Wednesday, September 28, 2016

On Baseball - My First Time Booing

My wife noticed something interesting about me. I speak of the New York Mets in the first person. WE won last night. We lost a pitcher to injury. We made it to the World Series last year.  This isn't at all unusual among sports fans, and goes with what I've often said about sports being a safe outlet for the tribal instincts so many of us have; it's better to mock-hate eachother for our sports team than our country, religion, or something else important.

A day at the ballpark
Unlike many Mets fans, I don't boo. We've had some bad players on the team, and some good players who struggled mightily, costing the team wins. We've had overpaid players, mediocre talents, and some the fans just don't like. I've never booed any of them, not really seeing the point. If the team is an extension of ourselves, then to boo them is to boo ones one failures. So, I don't boo.

Until now.

Last week I attended the game and didn't only boo, I loudly booed the player who would score the game-tying run, a player who has been an major factor in the team's recent success, a player without whom we (there it is again) would not likely be on the precipice of our second consecutive trip to the playoffs.

Those who know me have likely guessed by now. I booed Jose Reyes.

For those who've forgotten, Reyes is on the team because the Colorado Rockies decided it wasn't worth keeping him around after he served a suspension for domestic violence. This much is clear to me: had Reyes not thrown his wife into a glass door the man would not be on the team. To make matters worse, his apologies after the fact have been of the "I'm sorry for what happened" variety, not the "I'm sorry for what I did" type. When the team was considering bringing him back, I wrote about this. About the message it sends to young men and women watching the game that this act is forgivable. If the team becomes "we" then accepting a domestic abuser makes all of us as fans feel, in a way, complicit. If we reached the World Series, did not we bring an unrepentant domestic abuser into the fold?

What makes it worse for me is that the fans not only ignored the abuse, but embraced Reyes as a returning hero. The "Jose/JoseJoseJose/Jose/Jose" chant returned, lead by the Citi Field PA system. Reyes jerseys started selling again.

Nobody cared what he did or how he came to be here.

For contrast, look across the country, at another sport. Colin Kaepernick is hated, his jersey has been burned in effigy, used as a literal doormat at a sports bar. He is, by some counts, the most hated athlete in America. His crime? Silently protesting racism against African Americans by kneeling during the national anthem. To many Americans, the anthem and flag acquired a near-religious level of import, Kapernick's protest a form of blasphemy.

So, here we have two athletes in two sports in two cities. One is using his voice and his fame to make a statement. One who admitted to using physical violence against his wife. One hated, one beloved.

For a quick digression, here are a list of football players less hated than Kaepernick.

Adrian Peterson. Admitted to beating his four-year old son with a tree branch.
Ben Roethlisberger. Accused of sexual assault multiple times.
Jonathan Dwyer. Arrested for domestic violence against his wife.
Any of the literally dozen athletes arrested for domestic abuse in the last few years.

This is says something about who we are, and about what we value.

The counterargument I've heard from some of my fellow Mets fans is that they separate Reyes the baseball player from Reyes the domestic abuser. While I understand wanting to focus solely on what happens between the lines, I'll respectfully note that Reyes the ballplayer and Reyes who threw his wife into a door are the same person. We celebrate players who participate in charity, even who just seem to play hard with a sense of joy and enthusiasm. I find it unfair to celebrate the good and shrug away the bad. In my eyes, the man on the field stealing second base is the very same man who threw his wife into a glass door. I cannot cheer for that man, nor am I comfortable remaining silent when fans around me are cheering him.

At the park, in silly hats. 
There is, of course, another and more important reason I didn’t cheer. The most important reason is that I wasn't at the game alone. In the seat next to me sat my daughter, who knows what Reyes did and knows how conflicted I am about following the team now that he's on it. A girl with whom I am sharing my fandom and the pleasures which it brings to me. What I want her to see - what everyone should see - is that his behavior matters. That violence against women matters more than on-base percentage.

