Us versus Them

I’ve been reading a book called Sapiens, a nonfiction accounting of human evolution and the growth of culture/religion/industry for all of humanity. It’s actually quite good and informative, and reminded me of what I used to know from my Anthropology classes in addition to those things discovered since I branched off from the field. Part of what is so interesting about it is the idea of “shared myths” which have been the basis for every culture since the start of conscious thought. You would think that would mean shared religious mythology, and it certainly contains that. But what struck me most is the shared myths that have been perpetuated toward the formation of every empire, democracy, etc. That is, the existence of everything in culture is formed as a response to enough people sharing the same imagination as to what it means to be Us. Is paper money worth anything more than the paper it’s printed on? No. But we all believe it is worth something and have based our entire economy on that belief. We have believed it into being.

At the heart of the Sapiens book is the shared myth of Us versus Them. It is the mentality that kept us safe when we were foraging across the savannah, trying to stay alive. The ability to be able to determine “ally” from “predator” at a moments notice. Although we are no longer on the savannah, the mentality of Us vs. Them perpetuates, but we use different markers now. The accepted mentality that has lasted longest in America is that Us is straight and white. Them being anyone that doesn’t fall under the same umbrella (LGBT, muslims, hispanics, black people, Native Americans, etc). It’s why slavery lasted for so long, and why we assume that immigrants and refugees are trying to kill us in our sleep, caused the near eradication of Native Peoples in America, and countless other horrors. The need to maintain Us and limit how many Them are allowed to be here is a powerful motivator.

Now onto our current predicament. When I hear lies told by Kellyanne Conway and Trump, I laugh. I point at it and say “omg no one is going to believe this shit, it’s ridiculous.” But see, lots of people will 100% believe it. Because at the heart of everything we want to see evidence that justifies our views and validates our prejudices. We can look at a mountain of evidence, a tidal wave of stories that tell us “these are people and they are the same as you and me.” Still when all you see is Us and Them, that suffering over there sure is sad, but it doesn’t affect Us so it’ll be ok. 

I used to be like that. I grew up with a lot of other white people in a nice friendly white bubble and would think “I don’t get why these black people are so mad” and “I don’t know how I feel about Affirmative Action” and “why can’t everyone just forget the past and move forward?” Until I started meeting more people and realizing so many do not have the same opportunities I have taken for granted. And once you see inequality in one instance, you see it everywhere. That’s not because inequality is suddenly everywhere, it just means that you are now seeing what has been there all along. 

However, many are incapable of seeing anything that does not align with their own personal experiences. “If I can do it, so can anyone. Just pull your bootstraps.” They can’t. We cut off their bootstraps. And whipped them with their bootstraps, and have actively prevented them from having any access to bootstrap-making materials for generations and we now say “why can’t you just do it and why are you so angry, we let you have boots.” And when a single Them pushes past all the obstacles we have created and makes any progress you say “See I told you, all you had to do was try hard just like I did!” But their road was a mountain. Our road, no matter how hard we may think it was, was easier.

Now when you see people taking to the streets, horrified and terrified of new executive orders targeting their family, and Trump tells you “it’s fine. Don’t worry about it,” do you listen to him? Do you ignore what you are seeing and turn away? Do you question why you want to do so? Next time examine your knee jerk reaction and ask yourself whether you would react differently if someone you knew and cared for was directly affected. 

Open your eyes to see everyone instead of forcing people into a false dichotomy that you are terrified to lose. Privilege feels good, but that doesn’t make it right. This is not Your America. It’s all of ours. I know you think you don’t have anything against Them. But try to recognize when you do. Be honest with yourself even when it’s uncomfortable. That’s how seeing begins.

Us versus Them

Somewhat imbalanced depth but overall intersting


Lilac Girls - Martha Hall Kelly

From the start this novel pulled me in, as I was intrigued by the format of three different points of view of women living during Hitlers reign in the US, Poland and Germany. It shows how these women navigated the trying political times, one as a debutante, one as a surgical doctor, and another as a prisoner at the dreaded Ravensbruck concentration camp. It did deliver, as I was pulled into different directions by these women, however I feel the pov’s became imbalanced midway through.


