Toot That Horn

I recently volunteered as social media and promotions chair at Cascade Writers’ Workshop, a regional genre fiction workshop that I attended this past July.  I love being part of something like Cascade, and I wholeheartedly enjoy promoting the writers within it.

In fact, I am crazy willing to promote other people and organizations. I’ve put on uniforms, given off-the-cuff speeches to crowds of hundreds, dressed in 19th century Métis garb and danced around campfires in interpretive events, belly danced in restaurants for tips, gotten on stage in front of drunken hordes and threatened them (see photo below), written press releases, knocked on doors and cold-called for charities and politicians, cold-called for businesses, too

But, when given opportunities to promote myself, I choke.

I’ve taken classes in establishing promotion and web presence from the Fabulous Cat Rambo. I strive to apply everything I’ve learned from her, even the mantra BLOG REGULARLY OR NOT AT ALL. But every damn time I come to this page, I freeze.

Why is that?

When I was in graduate school, a less-experienced male colleague got a paid position doing something that I had been doing as a volunteer, because he said he could, even though he later admitted he had no experience at all.  At All.

And the litany of such events in my life goes on, and on, and on.

Like most women, I have internalized the message that self-promotion is unsavory. I work as a volunteer or accept lower paid positions. I don’t toot my own damn horn because it would, I dunno, call attention to ME. I disagree a lot with  points in her book “Lean In,” but this one I do not.

I never want to see my daughter experience this. I want her to walk up to the world and say, “I Rock. Look At Me!”

If that is every going to happen, I’m going to have to learn to do it, too, as scary as that is for me.

You ready?

Here’s me. This here’s my horn, and I’m gonna toot it.

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This Is Me Whipping…Er…Tooting Someone Else’s Horn

I’m just this writer,  archaeologist, and a damn amazing mother to two little children who are the most amazing creatures in the world. Because of them, I do awesome things every damn day.

Like get the first science fiction story I ever wrote, The Dorsal Wake, published in a pro magazine.

I’ve traveled and excavated at sites all over the world, including a Bronze Age/Iron Age fort in West Siberia.

I’ve survived neurosurgery and a congenital brain malformation that should have left me paralyzed. It might someday kill me, but I’m not going to let that stop me from loving and living life.

I used to work full-time at one of the most amazing archaeological and historical sites in the world, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. I still work on their amazing collections, write non-fiction and fiction to help people understand the complex narrative of colonialism and the industrialization of the west.

I do these things–and so much more–because I want to leave the world a better place for being here.

How about you? What do you do that fucking rocks? I want to hear it!

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Pathetic Female Characters

I love this discussion of female characters in Borderlands by fellow Cascade Writer April Daniels. She nails how I feel about it with concrete examples and makes the point for games, which dovetails well with the recent post at The New Statesman on the same topic in movies by Sophia McDougall., author of the Romanitas books.

Sinister Elegance

I play Borderlands.

So do a lot of other women. The game is notable, in fact, for its large and vocal community of female fans. No matter what the dudebros down at Gamestop tell you, women play all sorts of games, even very violent shooters like Gears of War and Call of Duty. The fandom of Borderlands, however, is much more visibly gender mixed than many other mainstream games.

There are two main components to Borderlands’ success with female characters: variety and flaws.

Borderlands 2, like Borderlands 1, only has a single female character who is playable out of the box, despite having four playable characters included with the game. (There is a 3rd female character named Gaige who can be bought as a DLC.)  Taken by itself, this could be a troubling sign of tokenism, and in truth I do grumble about it endlessly to my friends.  And sadly…

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Broken Promises

I have been lax — having a baby, chasing two kiddos around, and then putting my house on the market have made me a terrible blogger.

I have a new mantra: new blog post at least once a week.  The next one will be a doozy.

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Archaeology and Paleontology: A Smackdown

A typical conversation I’ve had when introducing myself:

Stranger: What do you do for a living?

Me: I’m an archaeologist.

Stranger: Oh, really?  My kid loves dinosaurs!

Me: <facepalm>

Stranger: Oh, really! What do you think about the Mayan Calendar/Egyptian Pyramids/Stonehenge Was Built By Aliens Theory?  Let me tell you what I think…

Me: Flee!  Run Away!

(Now that I’m a writer, I get “I’ve got a great story idea, why don’t you write it and give me 50% of your multi-million dollar book deal?” or “I hate your genre.”)

After I became an archaeologist, stories with archaeology in them often made me cringe.  Not just because of factual errors — though those always get my intellectual panties in a twist.  I began to avoid everything archaeology in popular culture because so few writers use archaeology in a way that is effective and meaningful. 

While there are notable exceptions, all I really need to do is point to the most popular images of archaeology and archaeologists in the media to make my case: Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider.  Books have much less of an impact on people, nowadays (with the exception of Harry Potter and Twilight, perhaps.  But I digress).

Writers – genre writers in particular — like to use archaeology in their stories.  Before I was an archaeologist, this had a lot of “gee whiz!” factor.  I loved seeing archaeologists as main characters, mostly because I wanted to be one.  Now that I’m a writer, I understand why — writers are looking for what sells, and scenarios that make sense to the reader.

It really isn’t the writers’ fault, but they are as much a part of the problem as archaeologists are.  I suspect the dearth of good archaeology in popular culture is a result of a disconnection (in the United States, at least) between our understanding of the past and its role in shaping the present, compounded by a lack of experience about just what archaeology is outside of popular media.  This is why I became a public archaeologist, but that is another matter.

So I did some delving on the ‘nets to examine my own biases on the matter. 

