Tanstaafl

I’ve been downloading some really exquisite fanvids this week (for those not in the know, they’re basically homemade music videos of songs with spliced TV clips) and came to a site that actually charged for fanvids. My first reaction was disbelief, “Who does she think she is?” and then I thought about how much bandwidth a single person downloading a single video can chew up. We take for granted that you can get so much entertainment for free on the internet: I have a steadily-growing, detailed list of over 500 fanfics saved so I can find whatever I’m in the mood for, and all of those stories (some of which are novel-sized and almost all of which are of publishable quality if it weren’t for that darned copyright infringement) are free. I read at least ten free web comics every morning. I’m not stealing these things, I’m not ripping CDs or burning DVDs (partly due to honesty and partly because I don’t have a high-speed connection that would make that convenient). I remember for the first few years Napster was working, I might download a single song by a one-hit wonder, but I would consider it stealing to get a whole album, because if I like it that much, I should vote with my wallet and encourage the artist to make more. But I’ve become inundated by the idea that I shouldn’t have to pay for entertainment, and that if I am asked to pay, I can and should go elsewhere.

Now, as someone who hopes to make a living as a writer someday, I’m getting a little concerned at this idea the net creates that everyone should be able to get whatever high-quality entertainment they want for free, because I think it may set up a mentality where anyone who puts out a physical book or magazine and dares ask money for it will be laughed out of business, and similarly, people will see micropayments on the web as a hassle they don’t have to put up with. And it’s not even accurate or fair to say things are free on the net: someone has to pay for hosting and bandwidth; either advertisers or the artist/writer themselves, and people don’t like the idea of paying subscription fees; they take their business (such as it is) elsewhere.

I’m just worried that while, yes, people will always be driven to make art and share it with the world, there will be two nasty outcomes of this trend. First of all, there is no quality control on the net, no standard to aspire to, which means there’s a whole lot of junk to wade through. Second, I think most writers and artists out there would agree that the quality of their work changes dramatically when they have time to devote to their craft as a career rather than a hobby. If no one can ask money for their work, if everyone has to get a day job despite their potential as artists or writers, ultimately the quality of the work that is possible goes down.

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On work and play

I got a phone call from a rabbi for work today who managed to insult my professional judgment three times, called me a bad Jew, proceeded to bend my ear for half an hour and then got insulted and hung up on me when I said to him, “I’m very sorry to interrupt, sir, but I have to go or I’ll be late for Minchah.” This is someone I have always been patient, helpful and cheerful to on the phone. Gah. I hate praying when I’m pissed at someone: I have to let go of the anger, despite wanting to seethe, because it feels really inappropriate to try connecting with God when you really want to strangle someone.

On the other hand, I had a really great weekend with Sam, and I’m trying to hold onto that instead of what just happened. He cooked me delicious Indian food, addicted me to Dr. Who, allowed me to addict him to Firefly, and we went to the Met together. I got to introduce him to the American wing, which was great because he was thrilled by the still lives, which he’d never seen. In return, he showed me the Assyrian wing, which was really incredible. Lovely, lovely weekend.

Barrow Man

Zippety doo dah! The new issue of Abyss and Apex is out, along with my latest story, Barrow Man. Really happy about this, and the editor has been so lovely to me.

And in other news, keep forgetting to say that a very grainy picture of me is in the January Locus, along with a picture of mabfan, who told me to go look for this. Thanks, Mab, and I’m cheering that “TelePresence” is going to see print in Analog.

Reaching ‘yet’

So the new semester started at the Sem, which meant my lunch break consisted of dragging my very large mattress, box spring and bedding up to my dad’s office because both my parents are teaching here this semester, which means they actually get to share a bed like married people! (Gah, run-on sentence…) Which also means I get to hang out with both my parents more than I have for the last few weeks. I was getting family-deprived, only going home one weekend and hanging out with Uri and Jody in the city. *smirk*

But yeah, I really love being able to go downstairs when I’m having a shitty day and just get a quick hug.

On the subject of “Not yet,” I went to Mincha today. Trying to figure out (a) whether I liked it enough to do it again and (b) whether I’m doing it for its own sake or whether I’m just trying to be superjew. When I started doing Shaharit I waited a whole year before telling anyone I was doing it; I didn’t want it to be about my parents’ approval and I sure as hell didn’t want to weird out my friends. But I did Shaharit every day when I was a kid, whereas I don’t know jack about what to do for Mincha, so I went to the sanctuary downstairs from work. Which means when I got there, I discovered what I sorta hadn’t let myself think about before going: my dad, his boss, his students/my friends and a huge chunk of the student body were there. Not exactly a private test of faith. But yeah, I think I liked it enough to go again.

You can’t go home again, but you can shop there

Long, intense weekend, not really sure where to begin.

