Thursday, November 22, 2012

Personality Types

The temperament philosophy is an old, outdated pseudoscience. It's not a very effective method to gauge people's personalities, since individual people are too diverse to be narrowed down into one or two categories. Like the Enneagram, or the Myers-Briggs Test, it tries to take something as complicated as a human personality and narrow it down, or pigeon hole it, into a single category or, at most, one category with few supporting points.

Despite being pseudoscientific and specious at best, they're still fun to work with, because they can sometimes give you a handle on what type of individual you are. You might find that you fit more into one category than the others, or you might find that you fit more into a handful of categories than others. It can give you a label to help define yourself - both a blessing and a curse, because that label you use to help others identify some part of you can become the only thing that defines you, and when that happens, something went wrong. For instance, I'm a very strong Type 3 on the Enneagram, and my MBTI is INFJ (which is a bit of a contradiction, but I score high on Type 1, Type 4, and Type 7, the usual matches for my MBTI).

As an author, however, these can be good starting places when designing characters (I'll admit that I didn't start here. I take parts of my own personality and I break it up and let it grow from there, but that's beside the point; this is clearly intended to be a "do as I say, not as I do" post). I do sometimes take personality tests from the perspective of my characters, just so I can know ahead of time, or help get a better view of who they are as people. It can help you flesh out and define the little people populating your book: it can also help you spot potential conflicts a mile away - and explore it in your book.

This method is how I've been able to flesh out the cast of the Blue Pimpernel in my head, at least, as well as I have. Each girl has a very distinctive personality, with similarities and differences that make them stand out but make it so that it makes sense when they work together, and make even more sense when they rub one another the wrong way and it leads to conflict.

I was glancing through this post on the four temperament philosophy, and it hit me just how easily I can break the cast (or, rather, the main four characters, anyway) into the categories. It helps a lot that, as the author says, "everyone has a little bit from all of them (aka, the P.T. Barnum effect)", but that everyone has one major, defining trait and a minor one. While that may be true for some people, and not for others (it isn't for me), it helps me get a better grip on the characters and come at their personalities from a different perspective.

All samples are from the The Blue Pimpernel: Liquidity. I vouch not for quality, since I haven't even finished the final draft yet, let alone proof read. However, consider this to be a sneak peak of sorts:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Skin Tone Markers

I'm a white guy. I've expressed that before (for a certain value of guy). And while I come from an area that's poorer than shit, and I myself am poorer than shit, that doesn't mitigate the privilege society awards to me for being the color that I am.

I've come along way in acknowledging that privilege, but I probably still have miles to go before I sleep. Today, I was reminded of just how far I've come, and just how blind some people are to the concept of privilege (and how insidious racism actually is capable of being). I was reading this narrative, and there was a little part of it that struck me:
Decades ago, in graduate school, a professor and I chatted as we prepared for a holiday party in the English department. I made decorations, digging around in a box that was loaded with miscellaneous art supplies – colored pencils, dried out markers, and broken old crayons 
“Nice crayon,” my professor said as I colored a poster.
“What color is it?”
I turned the crayon around in my hand and read: “Flesh.”
“Got a problem with that?”
I was stumped. “With what?”
“Miss Grant, I think you’ve had just about enough gender studies courses,” he said. “How about giving a little more thought to race?”
I am an amateur artist. I used to have a lot more artistic talent than I do today; I've squandered it, but drawing is still something that I occasionally do for fun. I was drawing before I was writing; I stopped drawing sometime in early college, which was about the time that I started to pick up in my writing. I traded one talent for another, you might say. Today, a lot of my art is done in Daz Studio, and with 3d rendering. 3d rendering, with some help from photoshop, has its advantages. At the same time, though, I'm restricted in what I can and can't do (because I can't design my own models, and the selection of primitives, or basic shapes, isn't very broad) in a way that I'm not when I draw.

I still have a pile of primsacolor markers. I actually have several boxes of them; I still use them. I love primsacolor; they're my favorite type of marker, because they make smooth strokes and I can "layer" progressively darker colors, to create the illusion of shadow and depth in a picture. If you've followed that link, you probably see the prismacolor markers are expensive; one marker sells for 3 dollars. I probably have over 200 dollars worth of markers that I've collected over 5 or 6 yeas of art work, including Christmas gifts. Eventually, it just got too expensive. That's another reason I don't have many hobbies other than writing anymore: writing is free. Everything else costs money I don't have, and time I can't waste.

