30? Are you sure?

I don’t really feel 30, unless I’m on Tumblr and run across a post asking what Y2K was, or a song released when I was in high-school gets played on the Classic Rock station. Then I feel like an ancient monster from the depths of time. But mostly I still feel like the same little girl who believes in magic and fairies and silver linings and the best of people. Perhaps I’m a little calmer and wiser and more in control of my feelings and actions. I’m far more sure of myself and who I am and what I want (though still frequently visited by anxiety, yay, on those fronts). I’m certainly more empathetic and aware of the people around me and their needs. But I can’t control my own bedtime to save my life, so there’s that!

Anyway. It’s weird being 30 the same way it was weird being married, because it wasn’t weird at all. I don’t feel the slightest bit different, just mildly surprised at the passage of time. But I’m still me, still toiling along my path in life, and I have no particular feeling of impending doom or my life draining away. I don’t exactly feel like I’ve accomplished as much as I wanted to, but I also don’t feel like I need to run around frantically trying to correct that before my next birthday.

Despite 30 being the age when the “old” jokes start to get directed your way, I still refer to people of my parents’ generation as “the adults” so really, I’ve got ages to go before I’m really old. But maybe in the coming years the fact that I’m an adult will really start to sink in. However, given that marriage and a kid hasn’t managed that yet, I’m not holding my breath.

Thirty was so strange for me. I’ve really had to come to terms the fact that I am now a walking and talking adult.
~C. S. Lewis

Embrace Your Doubt

There’s a house along the route to town which always has a sign up with some funny, pithy, philosophical saying on it, rotating out on a regular basis. The other day I was passing by, and the new message for motorists was “Our only true weakness is Doubt” and I started thinking.

I’m not entirely sure I agree. Sure, doubt of the self-aimed variety can be crippling and immobilizing. I’m well acquainted with the size and color of that particular beastie in the weeds. Continual doubt of our loved ones can also be rather horrible, since it leads to mistrust and eventually a shredding of the confidence of the person we’re inflicting that Doubt-demon on.

But those are the extremes, the major doubt-monsters, the ones we’ve allowed to grow into full-size predators complete with teeth and claws and slavering hunger to devour all our confidence in a single gulp. As with everything, balance is key. Nobody needs doubt like that in their life, it leads to ill-health in a variety of forms. But I maintain people need a little bit of doubt, just a tiny little shoulder-pet sized one, to ride along and keep us balanced.

Because doubt is the thing that makes us curl up on the couch, frozen into immobility. But it’s also what keeps us from blithely driving off the edge of the cliff, certain we’ll sprout wings halfway down. Doubt makes us pause, and consider, and perhaps choose a safer way down the mountain. And doubt keeps us from yanking all our friends over the cliff too, by making us stop and listen to the passenger saying hey, maybe we shouldn’t go over the cliff yanno? In short, a little bit of doubt in ourselves keeps us from being insufferable egotistical assholes who can’t see the danger for our own pride.

Doubt in others may lead us to mistrust those who have given us no reason not to trust, and to treating those around us like villains in our stories. But a little, reasonable-sized doubt also keeps us from being too gullible (a fault I am all too prone to). It makes us stop and assess the trustworthiness of the person asserting we can fly if we only trust them, and leads us to form our own opinions rather than blindly following in the footsteps of whoever is the most persuasive.

Little, well-controlled, doubt-pets keep us thinking critically both of the world around us and of our own actions. Without a little doubt, the world would be a much messier place, buffeted by the whims of the fastest talkers and the biggest egos. Because life isn’t easy-peasy pudding’ and pie, there’s a razor edge we balance on between these two extremes. And of course, when people say “Get rid of the doubt in your life” they mean the big monsters, the ones out rampaging for your confidence and munching on your relationships. But that’s not exactly what they say, and it’s something we should all keep in mind when we’re thinking about these things. Life isn’t just one balancing act, it’s a million balancing acts stacked on top of each other, like those circus tight-rope walkers who ride a bicycle while carrying spinning plates on top of sticks. Sometimes we lose our hold on the tight-rope, and all the plates come crashing down around us, but the only way to go on is to glue whatever plates can be salvaged back together and climb back up on the unicycle.

