Confessions of a Body Positivity Failure

TW: Weight loss, body dysphoria

I have a confession to make: I hate my body.

This is nothing new, but it’s become more and more unbearable in recent months. I hate my size. In the last seven years, I’ve gained a hundred pounds, going from a size 14 to a 2X. I feel terrible. It’s hard to climb stairs. I can’t work in the garden more than about an hour without wanting to lie down. I can’t find clothes that fit. The clothes I used to wear, clothes I loved, no longer go over my boobs, over my hips. I would give anything to be back to the size 14 I once was.

I have another confession: I am not willing to “do what it takes” to lose weight.

There are a number of reasons for this. Partly, I’m just lazy. I hate exercise for its own sake, and because I’m so out of shape, I can’t participate in a lot of exercise anyway. Partly it’s depression. I can’t get motivated to get up off the couch and do anything, much less something I don’t enjoy. The only things I DO enjoy to some degree are cooking and eating and sleeping, none of which are conducive to weight loss. As a survivor of a severe eating disorder, limiting food intake is literally bad for me. The only way I can make myself do any of these things is to beat myself up, making my days an unending round of punishment, which is something I don’t want to do. Even if I did convince myself to do it, I have no faith it would do any good.

Mostly, though, it’s that I do not want to participate in weight loss mindset. I don’t want to give my money to weight loss programs. I know they’re based on bad science. I know that all but 5% of people lose weight only to gain it back–often much more than they lost in the first place, and I’m proof enough of that. I’ve been through the cycle enough times to know.

I remember the last time I found myself in this place of despising myself and hating my body. It wasn’t nearly as bad as this time; I was much smaller and in much better physical shape to begin with. Still, I hated myself. I decided to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, so I went on Weight Watchers. The results, at first, were remarkable. I felt happy and in control. I lost about 40 lbs, enough to get me down to that size 14, but I still wasn’t satisfied. I never did reach my “goal weight,” and even when I was still on the weight loss program (rather than maintenance), I started gaining weight back. Eventually I got tired, tired of the food measuring and the limited portions and the altered recipes that were never as good as the real thing. Tired of exercising to exhaustion, doing things I didn’t really enjoy. So I stopped, stopped it all. And here I am, seven years later, bigger than I ever have been in my life and hating myself again. In worse shape than I’ve ever been in my life, because I can’t bear to do any exercise at all.

I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place and I don’t know how to get free. I don’t know how to come to terms with the body I have, this body that doesn’t work the way I want it to and doesn’t look the way I want it to. The way I see myself in my mind’s eye. I don’t want to participate in a diet culture that shames people of size for being the way they are. I would never, ever even think the thoughts about other large people that I think about myself. I know that fat people have a right to exist, that no one deserves shame, that many factors go into determining body size, that size isn’t a determiner of health or worth, that no one even has an obligation to be healthy at all. But I can’t stop hating myself.

A little while ago, during the course of another conversation, one of my sisters told me she basically lives her life on Weight Watchers and has for years. I don’t want that for myself.

What do I do? I am in such pain right now, crying as I try to write this post. The voice in my head says, “If you would just…” Just what? Try harder? Try at all? Push myself? Why? for what? What do I get? It would help if I wanted anything beyond being thinner, but I don’t. I try to say, “You don’t like that you’re weak and out of shape, so engaging in exercise could help with that.” I try to set goals that aren’t weight-related, like “walk around the block without getting out of breath.” But they always cycle back to weight. “And then I can walk more blocks, and then maybe I’ll finally lose some weight.” Nothing else is valuable for its own sake. And I know this is a fucked up attitude; I know it comes from fat phobia and the way our culture is so focused on thin bodies as a measure of worth, especially women’s bodies. I know that thin equals morally good and fat equals morally bad, and I don’t believe it, I don’t. Still, deep in myself I can’t get rid of it. Not regarding myself. I don’t want health enough to detach it from the pressure to be thin and pursue health for its own sake. I just don’t care.

