April 27th, 2006


Fan Fic

As it's been making the rounds, and I've been involved in at least two fanfic discussions recently, here's the rather good quote from Teresa Nielsen Hayden (and editor at Tor books)

Good fiction gets under our skin. It can change the way we see the world. But whatever its effect, it’s a significant experience. It would be a bizarre thing—unnatural, even—for writers to not engage with that experience. They always have. I could show you stuff centuries old—heck, some of it’s millennia old—that’s fanfic by any modern definition.

Of course, it would have to be a modern definition. In a purely literary sense, fanfic doesn’t exist. There is only fiction. Fanfic is a legal category created by the modern system of trademarks and copyrights. Putting that label on a work of fiction says nothing about its quality, its creativity, or the intent of the writer who created it.

The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year went to March, a novel by Geraldine Brooks, published by Viking. It’s a re-imagining of the life of the father of the four March girls in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Can you see a particle of difference between that and a work of declared fanfiction? I can’t. I can only see two differences: first, Louisa May Alcott is out of copyright; and second, Louisa May Alcott, Geraldine Brooks, and Viking are dreadfully respectable.
roleplaying HP

Legal Telemarketers (#17 in a series of things which have really pissed me off)

I'm far too fucking polite with the horrifically amoral scum who phone me up to offer me things I would only want if I was so far down the food chain that pond scum looked like a shining role model to work towards.

In principle I think that no win, no fee legal arrangements are a good thing.  They remove the  inequity which meant that only the rich could afford legal representation, making it easier for those who have been legitimately harmed to obtain some kind of redress through the courts.

What isn't a good thing is legal companies phoning up people at random to ask them if they've had any kind of incident at work ove rthe past three years.  And making it clear that it doesn't have to be anyone's responsibility, but that it could be as simple as a minor brush with another driver, or a slip at work.  And then. when I say that no, I'm fine, offering me a £50 finders fee if I pass them along to anyone else who _has_ had any kind of incident in the last three years.

Offering your services to people in genuine need is one thing, asking people if they have a genuine problem is fine, but these scumbags were clearly looking for the  kind of thing that could be settled out of court for a nice tidy sum, in order to avoid publicity.

Oh, and as I'm registered with the Telephone Preference Service they shouldn't have been phoning me in the first place - if I'd had my brain in gear I'd have written down the name of their company and reported them.  The whole thing makes me feel slightly ill.
running lego man

Lessons learned

4 years ago I left one of the best jobs I'd ever had because the company was taken over by people I really didn't want to work for.  It became very clear during the takeover process that they were going to screw the owner (who I was friendly with) for every penny they could get from him, and I had a feeling that they would treat their staff in much the same way.

I therefore took the first job I could get, which turned out to be an enormous mistake.  I was offered it, didn't think it was my kind of thing, asked them to give me a couple of days to think about it, and then thought "What the Hell, how bad can it be?" which just goes to show the depths of naivety and ignorance I can occasionally sink to.

I was the IT manager for a small company (around 80 people), and I have to say I made a terrible job of it.  When I arrived the machines were in a terrible state, and it took me a good 6 months of hard work (with one assistant) to get beyond the 'running to stand still' stage to the point where I was actually improving things rather than just slowing their entropic slide into decrepitude.

And by that point any initial enthusiasm I'd had had been ground out of me, leaving me keeping things ticking over, but not actually moving forward at all. I began searching for a new job, eventually got my current one, and was actually pretty gratified when they decided to outsource my job rather than renewing my one-year contract.

I learnt three important things from this job, and so I don;'t resent it as much as I might have done.

1) I am not a manager.  No, really, this was the main reason I was reluctant to take the job in the first place, and it turned out that my initial misgivings were correctly placed.  I like 'doing stuff', I score spectacularly low as a 'completer/finisher'and I really don't have the kind of mind that is necessary for following intricate processes to the letter and getting everything signed off.  And yes, this is sometimes an issue in my current job, but I _can_ do it when necessary - I just don't want a job that's mostly made of it.

2) I am not a maintenance person.  Looking after broken computers/systems and nursing them back to life drives me insane.  Seriously, when my computer goes wrong I get a horrible clenched feeling in my gut that doesn't go away until at least an hour after I've got it all working again and am vaguely reassured that it's not going to fall over again.  I like computers because you can make them do cool stuff, and it's primarily that cool stuff I enjoy, not the underlying mechanics that it relies on.  Handing me one sick computer after another is just putting me into the stressfull 'broken' place I despise, with the knowledge that when I do fix it I won't actually get to play with the damn thing.

3) I need sleep.  I was commuting from Stirling to Glasgow, waking at 6:30 to get the 7:30 train, changing to a bus and heading out the other side of Glashow to be there for 9:00.  Naturally speaking I seem to work best between the hours of 2pm and 9pm.  I can manage to function earlier than that, but I currently make full use of flexi-time to work 10am - 5:30pm (with a half-hour lunch) and I frequently find that as the allowed working hours time ends (6pm) I could happily stay another hour to finish things off.  Being awake at 6:30 in the morning really doesn't work for me, I just spend most of the time feeling slightly nauseous and out of focus, lacking in concentration and working at half-capacity.  This is not helped by the fact that most of the people I know seem to be even further round the clock than I am, and going to bed when there are still interesting conversations going on is something I find pretty hard.  I've got better at it, but I'm never going to manage it without a certain amount of 'separation anxiety'.  I'm not at all surprised that I wasn't doing a great job, or lacking enthusiasm, I spent most of my time that year feeling like I was getting over a virus.