As a side-note, this applies to our writing too. Too much doubt makes us scrap a story, or even our entire careers. But just the lightest touch of doubt makes us revise the story, or try a new career-option, because maybe we’re not 100% right the first time around.

A little doubt is good. Embrace your doubts, just don’t feed them too much slavish attention or they’ll grow into unmanageable monsters sitting on your chest.

Of course I could be entirely wrong.

Junior Assistant Editoring and Other Random Stuff

So, my official title at Vitality Magazine is Junior Assistant Editor, which basically means I read slush and help with social media/marketing right now. (Incidentally, in order for me to keep doing that stuff, our Kickstarter for Issue 2 has to be successful, so if you feel like helping out click the widget over on the right!)

Social media is of course always fun for me, and now this means I have four different sets of accounts to keep track of. I’ve got a color-coded day-planner to help me keep some of it all straight anymore. 😛

But reading slush is a new and interesting experience. Nothing is exactly surprising about it, after five years hanging around agents, editors, and writers on message-boards and social media. There’s a world of difference between hearing about something and seeing it yourself, however. I’m really enjoying it though. Some stories are better than others of course, and some don’t match our guidelines. But being asked to read, and read widely, and then give a short opinion on it? That’s a little slice of heaven.

Otherwise, life is progressing…strangely. I’m currently “unemployed” but still working on the side for my old day-job (social media and web design again). I also have about half a dozen various projects I’m procrastinating beautifully, including job-hunting for a new full or part-time job (anyone want to hire me? I have lots of skills!) and house-hunting in town. All of which has me a little extra-prone to panic-attacks lately. But, we live and persevere, I guess.

I’m also doing Camp Nanowrimo this month (sort of) and trying to finish a few more short stories. I finished one, and I think I’m going to try self-publishing it here in the next few months. We’ll see (and of course, keep everyone updated). Speaking of being updated, I’ve finally added a subscription option to the site, down near the bottom right, to help people actually keep up with my so-erratic posting if they want.

Anyhow. Back to trying to catch up to my word-count goals or procrastinating a billion other projects. >_>

catyping

I Think My Squee Broke

So. I’m going to be working with the team of Vitality Magazine, a new queer lit mag with some really exciting potential. I’m an intern, which means I get to do social media stuff and slush reading stuff, and I am

SO

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FREAKING

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EXCITED

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Truly. This is exactly the sort of thing I’ve been wanting to be involved in for a while, but I’ve never quite managed to break into properly before. And the fact that I get to be working with ladies working to create a safe-space for queer folks is just awesome. It makes me feel like, finally, I’ll be doing something to really be proud of. (Not that I’m not proud of my other achievements of course, but this is different.)

So yea. I’m excited to get started, asap!

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#WomenInFiction

(*Update* An article on Bookriot by the hashtag originator.)

Last night, a woman named Preeti Chhibber (@runwithskizzers on Twitter) created a hashtag and invited people to share their favorite #WomenInFiction with her, and why the characters were important to them. This exploded in certain segments of twitter, and the tag has now been trending for about 18 hours or so. Usually I miss out on taking part in these sorts of online conversations, but for once I caught on early on, and was delighted to see so many of my favorite characters given love by a lot of others.

This #womeinfiction tag is just the latest piece of a larger conversation going on all over the internet about women, media, representation, intersectionality, and the characters that we love. We are so shaped by the media we consume, this is a necessary conversation to be having. This part of it made me realize that there really are a lot of amazing female characters out there in Fiction-land, for all types and tastes and flavors of woman. But just having a lot of characters doesn’t mean they’re all the best they could be.

