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I'm here. I can't seem to buckle down and write anything fictional… - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
I'm here. I can't seem to buckle down and write anything fictional lately. (Literally, I'm not even writing crappy stuff; I'm just opening my files and going, "I know I know how to do this! So, you know... inspiration... kick in...? Any time now would be good."

Anyway, just to check in.

A friend of mine from home just posted on FB that she saw silos and it made her want to go home. It's weird, but I know exactly what she means. I'm not and never was a farm girl, but when I went home last summer and smelled the farms (it was right after a rain, and you can smell them in the middle of town), I just thought, "Oh, yeah. That's what it smells like to be in a place. It smells like cows and corn." And the lake... I never did get to the lake. It's just a little one, about two miles long and half a mile wide. But there's a public dock, and you can just hang there and groove on the breeze and the smell of seaweed and cut grass.

The town I grew up (in Western New York) in was... well, not entirely poor, but with a significant segment of it. According to Wiki, about 8.7% of the people are below the poverty line. Even those who weren't weren't exactly well-off as people I know now would understand it. I was always broke, but it was never a thing that mattered all that much there, because everyone else was, too. Traveling anywhere was a major expense, and people would prepare for months and talk about it for years afterward. A girl in my girl scout troop had never ridden an escalator until we went to Buffalo when we were ten. Lots of people wore hand-me-downs, welfare day was a huge deal, and the streets were largely filled with old clunkers of cars. The old Yankee notion of "Make do or do without" still held some sway, though it often defaulted to "do without."

People had parties in barns and fields and garages, with "fancy" wedding receptions at the Grange hall or maybe the Volunteer Fireman's Hall. (And yes, the fire department is volunteer and they hold a carnival and a barbecue every year to raise money.) Food for these was often homemade. Renting out a hotel and spending thousands on catering weren't unheard of, but they were definitely considered kind of pretentious. The sidewalks in a lot of neighborhoods were uneven, cracked, broken, and grown through with grass, and nobody particularly cared. Most of the kids when I was a kid were heavy metal fans. Someone had spray-painted "It's only teenage wasteland" on a concrete barrier wall in the early 80s (the wall was cracked and grass was trying to grow through the cracks; the soil is crazy fertile and anywhere you don't specifically kill plants, they grow wild), and someone had painted beside it, "Fuck the kids." That stayed there literally for years.

Every year, they have the Sea Serpent festival, commemorating a hotel owner at the lake who tried to con people with a fake sea serpent. There's a beauty/talent contest and parade, with all the contestants up on pickup truck floats decorated with Kleenex flowers. (I was shocked to find out that the teenagers I work with now had never picked up the art of Kleenex carnations. I had to do it for at least three babysitters when I was a kid!) They're sponsored by local businesses (my friend -- who won the year my class was eligible; "I am the Queen Sea Hag!" she announced all year -- was Miss [Local restaurant]), and so are the Little League teams.

The county still has more cows than people, but there are fewer dairy farmers now than there used to be. (Still a lot, but not as much of a percentage.) The textile mills are all closed. The cookie factory moved, though something else has moved in. There are some gentrifiers out there now trying to introduce a microbrewery, and good luck to them; it's a beer town, if nothing else. But mostly, there's a lot of scrabbling for work and commuting as far as Rochester to get it.

I'm not sure what I want to say. Maybe something as cliched as we all have our own bone-felt concept of "reality." I love Boston dearly, but only felt comfortable on the outskirts -- the working class neighborhoods in Medford and Brighton, where yards sometimes went to riot and chestnuts fell on the sidewalk. Going into work downtown was taking a trip to the city, though the city felt more real than the well-tended suburbs with their gardeners and zoning regulations. I remember the first time I heard of someone actually getting in trouble for having dandelions on the lawn and I literally didn't believe it. I thought someone was pulling my leg, or just making a joke like they would in The Onion about how uptight people could be. I grew up making dandelion chains and bouquets. (I kind of loved in The Hunger Games that dandelions were treated like the little wonders that they are.) I only believed it provisionally when I found out that people weren't allowed to hang out their laundry. I've finally accepted that these sorts of things are, well, things, but they still make me shake my head in wonder at this alien custom.

