Monday, January 28, 2008

Temporarily Out of Commission

I'm finally able to sit up at the PC long enough to post!

Almost two weeks ago I started having terrible abdominal pains that I figured were a severe bout of IBS. They got better after 2-3 days (four times as long as past experience) and I spent the weekend feeling almost normal. Unfortunately the pain came back with a vengeance a week ago. To my credit, I did call my doctor's office for meds and told them the story, but I think any normal person would have expressed more alarm and they didn't take me too seriously.

There is nothing you can do for IBS but wait for it to pass. So I waited three more days in pain that approximated the later stages of labor...yes, I am that much of an idiot! I woke up early Thursday morning in a fever and knew then it was not IBS.

Off to the hospital at last. Thursday afternoon I had emergency gall bladder surgery and it was a rather rough one since I had a gall stone over one inch in size and the organ was pretty much a wreck. Recuperation is going to be slow. (Interestingly though, I did feel better after the surgery than before!)

I don't usually go on about personal stuff on this blog, but I wanted to share the painful lesson I learned. For all you stoic types out there who are like me, who put up with pain to an unreasonable degree, don't take any chances! I think about myself getting up at 2:00 a.m. that Thursday shaking so hard I could barely walk, turning on the PC to look up the nearest emergency room covered by my insurance, then waiting another half hour so my husband could get a bit more sleep...I mean how crazy is that?

Sometimes you have to put yourself first and value your own needs a bit more. Maybe you're good at managing suffering--be it physical or emotional--but taking that too far doesn't help anybody. You're just as valuable as the next person so treat yourself as well as the next person!

I learned the hard way that tolerance for pain isn't always an asset.

Will return to your normally scheduled blog as soon as I'm up to it! And I won't rush it... :-)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Twins in Love

There has been much talk in the news lately about a pair of twins from the UK who were separated at birth, knew nothing of their siblinghood, met as adults and fell in love. The two married, and subsequently learned of the relationship. Their marriage was annulled and according to reports, they split up.

About a year ago, there was a similar story in the press about a German couple. The brother went into foster care at a very young age, and didn’t see his younger sister until both were adults. They fell in love and have actually had four children together. The brother has served two years in prison for incest and may have to serve more. Three of the children were taken from their home and put in foster care.

Few would disagree that these two stories are tragic. The point of debate is, is sibling incest immoral and should it be illegal?

The taboo against incest is almost universally prevalent in human society, with the most notable exception being ancient Egypt, were brother/sister marriages were quite common for three centuries. Scientific studies show that sexual repulsion stems not from the idea of similar heredity (“ick, we’re the same flesh and blood”) but from the “familiarity breeds contempt” principle. For example, unrelated children raised in the close proximity of an Israeli kibbutz had no sexual interest in each other when they matured. Anyone raised with a sibling (or even those like me, without one) can understand that; it makes no difference if that sibling was adopted and was no relation.

This would suggest, take out the familiarity, and anyone is fair game, sibling or no.

The two cases I mentioned above are interesting in their differences. The twins, who fell in love oblivious to their connection, apparently did so due to the uncanny similarities they experienced. I wish I could speak more to the question of their reaction to the news, but they have remained anonymous so far. Still, the fact that they split up after learning the truth, would indicate they were “heebed out” by being genetically related.

On the other hand, the German siblings knew of their relationship when they met. They attribute their bond to a desire to want to heal the separation caused by the brother being taken from his original family. In their case, the knowledge that they were brother and sister did not hinder them and may have actually encouraged their attraction.

This just goes to show that different people react differently when it comes to being capable of sustaining sexual attraction to a known sibling...although I suspect the UK twins were probably just as much in love as ever, but those feelings were at odds with their intellectual moral principles.

Speaking for myself, it’s interesting how I feel on the issue. Occasionally I’ve seen movies (“Gladiator”) or read books (The Hotel New Hampshire) about brother/sister incest, but they were always about characters who had grown up together. In those cases, I reacted with the typical “oh, that’s icky” response. Then there’s the example of Children of Dune’s Leto and Ghanima Atreides, who are so close and so godlike, the subliminally sexual bond between them is a little disturbing but also strangely fitting.

And on the other end of the spectrum, I reacted to the UK twins case with a wish that they would stay together. Clearly at least for me, the taboo is not flesh, it’s proximity. Seeing as these two never knew each other as children, I feel there is no reason why they shouldn’t stay together. My initial reaction was that ideally the law would allow them to stay together but not procreate, but the German case made me reconsider that aspect as well.

I believe three of the German couple’s four children are slightly disabled, as geneticists would predict. Many say 50% of offspring of siblings will have physical or mental defects. But really, from a moral standpoint, does the law have the right to dictate to any consenting adults if they may have children? After all, wouldn’t we all object if someone wanted to pass a law forbidding people carrying genes for Down syndrome, hemophilia, or sickle-cell anemia from having kids?

It seems to me the natural taboo most humans feel against sexual feelings towards proximate people is sufficient to safeguard the race from too much interbreeding. The occasional exception is not going to be our genetic undoing. That said, I have to amend this statement with the caveat that I’m not a fan of closed interbreeding societies like Warren Jeffs’ FLDS, where the majority of members of the community are genetically related--that’s just too darn much proximity, people!