I contributed several names (or retweeted and repeated several) to the tag, including some from my childhood such as Anne Shirley, Laura Ingalls, Jo March, Polgara the Sorceress, Amelia Peabody, Herald Talia and of course Hermione Granger. These characters (and many others like them) shaped how I thought about the world, and who I was as a person. But if you know anything about them, you may notice a trend, and it’s one I saw in a lot of the #WomenInFiction tweets. They’re all white (probably, there’s some debate on Hermione), presumably straight, and relatively educated according to her time and culture. Women of Color, lesbian and bisexual women, trans women, none of these appeared as often in the tag, probably because they don’t appear as often in fiction. And while some of the above names are terribly important to me, I’ll be the first to admit there are some problems with their characterization here and there. I love them, but they’re flawed, and not in a “good” way either.

That’s the thing about diversity in media and representation. It’s always an ongoing battle. Things are always “getting better”, and that process is neither smooth, nor linear. There are ups and downs, waves, troughs, back-slides. And that’s ok, as long as the overall progress is forward. But we as readers and writers must keep it in perspective that while there is a lot of women characters in certain parts of fiction, the quality of that representation is uneven and often lacking. We must continue to produce more intersectional characters with fewer stereotypes about the ways non-white-straight-cis women live their lives. And we must continue to talk about not just the things we love in the existing stories, but the things we wish could be fixed if the universe had a do-over button. As a younger reader, I’d love to have read a bisexual Jo March, an explicitly black Hermione Granger, or a trans Anne Shirley, and not just as the heroine of a fanfic!

#WomeninFiction has been a moving and positive conversation on twitter, and the popularity of the tag has made me really happy to participate in such a large conversation. But we can’t just have this conversation on Twitter, in 140 characters, because it’s too big and too complex. Nor should we be having it only online. We should be talking about our favorite diverse characters and what we love and how they could be better offline too.

Mostly though, I’m just glad we’re talking about this at all.

Oh yes, and if you’re on twitter, you should share who your favorite #WomeninFiction are, and why! We’re all dying to know! ^_^

 

Speak His Name: RIP Sir Terry

Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?
~Going Postal

Sir Terry Pratchett, creator of the Discworld series, died today. He was not that old, but he had been sick for a long time, with a foul disease (I feel that diseases of the mind are particularly cruel for authors). And thus another bright light, another font of fun and silliness and joy has gone out of the world.

Sir Terry has been one of my literary heroes for a long time. I’ve been reading his books since my teens, when my cousin first introduced me to Good Omens. I quickly found Discworld from that, and I’ve been delighted by that world and his genius for hilarious satire ever since. Satire is an often important way of holding a mirror up to the world. But it isn’t often as funny and silly as people think. Terry Pratchett managed to be both brilliantly satirical and hilarious good fun. For that alone I could love his books and him as well. But beyond that he seemed to be a genuinely decent, caring human being, modestly humble despite his genius, and he created some wonderfully amazing characters.

Sir Terry’s books are fun, and incisive, and his plots are twisty and engaging. But the characters are why I keep coming back for more. He created women who I want to be when I grow old (I aspire to be Granny, but I suspect I’ll be more like Nanny, which I’m ok with). He created women I wanted to be friends with (Tiffany Aching has an amazingly clear-sighted way of looking at the world, plus I enjoy the Nac Mac Feegle endlessly). Some of his characters make me laugh, and others make me think, and some are just fun. But all are wonderful and engaging. Someday I hope to be a fraction of the writer Sir Terry was. His humor continuously reminds me to keep the fun and silliness in my own stories as much as possible.

As a reader I’m grieving that there will never again be a new adventure in Discworld. But I’m so grateful to have the ability to return to such an extensive world (forty novels plus some short stories!) not all of which I’ve read yet. And every time I read his book I’ll remember a man of wit and wisdom who shared a great gift with the world.