This isn't so much about wanting to go back -- I do, but, in a way, to exorcise the demons of childhood more than to feel nostalgia -- as it is about having lived in a lot of realities over the years. I remember going to college and meeting kids who could rattle off the best nightclubs in New York or London, but had never seen a cow up close. People I grew up with would undoubtedly contrast them with "real" people, but their reality is also real to them. People in suburbs worrying about the effect of dandelions in the neighbors' yards on the value of their own hard-won property are also living in a reality, even if it's one that doesn't feel real to me. (Honest to God, Panem and Hogwarts feel more real to me than the suburbs.) People spend a lot of time trying to convince other people that their realities are the "real" realities, and whatever reality the other person knows is clearly a false reality. I think, sociologically, that this is huge waste of time and energy. I feel like we could accomplish a lot more if we acknowledged one another's realities. Like, for a big business owner, it's an absolute reality that undercutting from cheaper labor elsewhere can put him out of business and end up costing all of his employees jobs. Likewise, it's the laborer's reality that he or she can't work for peanuts in a world where you need things like internet connections and high tech equipment to function. (And yes, even now, computers are, in fact, expensive investments to some of us. Anything with more than two figures in the price is something I have to scrimp and save for.) If both parties acknowledge the other party's reality, wouldn't they be able to come up with a workable solution faster than if one screams, "You greedy hoarder!" and the other replies, "Lazy parasite!" I mean, really, how far can that conversation go? We all need to start working together again.

Sigh and shrug.

Anyway, random thoughts on a Monday afternoon.
16 comments or Leave a comment
shiiki From: shiiki Date: September 19th, 2017 07:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Sorry about the writer's block! I know how annoying that is. I hope inspiration does return soon!

I feel like we could accomplish a lot more if we acknowledged one another's realities.

I love the way you put that. Like beyond accepting that everyone's different, it's about respecting that we all have reasons for why we think and feel the way we do, and it sort of validates all that.

(Also, sea serpent festival sounds amazing!)
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 19th, 2017 08:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Great random thought though, and it reminds me of the pieces you wrote of Plutarch as a young man in Panem, trying to help communities and everything going to hell through no fault of his and everyone being priced out of their homes. Its because you get that there are multiple realities and you don't actually hold someone elses reality against them.

It makes you practically unique.

As an Australian, we scratch our heads down here and wonder what the HELL is wrong with America? The guns? The poverty? All this housing in the way of tornado's? The ghouls making billions out of health care unchecked? And every so often we'll tell social media friends 'you should get universal healthcare because its really good. No it doesn't cost too much. Seriously, how much is your life worth? Well its worth the same amount to your neighbour.' and we look at Trump and then we look away.

I wish you were politically inspired Fern. If nothing else, your campaign would be properly spelled and might have something close to facts in it.

Sigh and Shrug

Willow at work (who is going home now I swear)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 19th, 2017 07:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, one problem with our politics is that it's turned so vicious that only complete sociopaths are willing to subject themselves and their families to the attack campaigns. I'm... definitely not willing. I'd work a campaign or write for a campaign if I found someone I believed in, but holding public office? Not this chickadee. ;p

As to the issues? Gun ownership is just a right, considered fundamental, and gun owners who know they're not committing crimes are furious about essentially being accused of being would-be criminals and having their own rights restricted because other people are using things illegally. They point out that the worst gun crime here happens in municipalities where the gun laws are toughest -- after all, if you're planning to commit murder, it's not likely you're going to worry about whether or not your gun is legal.

Health care is just the perfect storm of problems. One of the main ones is simply that we've gotten so partisan that if Party A says one thing, Party B is required to say the other, and God help anyone who compromises. (It's the same with immigration.)

