bookworm

fanfic master list

Below is a list of my various fanfic and blog posts discussing different books, TV shows and movies. Feel free to poke around and read anything that strikes your fancy.

The fiction in particular often carries specific warnings and benefited from the help of beta readers and (in the case of some poetry) co-authors. Rather than trying to recreate this information here, please find it at the archive where the stories are posted. If you've helped me out over the years and I haven't properly thanked you, please let me know so I can correct it. Most of the links point to ArchiveOfOurOwn.org, which I joined several years ago, and while I've done my best to give credit where due, I do know my own limitations in this area and am willing to fix any mistakes.

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bilbo

(no subject)

A while ago I talked a bit about identifying black characters in Tolkien, and since then I've been making a bit of an effort to read blog entries and the like when they touch on Tolkien and race. This one really struck a chord. Well worth the read, especially if you're a white fan like me who's never had first-hand experience of this side of the fandom. (With all the usual provisos that this is just one person's experience, other fans may have different experiences, etc. Even so: very thought-provoking.

https://www.publicmedievalist.com/tolkien-fans-black-people/
bilbo

the politics of death

... particularly when the one doing the dying is a SCOTUS justice. Because I've been thinking.

First, I'm not surprised or even particularly dismayed that politicos are already talking about her replacement. Yes, Fox commentators are floating specific names, and yes, Sen. Turtle (R-KY) has confirmed he'll hold a vote on any nominees, but Democrats are also milking this for massive amounts of donations. This is not just a personal tragedy, both for those who knew the woman and those who are mourning what she symbolized in our own lives; it's a genuine political moment with public importance. Of course people are going to discuss those aspects.

I do wish we could put a pause button on those vital public conversations when it involves death, though. Pause the news cycle. Then when the nation has had a time to grieve, then we can discuss the political implications as fresh news. It would be a lot more humanizing and humane, though I'm not sure how you'd do it since everyone would have to agree to press pause together.

Democrats are talking a lot about the hypocrisy of Republicans, particularly the aforementioned Sen. Turtle, because when Scalia died back in 2016 there was such a pushback to even giving a hearing to Pres. Obama's nominee. And there is such a hypocrisy here, and it does need to be discussed. The problem is the way the Democrats are doing this is forcing them to be hypocrites themselves. It's one thing to say: hold on, you've completely switched sides in a brazenly political move. You can even do that in a way that doesn't give up the argument this go-round; for instance, you could argue that because mcConnell basically stole Obama's chance to have his nominee vetted, in this one instance and in the interest of fairness they should delay the vote until after the election voluntarily; or even give Merrick Garland a hearing for this nomination. Even if Congress resoundingly rejected him, they'd have to do it on the record, and it would be a good symbolic move toward acknowledging he'd been wronged back in 2016.

As it is, by insisting we delay a vote, they're really being just as hypocritical as the Republicans. I don't think they shouldn't fight, and I do understand the stakes! I'm all for anything that keeps trump from appointing another SCOTUS justice. But I still cringe every time I see Dems using the Rep playbook and buying into it just to use it against them.

But none of this would address the big issue, which is that there's such a perverse incentive to game the nomination process on both sides. Justices either serve until they die or try to hang on until a president of similar politics can appoint a like-minded replacement. Justice Ginsburg was dying of cancer. She shouldn't have had to served at the same time; certainly if someone had a slowly-deteriorating mental condition, like Alzheimers or just old-age dementia, they shouldn't be serving until they died. But on the other side, conservative commentators are talking about potential justice nominations from just two angles: have they proved they're reliably conservative, and are they young enough to be expected to serve for decades to come?

To be fair, in the opposite situation I'm sure there would be liberal/progressive commentators and politicians pushing for the exact same qualifications. I hope I'd be just as opposed to that as I am this. Firstly because justices are supposed to be qualified for something beyond their political leanings. Not to say they don't have biases and starting points that might generally make them more sympathetic to certain ways of thinking about politics, but "reliably conservative" is a big warning sign to me that a person is too nakedly political in their thinking to give a case the unbiased hearing that justice requires. And second, the age thing! I understand why, but jeez! That's just so depressing and obviously gaming of the system, but it also only seems to happen because the system is so easily game-able.