And maybe all of this is depression speaking. I don’t know. This turmoil has been with me forever, when I’ve been badly depressed and when I’ve been less depressed (for there is never “not depressed;” that isn’t part of my reality, ever). I want strength and beauty and maybe health too, and all those things have a price tag too steep for me to pay. They all come attached to the idea of thin, and thin is too hard to achieve, and ephemeral besides.

I go around and around in circles, and end up sitting and doing nothing. I don’t know how to get off the merry-go-round or where this post ends. I’m a failure at body positivity, and I’m a failure at weight loss conformity. I reject societal standards of beauty and I have nothing to put in their place. I’m an empty person.

Empty, empty, empty.

Thoughts for a New Year

When I was a little girl, I watched Olga Korbut compete in gymnastics at the Munich Olympics on TV. She was skilled and strong and beautiful, and I wanted to be her. I told my parents I wanted to take gymnastics lessons. They said,

“If your gym teacher says you’re good at gymnastics maybe we’ll consider paying for lessons.”

My heart sank. I already knew it would never happen. Two years previously I’d changed schools, and along with the new environment, I’d gone from loving gym class to positively dreading it. I wasn’t part of the “in” clique. The other girls bullied me mercilessly. Especially in the locker room, where they stole my clothes and threw them into the showers, then laughed at my body when I went to retrieve them. The gym teacher, a grey-haired woman made of steel and leather, looked the other way because I wasn’t a promising student. On the hockey field I was slow, big, clumsy. When we did the gymnastics unit in late winter, the uneven bars terrified me and I excelled in “uncool” areas like balance beam. Since the coach spent all her time with the girls on the bars, she’d never see the one place I did well.

No gymnastics lessons for me.

This kind of thing was par for the course in my family–at least, for me it was. Being so much younger than my siblings, especially my sisters, I never got a good picture of their early lives. If I wanted to do something, gaining the support of my parents, especially monetary support, meant providing proof I was already good at it, either in the form of a teacher’s recommendation, or in dedication unusual for a young child. And maybe this isn’t unusual. Just this morning, we ran into a friend at the doctor’s office who spoke of his daughter’s love of music. “If she keeps up, we’ll buy her a full-sized instrument in a couple of years,” he said. Knowing his family, however, I can’t help but think they supported their daughter in other ways before now. As a child, it seemed to me my parents were always throwing me into the deep end of the pool to see if I sank or swam (except when it came to actual swimming. There, my dad took care to see I knew how). If I swam, good; I’d earned the right to whatever I wanted to do. If not, too bad. I must not have wanted it very much in the first place.

Over forty years have passed since I watched Olga Korbut, and I still have trouble doing things simply because they bring me pleasure. I always seek the justification: Have I proven the right to engage in this activity by being incredibly skilled at it? By flying without a net far beyond the time any sane person would have sought one out or put one in place? Am I good? Really good; good enough to deserve to do what I love? A lot of the time I’m not even certain what it is that I DO love. It seems to me there are many activities I might enjoy, did I not have this need to be exceptional at them all the time. Hiking, camping, skiing, all kinds of physical things. In the realm of the physical, it isn’t just my early training holding me back; it’s the fact that, my body size being what it is, I feel I have to prove that all large people can succeed in being physical. That’s not to mention the whole other aspect of large people moving: that a large person moving must necessarily be trying to become less large. I know I would enjoy music more if I could sing for the sheer joy of it or pick up my flute without feeling I have to plunge straight into Bach’s Fourth Brandenburg Concerto or the Gravel Walk at top speed.

Because of all those things, I rarely engage in activities I suspect I might like, or have liked in the past. So I get more and more rusty at them until, far from being skilled, I’m quite terrible at them. And that’s more than reason not to do them some more. When I do engage, most often I feel none of the pleasure I hoped for, only grim effort. That’s almost worse. Doing anything at all becomes more trouble than it’s worth.

Worth. That concept again. The idea that what comes out of me doesn’t measure up to the investment.

