Barsoom: Everyone Looks Alike


One of my best memories of my father’s house is a wall of books. The entire wall was made of inset shelves, and reached from floor to ceiling. This was one of my favorite places in that house, and I spent hours looking through the shelves searching for the stories that would carry me far away from normal life. It’s there that I first found and enjoyed Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series, the first two books of which have recently been fused into the movie ‘John Carter’.

After going to see the movie (and enjoying it, even though it’s definitely not the same story) I’ve started to reread the series. Now that I’m not in my early teens I’m still enjoying the books, though I’m definitely picking up things that I missed on the first read through. These are well crafted stories, and this author has been a great inspiration to later writers. But there are definite flaws, and I’d like to go into the first of them here.


The Barsoom stories are full of noble feats, reckless actions, and daring acts of trickery. At least once a book the main character, John Carter, bewilders and befuddles his enemies by disguising himself. It seems fairly obvious in the first book, especially when you consider that the planet of Barsoom (Mars) is inhabited mostly by people that look exactly like humans, except for their skin color. In the course of the first three books you learn that the races of man come in red, white, black, and yellow. They all lay eggs, but that aside they are exactly like us. There is also one race of non-humans, the extremely tall, four armed, tusked, nomadic race of green men.

So it seems to make sense that at various turns John Carter is disguised as a thern (white skin, yellow hair), a red man, and a yellow man. The first of these escapades is natural enough. He’s new to the planet and city and needs to sneak around undetected, so he poses as a newcomer to the city. Easy enough to understand.

The next instance is where it strains credulity. John Carter must escape from the Holy Therns, and so he dons a wig of yellow hair and the trappings of a man he’s killed and strolls about thusly disguised. This would be just another normal adventure if it wasn’t for a later event. The group runs into another thern, one who obviously knows the man John Carter is impersonating. And he doesn’t notice the difference in facial features. In fact he only gets tipped off when he sees the dead body of the man he knows. And even then he’s only suspicious.

In several other instances John Carter  is disguised as various races of man and actually comes face to face with his bitterest enemies, who also do not recognize him. His wife does not recognize him under his disguise either. At this point I had to put the book down.

Remember that the only thing that changed about him is his skin color or his hair color. Which means that either everyone on Barsoom has really bad facial recognition skills, or every member of each race looks incredibly similar to the others, even up to being nearly indistinguishable.

There’s been a decent amount said about E.R.B’s racial politics, and I don’t want to either rehash all of it or speak too much about something I’m not as well versed in. * But can I just say that this sounds a bit like the things I’ve heard about people from Africa, or China, or any other culture and race that we in the west deem to be ‘Other’? And it certainly doesn’t help the case that the Tharks, the green nomadic race, are blatantly cast in the role of the noble savage. I have to say I’ll definitely be looking into the racial side of this more as I continue to read on. And I think anyone else reading this series who really wants to get the most out of their reading should do the same.

*I’ve only had the chance to read a little bit of it so far, but I’d already recommend Dying Planet. That link takes you to a Google Book preview of the relevant section that I found in my searching. It also gets a bit into the treatment of gender, which I am also eager to jump into, especially since that’s something I feel like I have the experience and learning to speak to.





Two True Facts

1. I am sitting here crying because I read this Dear Sugar column, which is so unlike my situation (affair, kids) but so like it at the same time (moments of despair, the tangle of becoming someone else).

2. I am learning to program.

These two facts have nothing to do with each other on the surface. But in my head they are inextricably linked. This is because right now I am trying to find out who I am. I’ve been the unhappy person in a job they felt was sucking them dry. I’ve been an entrepreneur, master of my company and destiny. And now I’m not sure what I am. And here in my confusion I’ve gone back to the thing I’m most comfortable as.

A student. I am most comfortable when I’m learning. It’s why I can’t stand being alone for too long. And why I’ve fled jobs at full tilt. And why I’ve loved starting a company. In the end I’m just not happy unless I’m learning something.

