Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Slavery By Another Name

Look here.

Douglas Blackmon's Slavery By Another Name, an excellent book, which was a big influence on my novels, is being made into a documentary.

Can't wait.


Got up at dawn with a short story in my head, wrote it (600 words), and submitted it.

I think that's a record.

Now I will eat something.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What's That, An Avalanche?

Aside from the four preps I'm doing, and Aikido, and the novel I'm getting in final shape to find a publisher slash agent for, and writing a couple short stories, three of which already have publication venues, not to mention deadlines, I'm also putting together a new course for Summer I.

This is a class I've been wanting to teach for a couple years. It's had a couple of titles over the years -- I was calling it Working Class Fiction for a time -- but now it's called American Epics. A better, because wider, title.

But it's require lots of prep, and I'm as pressed for time as always.

Right now I'm using five novels:

  • Sinclair Lewis, It Can't Happen Here
  • John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath
  • Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove
  • Neil Gaiman, American Gods
  • Octavia Butler, Seed to Harvest
I want to include a number of movies as well. I have, vaguely, some ideas about which movies I might include. But I'm not as strong on movies as I am on novels. I'm thinking True Grit (the new one), Groundhog Day, The Searchers, Jaws, and Unforgiven.

Any other ideas?

Monday, January 09, 2012

Stuff You Can Read!

It's the first day of classes here, so I oughta be dealing with that, but look!

My story, "In The Cold," is up at Strange Horizons (this is one of my favorite stories, so I am very pleased), and -- two events in one day! -- and I have an interview up over here, at RexRising, where I tell you all my deep secrets about Martin, Broken Slate, and the revolution.

Okay, some of them.

Happy Monday!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The People's Museum -- No!

(X-Posted at Fansci)

On New Years Day we went to the museum which, according to Forbes, refutes the DFH's claim that the 1% have been oppressing and exploiting the workers of the world for the past -- oh, what is it now? Forever?

Crystal Bridges, Bentonville. Built by Alice Walton, according to a very sweet story told to Dr. Skull and me and our daughter, as we painted pictures in the Walk-In Art Studio, because when she (Alice) was a child, as she and her Mama traveled all over to the world to visit various art museums in Paris and Chicago and Italy and New York, Mama Walton would tell Alice that she hoped that someday the people of Arkansas might have museums like these -- that someday someone might bring great art to our benighted state.

Okay, she didn't say benighted. But she should have, because it is so. Arkansas has indeed been bereft of anything like a decent art museum. In Fort Smith, where we live, where the university had a surprisingly excellent art department, we have a tiny museum; one of the orthodontists in town, John Udouj, who collects art privately and hangs it in his place of business, has a bigger collection, frankly (and a more interesting one).

Crystal Bridges, while not the best art museum I have ever been to, is the best art museum within 150 miles of Fort Smith, Arkansas. It is clearly the best art museum in Arkansas. And it had a lot going for it.

(1) An excellent building

(2) Beautiful surroundings -- the Boston Mountains are among my favorite landscapes, and the museum includes biking, hiking, and walking trails, plus playgrounds for kid, plus a skate park

(3) A nice cafe with very good food: healthy food available, and none of the food very toxic

(4) Medium to excellent art. I liked the modern art quite a bit, and the pop art selection, while small, was just great. The 19th century had a few really good pieces among a lot of mediocre works; the 20th century was better.

(5) There are a number of rooms, like the Walk-in Art Studio, and the Art Education room, set up for people (kids, yes, but adults are encouraged to engage as well) to mess around with art -- to paint, to learn how art is created, to see what artists do. I can't tell you how much I liked that part.

(6) All through the museum, scattered at random, are little rooms like sitting rooms, living room areas, beautiful little spaces looking out on the Boston Mountain landscape, with comfortable chairs and sofas, and tons and tons of art books and art education books, for you to sit around and rest between exhibits and read about what you've been looking at -- the books are keyed to the exhibits around you. Again, wow. What an amazing idea. And the books are at all levels: kid level, adolescent level, adult, graduate level.

(7) It's free. That means a lot in Arkansas. Unless you live here, you can't know the level of poverty many people face. Getting to the museum is going to be a hurdle of most people in the state. If they had to pay an entrance fee, even a small one, it would be a deal-breaker.

So why am I complaining?

Art generally comes from oppression. That's a given. (We often tell our kid, who wants to be a graphic artist, that we need to start beating her more and locking her in a few closets.) Art is the language the oppressed use to speak the truth when they can speak it no other way. This is why when people say they don't like political art I just laugh at them. Holy crap. As if there were any other sort of art. (And this is why parents forbid children -- the very first oppressed class -- to lie: because what is lying, after all? It is the child's way of using the only art he has, or she has, the art of language, to fight back.)

On the other hand, once art is created, what happened to it? In some societies -- on Le Guin's Urras, for instance, and among those at the University of Arkansas Fort Smith -- the artist gives or trades the work to his friends, for small favors or work in return. (We have paintings on our wall that we got from artists we know in exchange for teaching them writing or grammar.)

But in large, capitalist societies, where the Gini Coefficient is wholly unbalanced? Well, art, like everything else, ends up the property -- exclusively -- of the obscenely wealthy. Artists end up owned by the wealthy. Artists (often) end up being controlled by the obscenely wealthy. (Since if an artist isn't saying what the wealthy want to hear or see, they won't pay for it, and if they don't pay, it doesn't get done. Think contemporary mainstream movies, publishing houses, television, music prior to the internet.)

Alice Walton, the Forbes article claimed, with her largess, makes OWS look foolish.

Well, this is not the case. True, I am glad she built Crystal Bridges, and glad she did the things she did right. I am also glad, as they point out, that she did not spend the money on jet planes or baubles instead, as she very well could have.

But, despite what Forbes claims, she did not do everything right.

Here is what she did wrong: she built her museum on the misery of others. As I walked through those beautiful rooms, as I ate a lovely salad in the sunlit cafe, as I painted with my child in the wonderful art room, it was hard for me to swallow the bitterness in the back of my throat, the knowledge that all this was possible because Alice Walton had amassed a huge fortune by thieving the wages of literally millions of women and men; by working them long hours in horrible conditions, with few or no benefits; by wearing their bodies out and then firing them when they could work no longer; by underpaying and overworking the poorest and most desperate in our society; by driving down wages at factories all over our country, and, in effect, forcing other companies to exploit their workers as well, if they wanted to sell to Wal-Mart -- as many must, in order to stay in business.

Doing this, and then building an art museum? If Alice Walton and those like her had not systematically destroyed the American economy over the past 40 years, we'd all be taking our kids to Paris and Chicago and New York. We wouldn't be so fucking poor that Crystal Bridges is the only museum we've been able to take our kid to in the past three years.

Who builds the art museums if not Alice Walton, you ask? (As Dr. Skull asked me, while we were arguing about this over our Autumn Salad and tea at lunch in the lovely cafe.)

We do. Think of the National Art Museum, in DC. Taxpayers build an art museum, or anyway they can, if they have enough money -- if the 1% haven't taken it all. Why should we be dependent on the whims of the wealthy, who might build a museum, and might buy a jet plane instead? Art is a necessity, just as education and health care are necessities; and frankly it is very unlikely that the obscenely wealthy are going to fund true art -- subversively art. (Why would they?)

The People's Art Museum must be funded by the people!

So while I did enjoy my visit to Crystal Bridges, no, I cannot support Alice Walton's endeavor 100%, and I do not believe, despite the contention of Forbes Magazine, that she makes those DFH look silly. Quite the contrary.