In the coming year. I mean to focus on things I like more. I want to find the place where I can still like them, the place where I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I want to have more fun. I want to remember that, in spite of struggle, not EVERYTHING is a struggle. Play is a good thing. Joy is a good thing. Not all activities have to “pan out” or “measure up” or “become” anything other than what they are in a single, brief moment. When I lose track of this fact, my life becomes one of unending struggle and brutality. Keeping track is hard. I’m often afraid if I don’t do the hard parts of life, no one will, and if I unclench my mind so that all the details I’ve arranged there have space to breathe and rattle around, then some will escape. Then, I think, no one will save me.

I don’t want to focus too much on the hard parts here. I know it’s a form of self-sabotage. There’s always an excuse not to do enjoyable or potentially enjoyable things. It would take too much effort I’d better spend elsewhere, I think, or How can I go swimming when I haven’t mopped the kitchen in a couple months, or But we have so many bills! As if sitting home and worrying about the bills will get them paid.

I want to nurture the enjoyment as I would a seedling, in hopes it will grow and flourish. I don’t know if it will work. But then, I’m trying to get away from the idea of only doing what I’m sure will work.

A final word: If you have kids, don’t make your support of their interests conditional. It’s crushing, and the damaging effects last a long, long time. Kids are smarter than people want to believe, and they know when your support is half-hearted or insincere. Put too many conditions on it, and they’re likely to conclude, as I did, that pursuing their interests is too much trouble and requires jumping through too many hoops. When I worked with autistic adults, one thing we tried to abide by as staff was never making primary reinforcement (Food, shelter, love) conditional on behavioral change. I think joy is just as much as primary reinforcer as any, and should be shared without strings attached.

 

Waking Up In Trump’s America

Yesterday was my birthday. I got the worst present imaginable: Donald Trump as president elect of the United States.

I watched my news feeds on Tuesday night in sick fascination as state after state was called for this orange monster, whose campaign openly espoused racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, and all forms of hate and bigotry. At first, there was desperate hope: We knew the first reporting states would swing his way. When the West reported, justice would prevail.

Over the course of the night, it became horribly clear this was not true.

I feel assaulted and betrayed, ever more so as reports of violence against People of Color and the LGBTQ+ community come in. But more than that, I feel I should have known better. If we’re casting stones, there are plenty to go around. We scrabble at someone to blame, whether it be those who voted third party, or those who [for various reasons, including voter suppression; never forget that] didn’t vote at all; whether it be the majority of White women whose internalized misogyny and/or desire to preserve their safety and position caused them to cast their ballots for a man who openly derides them; whether it be the Democratic National Convention and its machinations, or the 500 years of violence and the culture of white supremacy upon which this nation is built, or, or, or. In our complacency, we believed it couldn’t happen and we fatally underestimated the force of white rage. Of those who embraced the hateful rhetoric as well as those who were willing to overlook it in their bitterness against a broken system.

I am complicit. It sickens me. And though I am disabled and non-Christian, I am more likely to come out okay than many others I know: My Black and Brown friends and family, my LGBTQ+ friends and family. But I cannot remain complacent. The unimaginable has happened, and I cannot preach love and reconciliation. I cannot preach patience. I cannot share the Abraham Lincoln quote about the better angels of our nature, because those angels have already fallen and besides, he didn’t speak to the Black, to the Brown, to the Indigenous, to women. Only to white men.

Though I am not much of an activist, on this I must act. I don’t know how as yet. Perhaps with words, but I feel in my heart I need to do something more than string words together in the safety of my house. I toy with ideas of using my few resources to build safe places for those who need them, but my heart rages and my dreams are full of crows. Badb Catha has never been a goddess I spoke to, but in the last day she is much on my mind.

Right now I am worn out with too much emotion and too little sleep. Right now, I can do little but declare my intent: To stand with those who suffer and fly in the face of hate. Later, I shall see where it leads me.

I call upon Badb, Macha, and Nemain to strengthen me in body and spirit.