And that gives rise to my dilemma. How do I stay true to that core of me? Learning to program is a lifeline right now, but I need something more. I need my day-in and day-out to have challenge. But I don’t know where I’ll get that and I don’t know who I’ll be once I have it. Or who I’ll be if I don’t.

Looking back it seems like all of my episodes of serious depression involved this issue. I hope, and believe, that having that common thread will help unravel this tangle. Because I’m sick of all this becoming. I want to move on to the being.

Job Hunt Panacea

There’s nothing like a job hunt to put your self esteem on a roller-coaster ride. Yay, I got an interview! Sad, turns out they’re hiring for a completely different job than what they posted. Yay, I found a job I’m perfectly qualified for! Sad, turns out they didn’t think so.

It can wreak havoc with anyone, but can be especially hard on someone who’s got depression issues. But, completely out of the blue, I found something to make me feel better.

That, friends and followers (who are awesome, BTW) is a baby blanket. Specifically, a baby blanket that I made by crocheting. Which I haven’t done in years! And at the top there? That’s number two.

Turns out that having three pregnant friends gives me the perfect excuse to take up old and dear crafting. And crafting gives me a solid finished accomplishment that I can point to. That my sneaky jerk brain can’t refute or minimize. Because I made that, and now it’s going to keep a baby warm.

And one success begets another. Proof: I just got a call back for a job I’d be awesome at. Here’s to hoping!

Amoral Legislation

I have a bone to pick with Kansas. Specifically a bill in the House committee. Via Shakesville comes news of a provision so disgusting I can’t help but vent. Let’s have the quote first, then we’ll chat.

Among the most contested provisions of the bill is the section that would exempt a doctor from a medical malpractice suit if a woman claims the physician withheld information about potential birth defects to prevent her from having an abortion. In addition, a woman would not be able to sue if she suffers health damage from a pregnancy as a result of information withheld from her to prevent an abortion. A wrongful death suit could still be filed, however, if the mother died.

Did you catch that? Here’s how it goes:

A patient is pregnant. Her doctor discovers a problem with the fetus which could cause complications, which might medically indicate a need for an abortion. That doctor is pro-life, so they don’t inform the patient. She has complications and gets sick, or injured. In that kind of instance her future fertility may be affected, and the fetus most likely doesn’t survive. Then when she finds out her doctor knew all that, and didn’t tell her? She can’t do a thing. Unless she dies from the complications.

Do you know what this could cover? Things like a fetus that may be dead already and could cause a patient to become septic. Or a fetus that obviously won’t survive past birth, if it even makes it that far.Or how about an ectopic pregnancy  which will likely seriously injure or kill someone trying to continue to full term.

This is wrong. I don’t know how to say this any other way. This is so wrong. And the awful thing? To some people, me saying that is controversial. Because it’s about abortion. So let me be clear.

I don’t care what side of the debate you’re on, you should be against this. Withholding medical information is unethical. Any doctor who would let a patient get sick, injured, or die because they decide they know better than their patient should not have a license. A doctor that treats their patients like they don’t have the right to make decisions about their own health should never be allowed to practice any kind of medicine.

I don’t have a rousing or hopeful conclusion to this post. This bill, if passed as it stands, will kill people. It makes me sick at heart, to know that there are people who think this is fine. That this is necessary. I don’t live in Kansas, but if anyone wants to list the people to contact to oppose this, or ways to help fight it, put them in comments. This cannot stand if words like ‘compassion’ or ‘moral’ are to mean anything.

I Write Letters

I’ve been receiving quite a few emails from the DCCC asking for donations lately. The most recent was sent quoting the decision to sign the Lilly Ledbetter act. The implication is that because they did that, I should be moved to support them, because I’m a woman. Honestly it only made me mad, because I’ve seen very little sign since that this administration cares about women. So I sent them a letter, and I decided to share it here as well. If anyone else feels the same feel free to use it.