So, yes, this year for the first time in my life I booed a member of my own team. Remember, whatever we choose - to cheer, to boo, to stay silent - our audience is greater than the people on the field. It's those around us.

If there's a lesson in Kaepernick's protest, it is that each of us has a voice.

It's up to all of us to use it for the right reasons.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Book Recommendations - some happy birthday epic fantasy

It's Book Recommendation Day - and a special one at that. Today we'll talk about the epic fantasy of NK Jemisin on the occasion of her birthday! Happy birthday to Jemisin, and let's read some really good epic fantasy novels. So today, to wish one of my favorite authors a happy birthday, I'll recommend some of her books.

NK Jemisin at the Brooklyn Museum

What do you mean by "Epic Fantasy"?

 If one asks four fans of fantasy fiction what "epic" fantasy is, one is likely to receive about six different answers. My personal definition - and the definition for the purpose of this discussion - is that Epic Fantasy is the subgenre of fantasy which concerns large, world-changing themes. An epic story is grand in scope, a set of events which divide the world into before and after. The Lord of the Rings is epic in that the fall of Sauron and his empire will have effects for generations to come. George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire (from where we get the television series A Game of Thrones) likewise deals with world-shaping events. Likewise in Jemisin's books we deal with epic-scale events but, unlike these other works, view them from a more intimate point of view. Jemisin writes grand stories, but shows them through a narrow lens. So rather than the more traditionally epic focus on large numbers of viewpoint characters scattered throughout the world we get very human stories with the larger global changes as somewhat of a backdrop.

The Inheritance Trilogy

These books were my introduction to Jemisin, and a series I had the good fortune to find late enough that all three had been written  by the time I got around to reading them. This saved me the toughest part of being a fantasy fiction reader - the long time between books of a trilogy. I got to read all three books back-to-back-to-back -- and what books they are!

The Ineritance Trilogy takes place in a world which has already had one cataclysm in the distant past - the Gods War, which involved the three eldest gods in the world's pantheon:

Bright Itempas, the lord of the sun, of light, and the father. Lord of creation and order
Nahadoth, the Nightlord, or darkness and death. Lord of chaos and change.

Enefa, of the twilight. The only female of the three, the creater of life, mother.

The Gods war ended, long before the start of this trilogy, with Enefa dead, Nahadoth enslaved by a human race known as the Arameri, who are able to use their control of the nightlord and continuing relationship with Itempas to maintain a position of power in the world. This brings us to the first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Here we meet Yeine, a chieftan of a matriarchal warrior-society known as the Darre. Yeine is brought to the Arameri capital where she becomes embroiled in both courtly intrigue and the ongoing struggles between the gods, the enslaved godlings, and humans. We meet a host of memorable characters, including the trickster god and eternal child Sieh who will take a more central role much later in the story. In the end there are revelations, moments in which we realize the assumptions we - and Yeine - have been making for the entire book aren't quite correct and, at the very end, a moment of sacrifice which will change the very foundation of the world.

The next two books deal with the aftermath. I'll not spoil the first by getting into plot, but suffice it to say that we meet humans who become gods, gods who become human, and finish in a place which surprises us while being true to the earlier story and feeling - even if surprising - still fair. It's a wonderful set of books, well worth reading. If you've not, I urge you to go experience them now. You'll be glad you did.

The Broken Earth Trilogy
This isn't quite a trilogy yet, as we're only two books into it. It's again a secondary world fantasy, opening with the twin shocks of personal and global disasters:

LET’S START WITH THE END of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.

First, a personal ending. There is a thing she will think over and over in the days to come, as she imagines how her son died and tries to make sense of something so innately senseless. She will cover Uche’s broken little body with a blanket—except his face, because he is afraid of the dark—and she will sit beside it numb, and she will pay no attention to the world that is ending outside. The world has already ended within her, and neither ending is for the first time. She’s old hat at this by now.
Thus we meet Essun, as a mother grieving over the death of her son. It's an opening paragraph which not only grabs our attention, but hints at what will follow: stories of grief, of endings, of cataclysms both personal and global. The death of a child is a shocking note on which to begin, but The Fifth Season is a novel which earns that shock, pays it back, and makes it a real and organic part of the story.