About twenty years ago I wrote my second novel, a romance called A Bondage of Dreams, which was never published. In the story a woman falls in love with her young music professor, a man still tortured by the unsolved kidnapping of his beloved sister that occurred when they were small children. The heroine senses the prof feels likewise, and is puzzled why he keeps her at arm’s length. It finally comes out that he has looked into her past and is convinced she is the long-lost sister, hence he cannot allow himself to have sexual feelings for her. The woman does some research of her own and fears he may be right, but finally uncovers information that proves they are not related, and the HEA ending ensues.

Remembering the feelings these two had for each other in my book, I think of cases like the UK and German couples. Really, of what relevance is heredity?

It’s a taboo that isn’t always easy to apply, and a moral conundrum. All I know is, no one should be put in prison for sexually loving another consenting adult; exactly how that benefits society I can’t imagine.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Eye of the Beholder

The 18th Century philosopher Immanuel Kant believed that beauty is objective and universal, in other words, there are immutable standards by which aesthetic judgment can be applied.

Contemporary thinkers hold more to the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” theory, that is, individual taste and cultural influences determine what is considered beautiful on a case-by-case basis, and there is no objective standard.

I say, all you have to do is be an artist to find out which view is more practical. You’ll find out mighty fast that whatever your medium, there will be no consensus as to whether or not you’ve created something good. That’s certainly the case if you choose to write fiction...oh boy, is it!

Let me give you some examples from my own experience.

Last week my novel
Bloodchained was reviewed by the sometimes irascible, always entertaining romance reviewer, Mrs. Giggles. Mrs. G was a big fan of my first writings as Diana Laurence, but I can never guess what she’s going to say. Well, she pretty much panned the book (a 52 out of 100)--the worst review I’ve ever received for anything! Had this been Bloodchained’s first review, I would have quite dismayed, but fortunately it had already received two 5 star and one 4.5 star review, so I could fall back on that good old “Eye of the Beholder” theory. (Likewise, several significant errors in the plot summary told me Mrs. G didn’t give the book a very close read--not surprising considering how prolific she is!)

Meanwhile, interestingly, it was only a couple days later that Mrs. Giggles gave a “Best Short Story Award for 2007” to my sci-fi tale, “Alloy Love” (Soulful Sex: The Science Fiction Collection). The amusing thing about this is that I felt that story was pretty weak and considered replacing it! E.O.T.B. much? Yeah, one woman’s treasure is another’s, well, so-so.

That’s not the first time my judgment of my own work has been questionable. In 2005, the Reviewers International Organization declared my story “Je t’aime, Etienne” (
Soulful Sex Volume II) a Best Story from an Anthology Finalist. I’ve gotten a bunch of fan mail for that tale, too. But you know what? I almost left it out of the book, thinking it was weak and rambling.

Yeah, the things that make you go “huh.”

But enough about my stuff. I’ve had the same problem regarding the work of others. This year I once again judged the Eppie Awards, reading four books and rating them. The finalists were just announced, and in my category, only one of the books I read finalled: the one I thought was the worst by far and perhaps unpublishable! Last year I had a similar problem with the Eppies, when a title I gave nearly a perfect score and found superb failed to final at all.

It’s enough to give an author a complex.

A couple of favorite books that I read last year were The Man Who Heard Voices, Michael Bamberger’s wonderful biography of M. Night Shyamalan, and The Name of the Wind, by new fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss. Bamberger’s book flopped and was pulled early from stores; Rothfuss’s book won a Quill Award for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Book of 2007.

You get the picture. It’s really a crapshoot if what I judge to be great writing will be met with the same reaction by other people. This is why, when I set out to write my last novel, I liked the idea of recruiting a bunch of readers to help. The 63 participants in the Soulful Sex Partners Project gave me feedback galore, and in the end, the consensus was that Bloodchained was a terrific book, thanks to their help.

I know those folks were being honest, just as I know I was not exactly deluding myself when I considered it my best work to date. Meanwhile, however, I know Mrs. Giggles was being just as honest when she said the book bugged her to death.

It makes a person crazy. Are there really no absolute standards of aesthetics? Is it impossible to determine the truth as to whether a book is well written, a painting is beautiful, a piece of music is good? And if it isn’t, what’s the point of reviews?

As one author who works really hard to get her books reviewed (and really enjoys the good ones!), I still feel that artistic criticism has a point. However, it seems to work best on a consensus basis, like the star systems for films on Netflix and IMDB, and the Tomatometer readings for movies and games on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s nearly impossible for a bad movie to get a high fresh rating, or a good one to score rotten.

Just so, the fact that my overall critical rating is 4.3 (after 59 reviews) suggests I’m not a bad writer. It does not, however, guarantee some reviewer isn’t going to pan me tomorrow. Because it’s pretty much all in the eye of the beholder, folks. Bottom line, you gotta judge for yourself!

(But if you read me and like me, by all means let me know! LOL)