The obvious answer is to stop lifetime appointments and either appoint people for set terms or even elect them. I'm not a big fan of either because I think giving justices the security to make unpopular rulings is important. Can you imagine Justice Kennedy deciding Obergefell the way he did if he was facing re-election? And if the current president got to to appoint justices every ten years instead of whenever they die, it would only create more of a problem, not less.

One approach might be to set up a kind of judicial executor for SCOTUS justices) - in the sense of executor of a will, not a literal killer! Say Justice Ginsburg had chosen someone who when she retired or died would nominate the next candidates. Presumably this wouldn't be a politician who had their own partisan agenda in getting a SCOTUS justice on the bench with a certain base-pleasing ideology. Congress would still have to approve meaning it wouldn't be like some random person just selected the next justice; but they would have to hold a hearing and go on the record with why they think the person is unsuitable, and if they just reflexively refused to approve one nominee after another you'd hope there'd be political consequences.

The benefit? It would let justices have some control over their successors, so they could retire in good conscience knowing someone with a similar view of the law would go on advocating for their legal philosophy. There's be less drive to nominate justices just because they're young, and less reducing them to a particular political party. We couldn't say oh this justice is a Bush appointee or a Clinton appointee, when we're analyzing and predicting SCOTUS decisions you'd have to look more at the variety of their actual opinions. And because the judicial executor presumably wouldn't be a politician themselves, there'd be a lot less need to satisfy the base feeding into the nomination process.

Of course, it would also mean a lot more balance in the ideological makeup of the court, and as a progressive that's not exactly a happy thought. But it's not like we'd be cloning the current justices. Their executor would be someone they trusted with this, but not exactly them. There's also the fact that Congress's makeup affects who could actually get approved. So if Ginsburg had retired and a legal colleague who she thought would pick someone with a similar philosophy had been tasked with nominating her replacement, a more moderate candidate would probably be more likely to get through; whereas if it was under a more liberal Congress she might select someone with more liberal-friendly philosophies and history.

I don't know. Practically it's probably never going to happen. But the more I think about it, the more this feels akin to the Electoral College: long outlived its usefulness, totally out of kilter with the current political reality, and just something that needs to be changed.
bilbo

Wes thu hal, RBG

I've been deeply saddened by Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death. Others will think and comment on the politics of the timing, of how she's replaced and what this means for an already conservative-leaning court. I'll probably be one of those tomorrow. For now, I mostly feel that I've been sucker-punched in ths stomach and not sure what to make of it all, and just want to sit with that pain and confusion for a moment. What she accomplished and what she represented: her death will be felt by many justice-lovers and progress-makers around the world, I think.

I've been struck by a little bit of Judaica that's been making its way around the internet. The idea is, if the truly holy among us (the term in Judaism is usually a tzaddik) die on the day before Rosh Hashannah. They've lived out nearly every moment of each year that's appointed to them. I think it's tied to a midrash that Moses died in the day before a Rosh Hashannah. Here's the thing, though. I've not actually read any news articles arout when she died, and I didn't discover the news until late last night. If she died after sunset, she actually died on Rosh Hashannah, so she would have lived into the new year but been deprived of pretty much the whole thing: the exact opposite of being blessed to live out a full last year.

I don't know which is actually true, but the possibility has me thinking about how incomplete the world feels. Even with all the progress we've made so far, the current moment, as a liberal, is about the frustration of unrealized righteousness, the gaping hole between where we feel we could (and should) be and where we actually are. If she died after sunset on Rosh Hashannah, it feels like we were robbed somehow, even more than we were generally, denied another year of Justice Ginsburg working among us. But that seems fitting even as it's tragic and obviously practically awful, because she worked in justice. That's about recognizing where the world's gone wrong and collectively saying it needs to be fixed, applying some sort of punishment, preventing the bad actor from doing that in the future, maybe even righting a wrong. Justice is only needed in an imperfect world. God knows we live in one. And if Justice Ginsburg's life was incomplete, too, that seems fitting.

Of course all lives are, but being so close to the line makes me think about both possibilities, and maybe sitting with that idea is one way to honor all the work she did. It's the best I can manage just now, at any rate.
bilbo

(no subject)

We are apparently to the "life is pain" portion of the healing process. The swelling in my ankle's gone down a good bit, though, and I'm able to hobble around the apartment with one half of an old pair of crutches for support; I've still not had the courage to try the stairs. Never thought I'd say this but: thank goodness for COVID-necessitated working from home. (Also, for Instacart.)