In fact, this last point was what triggered my whole post - I had to be at work early on Thursday, so that I could get some extra few bits and pieces done, and also so I could leave early on Friday to go Southwards to my parents..  I was staggering towards work, under the nearby railway tunnel at some obscene hour in the morning (I know that 7:30 isn't obscene to some of you, but I'm usually asleep until 8:15, and naturally I wake up around 10am), when I realised that the sensation I was feeling was a familiar one - it was the Living Dead sensation that burrowed under my skin and became so much a part of me during the year I commuted.  Not a happy sensation, and one I intend to avoid as much as possible from now on.
sleeping doggy

Arguments and Parents

On my way back to Scotland from a few days with my parents, and reading about the way that our parents' treatment of us affects our development, I think that one of the strange things about my parents is the way they argue.

They argue in short bursts - something triggers an explosion in one of them, there's an extremely heated argument between them, full of accusations and denials, and three minutes later everything is fine again.

When tisme came for a few days camping with me and my parents she spent most of it being shell-shocked.  To her arguing was a sign of things being seriously wrong, of a relationship on its way out.  I, of course, couldn't see it - to me these little flare-ups were just how things were, a small amount of steam being blown off before life returned to normal.

Looking at it now, it seems to me that what I have is two highly-stung parents who are both used to doing their own thing, completely failing to cooperate with each other.  My father is a doctor, used to running an intensive care unit where whatever he says goes.  My mother works alone, both at work and at home, dealing with other people to get things done, but entirely self-directed.  Neither of them, it seems to me, are used to compromise or discussion over what needs to be done or how to do it.

This tends to mean that when it comes to things that the do do together either one of them gives way before they start or there are brief flurries of explosions as they (effectively) negotiate their plans and reach a compromise (or, at the least, a truce.). 

My father, it seems to me, is worse in some ways, generally not thinking what plans other people might have, and assuming that as he's worked out the correct course of action everyone else will fall into line behind him.  I can recognise this trait easily because I share a certain amount of it (although I'm not nearly as bad as he is)..  My way of dealing with this is to remain affable and friendly, but make my own plans where they disagree with his, and inform him of them as a fait accompli.  This removal of myself from his 'zone of control' means that neither of us has to negotiate and we can both just get on with things.  This works well so long as we can both live with (a) what the other one is up to and (b) a fair degree of independence.

My mother, on the other hand, deals badly with (b), wanting to find a single solution which makes everyone happy rather than everyone finding their own answer.  As she's had near zero luck in finding ways to make Dad compromise over the last 40-odd years this hasn't been terribly successful.  One recent example being that Dad, having effectively retired, is pretty desparate to get the hell out of Kent and down to Devon.  Mum, on the other hand, wants to finish sorting out a few things around the house, get some doors/windows unstuck, de-moss the path, and generally make the place look as presentable as possible for the estate agents to show people around it.  The obvious answer is for her to stay in Kent and finish this off (about two weeks work) while he goes down to Devon, but she can't bear the thought of him being down there by himself and is adamant that she make him realise that this stuff really needs to be done, by both of them.  I'm not anticipating her having much success with this.

What success she has had has hinged on two factors:  (a) Dad is actually pretty good at working out the right thing to do, so she hasn't actually disagreed with him over (m)any major things and (b) while Dad's conscious mind doesn't compromise it seems that his subconscious does.

For instance, their house went on the market a few days ago, but the site it's supposed to be on (Your Move) hadn't managed to get the full details up as of last night.  Dad asked Mum to check the site this morning and make sure the detals were there.  She said she would, but asked for the password for the site, as it requires you to be logged in to look at the details of individual properties.  Not having memorised his password, the computer being off and it being late at night, Dad replied that the site wouldn';t need the password as he'd logged into it that evening, and if it did she could find it in his email.  Mum, being a computer realist, said that she wasn't comfortabble digging through his inbox and finding it without irretrievably breaking the internet, and could he not just get her the password?

With both of them tired and convinced that they were being the sensible ones this deteriorated into an argument that only lasted about 3 minutes, but left both of them feeling that the other was beng completely unreasonable and had turned a simple job into a huge problem.  Of course, 5 minutes later they were getting on just fine, and the following day my mother was woken up by Dad handing her the password, carefully written on a post-it note.

Now, were either of them capable of compromise they would have looked at the problem (Mum wants a password, Dad doesn't want to turn on the computer again) and solved it very easily (Dad always checks his email in the morning, he'll get the password then).  But instead they got into a cycle where my father denied there even was a problem and Mum focussed on that denial rather than looking for a solution.  Given some space the next day, Dad could clearly see that that was the easiest thing to do, but in mid-argument that level of thought was clearly beyond both of them.

Anyway, going back to a much earlier point in the ramble, one of the effects on me of the way my parents argue has been that up until a few years back I didn't take them very personally or seriously.  There would be arguments, and then 37 seconds later I'd be fine again, albeit rather confused as to why the other person wasn't.  The fact that people could actually have their feelings hurt in these arguments was somewhat baffling to me.

Even more baffling was that the only people who seemed to care so much about these arguments were my girlfriends of the time.  This tended to lead me into the assumption that I was adept at singling out mad people to go out with  In fact what I was missing was that relationships were different to friendships and that my girlfriends felt attacked when I argued with them - the subject of the argument itself wasn't important, rather it was the arguing itself which hurt.  Working through that was difficult, especially as it took several years for anyone to point it out to me, as they considered it to be so natural that I _must_ know.  And I still find bizarre from my own viewpoint, but accept that other people really do feel that way.

So do I need to take arguments more seriously, or do other people need to realise that arguments don't have to be taken personally?  Damn good question.  Probably worth arguing over.