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Georgette Heyer and Oliver Sacks, Together Again for the First Time - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Georgette Heyer and Oliver Sacks, Together Again for the First Time [Mar. 14th, 2012|08:43 am]
Marissa Lingen
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I read papersky's Tor.com post on How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Romance when it came out, and I went along with my life, humming and putting in the tiddly-poms as appropriate, but something kept nagging at me. It felt like a familiar experience that she was describing somehow, and yet I never did learn to love romance, so that clearly wasn't it. (I don't scorn romance. I have read a couple of Jennifer Crusies and a lovely pile of Georgette Heyers, and I was glad enough of them, and...yeah, there are probably other examples. But in general it is not the genre for me and a perfectly fine genre for other people and not a fitting subject for invoking taste hierarchies in a nasty sneering way.)

Just now it hit me.

Biology. Romance is like biology.

Well, now it makes sense.

It's the thing people try to shove you into because you're a girl! And you kick and scream and stick your elbows out and they CANNOT MAKE YOU. Nobody did this to me with romance. But oh, did they ever do it with biology. Physics, they said, would be full of boys, and I would probably be uncomfortable. (Have you met me? I said.) Better to pursue biology, which is, I pointed out, full of dead things and things that smell and also plants, which I tend to kill, and so we're back to the dead things. Physics, on the other hand, is full of things I could not possibly kill, except for that one particularly unfortunate lab partner, and why no, there is no reason he was never heard from again, why do you bring that up just now? And math. Physics is satisfyingly full of math. Oh look, they said! You have won ribbons in this science competition which happens to be full of biology because we are foolish and like that sort of thing and wrote it that way, thereby depriving you of a chance to demonstrate physics ability! Have you considered med school? Or biomed research? Due to your overwhelming girly girlitude? And also your being of a girl? And this sweetly pretty ribbon we have given your girly self for this science competition we sucked the physics out of just for spite?

Fie, I said, and also some other words that begin with f.

(Because people sometimes leap to unwarranted conclusions I will note that my parents were kicking and screaming with me NO NO YOU CANNOT MAKE HER SHE DOES NOT WANT TO SHE DOES NOT HAVE TO IT SMELLS FUNNY. They were not the people trying to get me to do biology instead, and nobody should blame them for the injustice of other people.) (The part about it smelling funny was mostly my mom, though. My dad is a chemist, and we all know how much leg they have to stand on in re: sciences that smell funny.) (I kid because I love.) (And also because chemistry smells funny.)

When I hit my mid-20s and nobody was trying to shove me anywhere, I picked up some popular-ish biology, principally starting with neuro-stuff like Oliver Sacks, and it was interesting. Quite interesting, in fact. And now I have stopped worrying and enjoy the worldbuilding in it a great deal.

So Oliver Sacks is exactly like Georgette Heyer, and that can stop bothering at the corner of my brain. So good then. It's settled.

Um. If I sit veryvery still and am veryvery quiet, perhaps nothing in my brain will jar loose a Georgette Heyer-style story with Oliver Sacks-type neuropsychological things in it. Yes? All comments to be posted in a whisper to avert this eventuality. Okay.

You can tell that the work on these two books is going well, because I am in an exceptionally silly mood, but that doesn't mean I don't mean every word of this post, approximately.

[User Picture]From: sartorias
2012-03-14 02:06 pm (UTC)
Too late. I want you to write that story! (And I loathed biology. Also in my day, it was Girls + Math/Science = Noes! and I was okay with that, because science and stinks, and math made no sense. Yes, I agree I am stupid I said emphatically to teacheral scorn when I flunked Algebra I for the second time, and bombed out of Geometry. [They could make fun of you in class in those days. It was considered good for you.] Yes, I'm stupid! Get me out of math! And I believed it for decades, until I discovered as a teacher that I was merely dyslexic. There was a, actual biological reason I was incapable or seeing the same number, or writing it correctly. So reading biology became interesting, too.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-03-14 03:12 pm (UTC)
I had a few interesting conversations with women of your age when I was a teenager, talking about Star Trek: the Next Generation. I would say that Tasha Yar was the character who didn't have a girly job. And they would say, "Beverly Crusher was a doctor," and then we kind of stared at each other. Because I have never had a primary-care doctor who was male. Ever in my entire life. So I think for a lot of women your age, the Girls + Math/science = Noes! thing made being a doctor much more a major deal, but that was invisible to me when I was a teenager and biology had gotten to be the science with women in it.

Interesting where progress comes out unevenly, isn't it?