The big news is I managed to drag the heating fan out of my closet and plugged it in. Autumn is icumen in, I think, to the point that I was actually having a hard time settling down and going to sleep. Insomnia is nothing new, but the hot air helps a bit, and it's actually cold enough not to mind it too much. At least I can have it on long enough to slip into slumber, even if I turn it off just before I fall asleep so I don't wak eup too hot two hours later.

I didn't make the time to write my SWG piece this month, mainly because my mind shifted about half way through from a proper story to something more like a mock-historical treatise? Kind of like Tolkien's gloss of Merry's treatise on pipeweed from the LOTR prologue. But it would be an account of Eonwe's visit to Numenor to defend the whole idea that death was a gift, possibly written by one of the men of Middle-earth under Sauron's dominion. Maybe a priest of whatever religion Sauron developed before he pulled the same trick in Numenor? I've just been fascinated by Second Age religion and cults lately, and I found that when I sat down to write a story, what I really ended up wanting to do was infodump on canon. It's actually some really interesting stuff, and I'm just heretical enough at the moment to want to thoroughly skewer both the Valar and the Elendili. (Pharazon was wrong about many things, but this wasn't one of them.) I'm struggling with my usual enemies, though: physical exhaustion (why am I so tired when I never go anywere), and being sure my interests are so off the beaten track no one should really be interested in reading them. Which is not a coded request for people to tell me otherwise, just a fact of my mindset, I'm afraid.

Anywho. How are you all?

I've just been fascinated by
bilbo

The problem as to whether it is possible to get comfortable rooms at a reasonable price

The universe, it appears, doesn't approve of me househunting.

I've been looking at studio apartments on Craigslist for the last few weeks. I'm a bit sick of the current place; constant renovations that don't seem ready to end any time soon are not what I signed on for, on several fronts. Plus being stuck at home has made me realize both how little space I have and how much I'd actually like to just laze about comfortably. It also doesn't help that so much is still up in the air work-wise. My job is secure, but I'm still working home with the constant promise that they're going to bring us back in in a week or two, they swear, but with the added bonus that our boss is pushing for hybrid schedules where we only have to come in to the office half the days. Which would clearly make a difference in where I can live (further out = lower rent/more space), but without that being definite, it's hard to plan.

Anyway, I've been looking at ads on Craigslist and other similar apps, sending out lots of emails, and even got to the touring stages on two of them. Here's where the universe comes in. Both times I've had to cancel because of personal emergencies. One, the Kid's mum broke her elbow and was in the ER and I had to babysit. (Though babysit is a relative term for a seventeen year old with two years' experience traveling between boroughs for school every day; she can handle herself.) Then this time I twisted my foot on the way to the bus and had to go to urgent care. They did x-rays and it will probably be fine with a few days' ice and rest, but clearly I wasn't making it down to Brooklyn today.

It's probably for the best because this place is a pigsty and needs some major cleaning before I can even begin to think about moving; so I should probably do that before I put all my work into finding the perfect spopt. (Web-browsing for potential flats is so much more fun, though!)
bilbo

(no subject)

I've been rereading "A Long-expected Party," and I was struck by how often it talks about how well-loved Bilbo was by less important hobbits. First, there's this description of his life after The Hobbit (emphasis mine):

as Mr. Baggins was generous with his money, most people were willing to forgive him his oddities and his good fortune. He remained on visiting terms with his relatives (except, of course, the Sackville-Bagginses), and he had many devoted admirers among the hobbits of poor and unimportant families. But he had no close friends until some of his younger cousins began to grow up.


The Gaffer certainly thinks well of his old employer, who showed him a bit of professional respect and social courtesy. And he points to how generous he is: "Bilbo is free with his money, and there seems no lack of it; but I know of no tunnel-making." and later "There’s some not far away that wouldn’t offer a pint of beer to a friend, if they lived in a hole with golden walls. But they do things proper at Bag End." Bilbo says he wanted to give away lots of gifts to make it easier to give away the Ring, but there's really no need to go this overboard, bringing in instruments from Dale and basically buying every bit of food up in the whole neighborhood and beyond.