 We soon learn that the world - ironically known as The Stillness - is so beset by cataclysmic  earthquakes as to have an entire culture and language built around them. A disastrous global event is  season. Words carved into rock to survive seasons are stonelore. It's created a very pragmatic, literally downward-looking world in which not only is studies of the heavens and astronomy considered silly trivia, but the giant floating stone obelisks which drift above the world are, for the most part, completely ignored.

The Fifth Season, like the books of the inheritance cycle, is an intimate story, following only three women in different stages of their lives: a young girl, the young adult Syenite, and the grieving mother Essun. The three are linked by the rare ability to control earthquakes - an ability which caused them to be feared, hated, and persecuted. Like The Ineritance Trilogy, The Fifth Season and its sequel deal directly with class conflict, with racism, and with how hatred directed by society can become internalized. It's a smart book, a wise book, and an all too relevant book.

It ends with a hint as to why the world is as it is, even if it isn't quite fully explained as of yet. There's not yet an explanation as to why Essun's sections are written in second-person while Damaya and Syenite are in the more traditional third-person, but I trust that will come. There are already hints in the second book, which I'll not discuss save to say that it's a worthy followup. We begin to see more of the world, we learn that some of what we've taken for granted - including the works of this earthquake-controlling power - might not be what we thought it was. We spend more time with our small cadre of characters, come to know and love them.

There is, of course, much more to say. I'll not say it here, as the more you read about the book the less joy you'll have in experiencing them. They're books worth reading. Trust me on this.

And yes, those who've read the books will know that the above includes, in addition to a call to trust me, a lie. It's certainly a white lie, and one for which I'm sure you'll forgive me after you've read whichever book about which I'm keeping secrets.

So enjoy. And happy birthday to NK Jemisin.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

More than One Way to Reach the Moon

Here's a women-in-STEM kind of trifle, inspired by the well-known image of Margaret Hamilton standing before the absurd stack of computer code it took to get the Apollo rocket where it should go.

We all should remember three things. First, while men did first walk on the moon, women helped get them there. Second, computer programming was once considered women's work, before it gained in prestige and become somewhat of a boys' club.

And, third, there's more than one path to the moon. 


""More than One Way to the Moon"

The picture wasn't all that impressive at first; just a smiling woman standing next to a stack of paper, as tall as she was. You found it in your big sister's schoolbook, along with a sentence. No, it wasn't that impressive. But what was written under it was.

Arcane symbols scribed in her hand
We would take them
Stack them high past her head.
We would climb them
To the moon.

That was all it took to reach the moon? To write words about it, stack them up until you had a ladder of paper that could reach the sky? You could do that. It would be not only easier than the cardboard-box rocketship in the garage, but more grown-up. You'd climb there on words.

This is how adults went to the moon. 

Words and "arcane symbols". You don’t know what that means, but you know how to draw the moon.

So you do.

It's fall, but still close enough to the summer that nights are warm enough to linger in the backyard as the sun sets. You don't know how to write "arcane symbols" nor, truth be told, do you know what they are. You do know how to draw circles.

That means that you can draw the moon.

So you do.

Each night a circle, or a circle with a sliver cut out of it. Those shapes and shadows that some say is a man  but you've never quite seen that way. It always looked like a broken plate to you, with weird stains that didn't quite come out in the dishwasher.

No matter. You drew it.

You drew it every night. A dozen times. You kept asking for more paper, and more. When it was cloudy you'd close your eyes and draw it from memory, but when the sky was clear and the moon was out, you'd stare.  You’d sometimes take the poor handful of drawings, set them on the ground and, carefully slip off your shoes to stand on them. When you did the moon seemed closer, bigger, lower in the sky. It felt like you could reach out and touch it if you could just get a bit closer.

