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May 7th, 2007

I Wrote the Cunt Novel, Children

Most of the kids I work with a pretty cool. Funny, weird. They make the job entertaining. A lot of them are living in different worlds to me--take K, for example, who is ten, and on her second passport. She's lived in three different countries and had maids that her parents paid five dollars an hour (this was in Africa, and she said, "That's the pay they want," which is the nine year old logic for you). She told me I was the coolest teacher she had ever met the other day, which considering she's been to more countries than birthdays, is nice. It'll pass, of course. She'll turn ten, eleven, whatever, and I'll just become odd, uncool, and fucking ancient. Which is the way it should be. But for the time being, most of them are cool, and I'll just not mention the sullen teenagers with shit music tastes and heads full of silence. They're the minority.

At any rate, I don't talk about being an author at work. There's a little bit of cool to being an author--because of those glamourous films they make, you understand--but to mention it in that environment has always struck me as running just a little close to pimping your work to the kids, which is, lets face it, terribly fucking uncool. This is a general rule I have for any level: University, High School, Primary, whatever, I just don't do it. I've taught in a whole lot of places now, and in a whole lot of ways, and I've seen it done a number of times: lecturers who fill the reader with their own work, teachers who get the class read their work, guest speakers who bring in their own work, and so on and so forth. I've never seen it done, but one student, a girl in year ten, told me how an author had shown up with t-shirts of his books, or some such thing. The mention was for mockery. Now, some people, they're going to see that this is fine, but to me, it's all hideously tacky, and riding a line where you're just taking advantage of people who have to be in your presence for another reason entirely.

And seriously, if you're teaching literature, how egotistical is it to force your own work on your students?

I've done the last, mind you. A while back I was told I should do it because, well, everyone else does, and why shouldn't I, since I'm a brilliant and talented sort and deserve to be read more wildly (no, seriously, this was the logic--look, don't argue with it, I already did). It left me with such a nasty, unpleasant feeling, as if I'd suddenly become a spam ninja, or one of those telemarketers that call you at night to sell you mail order brides, or those people who know on your door to sell you a version of God. About the only time this whole rule of mine is passed off is when I talk about the 'career' I've had, at which stage, I have a nice set of props, where I show them a stapled, photocopied version of the Mentor, the first place I was ever published, and a beautiful, real looking book, such as Leviathan Four or Forever Shores or one of the Year's Best books. I hold the first one up and say, "Twelve years ago," and then I pick up the second and say, "Somewhere about now. Ever heard of this book? Publisher? Me? No? Well, let me just say, all this too can be all yours after twelve years of hard work."

Not to get a little rantish there, but pimping students is just never the good idea you think it is. In addition to that, it's a quick way to lose that all important voice of knowledge for teaching. If a piece of yours is technically unsound, a student will pick it up, and then ask him or herself why they should be listening to you?

They're going to learn about you, anyway. They're all going to learn that you're an author (also,if you're single, married, have children, and how much is in your savings account). Either they'll google you, or other teachers, or other students, will tell them. There's no need to actually pimp your shit to them so they 'know about it', which is but one line of logic I've heard. Simply put: they're going to learn. They're going to track it down. They're going to find your blog and then tell you about it later (Hi, M). Which, to return to my class of ten and eleven year olds, is what happened on the weekend. The first words out of their mouth, of course, were, "What's it about? Can you show it to us?!" which is totally sweet and lovely, but if you're me, and the author of 26Lies, the book that results in conversations like this--

Mum?

Yes, dear?


Ben's book has the word cunt in it six billion fucking times.

--then you need to find a way to downplay it. Really down, downplay.

Now, me, I'm fine with kids learning the word cunt, and about ass fucking, why its stupid to hate gay people, and all the other fine, educational qualities that my book contains, even if they are ten. In fact, the earlier you start, the better, I reckon. However, it has been pointed out that, since I'm not a parent, I have no fucking idea about what all this 'bad information' will do, and since I don't want to see my kids get beaten...

Well, authors are uncool anyway. Kids should learn that early on.

One Line Reviews.

