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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Thursday 18 June 2020

What Is Even Happening Right Now?

So, astute readers will have noticed that I've been completely silent since February. Where'd I go for three months? This is going to be rambling and less focused than my usual posts, but perhaps my readers will forgive it.

Content warning: pet death, current events

Well...frankly, I haven't been able to figure out how to write about what's been going on. Despite years of editing and writing science fiction, including stories about or related to pandemics, actually enduring one myself was not something I seriously considered. I mean, I grew up in the era of both SARS and H1N1, the latter of which I actually contracted. It was a bit scary, and it sucked, but the deaths were relatively few in number, and fewer still, those who developed serious complications.

Now, I realise the case was different for those living in Hong Kong and China and South-East Asia in general, but that was my experience as a Canadian. I trusted the medical system to handle a disease of significant scale. 

How fact and fiction differ

For starters, the contagiousness of a disease is inversely proportional to its ability to spread. This is something that sci fi usually gets completely wrong - diseases are portrayed as both easy to catch and very deadly. But an extremely deadly disease usually burns itself out. Bubonic plague was an exception to this in part because the way diseases spread in the ancient world is different from the way they spread now - there were a lot more vectors back then because of the lack of knowledge about hygiene. There may be more opportunities to spread diseases now due to the increased population size and contact methods, but human beings have far less contact with blood, other animal species, and each others' bodily fluids than we used to. We know that washing our hands is even a thing we should do, rather than just a cosmetic or convenience factor, and we have functioning sewage and water lines (in many parts of the world, though not all, of course). The world is a lot less gross than it was in earlier eras, and frankly, that's protecting us more than we realise. 

Not enough, of course, to keep us from contacting new bacteria and viruses, and global warming is also increasing our risk of contracting ancient illnesses for which we no longer have immunity. 

The practical upshot

Of course, all of this is intellectually interesting, but living through a pandemic is still flat-out terrifying and hard to deal with. I was already following the news avidly, fearful and concerned about the world, and then...this all happened. 

But that wasn't all. On April 4th, our cat Maxwell Maximilian Maximus passed away, having a heart attack at the age of about 12. We rushed him to the vet's office, but were told it was too late, and he was in heart failure. I'll skip the painful details, but his sudden death shook both my partner and I quite badly. We later realised he'd had his first heart attack in late November, and had actually been in heart failure for some time, but the benefit of hindsight is a sad one. 

Still, having a cat for almost his entire life was a privilege and a joy. Because I hysterically demanded that we fill the "cat-shaped hole" in our home as soon as possible, with tears still on our faces, we went to the non-profit Humane Society to have a look at their cats. I can't recommend that enough for anyone grieving a lost pet - the joy animals have and their appreciation for human company is immense. After a few more visits and some discussion, about three weeks later, we brought home Alfred (Alfred Sylvester Codworth) and Chester (Chesterfield Archer Chestermere), a dignified 4yo tuxedo Ragamuffin-mix and a bouncy 10mo shorthaired tuxedo respectively, both with light green eyes. They get along wonderfully, and although new pets absolutely never replace the old, they made grieving a lot easier. 

Cat pictures, because of course. Top: Chester; bottom: Alfred.

Alfred, named for his calm and butler-like solicitiousness, even seemed to figure out what happened to Maxwell. Of course the house still smelled of Max (to the cats), and coming fresh from the shelter, they started investigating to see where the other cat might be. On Alfred's first day at our home, he sniffed the area by the bookshelf in the bedroom where Max had spent most of his time crouching, and seemed to follow the scent trail to the closet where Max hid in fear (an unusual place, one he never spent time in) when the heart attack was happening. Animals instinctively know the smell of death, and Alfred must have recognised it at some point. He somberly padded from the closet to myself on the carpet by the bed. I burst into tears and hugged him, and the calm creature patiently let me sob into his luxuriant black fur. 

Since then, of course, things have been markedly less glum, and less painfully quiet than during the two weeks and a bit before we brought them home. It seemed like things were looking up. With a 290K fantasy novel to work on, I had professional occupation aplenty to boot. I even re-started my online D&D campaign, feeling that it might help me stay motivated and connected to the world. 

But the world had other plans. 

