Performative Environmentalism

Sustainability vs the Mason Jar Aesthetic

I guess the point of this lengthy ramble is a complaint that the aesthetic of sustainability is actually more popular than actual ethical sustainable practices. Too many people are concerned with looking like they care, but don’t actually want to get into the nuance of things. And I get it, I do. It’s nice to feel like you’re doing something good. Who doesn’t want to feel like they’re taking responsibility for their time on this earth and being the best version of themselves?

But it has to require thought, and method, and looking beyond the narrow scope of your own four walls (metaphorical or otherwise) and what that one person on YouTube said, while merely swapping one form of consumerism for another because it looks and feels ethical, but not actually exacting any kind of global change.

And that’s the difference between using a mason jar to drink out of, and the Mason Jar Aesthetic. Being aware of your impact on the earth and doing what you can within your limits and means (and respecting the means of others), vs wanting to be seen as such. And it’s an important distinction and one that requires self reflection and a great deal more thought than buying into an aesthetic.

This is some good writing.

Here is a true story, which I promise is related.

In the Spring 2018 semester I taught an upper-level seminar about the intersections between culture and the environment. I set up the course to examine the main issues involved from multiple angles, but the conclusion of all of the scholars and analysts we read was more or less the same: An overwhelming majority of people around the world are extremely concerned about environmental issues and are strongly in favor of “greener” public policy. Unfortunately, the reason these desires are not accurately represented in the policy enacted by many governments is because the laws that direct what these governments can do and how they can do it were written in historical eras with vastly different concerns than our own, and it is not in the interests of the people who are already in power to change these laws. (The Electoral College system in the United States is a representative example of what I’m talking about.) Therefore, before we can change public policy, we need to reform the laws that shape the scope of our national governments.

For fourteen weeks, in class after class after class, we talked about how local governments, media producers, citizens’ groups, and individual people are already quite environmentally conscious, and we also talked about why policy regulating the vast majority of pollution and resource management needs to be enacted at the national level. Individual actions regarding the environment are important and meaningful, of course, but the harmful excesses of global neoliberal capitalism are larger than any one person can combat on their own.

So, at the end of the semester, I got a course evaluation (which is basically a standardized form that students can use to give the university feedback about a class and its professor) from a student that said, in all caps: THE PROFESSOR PRINTS OUT THE WEEKLY QUIZZES ON PAPER, THIS IS VERY WASTEFUL AND DISRESPECTFUL TO THE ENVIRONMENT.


On a completely unrelated note, I’m really interested in what this writer is doing with her Patreon.

“Patreon” is one of the three words I’ve muted on Twitter (along with “cishet” and “yall”) because I’m uncomfortable with the growing trend of everything on social media becoming a transaction, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still trying to figure out a way that a system like Patreon can work ethically and without commercializing personal relationships.

All that aside, it’s always good to see a writer with a successful Patreon. Based on the small handful of other popular Patreon sites managed by authors that I’ve encountered, the secret to success seems to have something to do with monster fucking.

This might be a good thing to keep in mind for the future.

The Gaming Memoir Genre

Thrill of the Hunt

We go to the sushi restaurant where I ate my welcome dinner on my first night, so I feel well-versed when it comes to using wasabi and ordering sushi, which glides down the conveyor belt on small race cars. They ask me questions about myself, but I otherwise defer to them, observe the space they create before deciding how I should contribute.

And then we drive around town. We stop at the culture center to play this game that I’ve had to download again. It’s just been released in Japan, and what were quiet nights now bustle. People are on bikes or on foot or in cars with their hazards flashing. This is the nightlife. We walk through neighborhoods in search, looking for virtual creatures that are new or rare. We venture to a park. We park in front of a Buddha statue and walk down an unlit dirt path.

This is a great piece of writing, and I could honestly read an entire anthology of essays about various people’s experiences with Pokémon Go.

I love how the “gaming memoir” has emerged as a genre of creative writing. I’m not particularly interested in the idea of video game novelizations (outside of fanfic, of course), but I think it would be lovely to have more nonfiction books and essays about single video game titles from a personal perspective. There are a number of games that I’ll probably never be able to play that I would love to read about. I think one of my favorite games, The Wind Waker, is one of these games for a lot of people. Ditto for Ocarina of Time, and I’m sure the same will be said of Breath of the Wild in ten years. There are a handful of landmark games that were extremely influential and celebrated when they were released, but the medium is evolving so quickly that it can be difficult to get your hands on actual copies of these games (even pirated copies, in some instances), and it can be even more difficult and frustrating to play them because of shifted expectations regarding game design. This is why I appreciate people who write about the experience of what playing a game was like in the context in which it was released.

An Informal Statement of Teaching Philosophy

Although I strongly believe in the value of education, I hate how unapologetically elitist the American university system is, and one of my goals as a professor is to resist and undermine this ideology.

This is one of the main reasons I put a lot of energy into a commitment to give every single student in every single one of my classes a grade in the “A” range. The way I see it, different students have different strengths and talents; and, as a professor, it’s my job to figure out what these strengths and talents are and reward them instead of punishing people for failing to meet some sort of arbitrary, idealized standard. I want my students to feel excited about reading and thinking and learning, and I want them to get a sense of accomplishment and empowerment from my classes.

