Banned Books Week: A re-read of Aeropagitica

When I was in college in 19(mumblemumble), I became obsessed with John Milton. My Milton professor was passionate and willing to help our class wade through the thick poetry and essays, and I loved how the history of the time was reflected in his writing.

For example, Milton was one of Oliver Cromwell’s allies, the dude who kind of overthrew King Charles I, cutting off his head and inspiring a Monty Python song. Since many people of the time believed that light was directly connected to God’s favor, when Milton started to go blind, his rivals said it was God turning His face from Milton for crimes against the crown (which many believed was divinely appointed). Thus, book 3 of Paradise Lost begins by invoking light as a muse:

HAIL, holy Light, offspring of Heaven first-born!
Or of the Eternal coeternal beam
May I express thee unblamed? since God is light,
And never but in unapproached light
Dwelt from eternity-dwelt then in thee,
Bright effluence of bright essence increate!
…and so on

But I’m not here to talk about Paradise Lost.

I’m sad that I haven’t read a lot of Milton since leaving college, and I no longer have Dr. Barbour to help me puzzle through the text. I feel that muscle has atrophied. But I think of his work often. And aside from Paradise Lost and L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, his pamphlet Aeropagitica was my favorite of his works because it was the most clever piece of verbal dancing that I had ever read.

Essentially, in 1643 English Parliament passed a law requiring all written works to be approved by the government before distribution. (Man. Imagine if self e-publishing had been around then. They would have died under the deluge of publications.) Milton didn’t like this, partly as the government weren’t in favor of his written arguments for divorce, so in 1644 he released Aeropagitica. It was an 18 page pamphlet against censorship, distributed without government approval.

He could have been beheaded for this. But remember the verbal dancing I mentioned? It is so cleverly written, so carefully written, that he survived the publication. It didn’t move the government to repeal the law, that didn’t happen until 1695 or so, but it’s still considered one of the most important works against censorship that exist.

So what is Aeropagitica about? I’m going to try to figure that out in future blog posts this week. But what I remember is that the basic, core argument is one cannot be virtuous if they are only offered virtuous texts. If I say to you, “Hey, today we can help the poor, or we can help the poor,” and then we go help the poor, can we really say you are an altruistic volunteer? You gave a lot of your time, but you didn’t know you had a choice to go ride roller coasters instead.

To break it down to food, if someone eats a cookie, and then later chooses a vegetable over a cookie because they know the cookie is bad for them and vegetables are healthy, says Milton*, then they are more virtuous than someone who didn’t even know cookies existed, since they made a choice between good and bad.

Cookies aren’t evil. This is just a metaphor.

Essentially you can’t understand good until you understand evil. There’s nothing to compare it to.

Now, in today’s censorship arguments, we argue that “good” and “bad” are relative. I hate censorship because I don’t want another person’s values deciding what I or my child read. I hate it because I believe that hiding things from people make it more likely that innocents will go seeking it out of curiosity. We argue that the law is too broad for the intricacies called for in deciding what to censor. These are all good arguments.

But this year, for Banned Books Week, I want to look at one of the original arguments, that you can’t tell me what is good and what is bad. I have to decide that for myself, or I will never understand it. It’s about choice, and when you take that away from me, you stifle me on an intellectual, spiritual, and deeply personal level.

So I’m going to try to read Aeropagitica again. Despite me calling it very cleverly written, I don’t mean it has Joss-Whedon-like dialogue. I mean it’s written to fool the government to thinking Milton was totally on their side, only had they maybe thought about this point, which is supported by the Greeks and the Bible, and please don’t cut his head off cause he’s just saying. It’s dense.

Wish me luck.

Want to read along with me?

* Pretty sure this quote isn’t in the pamphlet. This is extreme paraphrasing.

ISBW #333 – Writing Hooks // Seanan McGuire Interview

I talk about what it means to be a “wanna-be,” and then delve into hooks, using Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire for example. Fantastic book. Go get it. Then I interview Seanan McGuire, from way back.

Relevant links: The Mirror Empire, Seanan’s Blog

What I’m writing now*: We Need the Eggs: detectives, wetware, and roller derby. Its status is proposal-under-edit-after-agent-comments. PUEAAC, if you will.

What I’m reading now: The Mirror Empire

 

*Like, right this second, today. I have many irons in the fire, but this isn’t the place to list them. So if I list something else later, don’t think I write books within days.

GUEST POST: Lessons Learned by Bill Rockwell

I have published three novels thus far, and I have learned much along the way, especially from the mistakes I made.  Hopefully, I didn’t make the same mistakes in my latest novel, Heaven’s Conflict, The Rise and Fall of Angels, A Novel, published October 1, 2014.  The title of my first novel, Generation Z, Birth of the Zompire, which is a vampire love story, is simply too long.  As readers try to find me on Amazon or elsewhere, my novel doesn’t come up until they type the last letter in Zompire.  So, it’s hard to find.  I could have made the second phrase a subtitle, but, even better than this, I should have titled it simply: “Zompire.”  Shorter would have been better.

Continue reading

On Grieving

I wonder if we’ve lost the ability to grieve. Or maybe just me. Before August 2014, I’d lost only a few people, and those very spread apart.

The past two weeks, I lost three.

The first was Michael Swartz, last week. I didn’t know him well, but his wife, Emily, was one of my best friends through Stonecoast. She would talk about her Stonecoast friends to Michael, and he would call me her “creepy friend.” He loved creepy things and this was a high compliment, Emily assured me. I got to meet him at graduation last January, and he was so friendly and clearly a great husband and father. His family adored him. Emily texted me in July saying that he was in the hospital with abdominal pains. While I was in London, I heard that it was aggressive cancer, and that he had days to live. Then he was gone.