I get furious at how poorly we teach math and how poorly we understand different ways of learning it.
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[User Picture]From: txanne
2012-03-14 02:10 pm (UTC)
I REGRET THAT I FEEL COMPELLED TO SPEAK IN THE OPPOSITE OF A WHISPER AT YOU. Because I think that Heyer!Sacks written by a physicist would be dandy.
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[User Picture]From: kizmet_42
2012-03-14 02:47 pm (UTC)
I wants. I wants. I wants.
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[User Picture]From: dormouse_in_tea
2012-03-14 02:29 pm (UTC)
....ooooooh. Now THAT would be a book.
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[User Picture]From: rikibeth
2012-03-14 02:43 pm (UTC)
I liked chemistry; physics was too abstract, and Superman had better things to do than to save foolish students who jumped off buildings, although the air hockey setup and the balance scale were fun. Biology was, I agree, full of dead things and things that smelled. The chemistry smells were different, generally less evil than formaldehyde (even butyric acid was less awful than formaldehyde and the whole building didn't smell like that) and nothing was SQUISHY. And many things exploded. Exploding was good.

I wasn't a romance person, or so I thought. I liked fantasy, and science fiction, and history; quest stories were wonderful, worldbuilding was my joy. Georgette Heyer was my exception, because the Regency setting was so alien as to constitute worldbuilding. Plus, many SF fans also loved her, and this caused them to hold Regency balls at conventions, which satisfied my taste for dressing up like a pretty princess. This was all good, and I still identified quite strongly as a SF/fantasy fan. Then I started becoming sufficiently involved to write fanfic.

And, lo and behold, I discovered that what I was writing followed some absolutely classic romance arcs and tropes. It was slash, but I could generally pick out one of the characters holding down a heroine role, and coding female, even when I wasn't writing them with stereotypically feminine traits. When one of your characters winds up in the setting-appropriate equivalent of Snow White's glass coffin, you've got some serious tropes going on. Or there would be a rogue who gets redeemed (although I hope mine were less icky than some of the het genre examples). So... I came to terms with romance as a genre and a template.

What I'm writing now is romance. Historical, m/m turning into m/f/m, full of deliberate subversions of gender expectations even while they outwardly conform... but it's romance and I'll be sending it to certain romance publishers when it's done.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-03-14 03:17 pm (UTC)
I am so glad it's a template that works for you! Possibly even with some chemistry, if you love me? Well, I'm told one can't have everything.

I think that romance has clarified for me that I am interested in established relationships. Which is a good thing to be conscious of, I think, even if it's not always a clear path to getting it.
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[User Picture]From: timprov
2012-03-14 09:33 pm (UTC)
Now I want a seventeenth-century Superman comic in which one of his nemeses is Isaac Newton constantly doing the sort of physics experimentation that you can only do safely if you happen to have Superman around.
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[User Picture]From: dd_b
2012-03-14 02:54 pm (UTC)
Biology was one of my best science teachers ever (him and the 8th grade Earth Sciences teacher). But biology itself, not so wonderful. Also they wanted us to do nasty things to amphibians (spinal pithed frog), which I did apparently competently but not terribly happily. That lead to my science fair project on acid produced from burning plastics, too.

I still have reading some Heyer on the list, will no doubt get to it some day. I haven't read any genre romance, but two of my very favorite books, A Civil Campaign and Gaudy Night plus Busman's Honeymoon have very large components of romance -- both involving actual adults.

Nobody tried very hard to push me into sports, that I noticed, or into auto mechanics (that one I might have enjoyed learning something about), those being stereotypically male things for my adolescent period. I played ping-pong pretty seriously, but that was close to my limit of interest in sports.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-03-14 03:21 pm (UTC)
Yah, we did nasty things to frogs, too. Also crawdads and earthworms. I am all in favor of things being hands-on, but this is sort of like "The Cold Equations" in that a certain subset of people tend to push for the nastiest possible hands-on-ness for some reason.
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[User Picture]From: elisem
2012-03-14 05:42 pm (UTC)
I got discouraged from continuing as an honors math major. By an advisor. Who said "Women do not do well in mathematics." He had to repeat it several times before I got the message.

I referred to it later as having been offered a radical mathectomy.

(My college years were pretty awful.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-03-14 05:48 pm (UTC)
"Women do not do well in mathematics HERE LET ME MAKE SURE THEY DO NOT."
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[User Picture]From: finnyb
2012-03-15 03:11 am (UTC)
I would have loved honors maths. And likely would've done well. But I was told I was stupid in math, simply because what is easy for lots of people (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) is very hard for me, and what is hard for some people (algebra, geometry, trig, calc, etc.) is easy for me (as long as I have a calculator to do the "easy" stuff). I cannot help it that numbers move around on me and only seem to stay still with variables added in. But according to school that was my fault, and thus I was stupid at maths and not allowed to take physics (which I was highly interested in), or calculus beyond what was mixed in with my other math classes.

Goodness. And I'm not sure where to divide that previous paragraph up (or even if it needs dividing up), despite having a BFA in creative writing. Lovely.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-03-15 01:04 pm (UTC)
Well, that's all right; probably you'll pick a line of work where you won't much need it.
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