If you truly want the support of women, I would suggest doing more than signing one act. All across the country there is a wave of anti-choice activists trying to make Roe v. Wade symbolic only; by removing our ability to access birth control, family planning services, and basic health care. Planned Parenthood is being defunded state by state. This is a huge increase from just a few years before. The president claims to be pro-choice, and claims to support women. If this is true then maybe he should speak up in support of half the country’s rights. One good example is the recent decision on EC for women younger than 17.

While I will not support Republicans because of their outright hostility to women, I also cannot support a president who refuses to defend half his country. My rights have been ignored or used as bargaining chips. Apathy is not enough to move me to support, and I will not do so until I have seen some sign that this administration also supports me.

Depression Experiment the First

So I’ve had some time to work on this idea of experimenting with my depression, and I’m back from the field to report my findings! Non-scientific science-ho!

Finding the first: Nothing is simple.

That seems disgustingly trite when it’s written down. But let’s back up. I’ve got reason to type that.

I had a couple theories of what would make me better. One of them was fairly simple in theory: Being around other people would distract me and make it harder to feel bad. And I got the perfect opportunity to try it out, since by coincidence, a couple of friends came to stay with me for a few days.

On the first day it was great. I had actually gotten things done that day (cleaning the apartment pre-visitors) so I felt good about that progress. And they were only here for a couple hours before it was bed time. So I felt good, didn’t have down time to feel awful, and it seemed like the idea was a success.

Then the second day was good. I felt bad that I didn’t get enough done while they were there. I also managed to find new ways to beat myself up. Like feeling like I was a bad hostess, because we all sat around on our computers that evening. When we had games and conversation and things the night before! But I also couldn’t let myself fall apart while they were around, so I ended up functioning pretty well.

By the third day I was ready to burst. Even though I hadn’t consciously thought about it, I was suppressing the way I felt so I could appear to be fully functioning while my friends were around. And turns out I can’t do that without being totally stressed! So I got cranky and impatient. Which made me feel bad. Which made me crankier. You can see the cycle starting here, I’m sure.

We went to a party that night, which alternated between bad and great. I would start feeling awesome! I chatted with people and had some good food and enjoyed (finally!) being out of the house. And then I would feel separated from everyone, like I was just observing while everyone else enjoyed themselves. I felt invisible and inconsequential. I had to make a conscious effort to rejoin them, to say or do anything. And then it would pass and things would be better.

So on the whole I’m not sure if this ‘be around people’ thing is bad advice or good advice. Was it my introvert nature combining with the depression to pull me under? Or was it all the depression, cutting me off from things that normally make me feel good? I honestly can’t say.

If anyone else has tried this, did it help you? Do you experience similar things? Do you think being an extrovert or an introvert helps or harms you dealing with these issues?

Beating the Illness

Today a friend texted me, and I listened while she reflected my own thoughts back at me. She’s going through a bout of depression just as a new one is settling its weight over top of me. It was rather uncanny, really. Here was another person telling me the things I’ve been to smushed and worn down to articulate. Somehow, it was helpful enough to motivate me.

Generally doing work that I can point to helps me pull out of the spiral before it’s too bad. But somehow that’s not working this time. So we’re working on it together, which is helping. And I’m going to use the scientific approach and see if that does something.

I’ve decided, partially based on advice from my amazing partner, that I’m going to start thinking of the depression as an illness and not…whatever else I had been thinking of it as. An unruly and cruel creature maybe? I’m not sure. Either way, I’m going to structure my days as if I were sick.

That means not pushing myself. And taking frequent breaks. And being happy to get anything done, rather than haranguing myself for getting not enough done. That will be hardest, I think. I’m very good at putting myself down when I’m like this, so that one will take some getting used to.

I know a lot of people struggle with this. And I know that hearing other people’s stories can be helpful. So I’m putting this here, and hoping that someone can learn from what I’m doing. And hoping that recording it will help me, because I’ve never done that before either. It’ll be a learning experience, which at the very least will be interesting. And if anyone else has their own stories, feel free to share.