I had Friday night dinner with my childhood babysitter, he has this little takeout grocery near him with yummy food, and I brought challah (I freaking miss baking my own!) and we lit candles and talked a lot. The twins are growing up fast, by all reports! His twins are the cutest, sweetest little munchkins, in preschool now, and quite enchanting (plus there’s something cool about hanging out with the toddlers of the babysitter who changed my diapers way back in the day), but Friday night was just him and me hanging out. And we played Scrabble, and he kicked my ass with three seven-letter words, which shouldn’t be humanly possible, and we flopped down on his bed to watch Jennifer Aniston on Lifetime. And then, after a debate with dictionaries about the definition of the word rentboy (I thought it was a young gay man who traded sex for room and board, the dictionary bore Fred out as thinking it’s just a young male prostitute, a renting of bodies, not houses), I dragged myself home to catch a little sleep before the morning train. My parents raised us with lots of lovely people around us who have stayed in our lives, and there are times that he feels like an older brother or something. It’s great just hanging out and talking. I was sorry not to see his husband, though, every time I come over, he’s off teaching again. Sigh.

And after various bits of train craziness, I went to Princeton with Sam and met Sam’s folks. His dad is great. Normally I’d be nervous about meeting the parents, but as I’ve already said to some of you, they met me at age thirteen and it doesn’t get any worse than that. The day was this beautiful, interesting blend of walking down memory lane and having new experiences, walking together down my old block and seeing places we used to go together, trees I used to climb, (low) roofs I used to jump off of, locks I used to pick (yeah, I was a bookworm tomboy). We went inside the building I used to go to for services every week when I was a kid; it was getting refurbished, so the carpeting was all ripped up, but it felt so sharply of home and childhood just the same. It felt like the scale of everything was off; I walk such long distances in New York that things that seemed far as a child now seem ridiculously compact. And we played pool. I freaking love playing pool, and it was fun just hanging out together, arguing religion and philosophy at Victor’s pizzeria (except it’s not Victor’s anymore). Oh yeah, and they destroyed the library. Ripped it down. They made a new building with a huge food court and DVD section and oh yeah, a couple of supermarket checkout books if you really want those nasty paper things.

Sam’s studio is beautiful, inside and out. It’s in an ancient mill house, divided up into various studios, and I got to see his work up close. It was really gorgeous, alive. It was strange, looking around this huge space with millraces and support beams, filled with all sorts of kitchy curios, and here and there would be these enormous paintings that suddenly jumped out at you, these pieces of his mind that took your breath away. And it was great seeing Sam. Long distance relationships are hard.

We went out for dinner at this Indian restaurant in town, which was extraordinarily delicious, and very strange because it’s not what I think of when I think of Princeton. It was just a massively huge day, and it’s still all boiling around in my head a bit, but so lovely.

On an entirely different note, maybe I have some sort of sign on my head, because this has been my weekend for inappropriate comments. Sam and I blew kisses at each other through the train window, and somehow this made the guy sitting across from me and the guy sitting behind me start making salacious comments like “Oh, I bet I know what put that smile on that boy’s face,” and “I’ve heard you get a special feeling when you meet that certain someone, is that true?” (emphasis theirs) in a tone of voice that made me really uncomfortable. I thought about asking to be reseated, then trusted my instincts and confronted them directly, and after a little verbal fencing I felt quite safe on the group-W bench *cue Alice’s Restaurant*. But then last night, I was going into the subway and this creepy guy says, “My metro card isn’t working, can I go in the turnstile with you?” refused to accept my polite refusal that there wasn’t room, and then got pissed when I asked him to back off so I could go through on my own. Gah. This never happens to me.

And then I spent Sunday watching a Stargate marathon. Susan, you rock, the eps are so great! The whole experience reminded me of the 48-hour movie marathons Uri, Nate and I used to do; there’s something really satisfying about watching a huge chunk of eps that way, and Stargate is a splendid, funny drama. Oh and hey, yeah, some writing! And no going into work on the sly this weekend! Aren’t you all proud of me? 😉

Farewell to the master

Will Eisner died on Monday. He was 87 years old.

I first got an appreciation for Eisner’s work when I interned at Kitchen Sink Press. They were putting together a collection of The Spirit, the comic Eisner started drawing in 1939, and it was my job to handle the fragile, acid-crumbled, eight-page newspaper inserts for xeroxing as references. The comics were hard-boiled detective stories with a sense of the ridiculous, a mixture of fluid slapstick with some of the most emotive art I’d seen in comics. I felt like he was challenging himself more than most of the comic book artists of the day, showing a fluidity of motion unseen in early Superman or Batman and no fear about embarrassing his hero by showing all that can go wrong in a caper.

Eisner went off to war and returned to The Spirit for a few years, but his interests led him to delve into what made a comic and what it could do. He wrote two great books on the mechanics of comic book storytelling, exploring such ideas as why a camera angle or the shape of a panel changes a viewer’s emotional reaction to a scene and the problems of dramatic pacing and backstory in comics of different lengths. Then he revolutionized the field by writing and illustrating A Contract With God, the first graphic novel (a word he also pioneered). What was revolutionary about this collection was that rather than being a superhero or horror or ‘funny animal’ comic, it was a collection of tales about the petty ups and downs of life in tenement housing, told through images and words. It stepped outside the conventions, made comic books a medium rather than a genre, and paved the way for such groundbreaking works as Maus and Watchmen. His influence is recognized on almost every page of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, the most highly regarded deconstruction of the medium.

You can go look at his website, or the New York Times obituary, if you like.

May his memory be a blessing.