Your mother never asked what you were drawing. If you were quiet, she was quiet.

Your father never asked what you were drawing. After his return from work it was dinner, the TV news, and then bed.

So it was your sister who found the drawings of the moon, after a week.  It was your sister who found all of the stacks of drawings of the moon, who asked the obvious questions.

"I want to climb to the moon. Like the woman in the picture."

This lead to confusion, to explanations, and to her telling you a sad truth.

The woman in the picture never got to the moon. Not with her own feet. She taught the great computers at NASA how to get a rocket there, so others could walk on the moon.

So men could walk there.

"What you saw in my notebook was a poem.  It was about her struggle to get us to the moon and about how, at the end of the day, she was left behind. I called it Tomorrow's Moses."

"So you can't really reach the moon by climbing a stack of drawings."

She shook her head. "I'm sorry. You're determined. I'm sure you'll get there someday."

It isn't until years later - that you realize that she was wrong. You don't need to get to the moon someday.

You already have.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Flash Fiction: Another Man who Sold the Moon

Greetings, friends, and happy Flash Fiction Friday.

Those of you who follow me closely may know that my work situation has changed; no more do I commute to the Isle of Manhattan, but a much shorter distance down the stairs and into my basement. This is obviously to be a great personal shift and has the side-effect of taking away what has been my writing time; it's easy to write on the train, hard to on the way down the stairs. I will try to keep these pages alive and awake as I find a new schedule for myself.

Today's Flash Fiction Friday is another Deal with the Devil story and another involving the moon, loosely inspired by another image prompt. Enjoy.


"Another Man who Sold the Moon"

You can't blame me.

It was after the last strorm, after I lost damn near everything. Even being smart, even evacuating early, even making plans, it still didn't help. Yeah, I know I'm lucky, I know I'm alive. Most people are alive, even if the news lingers too long on those who aren't. I am and I was lucky and I still lost so damn much. You have to know that to know the state of mind I was in.

You can't blame me.

Anyway, the stories are mostly right on this one; it's surprisingly easy to find the Devil if you want him, and he's always ready to make a deal. That's what he does, but that's what I do. And I read all the books. From that old German one The Art of War to The Art of the Deal. Well, not those, but books like that. I need to give you a frame of reference. If I was gonna make a deal, I was gonna make a killer deal. You can take that to the bank.

No, it doesn't matter where I met him. At a crossroads. In a clearing in the woods. At a graveyard. A great dealmaker never gives away all his secrets. And that, my friend, is a secret.

It's the deal you want to know about, and I suppose you want an apology. First, remember that it isn't my fault. I read up, I planned.

I was clever.

Yeah, I asked for a lot. For us to be spared for the next storm and the storm after that and the storm after that, for all of eternity.

When you ask for a lot, the price is high, so very high.

He wanted the moon.

Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but I was clever. It was clear we couldn't sell the moon. There's no way to get it down, for one thing. But what I could sell, what he could take and put in a jar next to all the pretty skies he's keeping for the proverbial rainy day, what the deal could REALLY be for is the idea of the moon. I knew it had worked the next month, when the moon would have been full and no men shed their man-skin to walk the wilds in wolf-shape. When madness came to become a matter of outbalanced humours in the brain and not the influence of the heavens.

When a little bit of magic faded from the world.
Bottled Sky
by Lukasz Wiktorzak

It didn't matter. We were safe.

Until the next storm came.

The seas rose.

Our city was gone.

I fled by boat as I watched the waves overtake the last and highest of the towers, cursing his name. The current took me to land where, after a days' wandering, I found him at a crossroad, I accused him of breaking our deal. The moon was his, my city was gone.

"You gave me the idea of the moon. I preserved the idea of your city. A thought for a thought. A fair deal, no?"

So, since that time I wandered. I tell my tale.

But enough about me. Let me tell you about the lost wonders of my home.