[Warning here for strong opinions, an Americanised slant despite attempts to keep it more broad, and classism/social justice themes.]

There's a video circulating the internets, and because Buzzfeed made and hosted it, you've seen it. For those who haven't, here it is:

So what is this?

It's from Buzzfeed and European car manufacturer Skoda, and it's about how because they grew up with technology like cable TV, tablets, and the internet, children these days can't identify obscure items like artichokes by touch alone. And apparently that's terrible, and the solution is to go buy a car.

Now, we're going to dismiss the logical vacuum of Skoda ownership teaching your children about artichokes(Is a glovebox full of them a standard feature?). This video always gave me that nebulous, uncomfortable feeling of being angry with something and not being able to pinpoint why. But the other day, I finally realised what it was, so I'm going  to subject you to my issues with this video.

Housekeeping duties

What I am going to get out of the way immediately is the standard anti-intellectual, anti-technological advancement trappings. Here's a cool little factoid from the video:


And here's another factoid: A study I just did found that the amount of cars produced annually in the USA has increased nearly 75 times itself in the last twenty years, as of 1927. Are we losing touch with livery? Have we forgotten what a horse is? Go buy a horse and buggy so your children don't go without the experience of horse manure aromas clinging to everything they own.

Twenty years ago was 1996. You might remember this time as when you didn't spend tons of time in front of a computer because the internet was very slow, loading anything took a long time, and the target audience was only starting to include people who were off the clock. As this Slate article put it:

You rarely linger on the Web; your computer takes about 30 seconds to load each page, and, hey, you're paying for the Internet by the hour. Plus, you're tying up the phone line. Ten minutes after you log in, you shut down your modem.

internet-explorer-15-year-journey3Yahoo was still relevant. There was no Chrome.

So yeah, time spent with technology has doubled as the quality of that technology improved. Same as my little automotive history snippet up there. What changed in that time period? The cars got cheaper, more comfortable, and Henry Ford rolled out the assembly line and the Model T. And then more people got them. The time spent with the new technology of cars increased as access to and quality of cars improved.

Cool, now that we got the luddite bias out of the way, we can move onto what really bothers me about this video, and the school of thought behind it.

rupn8q41Mark this in your calendars: It's the only time you're gonna see Family Guy on this blog.

Parent Shaming

The between-the-lines takeaway of this video, as far as I can tell, is that parents should be ashamed and have failed their children, by plopping them down in front of a television/computer/tablet/video game instead of taking them on family outings to enjoy nature.

1-crop-article920-largePeople who were better parents than you. Probably.

Now, this is a lot to unpack, but what it basically boils down to is more bootstrap-style poor-shaming. This argument that parents need to stop being lazy and go naturing with their kids misses out on a whole plethora of socioeconomic reasons why people are probably not doing that.

Nature requires space, money, and transportation, as well as free time. These are things that are largely luxuries of the upper class. Let's look at these individually, shall we?

We'll start with free time and money.

Time = Money = Time

You might remember a small kerfuffle about an employee budgeting guideline McDonald's put out a while back. It was ridiculous and insulting for a number of reasons, but it also tacitly admitted that anyone earning minimum wage is going to struggle to get by even while working two jobs. It lacks line items for childcare, gas for your car, or groceries.

American families spend on average $250 a month for gasoline, and it's higher in other countries, like the United Kingdom. And Forbes reckons it takes nearly $800 a month to raise one child. Now, 3 million people are earning exactly at, or below, the national minimum wage in America. Couple that with the fact that people aged 25 or over were the second largest group of minimum wage workers. So you've got to have one parent working three jobs, or two parents with at least one working two jobs, in order to make ends meet.

This means they do not have time to pile the kids into the family car(which may or may not be reliable) and go find some nature to poke with a stick. Hell, they don't have time to make, and eat, those wholesome family dinners we're all supposed to be having, either.

Happy family having roast chicken dinner at table

So yes, kids are left to their own devices. And they're probably not going to traipse out into the great unknown to look for bugs. Not when they have hours of homework even in primary school and every PSA, teacher, and parent is warning them of the dangers of going outside their home.

Not in this article: mild annoyance at putting the vaguely Asian girl in a yellow helmet.

Wealthier families do have free time, because they don't have to work the gruelling hours. When they do happen to work long hours, such as in politics, journalism, and corporate executive positions, the children have access to care givers, child minders, and all the camps you can shake a stick-bug at.

That's free time.

Now onto money.

Let's go back to that McDonald's budget. Not a lot of wiggle room. A large swath of the population can't afford to take their family to a zoo or aquarium. I personally could only afford the Georgia Aquarium once a year because locals were given free admission on their birthday. Don't believe me? I did some hunting. Here's a selection of zoo and aquarium admission prices.

