Aaaaand it’s out!
City of Hope and Ruin, a fantasy-with-lesbian-romance novel by Kit Campbell and yours truly, is now out in the world! You can buy it in the following formats:
This weekend I saw two films about the performance of masculinity, coming-of-age stories about struggling with machismo, as well as surrogate fatherhood and flawed role models.
One was the critically acclaimed, multi-award-winning Moonlight.
The other was the critically panned Chappie, Neill Blomkamp’s answer to Robocop.
I don’t feel qualified to talk about Moonlight (though there’s a great discussion here: “Masculinity and ‘Moonlight’: Eight black men dissect Barry Jenkins’ momentous film”), and besides, this blog is mostly about science fiction and fantasy. So I’ll just say that the accidental juxtaposition of the two films gave me a different lens for Chappie, and one that I think improved the viewing.
In Chappie, an escaped police robot is taught how to behave, how to think, how to be by two very different influences: the cultured but amoral engineer Deon and the countercultural trio Ninja, Yolandi, and Amerika. (I’d call them punks, but the Internet tells me they’re “Zefs”, the South African equivalent.)
A good chunk of the film revolves around Chappie’s education: Deon brings him paints and books, going for a well-rounded education of the mind, while Ninja teaches him how to swagger, swear, and shoot (and Yolandi provides an unconventional yet feminine, nurturing touch). Chappie veers into feminine pastimes and Ninja tries to “man him up”. Simplistic and played for laughs? Yes, but also poignant, as Chappie tries to navigate these competing influences, please everyone who matters to him, and understand what makes a man.
Deon’s rival at work, Vincent, is yet another representation of masculinity: an ex-soldier full of repressed rage, trying to get approval for his military-grade killer robot, whose ambitions are being held down by his female boss (the fabulous Sigourney Weaver–capable but sadly underused in the role). Deon, slim, bespectacled, and feminized or perhaps asexualized, is everything that Vincent hates.
Chappie’s level of success at integrating these influences determines the outcome of the film…but I won’t spoil it.
If you’re looking for an accurate and nuanced depiction of AI learning, you won’t find it here, but as a more metaphorical exploration of what it means to be a man, Chappie is worth seeing.
It’s travel blog time! I left off relating my travels in India by talking about Jaisalmer, the Golden City. (Several cities in the state of Rajasthan are named by colour: Jaipur is the Pink City, Jodhpur is the Blue City, and Udaipur is the White City.)
It’s possible to do long multi-day camel treks, or ones that last just a few hours. My travel companion and I decided to go for the in-between option: trekking a few hours, sleeping in the desert under the stars, and trekking back the next day.
We researched trekking companies online and with the help of our guidebook (The Rough Guide to India). What our research didn’t tell us was that at least some of the companies use child labour. On our trek, run by a company incongruously named Sahara Travels, a couple of preteen boys helped the adult guides with the cooking and taking care of the camels. Were they learning useful skills? Were they helping to support their families? Was it still uncomfortable? Yes, yes, and yes. Unfortunately, we didn’t know until it was too late.
Our trek started with a drive, by jeep, to an abandoned village. We never did get the full story, but it was chock-full of beautiful architecture…
Then we were introduced to our camels. A word of warning: camels are really, really tall. You get on them when they’re lying down, and then they stand up with an awkward lurch (they don’t seem very well put together, somehow) and you think you’re going to fall off. They’re also very bumpy when they walk. (Later in our India trip, I had the chance to try an elephant ride. Also very tall, but a completely different motion.) Having horseback-riding experience might have helped. As it was, I clung on tight the whole way.
Word to the wise: put on your sunscreen before you get on the camel! And you will absolutely need sunscreen. That desert sun is fierce! I also wore a wide-brimmed hat, a scarf to cover my neck (the hat alone didn’t do it because the sun’s rays bounced up off the sand), long sleeves and pants, and closed-toe shoes.
After a few hours, our guides started looking for a spot to camp. Things to know:
Hilarity ensued as the various tour guides tried to find camping spots out of sight of one another (and the windmills) so their respective groups could each have that “alone in the desert overnight” feeling.
This was managed eventually. Our overnight group consisted of a retired British couple and a younger group of Brazilians. We chatted over dinner (served by the two preteens), a simple meal of dal (lentil soup) and naan (flatbread) and hot chai (tea). The British guy boasted that he had fallen off his camel, but hadn’t hurt himself because he went limp as he fell. This was not very reassuring.