Kasia and Herta’s lives are so intrisically linked here, with Herta being an unwilling (at first) surgeon charged with performing medical experiments on Kasia and many other “rabbits” of Ravensbruck. Their pov’s are so dependent on one another, and their paths are so dark, that when we jump to Caroline’s high-society life in NYC, it became jarring and made me lose sympathy for this character in particular. I couldn’t stop thinking “I just watched Kasia experience some true physical and emotional horrors, and I have a hard time feeling bad that your boyfriend is married, ok?” Although I did enjoy the character of Paul, and felt he was good for Caroline throughout, the relationship between them overshadowed a lot of what was so fascinating about this woman, particularly the magnitude of her altruistic work long after the last bomb fell.


One thing this book particularly succeeded in was making me realize how privileged in my life I am, sitting here, reading a book, searching for Pokemon, while genocide occurs in countries all over the world. Syrians are trying to escape their circumstances and being turned away, just like so many I am reading about in this book, and I’m here thinking “oh man I hope someone does something about that!” Which I recognize was exactly what those in Caroline’s pov were doing. “Here have a check, a pity about Germany etc, where to for brunch?”


Something I found lacking was enough transition from unwilling doctor to what Herta became at the end, someone that saw it as “just doing her job.” She eventually doesn’t appear to see anything wrong with her actions, choosing her career prospects over her humanity, and I didn’t get to follow her on that journey, even having access to her pov for much of the book. I recognize the narrative is fairly long, so adding much more to include greater depth could have made it gargantuan, but having all the pov’s almost requires it.


It’s a tricky thing, fictional accounts based on real people (Herta and Caroline in particular). You can get so much motivation and things from researching their letters, correspondence, journals, news articles, but how much personality/experiences/emotions can one add before you lose track of the people that lived, instead of what you’re creating? This isn’t a question I can answer, but I do wish the emotional experiences had balanced out better, as I feel it would have given me a greater connection to all.


As this was an audiobook, I must include how I felt about the narration. I think the right women were chosen to read these roles, as they all embodied Caroline, Herta, and Kasia with excellent grasps of the time period, language, culture, and personality.


Overall, I am glad I read this, even if just to learn something about these women I wasn’t aware existed in history. It made me want to learn more about them, which I believe was the goal of the author. On that note, she succeeded. Those interested in similarly fictional accounts of Ravensbruck and women during WWII, be sure to also check out Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein.

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Somewhat imbalanced depth but overall intersting

Welcome to the Wallops by Gill McKnight


Welcome to the Wallops - Gill McKnight

An enjoyable read that is *almost* a great one. Jane lives in Lesser Wallop and has the unfortunate luck of having her ex-girlfriend move in right next door, under the guise of doing a writeup of an upcoming festival. Jane’s job is on the line due to seemingly low interest from the locals, her deadbeat father is in town, and this is one more thing she didn’t need right now.

This is a lighthearted romp that is missing more time dedicated to the relationship between Jane and Renata. I don’t really need it to be a “this is all about romance” book, but there was kind of a quick switch from NOT love to love for me to really find believable. There were also some misused words and mistakes that could have been caught with one more swipe by a proofreader. Without the noticeable typos and with more ‘screen time’ to build Renata and Jane’s interactions, this would be a five star read.

Aside from that, good humor throughout (as I expect from any Gill McKnight) and enjoyable characters. I anxiously anticipate the sequel, because Wendy was actually my favorite character in this one, even though she was secondary. Full of loyalty, joy and interesting textures, that one.

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Welcome to the Wallops by Gill McKnight

Lancing a wound

I don’t think I’m emotionally capable of reading another post about Orlando, because it hurts my heart every time. I don’t even know why I’m writing this, honestly, but it feels like I have something sticking in my brain like a needle, and maybe writing it down will help.

Most of it goes back to a memory with a family member, which supersedes every positive memory I’ve ever had with him (of which there were many). I remember sitting in the living room by myself, watching the movie Giant with Rock Hudson and James Dean. This family member came into the room and apropos of nothing said “I always liked Rock Hudson, til I found out he was a faggot.” That singular moment has stuck with me, and I think of it often. He was talking about Rock Hudson, but he was also talking about gay people. He was talking about me. He didn’t know that at the time, and I have no idea if he’s changed his thinking on that. I just know what I felt then, when I was questioning everything about myself, that this person might never love me again if he truly knew who I was. I don’t know if he feels the same as other people in the country, that the world is better without more gay people in it (brought to us by the cesspool that is Twitter). It keeps me up at night and makes my stomach hurt, but I’d rather stay in ignorance, because the alternative is just awful.