And here's a good currency conversion site.

You might recognise this as pretty expensive. The cheapest option in the Skoda's geographic region is the Berlin Zoological Garden. And that's still 29.50 Euros for one parent and two children, just for admission. That doesn't take into account public transit tickets or gasoline in the car to get there, doesn't factor in feeding those kids, and doesn't even touch on the gift shop. I understand that zoos and aquariums have astronomical upkeep costs, and that's fine. I would rather have healthy, happy animals and well-funded conservation research than cheaper tickets. But it's still expensive(how about using taxes or lottery money to subsidise ticket prices???). A good cause doesn't put the money in a parent's bank account.

But wait, you say! It's not zoos or nothing! What about parks? What about national parks and public green spaces?

Good point. Where are those, largely? Rural areas. Places far from city centres and suburbs and usually poorly served by public transit routes.  So you've got to have the luxury of time off from work, a car that can go longer distances, and which they can afford to fuel to the country and back. And no, they probably don't already live in the countryside, as they then would not be able to afford their daily commute to the service industry jobs which have left rural landscapes in a sort of work drought.

But even when kids are exposed to nature, you're still not doing it right

On the flip side, you have the side of humanity that gave rise to yours truly: the rural poor. People who live in backwater areas, y'know, 'paddle faster, I hear banjos' territory.

200_sI always miss this guy between family reunions!

And the same thing applies. It's down to socioeconomic capability. They can't afford luxuries like tablets, and reception both for cell phones and satellite TV(they're normally outside the coverage area for cable companies), is poor and largely determined by location (wedged between two mountains? no service), which the poor often cannot choose for themselves. Left with little else to do, they go explore nature.

But even this, I'd argue, is a window backwards through time, to an era before we saw a flip in the economics of the countryside. Long ago, the rich lived in the cities and poor people lived in the agricultural and mining dominated country. These days, the poor work service industry jobs in the city and live in cramped council estates, housing projects, and small apartments. The rich live in sprawling, picturesque country estates, decommissioned farms, or hell, even relatively spacious suburbs.

And here's where you encounter...

The Space Issue

The lower classes can't necessarily afford a place with a roomy garden, or even a sunny balcony. And have you seen an allotment waiting list? Land is a premium in the UK, and there's too much of it in America(isolation of urban areas by suburban sprawl).

So, yes, kids are losing touch with nature, but don't blame technology. For so many children, PBS, Netflix, Youtube, and other media outlets are their only access to nature, science, and other critical forms of education. And don't blame parents; nobody wakes up and says 'damn, I wanna be the worst parent I can be'. They're doing the best they can in a system which is stacked against them. These attitudes of blaming the poor for their own situations have to end, and the poor have to learn to stop letting upper classes gaslight them into thinking they can just bootstrap themselves into an idyllic lifestyle with leisure, money, summer camps for kids, and paid vacations.

Speaking of the bootstrap rhetoric...

Skoda has a companion website for this video, full of cute little craft and activity ideas to reconnect children with nature. Here's a screencap from the lite version of the website:


You might realise this looks like a hipster's vision board. You might also notice that it's white as the freshly driven snow. And you may even notice a few things which only a small portion of children have access to:

  • LEDs to fart around with
  • space and materials for urban gardening
  • random rope for practising knots (no word on whether the government will subsidise this purchase as skill training for fetish club work)
  • a tree to climb and hang things in
  • parents with the free time to do this crap/supervise kids doing this crap

These are great ideas, but unless Skoda is also going to help with initiatives to bring this to all income levels(a free summer camp, for instance, which would be a boon to parents who rely on schools to feed their children) it comes off as a bit trite.

So if I wouldn't blame parents, or children, or technology, what would I blame?

I'd blame economics which prioritise productivity and consumption. They tie a person's worth to their output levels. They contribute to work cultures where manual labour is massively devalued as both 'easy' and 'cheap'.  I'd also blame a deep-seated societal hatred of the poor. They're taught it's their fault they're poor. That it's their fault they can't give their kids a well-rounded natural education. And they learn that because they're horrible people for being poor on purpose(????? who the hell chooses to be in poverty?), they deserve these awful jobs that continue the cycle.

In conclusion, parenting is hard. Making ends meet is hard. I have so much respect for all of you out there, striving to provide the very best for your kids. Don't let these videos make you feel like a terrible parent because your kid doesn't know what an artichoke is. You're doing great and your kid is gonna turn out great.

There. That's my rant over. Back to your regularly scheduled light-hearted writing and review related content. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this campaign, too! Do you find it easy to get out into nature?

the art house, one of many writing places i've found

Why do we need writing places?