Reading the narrative above reminded me of a time when I was relatively young - I want to say this happened about 6 or 7 years ago, maybe even 8. I was sitting in my mom's room, and I was organizing the markers according to color type (so, these were greens, these were oranges, these were reds, etc). I had them all nicely organized, and I was going through the various color groups with my mom. I even had a group I called "skin tones." Unfortunately, that "skin tones" group was a rather restricted group - just like the "flesh" crayon in the narrative above, my "skin tones" were all various shades of pale. Blondwood (not peach; prismacolor peach is a lighter shade of this very vivid pink and only works if you're coloring the skin on a pig), Tan, Creme, Brick Beige; the one thing they all had in common is that they were all pale (with, as the case with some, yellow underscoring them). Browns had their own category, which I called "earth tones". 

I did not even register that. I just didn't. I erased an entire group of people and replaced them with dirt.

I recognize it today. I no longer separate my markers like that. I don't have a "skin tone" category, since I can use just about any marker ranging from creme to my dark browns* to represent skin tones (if I did break it up properly, that category would be about 75% of my maker total). I don't even break them up; they're all lumped in two boxes sitting in the corner of my room, but when I did after that, they were done strictly by color: blues, oranges, yellows (which included blondwood, creme, and brick beige), browns, blacks, whites, grays, reds (which included the umbers) and so on and so forth.

It took my mom pointing it out to me that how I was dividing the markers back then was racist. And the irony of that is my mom is not an egalitarian; she will admit she is a racist individual who does not like Black people**. It's never been very prominent, and I've only seen it on display once or twice. So I'm still not entirely sure, reflecting back on that story, how it turned out the way it did, and why, of all people, she was the one to point that out.

But yes, this is what people mean when they say you have privilege. It was nothing malicious on my part. It was not me intending to erase an entire population, completely and utterly, and prioritize "Earth colors" over them (which is stupid in retrospect; "earth colors" are everything from brown to blue, with green, orange, yellow, and everything else thrown in the mix). It wasn't me intentionally expressing some unconscious dislike for individuals with dark skin (which include more than just Africans; this includes Dravidians, some Pacific Islanders, Australian Natives, and some Southeast Asian populations, among others).

It was ignorance. That's all it was. And it doesn't excuse it at all; but it's like any mistake. You pick up and you learn from it. And that's what I did, and that's what I'm still doing.

* Dark brown is as dark as I can get when I'm using markers. If I wanted to create a darker skin tone (I know they exist) then I would do something like "Dark brown, dark umber, black", but I'd never use black as a solid, base color for a picture (because I rely on going from "light to dark" to create the illusion of depth, and there's not many colors darker than black. Also because I ink my pictures using black ink, which complicates it just a touch).

** My mom, and a few people that I know, makes a distinction between "good" black people and "bad" black people. It's a distinction that, growing up, I never understood. I point it out every time it gets brought up: If they're lazy good for nothings, why not just call them lazy good for nothings, since that's what we call whites who are like that (and don't get me started on passing judgement on people like that; until you understand their circumstances, you cannot morally make these judgement calls about people), instead of calling them niggers? And guess what? They don't have an answer, and it's because they don't know why, other than it being blind habit.

Maybe I'm the reverse. Rather than blaming the poor black people for the collapse of my neighborhood, and the collapse of my city, I'm more apt to blame the rich white people, since they're the ones with the money, the power, and the capability to come in and help us fix it - but they actively chose not to, and instead, continue to exploit poor people, black, white, Asian, Native, and any other group. Somehow, I feel the reverse is less acceptable socially, even though it's definitely the more moral of the two. And it's definitely not, like I heard some brain-dead libertarian tell me, "economic discrimination" because they have more money. Nobody chose to be black. You chose to be rich. You have all of the responsibility that comes along with it; the first thing Spiderman teaches is us that with great power comes great responsibility; money is power in this society. You don't want that responsibility? Give up the power, and the money with it. Stop being rich. It's a lot easier to stop being rich than it is to stop being black.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Age of the Post Hero

Before I go anywhere here, let me explain where I've been.