So mote it be

 

sad

I’m really sad right now. In fact, I opened up my blog editor to work on a different post, but decided to write this one instead.

I’m sad because my women friends are suffering. They crumple under the crushing weight of expectation society puts on women, to be a certain size, to be a certain shape, a certain color, a certain everything. Definitions so narrow and boxes so small no one can fit within their bounds. Always to smile, to have skin and hair and makeup and bodies so perfect they may as well be masks. They feel if they don’t fit, they have no worth. They feel they don’t deserve to look at attractive men because they feel themselves unlovely and unlovable.

And what can I say? Acknowledging those boxes is a necessity; accepting them is a choice. But the choice not to comply, to raise a middle finger at societal expectations, comes at a cost. It doesn’t mean you just get over it and now everything is fine. In some ways, it makes matters worse, because now you see it everywhere and it makes you angry. And sad. And choosing is the beginning of fighting, not the end.

I can’t say anything soothing. I can give no comfort. I chose for myself long ago, before some of these women were born, and I struggle every day. Am I allowed to make this choice? Am I allowed to have boundaries? Am I allowed to determine for myself what matters to me? And if I do, what does that make me? Does it make me ugly? Does it make me unworthy? Does it make me wrong? Does it mean I’ll be punished in some way I can’t foresee, over which I have no control?

I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

We’re raised in a culture in which compliance with expectation is rewarded and non compliance is punished. Fit in, and you’re granted a shred of humanity. Not, you know, actual humanity, but enough to be getting on with. Don’t fit in, and you’re unprotected; you become fair game for whatever shit people want to throw at you. From insult, to rape, to murder. Some people will support you, and others will certainly tell you you had it coming.

I encourage the women around me to choose which burdens they bear as far as it’s in their power. They tell me they wish it were that easy. It’s not easy. It’s not easy at all.

I can’t choose for them, or force them to choose what I did. I can’t even get them to understand the choice exists and they have power. Yet it still makes me sad to see so much pain.

Fuck this society and what it does to women. Burn it all down. To the ground.

Infuriated

A few hour after posting about my problems with apathy, I made the mistake of clicking on a link to an article that absolutely infuriated me. Which just goes to show you should be careful what you wish for. The article in question was one The Atlantic published a month or so ago, titled, “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Trigger Warnings Hurt Mental Health on College Campuses.” Something like that. I’m not going to link to it, because if I look at that smug page one more time I’m going to throw my monitor though the window. You can Google it for yourself, if Google’s new logo doesn’t offend you too much.

The article maddened me so much that I posted a biting comment on the article itself, which I don’t often do. Now it’s two in the morning, and I still can’t stop thinking about it. Yay! I get to rant at length on my blog while listening to 80s German Technopop on Spotify! It’s my favorite thing to do when I’d rather be sleeping the sleep of reason.

Detail from "The Sleep of Reason," Francisco Goya.
Detail from “The Sleep of Reason,” Francisco Goya.

Anyway. the article was the usual mishmash of “The kids today!” and “Boo hoo, someone’s asking me to think before speaking!” and “But academic freedom!” combined with an extra dose of “Two different groups of the same minority don’t agree on what constitutes a microagression so they must not exist!” And then, just to prove how serious the issue is, they added a long, long, long, so long explanation of why this kind of “coddling” actually is a detriment to good mental health, complete with cherry-picked quotes from (almost exclusively male) “Mental Health Professionals,” and, I don’t know, I couldn’t get any farther because I was too occupied with yelling, “FUCK YOU, YOU SMUG FUCKWITS!” at my phone.

Neither of the writers, by the way, was a Mental Health Professional (TM). One was the CEO of something called the “Academic Liberty Foundation” (absolutely NO AGENDA THERE) and the other was a journalist of some kind, I think; the red haze before my eyes prevented me from reading his bio fully. And what the article demonstrated to me was that these were two guys who are INCREDIBLY DISTRAUGHT that they might have to take into account the fact that other people’s lived experiences are valid, and that NEWS FLASH! even people who share the same racial heritage might disagree on things because they’ve had DIFFERENT experiences.