This shooter wasn’t some ‘other.’ This was an American man that wanted to get rid of as many gay people as he could. And the people that applauded him weren’t some ‘others.’ They are more than likely my neighbors, people I walk past on the street, that kid on the bus in 8th grade that said gay people should be rounded up and shot (another one I’ll never forget).  And everything worthwhile on the subject has already been said, and said better, by others. But writing it down might make it feel a little less like poison, so I figure it’s worth a try.

Lancing a wound

The Market of Published Fanfiction

Even the title I just wrote gives me the willies a little bit. It suggests ‘the act of making money from fanfiction.’ What is fanfiction? Well, according to it’s:

Fanfic definition

The key part there is “using existing characters and situations to develop new plots.” Now let’s get down to that little disclaimer some of you would recognize at the beginnings of so many online fics. It’s the “cover your ass” disclaimer. And an example of one would be “I don’t own _____. _____ is the property of _____, and are not my intellectual property. There is no financial gain made from this nor will any be sought. This is for entertainment purposes only.” Not all fanfic writers add that disclaimer, and it’s not *really* required, but it is something that has always been assumed in the online fiction world that you don’t make any money off the characters you’re writing about, because the characters belong to someone else.

Ok what about uber aka AU (alternate universe) fiction? According to Wikipedia, it is “the occurrence of canonical facts about the setting or characterization of a particular fictional universe being explored in a non-canonical way.” So basically, you are taking these characters and putting them into a new world that the writer created, with new circumstances and settings. Now this is where it gets tricky. How alternate can a universe be before you can justify making money from these fanfictions? The delineation of that line appears to be shifting after the publication of Fifty Shades of Gray. Now, I never read the Twilight books, but it is widely known that Fifty Shades started as an AU fanfic of Edward and Bella. Are the characters different enough from the original narrative to keep E.L. James from getting sued? Apparently, as I don’t recall her being sued.

In the world of lesbian fiction, fanfiction is rampant. This stems from the fact that LGBT people have been woefully under-represented in TV and film, so had to create their own world themselves. This is completely fine and understandable. It’s also how a lot of lesbian fiction writers got their start, practicing and honing their craft online before attempting to put their efforts into the world for a hopeful eventual profit. As expected, many lesfic publishing houses drew from their uber roots, which explains the vast number of tall, dark-haired brooding dames and their short blonde girlfriends in so many lesbian romances. Welcome to lesfic, Xena!

I honestly don’t have a problem paying for a book where I can not see the characters or settings from the TV show in the story. I imagine it as it’s presented to me, adding things in my own mind. For these types of stories, when someone tells me “you know, that started as fanfic,” I think “huh, well that’s not how I picture them, I never would have known if you hadn’t told me!” That is the sign of a book that has successfully separated itself from the show or characters they do not own.

So then where do we draw the line when publishing existing fanfiction as original works? Looking at today’s market, I’d say that line has virtually disappeared. I have read at least 5 books in the past year that were thinly veiled AU works of existing TV characters. One I read last year didn’t even bother changing the character’s name. Same mannerisms, same secondary characters, same personalities. They added new things for these people to experience, but it doesn’t change the fact that the author is making money from characters they did not create. That is legitimately illegal. And if the show creators felt like prosecuting authors, there are plenty of books out there right now that are so blatantly based off their shows it wouldn’t even be a question. They would win.

This is a problem. I don’t know if I’m getting more sensitive to it, or if there really are so many more instances of this happening in the last few years, but it upsets me. It’s not simply the act of charging people for something you offered them for free a few months ago; people can spend their money however they see fit. But it’s the blatant disregard of the disclaimer I have such a difficult time with. It’s using a character’s attributes and personalities that YOU did not create. That is plagiarism. Want the exact definition?

an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author

Read that very carefully. If you have published a novel, made money from that novel, using characters that are blatant representations of those from a TV show that you do not own, without permission or crediting the original script author/show creator, you are plagiarizing. It’s only a matter of time before someone decides enough is enough and sues you, and they are well within their rights for doing so. Publishers? Please stop actively allowing this to happen. If a writer shows promise, encourage them to create original work. Use their fanfiction as a portfolio instead of a quick easy way to make a buck from someone with an established online fanbase. It’s the right thing to do.

The Market of Published Fanfiction

Life isn’t fair, but kindness is

Sometimes life is just awful. You stub your toe, you fail that class, get dumped, lose a job, lots of things. Little things, in the grand scheme. Sometimes it’s big things: pain, sickness, death, and amazing people suffering for no apparent reason. It’s not fair in the slightest.