What strikes me as funny about this is Bilbo's famously not a big entertainer; he hated the thought of entertaining the dwarves, and he didn't invite Gandalf in when he fist darkened his garden back in the Hobbit. He strikes me as quiet, even introverted, and you get a sense of noblesse oblige for lack of a better word: he's throwing a big shindig not just for his family (who he doesn't seem particularly close to) but for the whole community and breaking the bank to do it; when his whole reaction to the whole thing is someone who would rather be enjoying a quiet pipe (at least when he's not taking a jab at his self-important guests), and who quite aside from the business with the Ring seemed a bit glad to slip away.

If you need a clearer statement of that, remember that (frankly hilarious) list of all the specific gifts left with tags and clever insults to various relatives? What comes next is to me more telling: "Every one of the various parting gifts had labels, written out personally by Bilbo, and several had some point, or some joke. But, of course, most of the things were given where they would be wanted and welcome. The poorer hobbits, and especially those of Bagshot Row, did very well. Old Gaffer Gamgee got two sacks of potatoes, a new spade, a woollen waistcoat, and a bottle of ointment for creaking joints.

And it's not just with his money, which granted Bilbo doesn't seem to have any scarcity of. I've always loved him fo the care he took with Sam's education:

But my lad Sam will know more about that. He’s in and out of Bag End. Crazy about stories of the old days he is, and he listens to all Mr. Bilbo’s tales. Mr. Bilbo has learned him his letters – meaning no harm, mark you, and I hope no harm will come of it.

‘Elves and Dragons’ I says to him. ‘Cabbages and potatoes are better for me and you. Don’t go getting mixed up in the business of your betters, or you’ll land in trouble too big for you,’ I says to him. And I might say it to others,’ he added with a look at the stranger and the miller.


It's such a non sequitur to bring up at this point at all, that Sam knows the old stories and learned them from Bilbo. It's also unusual enough that the Gaffer thinks it's misguided, and actually a pretty big trespass against hobbit norms that a young gardener would have this kind of relationship with a member of the gentry. Can you image Lord Crawley in Downton Abbey, say, finding out one of his servants was illiterate but loved stories about King Arthur and teaching him to read so he could learn Le Morte D'Arthur or some such? I know hobbit society is less regimented but it's not so different that Sam's and Bilbo's relationship isn't ... striking.

I love the old hobbit, and I love all the ways Tolkien goes out of his way to emphasize these ways he's not just disconnected from those around him, how he's actually quite astute and sensitive to those around him who aren't putting on airs. It's not quite Robin Hood (and yes, I am bothered by some of the implications of that big wealth gap too), but it's really sweet nonetheless.
bilbo

"Characters of Color" in Tolkien

Today I finally made the time to take dawn_felagund and Maria Alberto's survey on Tolkien fandom participation. You should take it too! It's long but the questions strike me as very reflective and nuanced, and I hope the survey results are useful to them. But I'd like to talk about this really interesting concept that popped up in a few of their questions: characters of color. Not to criticize the survey because I think it's useful shorthand and I understand what they're getting at (I assume), but just because I'm struggling to think through what that would mean in Tolkien's world. Who are the characters of color?

To start: I have no problem with people wishing Jackson had cast Polynesian hobbits or imagining African-American and other black actors as Lord of the Rings characters (Idris Elba as Aragorn? *grabby-hands*). But I also think this is fans bringing something extra into the world. I think Tolkien was writing a mythology for north-west Europe, so it just wasn't reflecting cultures we modern, global citizens would identify as giving us people "of color." If there are e.g. proto-Africans or pro-Malaysians, Tolkien's not really writing baout those characters.

Now, there's obviously minorities within the contexts of certain cultures, but that seems different from what we mean by people of color in the "real" world. Thanks to imperialism and colonization and all that, there's a tragic history of pointing to European culture and saying this is what it means to be civilized, with various non-European people (and peoples) pushing back from that. Lothiriel and Morwen Steelsheen marrying into the Rohirric royalty, or Arwen and Eowyn making their way in Gondor, they're certainly in the minority relevant to the dominant culture, but I'm not sure there's this universal "this-culture-is-the-default" assumption and all the harm that comes from that at play. Faramir obviously thinks Rohirrim are men of the twilight; but the Rohirrim of Fengel's time were probably just as suspicious of their new king who had gone and married one of those hoity-toity, overly pampered women of the south.