I know a lot of academics. I know a lot of people who work in mental health and mental health advocacy, and, more important for this rant, I know a TON of people with various mental health issues. Just this morning I kind of went off on one of them, explaining that trigger warnings are not censorship and are not a wholesale invitation to disengage from discussion, study, the media, and so forth. What they ARE is a courtesy. I doubt there’s a single person in this country who has not watched a news program in which a serious anchor person has announced, “The following segment contains images of a graphic nature. Viewer discretion is advised” before cutting to the next film of a mass murder or exploration of a serial killer’s den. That’s a trigger warning. It tells you something difficult or challenging is coming up, so take care of yourself. Every 4th of July I see a meme about how important it is to be considerate of military veterans when setting off fireworks, because random explosions in the street in the middle of the night DO NOT ENTERTAIN THEM. That’s a kind of trigger warning, too. No one objects to these. But when it comes to college kids saying, “Gee, can I have a heads up if this novel contains a graphic depiction of rape and dismemberment?” everyone goes mad because those lazy kids are looking for ways to avoid the assigned reading.

Unfortunately, the tendency to reject and deride the mental health concerns of young people is nothing new. I, myself, once met with a psychiatrist who responded to the information that I was suicidal and cut myself with a razor blade almost every night with the incredibly dismissive, “You’re trying to get out of doing your homework, so go away and don’t bother me anymore, ‘kay?” And yet suicide is the third leading cause of death in people ages 15 to 24, second leading cause of death in people 25 to 34. CDC chart here. Isn’t it about time we start taking this seriously instead of calling them “over dramatic” and condemning their concerns as “excuses?”

Early on, The Atlantic article informed the reader that “According to the most-basic (sic) tenets of psychology, helping people with anxiety disorders avoid the things they fear is misguided.”  They put the statement in a block quote, so you’d be sure to feel its authority. BULL SHIT. For fuck’s sake, I have a degree in psychology and I never heard of any such “most-basic” tenet. When treating an irrational phobia, sometimes a program of gradual desensitization is indicated. GRADUAL. You wouldn’t abandon a person with a snake phobia in the reptile house at the zoo without warning. You’d weigh the pros and cons, examine where the person was in their therapy, make the necessary preparations for them to be safe. You’d allow the person to have boundaries, which would certainly include being able to say “enough” or leave when they got overwhelmed. <<<<<This is the same as giving a trigger warning. Furthermore, in cases of trauma, forcing a person to confront the source of the trauma in any form IS DAMAGING. It doesn’t help them adjust. It doesn’t cause them to say, “Oh, that passage about the rape of Leda in Ovid isn’t so bad; I GET IT NOW!” It re-traumatizes them. It makes things worse.

But, the writers claim, seeking to avoid potentially triggering subject matter leads to what they term a culture of “vindictive protectiveness.” Can’t you just see them sitting around coming up with that term and patting themselves on the back about how cool and profound that is? What they mean is, allowing people to determine their own safety and their own limits encourages them to punish anyone who disagrees with them. This sounds like so much projection to me. “You want me to be considerate? YOU THINK I’M A BAD PERSON!” I don’t know. Or maybe it’s punishment when someone actually calls you on your dismissive treatment of their mental health issues? Or calls you on being sexist, racist, or homophobic? Please, look at yourself first.