This isn’t always easy, but I’ve gotten much better at it. I managed to pull off giving every student an “A” in the fall semester, and I was almost able to do it in the spring semester as well. (At the end of the spring semester, many students are dead tired and make the decision – as is their right – not to turn in their final project, as they will get a passing grade and graduate regardless.)

One of my life goals (and I understand how small and unimportant I am, so I know this is ambitious) is to make quality higher education at least a little more accessible to anyone who’s interested in pursuing it at any level and for any length of time. In order to make college-level material more accessible, I think you have to account for a range of diversity in your students, their learning styles, and their goals, and you also have to respect their limited levels of time and energy.

I think it’s important to make people feel heard, validated, and appreciated. And let’s be real, given the state of higher education at the moment, it’s also important that students feel like they’re actually getting something in return for the massive amount of money they’re borrowing. If I skew the university’s numbers and averages by accommodating and supporting my students, so be it.

Of course I can’t write any of this in the formal statement I submit along with my tenure file at the beginning of June, but this is the fundamental truth of where I’m coming from.

Fanfic Content Warnings

I take content warnings seriously. Really, I do.

I teach upper-level college classes in women’s fiction, queer fiction, and horror fiction, which collectively contain all manner of gendered violence. I also teach non-Western fiction, which can sometimes contain depictions of politicized issues (such as race) that some Americans might find difficult or offensive. I don’t give my students a written list of content warnings, as such a list can be triggering in and of itself, but I do give them specific warnings in advance of a reading as part of the “housekeeping” announcements I usually make before I start class; and, like all announcements, I repeat content warnings in staggered intervals to make sure the message has a chance to reach everyone who needs it. I also try to be sensitive to the specific needs of individual students, who have disclosed a range of personal triggers from “portrayals of self-harm” to “vivid descriptions of the color red.” Making sure that no one in my classes is exposed to triggering content without reasonable warning is the easiest and least awkward thing in the world, and I genuinely don’t understand why there is or ever was a debate about it.

So, when I say this, I say it as someone who has devoted a great deal of thought to the issue and accumulated several years of relevant experience dealing with it:

I don’t think fanfiction needs to be tagged with appropriate content warnings in order for the author to have the “right” to post it.

I’ve certainly found my way into stories that I had to back-button out of, and I appreciate when fic writers tag the obvious content warnings (which I suspect actually helps readers find these stories, especially when it comes to niche interests). That being said, I don’t think it makes any sense to treat the people who read sexually explicit fanfic on AO3 like innocent children whose hands need to be held at all times. Like, if a story description reads “Bowser pounds Peach with his monster cock in front of an audience,” then the reader should be expected to understand what they’re getting into.

It’s also frustrating that many of the content warnings I’ve started to see in the past two years reflect puritanical American standards regarding the “protected status” of children, who must never be exposed to “bad” things until they’re 21. A good example of this is the recent insistence on tagging things like “underage drinking,” because it’s apparently “abusive” if an anime catboy from a Japanese video game set in a fantasy world so much as mentions having had wine with dinner. This is especially distressing because a “Mature” or “Explicit” rating on a story clearly indicates that it’s adult content that an adult has written for the amusement of other adults. If someone is still too young to be comfortable with adult themes and depictions of the adult world, then they shouldn’t be reading that story in the first place.

According to the same logic, I believe an adult reader should be expected to understand that a fictional depiction of something is not intended to condone or promote it. Fanfic in which two Overwatch characters take turns pegging each other is not a Disney movie intended to teach life lessons to children. If one of the characters has a mental illness or a tragic past that isn’t properly addressed within the narrative according to current standards of political correctness, this is not “erasure” or “bad representation.” Representation is achieved by people from marginalized positions having a platform to give voice to their stories and perspectives, and making these people afraid to use this platform because they’ve watched people like them being violently harassed for not tagging their smutfic with “romanticized depiction of a disability” (or what have you) isn’t conducive to actual representation.

An argument I see with disturbing frequency on fandom discourse blogs is something along the lines of “it’s okay to write fanfic with dark themes if it’s properly tagged, because this helps people understand that what they’re reading is problematic.” If you compare this to a similar statement meant to promote inclusive representation, such as “it’s okay to write fanfic because your voice is important and you deserve a chance to speak,” it becomes clear how stressful and confining moral prescriptivism is. Why does fiction – especially fanfiction, which is subcultural and countercultural – need to have to have some sort of moral in order to be allowed to exist?

It’s obvious to me that this whole mess is caught up in the sexist expectation that adult women should be the keepers of public morality. According to Tumblr-based fandom, which reflects the near-constant messaging present in many societies across the world, a woman stops being her own person and starts being a mother at around the age of 25. Once she’s crossed this threshold, her main purpose in life is to THINK OF THE CHIDLERN!!1! at all times. As a genderqueer nonbinary person, I understand that not everyone who writes and reads fanfic is “a woman,” but this doesn’t change the fact that fandom policing mirrors the purity politics that many women have to deal with in real life, according to which they’re only “allowed” to do something “selfish” if they can justify it as morally wholesome.