Another problem is that we have a vast population and the number of medical professionals isn't high enough. No matter who pays, the scarcity issue remains.

Another one is the belief that the market can solve anything eventually. (One solid suggestion from this camp is to get more doctors through training in order to drive down prices by reducing scarcity, as happened with lawyers.) The problem, of course, is that medicine doesn't respond to the market. "Boy, lung cancer is better funded than Tourette's, so I guess I'll get that...."

Another is that every time the government has messed around with health care, the situation has... not improved. Since Obamacare came online, the premiums my employers pay have gone up, and so have my out-of-pocket co-pays. And it was some very weird government tinkering that got us in the weird situation we have with health as an employment benefit. And the government-run Veteran's Administration health care has a tendency to be awful. And Medicare (the government assistance for the poor) is notorious for deciding not to cover things, even more so than insurance companies. So the trust is not exactly there that the government won't screw the pooch worse than it's already been screwed. They couldn't even get a simple website working right.

There's also the general, "I don't trust the government to make health decisions for me." The recent case in England where the parents weren't allowed to take a child to the US for an experimental treatment is held up with great horror as the consequence of government-run medicine.

And on the most general level, it suffers from what I think of as "the soccer problem." Americans like soccer/football when we play it, and it's fairly big in some schools (especially for athletic girls, who don't play American football for the most part). But we don't watch it, and it's thought of as an obsession of pretentious, well-to-do suburbanites. Why? Because American fans tend to try selling it by scolding. "We're such barbarians here! Civilized countries play real football, as opposed to our violent, dumb jocks bashing at each other. Our superiors in all manner consider this to be a mark of our inherent inferiority. So stop doing that thing, and do this much superior thing, and..."

And, oddly enough, this sales pitch has not been terribly effective. The same people are trying to sell single payer health care, and with the same tactics. And the same level of success.
reannanshaw From: reannanshaw Date: September 19th, 2017 09:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yep, I pretty much agree with everything you say here. The health care issue in particular is such a huge mess, and it's frustrating to see people claim that if we all just agreed to have the government run it and make taxpayers pay for all of it, disease would magically cease to exist. OTOH, it's reached a point where doing nothing and just expecting it to sort itself out doesn't seem like it's going to work either. I think the main problem is that a lot of people want for no one to ever be sick, except instead of actually addressing the things that make us sick--like our incredibly poor diet--they want to just throw (other people's) money at the problem, put the (incredibly inefficient, flawed, and often corrupt) government in charge of it, and expect that we'll all have 500-year lifespans by 2100. Not to mention the fact that doctors pretty much always push drugs as the solution to problems rather than more natural remedies (like less processed foods), which just causes the costs of health care and our society's continued dependence on for-profit companies to skyrocket.

Yeah, I don't think I'd want to get into political office with all this mess to deal with, either.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 20th, 2017 08:25 am (UTC) (Link)
All interesting thoughts, and you two are able to put them forward with much more coherence and common sense then anyone else I've ever seen.

And I can't help but lift up international health care examples again, however. The situation with that Baby in England was incredibly unusual, and was done simply because the doctors thought putting the kid through the hell of transport was just cruel as in their expert opinions, and they are experts, there was no way in hell it was going to help that kid. I am reminded that the NHS can and does fund some amazingly complicated, cutting edge and EXPENSIVE healthcare, particularly for small children. They remain world beaters in the care of infants and toddlers with cardiac problems including keeping toddlers on artificial heart lung machines for months until a donor heart becomes available.

I don't know much about the canadian system, only that medications are incredibly cheaper there then in America. But I get this funny feeling that that isn't hard.