Current situation, protests

Although I've been planning a blog post on Things I've Been Wrong About, such as police reform, I am in many ways not especially well-equipped to speak on the epidemic of police violence and decades of racial injustice that has provoked Black Lives Matter's triumphant resurgence. Suffice to say for now that I fully support these efforts, and I now understand why merely reforming police is inadequate. I will be writing more about some of thoughts about this and other leftist issues in the future, so I'll keep it short for the time being. 

You'd think that writing about revolutions would equip me to handle living through one to some degree, but I don't feel especially well-prepared. If I am better prepared than I would have been otherwise, it's hard to say. The truth is, the world's been in a rough spot for as long as I can remember, and by the world, I mostly mean "America," the loudest part. I also am considering a post about what it's been like to grow up as a Millennial, for the purposes of contrasting it with the Gen Z experience, so look for that in the coming weeks. 

Do I think this is the apocalypse? 

Well, the apocalypse is never the end of the entire world, because that's meaningless - if by "the world" we mean "our experience and lifestyle up to this point," then yes, this is an apocalypse - but we've had those before. The start of the Cold War, the First and Second World Wars, the invasion of North America by Europeans - all of those were apocalypses. 

But I also believe that these painful contractions are spasms of death for some of our worst beliefs. The fact that people can even demand justice and be listened to is a significant step forward. However, not resting on our laurels or being content with crumbs is of vital importance, and any momentum gained from demanding either the abolition or restructuring of the police has to be used to demand the restructuring and abolition of prisons and other measures for creating equity. 

There's a lot of work to come. We have to stick together, forgive each other sometimes, keep learning, and take time to rest, because the world just won't stop. 

Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer and editor. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime and their two cats. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and learning too much. She is currently working on other people’s manuscripts, the next books in her series, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.
Find her all over the internet: * OG Blog * Mailing list * Magpie Editing * Amazon * Medium * Twitter * Instagram * Facebook * Tumblr * Paypal.me * Ko-fi

Monday 10 February 2020

The Art of Destruction: Distressed Aesthetics

A belated happy new year, my dear followers!

So, I have a neat idea for a new series coming up. But after the holidays (which were pleasantly busy) and some interpersonal scuffling in January (which was not nearly as lovely, but came to an all-right enough resolution), my idea bank was absolutely flat broke.

A nice chat with friends has filled the bowl up, but while I work on those posts, here is something I stashed off to the side after a Facebook conversation last year.

I often reference fashion and clothing to help get in the right mindset for my writing projects. Whilst working on Poe's Outlaws (Book 4 of The Meaning Wars series; book 3, The Meaning Wars, is ready for beta-reading and edits now!) I indulged in my usual technique of sifting through Dolls Kill and Pinterest to look at various bits of outre, fun, futuristic fashion.

Of course, when working on Monsters and Fools and planning for After the Garden's sequels, I also like to look at post-apocalyptic and distressed clothing. I like distressed clothing anyway, but it tends to get a lot of flack.

On an episode of a podcast called Minion Death Cult, the hosts discussed some common reactions of tradespeople and Boomers to distressed and some faux-muddy jeans. (Not unsurprisingly, there were a lot of tired jokes about just selling people old, worn-out jeans from "real" tradesmen.) But not a lot of people understand how distressed clothing works, or why it's somehow different from their dad's old, grimy jeans and tattered denim jacket, so I'm going to break it down.

Note: all images in this article came from the Nordstrom website. Most or all are designed by PRPS.

PRPS Barracuda Straight Leg Jeans, Main, color, 490 PRPS Conductor Stripe Denim Jacket, Main, color, AUTO
PRPS Windsor Slim Fit Jeans, Main, color, AMBULANCE
PRPS Le Sabre Slim Fit Jeans, Main, color, FROST

I'm gonna take the unusual stance here of defending distressed jeans, because I've been studying and making distressed knit clothing and other types of distressed clothing for a bit. Why? Because I like post-apocalyptic fashion, and I think wrecked things are often beautiful.

You may be familiar with the term "wabi-sabi," which sometimes passes in and out of vogue for decorating trends. The term is comprised of two Japanese words - wabi, in a nutshell, refers to the beauty of simplicity; sabi, to the beauty of age and use. There's a bit more to it, but that's the quick explanation of these beautiful and imperfectly translatable terms. Wabi-sabi is usually used in reference to home decor, but it totally applies to clothing, too.

Anyway, getting on with the point - the thing about dirty jeans is that they're gonna leave dirt on wherever you sit. Fake dirt still captures the same look, the rather beautiful way the brown stains and fades into the tightly woven blue threads, but it won't leave big ol' scuffmarks on your leather car seats.