The GoFundMe campaign to help out with his medical costs and funeral costs is here. 

The second was my father-in-law on Tuesday. I wrote about him yesterday. He died a few hours after my husband Jim arrived to see him. He had a long battle with Parkinson’s and had been in the nursing home for a year or so. It wasn’t a surprise but we still grieve.

The third was my podcast author friend, PG Holyfield. Patrick was one of the first people to step forward to help out with the ISBW forums back in 2006, offering his moderation help. He then went on to write a compelling fantasy mystery called Murder at Avedon Hill, make several podcasts designed to help people (NanoMonkeys!) or talk pop-culture, created an SF website, and generally be a cool person to be around. I heard on Sunday that he, like Michael Swartz, had been suddenly diagnosed with very aggressive cancer, and had days to live. He died last night.

The GoFundMe campaign to support PG’s family is here. 

~~

Around 15 years ago I took a seminar on animal kung fu. I think we were studying crane, or perhaps mantis. I got into a grappling position with my partner, and we waited for further instructions. As Master Ward spoke, I noticed a specific pain shooting up my leg. My partner had been training in Iron Palm, a strict regimented program to toughen the hands and strengthen the grip. During training, you’re not allowed to touch injured people or babies, as you are unaware of the strength in your hands.

(By the way, this is not woo- you know how you can stand in a doorway and press your arms out for 30 seconds and then you step out and your arms rise up on their own? This is the same concept. Squeezing flesh is easier than squeezing sand, and when you squeeze or punch sand for days, it can mess with your perception about how much strength to use for things.)

So shooting pain. I looked down and my partner had my ankle in a very painful grip. We weren’t grappling at the moment, remember. We had gotten into position and were listening to our master talk. This was just him holding onto my leg, or so he thought. I pointed out what he was doing and he let go, horrified.

His thumb left a bruise on my ankle for over a week.

~

I’m not weeping. I’ve cried a little, but mostly I’m just walking around, numb, not sure what to do. Part of my brain says, “you’re not crying and you’re not mourning these people 100% of the day, so you’re obviously fine.” People ask me if I’m find and I say yes, clearly I’m not sobbing and I’m not dwelling on everything, so I must be fine, right?

I even feel weird writing this post. It wasn’t my husband, or my father, and while I liked and admired PG very much, others in our community were closer to him. Do I deserve to grieve?

I don’t know what one does while grieving. Sitting here feels wasteful. I don’t know what to do.

Instead of feeling punched, something that can definitely cause me to cry, I feel as though something has closed around me and left a thumbprint of a bruise.

~

A few months ago someone I know had a cancer scare, and we had a few tense days. I wasn’t crying, I wasn’t weeping, I wasn’t sitting around fretting. I went about my day and tried to be logical and practical, what can we do if the bad news comes? When the news came in that it wasn’t cancer, I expressed congratulations, got off the phone and lay on the couch and fell asleep for two solid hours. I didn’t know I was that stressed, but my body did.

I tried to learn something from that, that even if I’m not going OMG ANGRY or OMG SAD or OMG TEARS or OMG STRESS in the conscious brain, the subconscious is probably boiling merrily in the background and I should be kind to myself regardless.

Strange to think of grief as boiling merrily. Bad metaphor. Right now it feels like concrete hardening.

I think it’s bad that we lost the concept of mourning clothes. I was thinking about them today; they were a signal to the outside world that even if I’m not weeping and I’m not screaming in rage, I’m grieving. Yes, I’m able to go to the grocery store or do my job or take the kids to the park, but this black outfit is the signal to you that my soul is bruised, that my concrete is hardening. This is my “baby on board” sign, only it’s grief, and it’s letting you know that I’m hurting and maybe you can be a bit more kind to me today.

Times like this I wish I were religious. Not to search for god, but because many religions have mourning practices and rituals.

I miss my friend PG. I ache for my friend Emily, miss the opportunity to get to know her husband. I grieve with my husband and his family for his beloved father.

It’s been a tough two weeks. Hug your loved ones. Remember those who are gone.

My dear Father-in-law is at peace

I mentioned the past few days have been stressful, and they have been. I hadn’t wanted to mention specifics, as it’s not my story to tell. But yesterday my father-in-law passed, and here at the words my sweet husband posted on Facebook.

My father died today, after a long bout with Parkinson’s. I got the news that he was failing on our way back from Europe, and managed to get a flight in time to be with him, along with my mom and sister. It was a peaceful death. I will think of him whenever I watch an old movie, listen to a flute, or explain the difference between a covalent or ionic bond.

I don’t have a lot to add- my father in law was a kind, welcoming, brilliant man. He is at rest now, but we miss him.

Brief post- I’m home

We are home from a lovely and yet tiring vacation in England and Ireland. We had an absolutely amazing time, worldcon was a lot of fun, and we’re (mostly) all home safe.

There are a lot of things I want to blog about, but they’re all very different. It’s been an avalanche of awesome stuff and shit all at the same time. I could write a very long blog post about it, but that would be over 10k words, likely, and the many different things would likely lose people. So I’m going to sum up and blog later about more details. In short, here are the many different things that I will be blogging about soon, in no particular order:

  • During the trip I found out two (unassociated) friends are dead or in the process of dying.
  • I had good meetings at LonCon3. Met amazing fans, and many people I’d only known online. Spent quality time with several authors I admire. Reconnected with old friends.
  • I’m thrilled about the Hugo/Campbell Awards Winners.
  • Hubby had to turn around the day after we got home and take an emergency trip.
  • School starts tomorrow; no time for jetlag, Dr. Jones.
  • I broke my magic spreadsheet streak at 621 days.

So, yeah, lot of different moods there for one blog post. Things are very stressful right now. Hug your loved ones. I’ll be updating and stuff this week.