One of my favourite things to do is read the reviews at Free SF Reader (run, it seems, by bluetyson). They're succinct, pared back, funny as fuck, and the best of them aren't more than a line. For example, 'The Grief Doll', written by Lily Chrywenstrom, is referred to as, "Dead woman, toy has advice. Three out of five." Margo Lanagan's award winning, much loved 'Singing My Sister Down' is, "Execution by tar pit, with ceremony. Two and a half out of five." Paul Haines 'Malik Rising' is "Drugged whacko angel wannabes. Three and a half out of five."

Indeed, you read enough of them, and a certain poetry begins to emerge.

I'm there twice, first for 'Johnny Cash', which is described as, "Presidential demons, and those that have to clean up after them. Four out of five." And second for 'Cigarettes and Roses', which is described as, "Two people are being paid to transport the corpse of a fake saint. For a dead body, it seems to have a strange smell, and things go plenty bad. Three out of five." There is even another site, Not Free SF Reader, for fiction that's not free online, and 'Dream of a Russian Princess' is described as as, "Dead girl. Dull. Two out of five."

Sheer. Poetry.

I love 'em. I want more. Blue, you need review copies?

Free SF Reader
Not Free SF Reader
Australian SF Reader

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At the start of the year I linked about a disease in the town of Chichialpa called the Yellow Disease. Well, five months on, a bit of press, and the new, clinical name of Chronic Renal Insufficiency (CRI):

LA ISLA, Nicaragua -- Ursula Tobal knows the names of almost all the 20 widows who live on this tiny islet between two narrow streams, and almost all the orphaned children who play in the dusty fields.

The 40-year-old Tobal became a widow herself in late 2005 when her husband, Luis Abraham Martínez, a cane cutter at the nearby San Antonio sugar mill, died of the same disease that has earned this islet the nickname of Island of the Widows.

''My life has been very hard,'' said Tobal, who was left with 10 children and a social security payment of $74 a month. 'There have been times when I've had to put my children to bed telling them, `If you sleep, you won't feel hungry.' ''

The widows are just part of the human tragedy being wreaked in the Chichigalpa region of northwestern Nicaragua by chronic renal insufficiency (CRI), an illness whose cause remains a mystery.

...

Former mill and sugar-cane-field workers, dismissed when their kidneys showed signs of failing, now walk the streets aimlessly or sit on stools outside their homes. They cannot work, because they become exhausted within minutes.

''His agony was awful,'' Tobal said of her husband. ``He couldn't walk. That sickness takes away people's strength, affects their eyesight, bursts their innards, mouths and skin, and they vomit blood.''

All the victims can do is take calcium tablets to compensate for the loss of that element as a result of the kidney malfunction, and slow their deterioration.

But in the end, they can no longer stand, and they just lie in bed. Their bodies are swollen, their breathing labored. They sip Gatorade to keep hydrated. And they wait for death.

...

In La Isla, Ursula Tobal's son Nelson Moisés Martínez said that he began to cut cane at 14, and started to feel sick at 20. Now 24, he says his last checkup showed a creatinine level nearly eight times higher than normal.

He would like to work to help his widowed mother, he says, but he can't. He cracked a morbid joke about the guanacaste trees that cover the Chichigalpa cemetery.

''If I work, I die more quickly,'' he said, laughing a bit. "I'll go faster to the guanacastes.''


Link.

Is it strange that I link this story? I don't have any connection to it, and in fact, given my distance from it, you might be wondering why I've taken an interest in it--after all, it's not as if Australia will feel any moral obligation, even if all people be people in the world, and everyone everywhere has a right to clean water and not to be poisoned by chemicals as they work. However, I hear about it from Lucius Shepard (lucius_t in the theinferior4), and he talks about the things that people are trying to do--bottled water has, for example, just started to arrive--and it seems that one of the issues facing this story is just getting it talked about. This blog has an audience that runs between Australia, the States, the UK, and even Iceland, Germany, Russia, Israel, China, and more, which I can't remember off the top of my head. My linking it, gets it out just a little, which is not much, but it's something.