I suppose you could make a case that (say) Haradrim or Easterlings or even orcs were meant to be characters of color, but that seems to come down more to authorial bias than deep-seated racism. And even when they had a different color skin, you don't have the same history of slavery and using those biological differences to justify these great sociological injustices. I mean, assume for the moment that Gondorians represent the pinnacle of western-European Anglo-Saxon-ish "civilized" people, and the men of Harad and the Easterlings and that sort are... less white? Like Southern/eastern European, Arabic, Egyptian, that kind of thing? Even if you accept that analogy, the people of Gondor may think the Southrons are less civilized, and they may be less white, but those two beliefs don't seem connected the way they are in our real world.

So I'm curious. Do you think there's such a thing as a character of color in Tolkien's world? And if so who are they?
bilbo

(no subject)

I was watching an interview with Chris Christie and Stephen Colbert this weekend (part 1 and part 2, if you're interested), and I had a bit of a revelation. It turns out Gov. Christie is helping Trump prepare for the debates, and his explanation in the face of "how the !@#$ could you help this man get reelected" (I'm paraphrasing obviously) was the somewhat predictable move that he much preferred conservative governing principles to progressive ones. And a few things just clicked for me. This will probably be like politics though it's more meant as Marta philosophizing applied to politics; but if this isn't your cuppa feel free to keep scrolling.

First: I really don't think a vote for President Trump is a vote for conservative principles. The biggest conservative principles is a love of liberty/individualism/fear of autocracy and a preference for historic institutions and approaches that have a track record of working well. Trump has proven time and again he's not a great supporter of either of those.

For the record- these aren't bad things. I actually agree with them to a point, though I think they also don't tell the whole story.

But my point- people like Gov. Christie (and a good share of my family!) who think these principles should be the main guide for our government may have a candidate but they don't have an advocate for their worldview. A vote for Trump isn't a vote for conservatism. And more than that, since Trump is a danger not just to America but conservative principles (let's leave the racism etc. baked in to the Southern Strategy to the side for now)... conservatives pretty much have to vote for not-Trump. They can't sit this one out and they can't make a protest vote for a third party.

In our two-party system with the way this election rolled out, not-Trump means Joe Biden.

But this isn't actually the whole of the story, because progressives are just as threatened by Trump. If conservatism is about personal liberty, progressivism is about giving people the positive ability to make those choices. (You don't have the freedom to choose where you can live if you can only afford the rent in very limited neighborhoods.) And if conservatism is about respecting tried-and-true institutions, progressivism is about recognizing the way those institutions haven't worked for some people and using data, science, and logic to improve on them without being fettered by the past. And while Donald Trump might be breaking those conservative principles he's not exactly leaning into progressive ones either!

So progressives aren't able to make a choice for who they think best represents progressivism; this time it had to be the person who could beat Trump, which is a very different question. And they should be working with conservatives opposed to Trump (and many are; see the conservative/Republican voices given speaking time at the recent DNC onvention); but they shouldn't take this alliance to mean those voices are suddenly progressivism. They should be given a seat at the table, but not at the progressive table, at the let's-get-this-trashfire-out-of-office-pronto table.

Put another way, just like conservatives don't have an advocate in this election, progressives don't either. I don't mean because Biden isn't a good advocate for progressivism. It's because the way the discussion has to be framed, it's not about progressive-versus-conservative, it has to be fought along different lines entirely. Even if Biden wins (and please God), it's only a progressive victory in the sense that a Trump victory is a conservative victory, because he had his origins in the progressive wing of American politics and the majority of his supporters hail from that camp. But really, the battle is and always was about a different issue entirely.

What that means is that this whole election has already been stolen from all of us, and I don't mean from the attacks on the post office. Trump's mere presene and the way he totally coopted the RNC and conservativism means progressives don't get to have a debate over where we should draw the line between positive and negative liberty (freedom to and freedom from), or whether institutions like the police and courts and the way we pay for health insurance and affordable housing and education and all that are actually working well. Progressives lost out on this essential conversation, too. Because that's what an election is, in addition to all the other nonsense: it's a conversation where we discuss our ideas and values, then we each get to say who we most agree with by voting and everyone gets an equal voice for at least that one moment.

President Trump's stolen that from us. And honestly? I'm pretty pissed about that. (Other stuff too! But that as well.)