Saturday, September 16, 2017

Pandas and Curiosity about Women


Hilary Clinton's new book, What Happened, includes many insights into her campaign for president and its results.  Tucked into it, you'll also find information about what she was asked most frequently when on the political trail: what she had for breakfast, what she likes to read when relaxing, how she feels about Bill Clinton, what color and styles she likes and why. 

Rachel Maddow, in interviewing Hilary Clinton, found it fascinating that these personal details were the most frequently asked about.  Hilary
Clinton said she had once worried about this trend, but she had discussed it with others and finally concluded that the way people watch pandas is similar.  Pandas are exotic and rare but they don't do much, yet people spend hours watching them at zoos and in the wild.  Somehow, despite their repetitive and somewhat boring doings, people expect that they may do anything, and they try to be there to see it.  She thinks now that the personal inquisition she gets is similar.  Women running for president are rara avis beings, and people want to watch to see if they'll do something surprising and different.

Difference is interesting.  As writers we know that and use it in our writing.  There is a lot of emphasis in writing books on conflict as the basis of story.  I like the somewhat newer idea that a story needs conflict but it relies on building or breaking down relationships for the emotional power of the story.  The panda effect is an attempt at connection.  I did wonder why women but not men are asked these questions, but the focus on the unusual, with an anticipation of a coming surprise, makes a lot of sense to me.

Anyone have experiences or ideas about the panda effect?


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Being Another Organism

One fascinating topic for authors is to try to see the world through the eyes of another organism.  Coetzee has written a number of stories with embedded essays about animal perspectives, whether we can ever perceive the world from the eyes of a lion or a bat. 

Recently I've been very interested in sea creatures.  Not necessarily sea anemones like the one  pictured here, but octopus.  I've read haphazardly around the topic of octopus intelligence and perception, and my favorite at present is Soul of an Octopus. The ingenuity and the moods of several individuals of this species surprised me a great deal.  Some are kindly and others aloof, some are Houdinis and can ooze their entire bodies through tiny cracks to escape aquaria. The color changes they undergo can be similar to facial expressions.  In some cases, a red octopus is interested only in sex.  

I imagine that sci fi authors who write about alien shape shifters could be unconsciously modeling them on octopuses.  But how do they feel?  Clearly they'd prefer not to be caged in an aquarium.  Sy Montgomery attributes many human qualities to the individuals she got to know and described in Soul of an Octopus.  I think the choice of the word 'soul' is shocking to some, but to me it seems justified.  But I also see how a human can fool him or herself about what an octopus is thinking or feeling.  There is a barrier that remains, no matter how connected one may feel.  But exploring that barrier is fascinating to write about and to read.