While we remember and speak his name, he is not truly gone. (But you’ll have to excuse me as I get a bit weepy anyhow)

This is my favorite artistic-response to Sir Terry's death, but I'm not sure who the artist is, if someone has a good link please let me know.

This is my favorite artistic-response to Sir Terry’s death, but I’m not sure who the artist is, if someone has a good link please let me know.

Liking Problematic Things or The One Where I Can’t Stop Watching ‘Friends’

I’m a child of the ’90s and early ’00s, so the sitcom Friends is very much a part of my frame of pop-culture reference. I watched the reruns as a kid on tv, and it was a part of my child-hood in that way that media is more and more often. I always enjoyed it, but the older I got, the more I began to realize the problems with it. And yet, I can NOT stop watching it since Netflix added it to their streaming service. I know that it’s the equivalent of a Wendy’s salad (apparently healthy but actually laced with harmful nutritional substances). But it still speaks to me in some ways, still makes me laugh till my sides hurt sometimes, and still makes me care about the characters.

Friends is bad and problematic in all sorts of ways. There’s homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, classism, fatphobia, and diversity issues coming out the characters’ lily-white ears. Some of the problems are subtle, a product of the culture of the ’90s. Others are far more blatant. There are a lot of people who feel alienated, othered, or creeped out by the show. And with good reason. The male characters are obsessed with not being thought to be “gay”, the female characters are obsessed with not getting “fat” (not to mention all the fat jokes at teen-Monica’s expense), and all of the characters exhibit subtle misogyny (including the women) on semi-regular occasions.

But for all that, I still can’t stop watching it. I’ve watched all ten seasons in less than a month, and I’ve gotten invested in the characters’ lives whether I like it or not (dammit Ross and Rachel!). It takes a certain amount of skill to write a character I hate (Ross) and then make me care about what happens in his story line anyway. Despite thinking Ross is a horrible, shallow, creepy-stalker, selfish, pompous, arrogant, “nice-guy” douche and Rachel is a vain, shallow, selfish twit, I desperately want them to end up together by the end of the show.

I don’t believe in “guilty pleasures” (though that’s a post for another day). I believe if you enjoy watching/reading/doing something, then you should own it. If something makes you happy, don’t be afraid to say so, even if it’s poor-quality or frowned on by society (obvious caveats around harming others and breaking laws apply here). But if something is bad, no matter how much you love it, you owe it to yourself and those around you to admit that it’s bad. Maybe you can’t stop smoking and you’re done trying, but don’t pretend that it’s a newfangled ‘health treatment’ just to make yourself feel better. Maybe those trashy romances you love really brighten your day, but if they’re one step above poorly written fan fiction *cough*50Shades*cough* don’t pretend they’re Nora Roberts novels.

For me, Friends is one of those things. I love it, despite it’s problems. It’s a look back (however distorted) at times during my childhood and early teen years (the show basically covers my entire middle school & high school career). But I like it for more than nostalgia. There’s some bad writing, lazy writing, and less-than-stellar performances. Between that there’s some hilarity, some sensitive handling of difficult issues laced with humor.

No matter how much you love something though, that doesn’t make it perfect. Very few things in life are perfect, they almost always reflect somebody’s biases or imperfections. We owe it to those around us and to the very pieces of media we love to see their flaws as well as their good points. Critiquing something or admitting its failings doesn’t mean we love it any less, but rather it is often a profound expression of love. Caring enough about something to see its flaws clearly enough means you also care enough to make it better.

We also owe it to the people who may find something we love personally hurtful or troubling or erasing to admit that their feelings about it are valid. No piece of media is ever universally loved by all people everywhere. Other people not liking or being hurt by something doesn’t have to negate our enjoyment. But we must be willing to admit that something we enjoy is problematic to others, or else we’re just compounding the issue by denying people’s feelings and experiences.

Anyway. I finally finished watching Friends, so now I’m probably good for a couple of years on that front. I enjoy it, but it’s not one of the shows I like to re-watch over and over. Though I might have to circle back to a couple of Phoebe’s best episodes. I’d forgotten how much I loved her until now.

