gamson read from "The Fabulous Sylvester." Great writing, I could listen to his descriptions of Sylvester's outfits and sparkling charisma all day long... I kept thinking of the feeling I get when I listen to "Mighty Real"... this sort of angelic utopian quality, ethereal and soaring... the sort of angel who would prance around in public in a dress made entirely of aluminum pie plates and silver angelhair christmastree tinsel. One sort of hoped... that the professorial dignity of Joshua Gamson himself might be influenced by his material... but no, he was something of a prepster. Maybe he was secretly wearing spangled underwear.

Let's listen to "Mighty Real" right now! Wooooo!

Tirza True Latimer then read from her book about women in Paris in the 1920s and lesbian visual coding. Like, how to tell if someone were queer or not from the subtle details of their outfit. Latimer's outfit had already been knocking my socks off, kind of an understated classy pimp butch thing, with a bronze satin wide-collared button down shirt and an oceanic swirly blue tie that made me think of all the modernista poetry and the ocean nymphs wearing only a blush and sea-mist. Well, Latimer went on to define exactly what we mean or don't mean by "Lesbian" and to complicate that word in the finest of academic-ese so that I felt I knew what she meant even though I didn't. I wondered if she had read Margaret Reynolds' "The Sappho Companion" and what she thought of its construction of what Sappho meant to artists and writers in the 20s and also felt like having a good long conversation about the public reception of "The Songs of Bilitis". Then I'd make out with her modernista necktie.

Katia Noyes read a bit out of Crashing America, a part "about guns and sex". It was awesome... I can't wait to read the book. I can't even talk about Katia's outfit because it was too cute. I wanted to steal her dress right off her.

Ursula Steck read from one of her mystery novels, a scene with two women in the woods, some creepy guys with baseball bats, and a dead maggoty raccoon. Eeep! Scary! She was dressed in black and had a cute nerdy butch dyke look with spiky black hair, thick-framed glasses, and black wheelchair. She totally had a matching girlfriend. "All in black" sounds goth but the effect was NOT goth but overwhelmingly library-nerd-hot.

Horehound read his poem "bottom who doesn't"... "A butch motherfucker with a twelve-year-old girl at my inner core/ I'm a huge sissy and one of the original punk rockers..." I love Horehound because I'm totally the opposite. I'm a twelve year old girl with a butch motherfucker at my core. And whenever I dress up like a guy I copy Horehound's punk sissy look. I hope he doesn't mind.

Mattilda then pranced... sashayed... runwayed... up to the front of the room to deliver a rousing diatribe against the title of her own book, Best Gay Erotica. We are against bad, boring, ho-hum erotica that follows the genre constructed with tame meekness! And we are against boring limiting constructions of ultramasculine masculinity and we are definitely not into Gay! We were all ready to start roaring and rioting. I think some gay guys hung their heads in shame, then ran out of the room to put on plaid pants and tear up the streets. But that was just the intro. The story, DogBoy and the Beta Goth, was an edgy story about two teenage boys named alec and ben. Nadyalec and Ben read us the story with irrepressible bouncy cuteness. They were ineluctably masculine, just like James Tiptree, Jr. I loved the story... and their outfits. Nadyalec was in a black nerdy-sissy outfit with a pink striped tie from hot topic. It is no wonder people sometimes mistake us for each other (only when my hair is slicked back.) Ben was gothy. And Mattilda was resplendent. I want to write poetry to his amazing outfits of stripey plaid flowery rainbowed glory! I used to get sent upstairs by my mom to change for wearing just such ensembles! They do my heart good.

Amber Flora Thomas read poems from "Eye of Water". I particularly remember one about the urge to carve names into wood and about love. They were sweet poems... I felt that I could not judge them without seeing them for myself... Amber's outfit was cute, mostly black, notably cute necklace with a big semi-precious stone... I did not figure out what kind of stone but maybe it had super crystal lesbian powers or emotional significance!

Then Katherine Forrest, who was nominated in three categories, read from her intro to Lesbian Pulp Fiction, all about how seeing (and, choking with fear, buying) an Ann Bannon novel in Detroit in 1957 changed her life and in fact saved her life. I bought Lesbian Pulp Fiction, which looks GREAT. We had a nice talk afterwards about SF and the wonders of Suzette Haden Elgin's books, newsletters, blog, emails, Laadan, philosophy; in short we are fellow inhabitors of the Suzette Haden Elgin Empire or Utopian Vision. I don't remember Forrest's outfit at ALL which probably means it reached a pinnacle of lesbian understatement. Probably you aren't supposed to notice it. Anyway, today I read Forrest's own pulp SF novel "Daughters of the Emerald Dusk" and ... well I kind of laughed my head off. I am totally going to send it to Nick Mamatas, I know he will LOVE it. It's sort of like the lesbotopian drug-orgy version of "Childhood's End" by Arthur C. Clarke. And it's pulpy to the MAX.

We went off to Lesbian Night at this bar and restaurant, Mecca, on Market Street which if I were a REAL lesbian hipster instead of a pretend one, I would have already been to. Instantly I ran into the organizer of the event, Betty of Betty's List, and tried to take her picture. It came out too dark. If you go to Mecca on Thursday night, do not have a lemon drop. Have a mojito. The virgin mojitos are also good. Anyway, we hung out with Elizabeth Stark, who wrote Shy Girl, and Angie and Katia and Wendy, and had a great time! It was far too crowded but still fun... and the drinks were expensive but the fries were cheap, delicious, hot, and came in a sort of bottomless basket of salty greasy-yet-still-chi-chi goodness.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

damning with faint praise and no space

After two years of research, reading prefaces to anthologies of Latin American poetry and descriptions of women poets in literary histories, I'm a veteran of hateful sexism. You'd think I'd be inured to it.   But this sentence dripped with such venom I thought I'd share it and perhsps that would defuse some of its power:

"She acheived a sort of stark and uncompromising beauty that came very close to justifying the 1945 Nobel Prize she received at a time when Reyes, Neruda, and Borges were all still very active."

Thanks, Rodríguez Monegal... *sarcasm*. Why not just say right out, "Mistral did not deserve the Nobel Prize" and then explain why you think so?

There's another phenomenon I keep seeing. A critic will praise a woman poet's work to the skies, but then won't discuss it; instead, will briefly describe the woman's life, family, and reputation, while giving all the critical attention (and lots of space) to male poets who are not better writers. For example, Anderson-Imbert called María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira "the nucleus of Uruguayan poetry" and of modernismo; he praises her high level of complex thought and her technical perfection; but then he wraps her up in two paragraphs, following up with five pages in detail about Julio Herrera y Reissig, whom he calls "not a great poet..." If he's not a great poet and Vaz Ferreira is, why did she get two paragraphs and he got five pages?

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