In Australia, we have a VERY small tax base. I don't think people overseas really understand how BIG Australia is and how small our population is. I can probably best illustrate it by pointing out that 10% of Australias entire population live in 'the Western Suburbs of Sydney' a moderately sized piece of land extending inland from the city proper, swallowing the older cities of parramatta and penrith, which, incidently, is where my Mum was born. My grandmother was born at French's Forest, once a market garden settlement, now a suburb of Sydney. Basically, nearly everyone lives in Sydney and the rest of us are kind of scattered across this massive landmass. And in spite of this we fund from our tax dollar the royal flying doctor service, a world beating organ donor service, and fund the essential health services to indigenous australians who almost without exception develop kidney failure in their late middle age and require dialysis daily. This requires clinics to be set up in the very far outback (a colloquialism we don't use often because it sounds a bit silly. But seriously, those places are WAAAYYYYY out back) staffed with doctors and nurses and include transport to collect the people from the area where they sleep for the night and hook them up to the machines daily and drop them back off at the end of the day.

Sure, fixing the health system America will be hard. There are a lot of people. There is corruption and a complete absence of trust in authority and you'll have to destroy the commercial interests that more or less have you all bought and sold. But if you try telling me its too hard when we can get a dentist out to Cooper Peady to treat a miner for a tooth abscess which he has tried to fix with the judicious use of Duct tape (don't laugh, its a standing joke in Australia and NZ that you can mend nearly anything with duct tape and in particular is the bain of the country vets existence - dog has a broken leg? Pass me the duct tape!), or a midwife up to the Torres Strait because a new mother is in trouble, and deal with indigenous Australians who would really give you a lesson in what 'problems with authority figures' really means, then we're gonna give you a look and suggest that you give it a whack. You think you've got it tough? Try the tyranny of time and space on a tiny tax base.

Willow, who is still at work but going home now I swear.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 20th, 2017 08:36 am (UTC) (Link)
PS, i don't think this gets said enough. Australia has had two gun massacres since 1996. Two. Not a typo, really two.

The first killed 35 and was followed by gun legislation (and a lot of howling by some real weirdos)

The second killed 3, and was in 2002.

Wouldn't you LOVE it if America could boast anything like that.

We've had three terrorist attacks on our soil - which killed one innocent person in the first two (they could only get single action firearms, a shot gun and a revolver), and six in the third. The third is actually still up for debate about whether it was a terrorist incident or not, may just have been a complete arsehole.

We have, I grant you, had some very nasty murders.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 21st, 2017 06:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah, but as you say, Australia has a much smaller population than America, so that must be taken into account.

And as Fernwithy says, the right to bear arms is a constitutional right in America (that is, one of our most fundamental rights), which isn't the case in most other countries. Start messing around too much with the founding documents of a nation, you start down the road to having yourself a different nation. Which a lot of people want, TBH. Not that they'd say it that way.

Americans are, by our nature and cultural history, fiercely independent and a wee bit rebellious. Most nations aren't founded on having rebelled against their mother nation and making sure that we can do it again if we have to. (The right to bear arms was given to us specifically so that we could take them up against our government, should our government ever again become oppressive, and so that the threat of us doing so would keep the government in line. It wasn't about hunting or personal protection, which at that time were probably taken as such a given that mentioning we had a right do do them would have been like saying we had the right to breathe air.) So there's a lot of specific cultural stuff that you have to take into consideration when comparing the US to other nations of the world.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 21st, 2017 07:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Exactly. If we were talking about something non-fundamental, it would be much more up for discussion. But it's not just the Constitution, but one of the ten items in the Bill of Rights, up there with freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. Putting core rights on the table is not a great idea, no matter which core rights they are. To make an analogy, let's say that people randomly started having horrible meetings, loud and disruptive and doing illegal things. Great, prosecute the illegal things. But to then say, "See, this proves that there should be no free assembly! That's an obsolete idea! People always get into trouble when they're allowed to meet freely!" would be utterly beyond the pale. The local sewing circle and Boy Scout troops would not appreciate being given an Umbridge like order to register or disband. The right to bear arms is seen the same way.