Near the end of last month, we had a scare with my dad. He hurt himself pretty badly (a TBI, or traumatic brain injury for those who don't speak medicine), and had to be rushed off to the hospital. He spent the rest of the month there, and after a few scares, made a recovery and now he's home. So there's that to be thankful for.

That said, I do plan to start blogging more - I've sort of let this place hang, and haven't been doing anything with it even before the injury. Part of this is because I'm working on not one but three separate novels right now.

- The Blue Pimpernel: Liquidity, the second Blue Pimpernel book. I've still got the release date set for sometime early next year, but I'm not going to release it before it's ready. I'm making pretty good progress, though; one of the hardest parts of writing a sequel is trying to keep with the feel of the original novel. The Blue Pimpernel had a very distinctive feel to it; the first part of the book was laced with a pervading sense helplessness and despair; the second half of the book was underscored by a very strong sense of hope. I'm trying to balance those two feelings, and it can be rather difficult at times and requires fine tuning. The third book, Entropy, has been outlined already and is just waiting for me to finish Liquidity. ~14,000 words in the most recent draft (the finished book is over 90,000 words). This novel calved off of Entropy; Entropy actually has a finished draft, but that draft was over 300,000 words, which was twice what the first novel was and unacceptably long. So I split the beginning off and Liquidity developed from that. The benefit of this is that Liquidity ... ahem... flows well into Entropy.

- Terra Firma, my first and thus far my only long going transhuman novel. And by transhuman, I mean "utterly and uncompromisingly embraces the future." I've taught myself French for this novel (granted, I taught myself French so Aya could speak it too. In fact, French appears a lot in most of my works: I grew up watching Sesame Street broadcasts in Quebecois, and I could speak conversational French Quebecois by the time I was entering Elementary School. American schools being what they are, I never spoke another foreign language again until High School, and by that time, my command of French had atrophied. Not helping was that the language I chose was German, a language unlike French in a lot of ways, so I didn't really come back to French with intention of using it until.. less than 4 years ago.)   Terra Firma is set on Voyageur, an aerostat in the Venusian atmosphere. Voyageur is a cross-section of the Francophone world, featuring a relatively large cast of Indians (the main character is a Tamil woman), Africans (one of the secondary characters is an Somali pseudo-male), Southeast Asians and some Polynesians, influenced strongly by French culture. I'll have more on Terra Firma as the novel progresses from its early stages, but I'll say this: the novel embodies every single philosophic point I count as a virtue - it's uncompromisingly pro-democracy, pro-post-scarcity, pro-transhumanism and technoprogressive, and the driving conflict of the story is whether or not to terraform Venus and make it into a new Earth, and the conflict it generates between the different factions, along with the underhanded political dealings. This novel was as heavily influenced by Orion's Arm and GURPS Transhuman Space as it was by Eclipse Phase (perhaps it was influenced more by the previous two than by the latter, since Eclipse Phase is very dark, and this novel can only be described as much preppy post-cyberpunk as it is preppy post-human). ~47,000 words as of the first pre-draft. Outlander eventually evolved into this book.

- White Rabbit, Black Swan, the bastard child of Enlightened satire and popular culture, this particular novel is where I go when I get really mad at something. It's plot is relatively simple and straight froward; this simple and strong plot allows be built a lot of satire around it, and cram it full of references to everything from Alice in Wonderland and Gulliver's Travels (to major influences) to Cosmos and even The Flintstones. Some topics that I satirize/mercilessly make fun of include the prosperity gospel, Rapture theology, Randian theology, the current "politics of popularity", and anti-vaccination and other air-head leftist anti-science ideologies. Think Alice in Wonderland + Gulliver's Travels + Rifts + political pop culture and you're getting close. ~29,000 words as of the rough draft. I don't have a clear source for where this book came from, but it's been relatively consistent in every draft since I first started it some 4 years ago.

So, now you know where I am and what I've been up too, what I've been up too, and what works I'm involved in at the moment. I plan to do more blogging in the future, though, so don't fear!

Now, onto my observations for the day.