I'm a firm believer in the "going to work" school of thought when it comes to writing...or for that matter, any home based work. The gist is that you have a dedicated space which is only for work, and thus when you go to this area your brain gets into 'work mode'. This is why I never write on my desktop PC. I can't. My desktop is a Fallout Machine. That's the place where I waste eight hours building a replica of my house in Minecraft. I've tried producing writing there. It doesn't work.

The amazing, Atlanta-based writing group 10 Days Before... did not introduce me to the idea of commuting to write, but it did show me what I could do in the 'write' atmosphere. My highest ever word count was 2200 words in an hour, and that was achieved at one of 10DB's write in events. It sold me on the concept of hunting out places to go to write.

The search begins...

So off to Google I go, trying every search term combination I can think of to try and find reviews of local watering holes written from a creative point of view. Do they have power outlets? What about just the right amount of background noise? Which are too loud to hear yourself think? Where's the wifi? Who's been to these places and tried to write there?

I found the results sadly lacking. Outside of New York City and London, no one seems to have compiled any sort of 'best writing places in X' type pages. So this is what I'm going to set out to do here. I'm going to go to random places in the Itchen Valley area--specifically Winchester, Chandlers Ford, Eastleigh, and Southampton--and write there for a few hours to try and get an idea of what it's like to be there as a writer and how the place functions as a creative space.

My first stop is a well known landmark in Southampton's cultural scene...

the front of the art house, one of many writing places i've found

The Art House

An eclectic cafe on a Mission from God™ and fighting the good fight. From their website:

We are a not-for-profit, Community Interest Company, a gallery, arts venue and cafe which has been running since January 2008 in Southampton, UK.  The Art House was founded by the four directors, Bik, Jani, Ziggy and Nina and is staffed mainly by volunteers.  We have three main aims:

– To promote the Arts.
– To enhance our local and global community.
– To encourage positive, healthy & sustainable living.

I can't recommend this place enough. It's an interesting atmosphere, full of bright colours, local artwork and crafts, and the occasional Doodle Book lying about. They also offer low key music, not too loud, and are just busy enough during the day that you can get some stimuli without being overwhelmed. They also offer free wifi, and a quiet space during the day, which demonstrates a commitment to giving people a creative space.

doodlebook at the art house, one of many writing places i've foundA taste of the decor, and a Doodle Book!

They stay busy, playing host to local musicians, a storytelling group, and even the local Makers scene. What this means for us hermity writer types is the opportunity to be a fly on the wall in so many different scenarios and soak up information on a broad range of topics. Maybe even discover a new hobby?

The staff are friendly and welcoming, as well as largely volunteer-based. They're happy to help newcomers and lone travellers settle in, and the place is a magnet for solo questers. It strikes me as a venue which strives to be a safe place for everyone.

How's the food?

loaded nachos at the art house, one of many writing places i've foundThe food is very good, and almost entirely vegan, with many gluten free options. I had some nachos while I was there, and an England's own brand of cola, Fentimans. The prices are on par with a restaurant in the city centre, believe my nachos were around £5-6, total was around £8.

They also offer a lower cost option in their Magic Hat Tea Bar. This is a self-serve, by donation alternative to expensive drinks out. It's part of their belief that public spaces are vital to mental and emotional wellbeing, and the lifeline this can give to those who are struggling financially...as a lot of writers and other artistic types are.

Where you are is where it's at...

"Wow! I'm super stoked to go support this amazing business!" You chirp, eyes large with optimism. "Where is this magical place?"

Ah, well, it's conveniently located in Southampton's city centre. They're on Above Bar Street, close to the Guild Hall. Easily accessed by rail or bus, though parking a car nearby can be an endeavour unto itself. As a nondriver myself, I can't comment on this aspect, but I hear tell it's a beast.

Opening time information

Pulled from their website:

Tuesday 11am – 10pm
Wednesday 11am – 10pm
Thursday 11am – 10pm
Friday 11am – 10pm
Saturday 11am – 10pm
Sunday 12 – 5pm.

Lunch is served 12 – 4pm and supper is available 6 – 9pm

So what're you waiting for?! Get out there and absorb some of the local flavour!

What're your thoughts on writing in the field?

Do you have a venue to suggest for this project?

Let me know!


LFCC's vendors at London Olympia, a major part of the event

Let me just start out by saying this: I'm lucky. In the last five years, I've gotten to go to five different cons, some of them twice. This includes the infamous Dragon Con, as well as up and coming cons like Treklanta,  WHOlanta (formerly TimeGate), and CONjuration. I always have a great time at an event like these, as well as getting a great sampling of different kinds of conventions. This is even more true if you include the three literary/publishing conferences I've attended: Publish15, the Atlanta Writing Workshop, and TLC's Writer's Day.