And platitudes don’t really help when you need them to. They might eventually, but not when you’re there, in the thick of it, grieving, trying to understand what went wrong, how can you ever be happy again? If this is you going through this, you already know what you need. Silence, video games, work to distract you, hugs, anything in your arsenal of coping skills that you know can get you through the day.

But what if it’s for a friend? For those closest to you, you might already know what they need. But you might not, and it’s ok to ask. “Is there something I can do to help you through this?” It’s ok if the answer is “just let me be alone.” You can do that, you can give them what they need.

They might want hugs, or to talk things through, or to talk about absolutely anything BUT “the thing,” or someone to just sit with them silently while they cry. They may not even know what they need and that’s ok. They don’t need to know. Just let them know you’re there, and act like it’s any normal day. Sometimes that’s really all someone wants.

But what do you do when you feel helpless in the shadow of grief and pain, at your wit’s end searching for something, anything, tangible that you can do. Make something, give it to someone that is expecting nothing. Pay for someone’s cup of coffee. Buy a sandwich for someone that’s hungry. Because everyone has tough times. Maybe you’ll be that bright light a random stranger didn’t even know existed anymore. And that’s a great thing, especially when life sucks.

Life isn’t fair, but kindness is

What to watch: Fall TV (the pilots)

Yes, You're Lovely

E-CardAs I’ve discussed here and here, I love television. A lot. Probably more than I should at my age. Or really, at any age. But also like I’ve mentioned before, there are worse things to which one can be addicted. Cocaine, for example. I’ve never tried it and don’t really intend to. But a glass (bottle) of wine and a fantastic new episode of Empire or Scandal is the equivalent of a good high in my world. Easily excited, this one.

Fall is undoubtedly one of my favorite times of year. First you have the typical white girl reasons why: pumpkin spice everything, boots, scarves, and clothes that actually cover up all your wobbly bits and transgressions. Second you have football, hockey, and playoff baseball. And last, but certainly not least, you have fall television. One must now specify FALL television, as TV programming (much like film releases) is now year-round. Summer TV has brought us…

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What to watch: Fall TV (the pilots)

Representation really does matter

Do you know why it’s important to have more women in interesting roles? It’s so little girls across the country can look at a TV screen and see someone that looks like them be a doctor, a lawyer, a complicated human dealing with complicated issues. That there doesn’t need to be a man to fix things for them, there is nothing out there that they don’t have the right to try for.

However, do you know what little girls we’re talking about when I say that? When white people like me say that? It’s little white girls. We see a movie like Suffragette and we are STOKED because “awesome women doing amazing things, inspiring us to fight!” Do you know what little black girls see when they see the same thing? White women can do amazing things. Do you know what they still see over and over on tv, in the movies, and in books? Black girls (and Latinas, and any non-white girls) are allowed to be the funny friend, the maid, the nanny to a family that does great things.

Do you want to know why Viola Davis is so important? She is the first African American woman to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama. The first woman to win an Emmy was at the inaugural award show in 1949. It has taken SIXTY SIX years for a black woman to win as a dramatic actress in a lead role. Do you think maybe (just maybe) there could possibly be some truth to her speech? “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else, is opportunity.” You would have to be blind not to see the truth in that statement, when you count up how many women of color have even been given the opportunity to have a lead role in television. Historically, the number is embarrassingly low.

What do little girls of color see when they look out at the crowd at the Emmy’s? The Oscars? Previews at the movies?

So much Anglo

A sea of white faces, which tells them over and over and over, this is not for you. Imagine that you are a little girl of color, and you are asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” What do you say? When you’re little you think “I’m gonna be an astronaut” or “I want to be a doctor.” Something big. Something majestic. Something great. Then you start growing up, and you see the world you live in. You start thinking “oh I guess that’s not for someone like me, because I never see someone that looks like me do that.” Would you want your daughters to think that?

I am so glad there are more roles being offered to women of color, so that now a little girl will see Viola Davis, and she will see what little white girls have for a long time. Someone that looks like her that can be something big. Something majestic. And there needs to be so much more, because the default character in Hollywood  is still white.

That’s why representation matters. It doesn’t negate the fight for equal rights for anyone else, it just recognizes there are entire groups of people that we need to be better for. So pretty please, Hollywood, with sugar on top. Give us more. We deserve it.

Anyone wanting to say “but black people have their own TV station” can get the fuck off my lawn. You are missing the entire point.

Representation really does matter