The other issue is that we've always had the right to bear arms, but these mass shootings are a very recent phenomenon. They're not primarily caused by weapons. (I know many gun owners, and not one has committed a mass shooting.) They're overwhelmingly a crime of young, disaffected men and boys, and they're a symptom of something that's gone socially wrong. They may be the most violent symptom, but they're not the only one, and we need to address the underlying failure instead of worrying about the set dressing. We have a VERY serious social problem, and it's not one that can be fixed by the government. I don't even know where to start with it, but if we don't fix it, I worry that we won't have a country to defend.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 23rd, 2017 02:32 am (UTC) (Link)
I fully agree that that the mass shootings are a result of something gone very socially wrong. I read an interesting article about toxic masculinity (I can't remember where the article was from) that touched on the issue of gun control and mass shootings. (I imagine that the article also talked about men getting away with sexual assault even when they admitted that they did it.) Increasing gun control will not put an end to the people who want to commit mass shootings, but it could certainly help to lessen them.

I do think, though, that it bears mentioning that when the founding fathers put the right to bear arms in the constitution, guns were very different than they are now. It makes me wonder, were the founding fathers alive now, what restrictions they would put on that privilege.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 21st, 2017 07:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
The thing with the baby wasn't the particular issue, but the idea that the government had a say in it at all. That was what horrified people. It's seen as the government overstepping its bounds by a long shot. Yes, they'd have a place if the parents were hitting the child or doing something outright abusive. But trying a last ditch effort to save the child's life? And the government decides that the child's life is not worth saving at the cost of pain? That's seen as a decision that should only ever be in the hands of parents, and the fact that it had come to be seen as something that the government had a right to even comment on is kind of the point of the horror. Look what happens when you get used to government medicine!

For myself, I'm agnostic on the subject of single payer healthcare. The "It's a right" argument doesn't hold much weight with me, because it's a commodity, and you can't have a right to something that has to be provided by someone else, largely because you can't just make the commodity appear out of nowhere. But the argument that the government will necessarily do worse than the insurance companies doesn't hold much weight, either, and I think the government may be in the best position to get things tightened up. Where I'm not agnostic is on the issue of pushing reforms through against the will of the people. They will have to actually convince people to vote for it -- I'd be up for a national referendum -- and get them to support it, rather than trying to sneak it in through 1000 page bills that even the legislators didn't read.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 28th, 2017 07:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Technically it is a right because being able to stay healthy & keep on living is considered "the right to live" which also falls under "the right to work"

If you're too sick to go to work or to live in general, and you can't get better because you're asked millions of dollars to pay to get the treatment to get better (ex. The guy who started the ice bucket challenge to help combat ALS has to pay $9,000 a month in medical bills) your right to live is being infringed.

And also isn't that why we pay taxes to begin with? So ALL people in the country can go to school, have clean water/air,etc

reannanshaw From: reannanshaw Date: September 19th, 2017 02:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hoping you can get in the groove again soon. I'm looking forward to reading more. :-)
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 22nd, 2017 03:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
The comment about the suburbs being alien and geberal commentary about how differing realities can lead to hostility reminds me of this:
The city folk find the rural folk to be barbaric and backwards. The rural folk find the city folk to be domineering and arrogant. Nobody likes the suburbanites.
And the irony is that depressed inner-cities do have more in common with withering small towns (including both losing out to the burbs) than they think.

When you talk about "exorcising demons", at the place of your childhood, is there still that tall poppy mentality that informed your fleshing out of Twelve?

From: (Anonymous) Date: September 26th, 2017 02:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Hope you get over your writers block soon! Would love to see more Dora/Remus Stray or Safe!
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 27th, 2017 12:58 am (UTC) (Link)

Maybe an idea ?

First of all, sorry if my english is a little bit broken (not my first language :) )

I've started reading your Hunger Games fanfics, and I think they are brilliant ! I was wondering, could you write a story about Gia ? About how she became an escort and eventually fled to district four and her life there ?

Anyway just a sugestion from a fan :) !

From: (Anonymous) Date: October 6th, 2017 10:22 am (UTC) (Link)
Just read the new Magnus Chase snd would love to hear your thoughts. Want to do a book review?
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