Sunset came. As you might imagine, the stars were spectacular. SO MANY STARS.
Unfortunately, as night fell, so did the temperature. Note to the wise: bring layers! Our bed was simply layers of blankets on the sand (we slept in our clothes), and let me tell you, that was not enough. I did not sleep well at all. But I did see lots of stars throughout the night.
(Side note: the bathroom was simply a designated spot behind some bushes. I brought a Shewee, which helped.)
In the morning we woke early, walked about to try and get warm, and congratulated ourselves on sleeping overnight in the desert. I’ll always remember the beauty of the early-morning sunlight on the dunes.
Then we had a simple breakfast of boiled eggs and toast and some very welcome chai, and got back on the camels. It wasn’t any easier than the day before, and we were just a tad sore by then. Nothing much to report from the return journey, except that I’ve never been so glad to see a jeep.
Also, we had sand everywhere. Thank goodness for hot showers.
Conclusion: my travel companion and I agree that we are not really cut out for this sort of adventure, but we’re both glad for the experience!
Have you been on a desert trek? Any tips to share?
I have an abusive inner voice.
Perhaps you have one, too. It says things like:
That idea sucks / this scene sucks / your plot sucks / your housework sucks / you suck.
Oh, and why can’t you work harder?
You can’t write consistently, so you’ll never be successful.
You’re not good enough to have a writing career / an editing career [even though I do, in fact, have a 15-year editing career and have published a novel and multiple short stories on my way to having a writing career].
You’re not doing enough.
You’re not enough.
I don’t know where this voice came from–nobody important in my life spoke or speaks to me like that, and my loved ones are all much kinder to me than I am to myself. I do know I’m far from the only person to struggle with such a voice–destructive self-criticism is pretty common among writers and other creative types. Like many creatives, I’m also a sensitive soul, which makes it that much worse.
The question is, my friends and fellow sufferers, what do we do about it? How do we silence it, or at least ignore it long enough to do what we want to do with our lives?
Many writers do manage to push on regardless. I used to know how. I’ve done it before. I’ve read books on the topic, and countless articles and blog posts, and some of them have helped. But this voice has been getting worse over the years, instead of better. I try to fight back, and sometimes it works for a bit, but it’s so hard and I’m so tired.
Right now, the voice is quieter, but I’m trying to write and there’s nothing there. I’ve been crushing the life out of my own creativity.
I don’t have any answers for you.
All I know is that this voice has held me down too long. I’m in an abusive relationship with my Inner Critic, but I deserve better. So I’m naming it, I’m opening my dark secret to you, in the hope that it will begin to lose its power.
I want to tell myself a new story about who I am.
I have a voice, too. It’s time to make myself heard.
Do you have a critical inner voice? What does it say to you? How do you break it of its power?
As you know if you’ve been following this blog for a while, my partner and I have a particular traveling style. (To see all the travel posts on the blog, click here.) I tend to take the lead on planning–with lots of discussion and input from my partner, of course. When I’m planning a trip, it goes like this:
…and then spend our actual trip meandering slowly across a country, seeing the sights at maybe half the speed of most tourists, enjoying lots of downtime to relax and acclimatize and explore. We stay in locally-owned guesthouses or B&Bs, use a mix of public transport and taxis, and soak up lots of the culture. Sometimes we’ll book a day trip or a few days on a tour, but most of the time we like being left to our own devices and handling the logistics ourselves.
My partner enjoys this type of travel–we’ve done a lot of it together and adjusted to each other’s pace and preferences–but he’s gotten used to letting me lead the planning. But when we decided to go somewhere warm for a week this winter, I begged off the planning due to time constraints…
…which is how we ended up booking a vacation at all-inclusive resort in Cuba.
Not only that, we booked a package through an airline. No thinking or logistics required (with a few exceptions I’ll get to later). We were both curious to try out the complete opposite of our usual travel style…and hey, there was a beach, what’s not to like?
The beach: Okay, there was a fabulous beach. The sun was great, the beach umbrellas were great, the lounge chairs were great. I could complain about the constant wind and the chilly water (both the ocean and the pools…yes, pools, plural), but really? It beats the hell out of Toronto in March.