Job Hunting

There’s some changes coming up in my personal life this year (actually, quite a lot), but one of the major ones is that I’m going to be moving across the country in the next few months. Due to the inadvisability of that sort of commute, this naturally means I’m looking for a new job to go along with my new state.

I like having jobs. I mean, I complain about getting up in the morning and going to them like anyone else. But I truly do like having a job, and more than just because of economic reasons. A job gives me the kick in the pants I need to get up, get showered, and get out of the house on a regular basis. There have been jobs I’ve liked better than others, but the entire concept of a “regular” job is one I prefer having. I’m in sympathy with those people who never, quite, retire. And generally, I’m pretty good at jobs. I’m smart, creative, responsible, and generally loyal even to shitty minimum wage jobs. I’ve rarely left a job on bad terms (and in the case of my current one, they keep begging me to stay, which both makes me feel guilty and gives me a nice little ego boost all at once).

But I hate job hunting. I hate it passionately. And beyond that, I suck at it. A combination of something akin to social anxiety, low self-esteem, and a certain inherent honesty means that I look at most jobs and say “I don’t think I’m really qualified for that.” And the ones I do manage to convince myself to apply for, I often have difficulty answering the questions that inevitably crop up of “Why should we hire you?” Because really, why should they? As I said above, I’m smart, creative, responsible, and loyal. But so are thousands and millions of other people.

And so I’m left with this internal struggle to put myself “out there” enough to find a decent job. Which means I often find myself in jobs beneath both my education level and my abilities. Sometimes, I make the job grow to fit me. Sometimes my bosses quickly see the potential I struggle to find, and use that potential. Sometimes both. But not enough.

Job hunting is a life skill, but it’s one I fail at so completely, that I often wonder how I ever got a job previously. Usually, I remember that I knew someone who knew someone. This is a difficult strategy to fall back on when one is moving to a new place far from the circles of one’s family and friends. So, I hunt, stalking the wily prey like…well like a clumsy young puppy putting her paws on all the unstable spots and snapping all the noisy twigs.

Oh yes. And I write. Because even if it’s not finding myself a new job, it feels productive, and has the added bonus of being soothing.

It’s a Trap!

I’ve been thinking about Stories a bit lately (I’ve been reading Granny Weatherwax stories the last week or so, which may tell you something, or may not). Stories are important, and any writer myself included will be the first to tell you that. We’ve written reams of words about how stories shape the world and show us the way to fight dragons in our own heads and all that sort of stuff. But rarely does anyone, least of all writers, talk about the ways stories are traps.

Stories tell us who we are, and where we’ve been, and how we fit into the universe at large. But the trouble is, sometimes we start to believe in the stories a little too much, and the stories start to tell us instead of the other way around. Take, for example and not at random, the old story of the “starving artist” starving for her art’s sake in terrible conditions and never achieving fame (or getting paid for her work) until she’s dead. This is an old and powerful story perpetuated over and over, and fought against sporadically by those who want to create art and eat. But the story is tricky. It makes us ashamed to ask for common money for our precious art. It makes people angry at us when we admit to wishing to pay bills with money paid to us for creating art. It makes artists turn to other means to make a living, keeping art as a “hobby” because while some of us want to make art we’re too practical (or too afraid) to let ourselves go down the path of the Story of the Starving Artist. Of course, some people escape that Story and still make art. But it’s hard, and treacherous, and more than a little matter of luck.

When Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about the danger of the single story, she’s talking about another way Stories trap us. They trap us into believing that anything which looks like the story we believe in must, by definition, follow the path of that story. We believe all the little old ladies are helpless grandmothers eaten by the wolf, every princess locked in the tower is trapped, and pirates are romantic. Sometimes they even trap us into believing that if we embrace a part of a certain story, then we must embrace all of it, even if that doesn’t fit properly with our lives.