After that came the layman’s guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which the authors propose as the solution to all this problem of trigger warnings because when you teach people their discomfort and fear is irrational it will miraculously disappear! Yeah, NO. In the first place, this is another way of invalidating a person’s lived experience. In the second, ALL this shit people are now bringing to the attention of the world at large is NOTHING NEW. It’s just that now more people feel empowered to speak up. When you propose CBT in this instance, you’re telling people you don’t want to hear about the experiences they’ve had that make you uncomfortable.  And in the third place, CBT is NOT A PANACEA. Yes, it’s useful to learn to examine how your mind works, when you might leap to inaccurate conclusions or assume things that aren’t true. But for fuck’s sake, no one believes they’re in actual danger from reading a rape myth in Ovid. CBT isn’t applicable. And I have news for you: depression and trauma alter your brain. Thinking nice thoughts doesn’t change it back. Thoughts are not emotions. I don’t know a person who has stopped having a mood disorder or a form of PTSD by practicing positive thinking. And that’s not even to mention the everyday trauma that some people suffer just by getting along in the modern world. Where rapists are most often someone you know, women literally do not know when it’s appropriate to be afraid and when it’s not. (Look up the concept of Schrodinger’s Rapist.) People of Color live in a climate of systemic racism. LGBTQ+ people live in real danger of getting beat up and killed. This is not a thing CBT will solve. The least we can do is warn someone who’s already having a difficult time of challenging material.

The icing on the cake was that the whole article was written in a horrible, condescending tone. Like, you more than half expected that when you finished it, someone would pat you on the head and tell you to run along and play now, like a good, compliant child. The men have decided what to do. Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it any more.

I’m sick of this conversation. Yeah, sometimes people misuse and overuse trigger warnings; I’ve been known to complain about it myself. And the same half a dozen anecdotes get trotted out over and cover again, whenever someone wants to complain that “this obsession with social justice has gone too far!” But, you know, while talking heads are MORE than eager to write extensive think pieces and analyses, I have yet to see a single valid study of what effect trigger warnings have. An actual blind study with a control group and a sample of a mixed population. Easy: Throw them into variously triggering situations. Give some of them a heads up ahead of time, and don’t give it to others. Do a survey of emotional states before and after. Until you can cite such a study, you have NO BUSINESS decreeing that trigger warnings are bad for mental health. You have no business dictating college policy, or saying anything about trigger warnings at all. Ever.

End Rant.

 

REVIEW: THE UNQUIET GRAVE, by Katherine Lampe

Lovely review of The Unquiet Grave from Luther Siler. He’s a smart man, and you should listen to him.

Get The Unquiet Grave at any of these links:

Open Books: Read now, pay what you think it’s worth later!

Smashwords: All e book formats

Kindle Store

Amazon, print edition

Welcome to infinitefreetime dot com

41-X1K0SW+L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve said this before, many times: I read books in print.  I have a Kindle Paperwhite, and the iBooks app on all of my various iDevices, but I read every single day and 95% of my reading is on paper.  This wouldn’t be terribly notable except for the part where I’m an independent author, and the vast majority of us make our money pushing ebooks.  In other words, I sell something that I don’t regularly use, and worse, when one of My People writes a book, frequently the sad truth is that I’ll happily purchase and download your book but it’s entirely possible that it’s gonna spend a long time languishing on my Kindle before I have an excuse to get to it.

Not that I’m always super prompt about paper books, mind you, because I have a backlog like every avid reader.  But at least with my print books…

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I Complain About Stakes

It’s common wisdom for writers that an effective story contains three things: Character, plot, and stakes. A person risks something to accomplish something. An author works hard to make queries, pitches, and blurbs reflect all three in the least number of syllables. For example, “When (Character) discovers (Plot Point 1) she must (Plot Point 2) or else (Stakes).”

I’m going to come out and say it: I hate working with stakes. As far as my technical ability goes, it’s probably the thing I understand least and do the worst job of. For a long time, I thought I was worst at plotting, but I was wrong. A plot is simply what happens. It can be any sequence of events: “I went to the store, and the store was closed, so I got on the bus and went to another store. I bought some orange juice, because I like orange juice.” That’s a plot. But it’s not a very good one, because there aren’t any stakes. As far as we know, there is no risk to the narrator. There would be no consequence of NOT getting orange juice, except, possibly, mild disappointment.