And now I can add last weekend's London Film and Comic Con as well as the Young Adult Literature Convention! That's what this post is about: my second taste of London events (the first being Gabriel Iglesias, who you should go see if you can).

So what happened?

I purchased a one day pass, because LFCC's page was a bit lacking on firm schedule information. Not sure what it is about convention websites, but they often seem a little disorganised when it comes to information on their scheduling and events. Maybe I'm missing something. It's happened before. I also wanted to have a taster menu of what nerd cons were like on this side of the Pond.

amelia1No, not that one.

I followed my usual pre-con plan:

  1. Settle on a good cosplay idea well ahead of time
  2. Figure out how best to incorporate cargo space into said cosplay and stuff it with snacks so I don't have to actually shell out for price-gouged food.
  3. Go over travel routes in meticulous detail
  4. Check the weather forecast for the day every day from the time it's included in ten-day forecasts
  5. Put off actually working on the cosplay until the last minute and end up with a #CloseEnough cosplay

Who did I go as? Liv Moore, from iZombie.

Nailed it.

In retrospect, I should have gone with something more prevalent in the UK; only one person recognised me.
PROTIP: Don't cosplay CW characters except for winter cons cause all CW characters wear approximately five layers of clothing.

Go figure.

Entry to the con was handled very well, and seemed to heavily benefit those who showed up right when they started letting people in. The queue was absolutely massive, nearly filling the loading warehouse of Olympia. But once the doors opened, we got in without delay. And once inside?

BLISSFULLY AIR CONDITIONED. Easily so far the best thing about LFCC, and the comfort levels exceeded that any con I'd attended. I was pretty disappointed that I wasn't getting a badge, as I was looking forward to adding it to my collection.

What did I do there?

Not much, if I'm honest. It dawned on me why queries about autographs and photography slots dominated the FAQs, and why there wasn't a lot of information about the event beyond the celebrity autographs/photo sessions and the vendors.

LFCC, in comparison to previous cons I attended, was sorely lacking in workshops, panels, activities, and other things to do. However, their board/video gaming area upstairs? TOP. NOTCH. Most cons confine their gaming to a single cramped room, which ends up overheated and overcrowded. They handled this perfectly.

They did host some talks, and featured a really fantastic celebrity guest list. But, as with a lot of high profile talks, a large portion of them cost money for entry. I'm not saying that high profile guests' talks must be free. Paid entry helps offset costs by pushing them onto just the people who want to benefit from the guest talk, and it helps with crowd control issues.

But between that and the typical pricing for celebrity meet and greets, it didn't leave a lot left over for those guests strapped for cash. Me personally, I believe that a con should be like a cruise. There should be premium entertainment available at a premium. But you should also be able to enjoy yourself on just what's included in your cabin price. And that's where LFCC was a bit disappointing. The good thing is, this is a relatively easy fix, since they've clearly already sorted out their cashflow with the plethora of premium options.

I still had a good time. I still had fun.
I still have mad respect for the organisers for what they accomplished.

Half the fun was seeing if anyone would pay me
£20 to drink my hot sauce. No one did.

And now onto the main event: YALC!

The ticket that covered entry to both LFCC and YALC was only £2 more than just entry to LFCC, so I decided to hedge my bets and spring for both. YALC offered a very well put together schedule as well as 1-on-1 agent pitching (not useful to me now, but in the future...). It was just simply more in line with what I expected from a convention. Panels, talks, workshops, scheduling, freebies.

And it did not disappoint. I enjoyed two of the free workshops, one on co-writing(a subject near and dear to my heart) and one on screenwriting(because God love me but I do love pain). The hosts were really fantastic, informative as well as entertaining.

I also sat in on one of the panels, Fear Factor, which featured a smattering of YA horror authors. It was here that I met what I'm sure will end up being one of my favourite authors: Dawn Kurtagich. I'll admit I was drifting between the discussion on stage and my phone until I heard her mention three little words that are one of my dog whistles...

House of Leaves

She said it was one of of her inspirations in her book The Dead House. I put my phone away for the rest of the talk, and powerwalked out of it at the end to buy both of her books.You should, too. But not immediately. You're mine right now. Sit down. Powerwalk out at the end.

Oh, and did I mention I got her to sign my books after? She's a swell gal.


So in summary...

I'm really looking forward to next year's YALC. But I could be just fine attending only YALC until LFCC offers more than autographs and vendors.

I understand that a convention represents the culmination of months of blood, sweat, tears, and money from so many people. So I'm not trying to downplay anything LFCC does. And according to LFCC veterans, they've already made huge strides. But I want to see what lies ahead for LFCC. And in the mean time, YALC has my heart. ❤