Sometimes, the simplest way the stories trap you is by providing an escape from the grind of daily life. Stories are predictable, logical, safe. Good wins over evil, princesses get rescued, romantic relationships end tidily in happy marriages, wars are averted at the last second, the murder is solved, and the wanderer returns home. Of course, the best stories aren’t nearly so cliched, but they still have internal logic and consistency and even the very most unpredictable murder mystery makes sense at the end. Real Life is the polar opposite usually. It’s messy, chaotic, uncertain, makes no sense, and if it was used for a book-plot would be rejected for being too consistently inconsistent. Real Life is hard, even the best Stories are an imperfect manual, and every ending turns out to be just a new beginning (which sounds nice and cheerful until you realize that means there’s no quiet rest-period in the middle.)

You can spend quite a lot of time moving through life as if it’s the dream between Stories, however you consume them. Sometimes, you might even think you’re making progress in your life, but you’re really just making a lot of progress on that pile of unread books. It’s a difficult trap to break free from. Humans need stories almost as much as we need food and water and air. They help us focus the insanity of the universe in a way that keeps us from ending up curled up in the bed with the blankets over our head. But as with anything, moderation is key. Finding that delicate balance between enough story to mask the barrenness of reality but not so much that we cease to function is a matter of extreme difficulty. It’s all too easy to slip too far one way, then overcorrect the other way. I’m still searching for that line, slipping back and forth across it. Lately, it’s been a bit harder to find, but there’s always hope for tomorrow.

Right after I finish this one book. I mean, I’m already half-way there anyway, I might as well finish tonight and get it out of the way. Right?

This is Me Not Being Silent

Speaking up, even relatively anonymously on the internet, is terrifying to me. But I can’t be silent any longer on the issues surrounding race and police brutality. I just can’t, though it’s taken me several days to articulate my anger beyond “GR ARGH!” which may be cathartic but hardly makes for a coherent argument.

Michael Brown’s death was an entirely avoidable tragedy, and the subsequent lack of action by our “justice” system is a travesty. But the thing is, this isn’t just about Brown. This is about the hundreds of black people killed needlessly by police in the past few years. Some victims have been portrayed as thugs, others it hasn’t been so easy for the media to smear that way. But spend any time in certain sections of Tumblr and you’ll see story after story, and picture after picture of the sort of terrorism enacted against black people (and other people of color, but especially those with the darkest skin).

Meanwhile, there are people online and off who actively or passively try to silence and erase the voices of people telling their experiences with racism in this country. They tout theories that if black people and their allies would just shut up about race already, then all their problems would be solved. They shut their minds to any evidence (and there is mountains of it out there, from internet to library to academic journals) that ignoring race doesn’t erase racism, it just drives it under cover.

I’d like to think that body-cameras and clearer more stringent rules for the uses of force and better gun-control laws would make these issues go away. But racism is so deeply embedded in the very fabric of our culture that most people, even a distressing number of people of color who have experienced it, can’t see the extent of it. The only cure is going to be a complete change in culture, so that anyone defending racist policies or attempting to actively harm people with different melanin-content than themselves are not just argued with or voted against by some portion of the population. These behaviors must be actively ostracized. These must be relationship-ending, job-losing, police-investigatory behaviors because they are so far outside the norm of our culture that they are seen for the real-and-present dangers they are.

This sort of enormous cultural shift doesn’t come quickly, or easily, or without the cooperation and active participation of a majority of its citizens. Until enough of us (especially those of “us” culturally coded as white) decide that we need to change this narrative, it will stay. That’s why I have to speak up. I probably won’t change many minds, since my voice is small and not very loud, nor terribly eloquent. But even small, inelegant voices have a place in this fight. Many small voices can create a cacophony impossible to ignore.

So. This is me not staying silent in the face of racism and inequality around me. Nothing I’m saying is new, or ground-breaking. All of it has been said before. But it’s still important that I add my voice to the cacophony advocating for change.