Archaeology in literature is where I started (not just genre literature, but all literature).  When Google came out with their Ngram Viewer that allows you to search how often keywords appear in all the books that Google Books has loaded into their vast database starting in 1800 until 2008, the first comparison I searched was “archaeology, paleontology”.

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http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=archaeology%2C+paleontology&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=0&smoothing=3

Archaeology and paleontology have almost no references in literature until 1840 — they are relatively new sciences.  Around 1840, archaeology begins to pull away, and by the 1990s, hits a peak at approximately .0006000% references in literature than paleontology at .0000500% of all Google Books. 

Wow. Archaeology is more popular than paleontology in literature, despite Jurassic Park and the obsessions of every child I’ve ever met between the ages of three and ten.  Despite the fact that half the time when I introduce myself as archaeologist I frequently get asked if I’ve dug up any dinosaurs lately.    

I assume, though I am not sure, that this peak has a lot to do with Y2K and people’s obsession with the end of the world.  People seek out archaeology as explanation or as a means of understanding whenever doomsday scenarios rear their ugly heads.  In the 21st Century, archaeology dips down again until the database’s limit at 2008, but I suspect it is on the rise with all of the insanity surrounding 2012 and the Mayan calendar.

My skeptic’s voice kicked in right about here — .0006000% is not a ton of references, is it? And it probably doesn’t include all of those dinosaur kids’ books, which outstrip archaeological kids’ books by the metric ton.  If those were included, paleontology would track closer to archaeology, I’d think.

So I looked at Google Trends, which includes all those searches by kids who are using the internet to follow up on their own fascinations and homework projects.

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http://www.google.com/trends/?q=archaeology,+paleontology

Gee, archaeology outstrips paleontology by far, though archaeology is on a downward trend.  The peak hit a massive upswing at the beginning of 2011, probably because of that dratted Mayan-end-of-the-world thing, but didn’t rise much with the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008.  (I’m interested in the regular downbeat at the end of each year, that correlation would be an interesting one to follow up on).

The irony is Indiana Jones was probably inspired by Roy Chapman Andrews, a paleontologist-adventurer:   served in the Naval Intelligence Service in WWI, wore a ranger hat and almost always carried a revolver.

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Roy Chapman Andrews: Antlers Are More Deadly Than Whips

Why is archaeology so much more popular than paleontology, despite the obsession of nearly every child under the age of ten and the frequent confusion adults have between the two disciplines?

I’ve decided to pick up this book to follow up on my intellectual curiosity: Archaeology Is A Brand! The Meaning of Archaeology in Contemporary Culture by Cornelius Holtorf, which is a cross cultural look at archaeology in media and popular culture for more edification, but in the meantime, this is what I think, for what it is worth:

Homo sap. is a pretty self-obsessed, self-aggrandizing species.  Literature explores this self-obsession to its limits.  History and archaeology provide writers with a lens for revealing what-it-means-to-be-human, often in all its ugliness.  The usual where we’ve come from, and where we’ve been is right there on the page.  And where we are probably going, too. 

Writers try to tap into the imagery and conversations of our collective unconscious, and archaeology is a part of that.  Archaeology is used to great effect in mysteries, which plumb the darkest aspects of the human condition.  Archaeology can be used to great effect.  And it can fail miserably if the author is not careful with their assumptions and deep biases, let alone their research. 

Witness these two HORRIBLE reality TV shows: American Digger by Spike TV and Diggers! on the (sigh) The National Geographic Channel (Diggers! has been pulled from National Geographic as of now, but it did air . (Why are they horrible . . . if you don’t already know, read more here: http://www.sha.org/blog/index.php/2012/02/more-teaching-moments-national-geographic-televisions-diggers/ and here: http://saa.org/Portals/0/SAA/Press/Diggers.pdf

So I decided to put together a beginner’s guide from an archaeologist and a writer for how archaeology has been used in literature and popular culture both in good and bad ways to help fellow (particularly new) writers out.

My next post will be an Archaeologist As Character guide.  But in the meantime, why do you think archaeology is so popular, at least compared to paleontology?  Why is it portrayed so poorly by much of mass-media?  For the archaeologists, who gets it right?  Who gets it really, really wrong?  Tell me your favorite examples – the badder the better.

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Re-entry

Re-entry is harder than exiting.

This is my second blog.  I set one up many years ago (ca. 2004) when blogging just began to proliferate.  That one was a personal account of my adventures with a massive health crisis, and it lasted only a few months.  Probably because I was dealing with a massive health crisis, and I realized the internets are full of massive health crisis drama and didn’t need my blog to add to the crushing weight of Schadenfreude.  (I was wrong, since the advent of Facebook friends, Failblog.org, and the 2012 Republican primary season have concentrated Schadenfreude into a neutron star of a difficult-to-watch train wreck of failure on the internet.)

This blog will be different than the old one.  Now that I’m a mother and writer in addition to an archaeologist and eclectic geeky fan-girl, I’ve got tons more to write about.

Like this:

My next post will be a review of the use of archaeology and archaeologists as characters in literature, from the point of view of an archaeologist and a life-long fan of science-fiction, fantasy and genre fiction and movies, in greater detail than this article at tvtropes.

I’m developing a spreadsheet of stories that employ archaeology or archaeologists as characters, and would love input to round it out.

What are your favorite characters and stories (from books, movies, comics, TV shows, manga)?  What are the ones that didn’t work?  Which ones were particularly bad?  What role did archaeology play in your favorite stories, and did it work?  Extra credit for those who provide links or publication history for others to dig into the archaeological fun.

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