As for the distressing, the interesting and beautiful way that denim falls apart tends to happen in less sexy areas - the knees, the thighs, the crotch. Distressing clothes on purpose lets you get the look without impairing the wearability and structural integrity of the clothes. Sometimes that doesn't work at all, like with the cheaper distressed jeans that are all holes and have a high spandex content, but that's still the idea.

As far as how this relates to designing and making clothing, with knitwear (such as the awesome punk sweaters we all may love, or at least have seen before), it's important to know how the particular fibres and yarns work structurally. There's a reason why clothing made to be or look distressed looks so awesome and a lot of actually busted up clothing or "home-made" distressed stuff looks crappy. Knowing where and how to cut fabric in pre-made knits, how to style the runs, or how to make patterns with the runs and holes, is all very calculated. As I've learned myself, if you try to distress a finely-knit sweater, it'll look like crap; distressing needs a chunkier, thicker yarn to be really noticeable. And wet-blocking a ravelled sweater (stretching while wet) is very important - otherwise, the threads maintain their curled appearance, and don't become those straight lines that create contrast with the curving knitted stitches. It's also really important to actually tie off runs in a distressed sweater, or the whole thing will, in fact, unravel.

The advantage of knitting a sweater with a distressed look is that you can control this process. In effect, dropped stitches and yarn-overs create a sort of freeform lace look, and don't destroy the structural integrity of the sweater (which unravelling a pre-made sweater CAN do).

So basically there IS a method to the madness in pre-distressed clothing, and knowing how to distress your clothing well and safely - whether it's for a stage production, Halloween, or fashion - takes more than sharp scissors and boredom!

PRPS Le Sabre Slim Fit Jeans, Main, color, WIND CHILL

PRPS 'Barracuda' Destroyed Straight Leg Jeans, Main, color, 490
Predictably, clothes like this inspire retorts like, "I could give you my old jeans covered in cow manure and farm dirt and motor oil for that price!" But that's the point - the "fake dirt" that so baffled the Washington Post and CNN, where reporters appeared unfamiliar with the concept of "p a i n t", will not rub off or dirty other surfaces. The pants don't contain the scent and sweat of another person's work, nor are they worn out and about to fall apart, as those pants probably are. (For example, the wear patterns and distressing and whiskering all appear on the thighs and calves of the jeans, rather than in the crotch, around the bottom cuffs, and etcetera.) 

It's not about pretending you work - it's about exploring the beauty of entropy and things that are lived-in. The way fabric dye fades, the soft whiskering of denim fabric, the delicate feathers of raw-edged cotton - all of these have their own beauty. Repairs can create a contrast from the original fabric or material as well, and it needn't be ugly. People familiar with "that weird gold thing," kintsuogi, may also know have seen it in cases where useful objects are repaired and the cracks are patched with gold leaf to highlight their beauty. 

Here's another example of finding beauty in marks and unexpected places. When I saw an advertisement for Canada Post that featured a very intriguing necklace, I tracked down the artist's work and had a look at her site.

However, to my surprise, most of her jewelry was either minimalist and geometric, or covered in dented and scratched textures, like this!

There is real value in appreciating things as we wear them out. If we are to shift to a less consumption-driven culture, which is necessary in the fight against climate change, we're gonna have to get used to not having things that look new all the time. Supplies and availability of items may be restricted. Repairing clothing and items instead of just throwing them out has also become pretty popular amongst Generation Z, many of whom are embracing thrifting and minimal-waste lifestyles.

But in addition to that, there's also a beauty in the broken or fraying, the imperfect, the less-than-new. Most of the time we spend with an item will be active. Jewelry gets scratches. Clothes rip. Colours fade. Paper tears. And all of those things expose new beauties and different aspects of the item, revealing its structure and design and suggesting or reminding us of experiences we've had.

After all, our possessions act as anchors for memories. There's a reason why in pre-industrial times, treasured items were passed down through generations or repaired over and over. Our things aren't just pretty diversions or useful parts of daily life - they're parts of our lives, woven or tangled with our memories.

Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer and editor. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime and Max the cat. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and learning too much. She is currently working on other people’s manuscripts, the next books in her series, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.
Find her all over the internet: * OG Blog * Mailing list * Magpie Editing * Amazon * Medium * Twitter * Instagram * Facebook * Tumblr * Paypal.me * Ko-fi