The lack of research: As I mentioned, I just didn’t have the bandwidth to spend dozens of hours planning a trip this time around. It was really nice to be able to take a trip anyway and not have to worry about not being prepared. (We did do enough research to know we should bring first-aid supplies, toiletries, sunscreen, and bug spray. But that goes for most places.)
The resort we picked: The research we did do was on resorts (mostly via TripAdvisor, of course)–and this paid off. The one we picked, Melia Las Americas, was not cheap, but Cuba is cheaper overall than other Caribbean islands, so we were okay with the price point. It’s an adults-only resort, and when we were there, it was not crowded at all, as you can see from the pictures. Plenty of lounge chairs, lovely architecture and landscaping, multiple outdoor pools (even if they were chilly). The service was fairly good–a nice change from our usual style of roughing it, relatively speaking.
The food was hit-and-miss, but we’d been warned to expect that of Cuban all-inclusives, and it wasn’t so bad once we figured out how to get the best use out of the buffet and the various à la carte restaurants. (Go for the meats that are grilled as you watch. Take a little of everything, then go back for seconds once you figure out what’s actually good. Arrive early for shorter lineups and fresher food.)
The pace of life at an all-inclusive: So what does one do at an all-inclusive resort? Eat. Drink. (Side note: all the coffees were made with goat’s milk. Took some getting used to.) Go for a dip in the pool or a wade in the ocean. People-watch. Talk. Lie on a lounge chair and stare at the ocean. Read. (My partner got through almost an entire epic fantasy trilogy. If you want a chance to catch up on your reading (and who doesn’t?) I definitely recommend it.) Repeat. Definitely not our usual pace, but it was kinda nice to do absolutely nothing for a week. It was also fun to spend the day in a combination of bikinis, coverups, and long lightweight skirts, then dress up for dinner.
This Canadian can’t get over the crazy spiky trees. The one on the right was in front of our door. Click to enlarge.
Lack of originality: Once we started talking about the trip, we were taken aback by how many people around us had already been to Cuba this year. An undiscovered location it is not, at least for Europeans and Canadians. (Now that some of the restrictions for Americans have been relaxed, I expect it will slowly become a popular destination for you folks as well.)
Complacency: We were lulled into complacency and forgot to do as much research as we should have. For one thing, we didn’t bring the correct plug adapters for our laptops (we needed a three-prong to two-prong adapter), so one charge and we were done. For another, we had thought it was OK to tip in American dollars at the resort, but judging by the lukewarm reaction we got, we perhaps should have been tipping in pesos. Eventually we gave up tipping altogether. It didn’t make a noticeable difference in service.
Lack of control: We didn’t end up taking any “excursions” (guided tours) beyond the resort. I think it was a little bit due to laziness, but largely a matter of preferring to be in control. A 12-hour guided tour to Havana, including 2 hours on a tour bus each direction, just sounded like too long a day on someone else’s schedule, and too much forced socializing (did I mention we’re both introverts?). Same for the full-day dive tour, with the added difficulty of our both being shade-lovers (giant beach umbrellas made of dried leaves = best thing ever).
In fact, we didn’t leave the resort at all, not even to go into the nearest town (Varadero). I attribute that to a lack of confidence, since we didn’t have our usual experience of landing at an airport, having to immediately navigate to our lodgings, and thus being immersed in the country from the start. Here, we were insulated from the start (we walked out of the airport and immediately boarded a bus owned by our tour company that took us straight to the resort), and it dictated the rest of our stay. Granted, it didn’t help that we were only in Cuba for a week, and we felt obliged to make the most of the resort while we were there.
On the other hand, we did get to look at a lot of palm trees. Canadian, remember? Click to enlarge.
Lack of adventure: When you come back from a trip like that, there are no stories to tell! You can’t complain without sounding whiny. You didn’t do much of anything, and you certainly didn’t do anything different from all the other people you know who’ve been to all-inclusives.
Okay, we did have one adventure, and it was in the 30 minutes we spent outside of the resort’s/tour company’s control. On our homeward journey, we took a taxi to the airport due to missing the tour company’s bus…and he got stopped by police for speeding. We were a little worried that the police were up to something more serious, maybe related to noticing the foreigners in the car, but nope, just a speeding ticket. But at least we can say we had an interaction with the Cuban police…?
What are your thoughts on all-inclusives? Want more information? I can share my packing list, or talk more about the specific resort we stayed at. Let me know!