In any case, I still stand behind my main principle when it comes to fandom, which is that fictional characters are not real. Actual human beings, on the other hand, deserve not to be harassed for what they do for fun on the internet in their spare time.

Digital Commonplace Book

It’s disappointing how you can have epic, cinematic dreams with fascinating characters and complicated stories, but then you wake up and all you remember is “I was being chased.”

Last night I had a really cool dream. I woke up in the middle of the night because I had to use the bathroom, and I thought, “There are parts of that dream that didn’t make sense.” I then went back to bed and had the entire dream again, this time with all of the plot holes fixed.

I just woke up and turned on my laptop to get everything down, but all I have is: “There was a small town in the woods of upstate New York that no one could enter or leave without making a blood sacrifice.”

Goddamn it.

I also sometimes have dreams about video games in which I will actually be playing a fully realized game (usually a Zelda clone) with gorgeous system-specific graphics and creative play mechanics, but then when I wake up I won’t remember anything except “you had to solve a puzzle involving differently colored mushrooms in the Lost Woods” or “the first dungeon was just someone’s house, which they had contrived to look like a dungeon for a special holiday.”

When I was a kid – like maybe eight or nine years old – I decided that I wanted to do research on horror fiction, but the only nonfiction book I could find was Stephen King’s Danse Macabre. I didn’t understand probably 80% of what King was going on about (specifically pulp fiction from the 1950s and 1960s), but I did enjoy his extended discussion of H.P. Lovecraft, whom I admired at the time. According to King (and later according to S.T. Joshi, a well-respected biographer and editor of Lovecraft), Lovecraft based a number of his more famous stories and conceits off of his correspondence with Clark Ashton Smith, an American fantasy author who, like Lovecraft, was born in the early 1890s.

I was interested in reading Smith’s work; but, as a kid with almost no access to library resources, the only thing I could get my hands on was The Black Book of Clark Ashton Smith, which is, according to Wikipedia, “a transcription of a notebook that was kept by the author” and published in 1979 (about a decade after his death) by Arkham House, the same small American press that used to put out paperback collections of Lovecraft’s fiction. The Black Book is essentially a commonplace book filled with scraps of ideas, which were mostly no more than a paragraph long. I have no idea how something so niche and rare found its way into my possession, but I loved it. I wanted to keep a commonplace book of my own, but I had somehow managed to convince myself that I was too stupid to ever be a writer, so I didn’t.

I’m probably still too stupid to be a writer, but I wonder if it might not be a good time to start keeping track of my story ideas, whether they come from random dreams or alcohol-fueled dinner conversations or the dopamine high I get from jogging or something I saw or heard somewhere and thought I could do better. It might be a good idea to keep track of the video game ideas too.

In any case, a friend recommended Trello, which she uses as a digital notepad. I’m looking forward to trying it out myself!


A list of some novels with an average number of chapters & word count per chapter

I tend to write (and enjoy, and translate) shorter novels and novellas, so it felt validating for me to get a bit of perspective on word counts. There tends to be a major privileging of massive word counts in certain communities devoted to writing and publishing, and this has always bothered me. Like, it’s not a test score; more words does not equal more better.

This is not a criticism of people who write longer stories, of course. I love huge novels, but diversity is good.

For me personally, I think the sweet spot for a book is around 50k-60k words, although I also enjoy French and Japanese novellas and short story collections of around 30k-40k words.

This is one of the many reasons I appreciate fanfic, by the way. Although I actively seek out the publications of small presses, these presses tend to be extremely male-dominated. Mainstream English-language publishing houses promote way more women, people of color, and other minorities than a lot of liberal-leaning critics give them credit for, but the books they put out are still depressingly homogeneous in a number of significant ways. There are a lot of online fiction magazines that do fantastic work, but they tend to be strict about word counts, with anything above 6k-8k words being immediately rejected. It’s therefore wonderful to have access to such a wealth of interesting writing that falls entirely outside the number-driven standards of what would ordinarily be published.

Book Editing, Part One

Reviewer #2 pointed out four main areas in need of revision in their report.

First, the report states that the work I did three or four years ago is three or four years out of sync with more recently published scholarship. This is absolutely true! Thankfully, the report gives specific advice on how the manuscript can be updated and thereby strengthened. This is not at all difficult to implement.

Second, the report warns against taking a subjective tone in the statement of positionality contained in my introduction. I respectfully disagree, as I believe that my personal identity is an important aspect of my work. I also believe that taking a more personal tone at the beginning of the book will make it more accessible to a wider audience. The formal literature review section could be expanded, however.

Third, this report uses the language of social justice to make misogynistic and homophobic statements. Why are people like this? I have no interest in addressing these statements in the book itself, as that sort of rhetorical violence doesn’t need to be put in print, but I’m looking forward to unpacking them in future posts on this blog.

Fourth, the report points out several typos and inconsistencies in style and citations. This is correct, and this level of editing is something I purposefully refrained from in order to deliver the manuscript in a timely manner. I assume the press will support me with professional copy editing, but I’ll also do my best to double-check everything before I send in the revised manuscript in August.