I have a hard time with stakes partly because of my world view and partly because of my writing process. For me, writing is an attempt to express a gut feeling or mood; at least, I began that way. I usually start with a character and try to put them in a situation that evokes the mood for which I’m aiming. In my teens, I wrote a lot of pieces–I suppose they might qualify as prose poems–that spoke of smells and sounds and sights and memories without anything actually happening. When I branched out into longer fiction, I knew something had to happen, but for the most part I inserted random events that seemed like they would be “cool” without being able to link them in any coherent fashion. Or else, I stole plots from other authors. I generally ended up with a bunch of still slides of emotional high points, through which my characters moved without much rhyme or reason. Stuff happened because I said it happened. But my characters didn’t make a journey or evolve.

In fact, it wasn’t until much later, when I started querying and pitching, that I ever heard anyone refer to stakes. It gave me a kind of “slap my head” moment: “Oh, of course, that’s the hook. Duh.” But then, when I considered my work, I couldn’t find the stakes to save my life. I thought they were there, but they often were very subtle and only rarely did I articulate them in any coherent way. Sometimes I did all right. “Unless she finds a way to heal him, both will lose their souls.” Those are pretty good stakes (in my opinion). Other times, not so much. “Unless she interferes, the world will be changed.” Um, okay? Mostly I think, “So what? Why is that a bad thing?” And I have a hard time answering. Especially in a 140-character pitch.

I even have a hard time finding the stakes in other authors’ works. Or caring about them. “If he doesn’t make the basketball team, he won’t get the girl.” So? Why don’t you find another girl who doesn’t require you to become someone you’re not? Which is another novel altogether, I suppose. Maybe choosing between trying to change yourself to suit someone else and learning to accept yourself and eventually find the way to happiness would make a good story, but what are the stakes there? I don’t get it. How would you turn that into a hook?

In Fantasy–in other words, in my genre–stakes are often huge: Death, Dismemberment, Apocalypse. I have a hard time caring about those standard tropes. Everyone dies, and the world as we know it won’t last forever. I’m interested in smaller things: personal trials, family problems, past trauma. Okay, maybe those aren’t categorically SMALL, but it’s hard to convey them in a few words. You have to care about the characters FIRST. THEN you’ll care about their experience. This is a difficult thing to express in a pitch or a blurb.

An early reader of She Moved Through the Fair told me she didn’t think Caitlin had a good reason to get involved in the plot because she wasn’t personally attached to the murder victim. There wasn’t any threat to her if she didn’t personally solve the murder; in fact, getting involved created the threat. I thought about that for a long time. Caitlin got involved because magic was the murder weapon and she was the only person aware of that fact. If she didn’t look into it, no one else would. In the end, I decided that was good enough. Her character, her sense of responsibility toward others within her particular field of expertise, was enough. Besides, the book isn’t really a Whodunnit. It’s about a load of other things, like wishes, and consequences, and desire.

I get tied up a lot because I don’t like making antagonists EVIL. Usually they have valid desires of their own; it’s their methods that are problematic, or they make stupid mistakes that put people at risk. The one time I invented a really evil antagonist, the whole time I was writing the book I kept thinking, “This is so stupid.” It’s my most popular novel so far.

A lot of authors take positive delight in doing horrible things to their characters. I don’t. I’ve gotten good mileage out of traumatizing my male protagonist, but I can’t keep doing that forever. I know I need to so something awful to a secondary character people care about soon, and I don’t want to!

I still haven’t found the stakes for book seven. I have a vague idea of something I might do, but once again a part of me is thinking, “It’s so stupid. I can never pull that off.”

Maybe that means I’m on the right track.

 

 

Pursuant to Yesterday’s Shitfest

Random Fallout

Lost a bunch of people I had thought were friends. I tell myself it’s better to know if people are really good friends or not, but that doesn’t stop the hurt. Heard many words of support, including my personal favorite: “Dumbledore said it takes more bravery to stand up to your friends than it does to stand up to your enemies. Dumbledore would have been on your side.”

From what I’ve heard, Jason preemptively unfollowed and/or blocked everyone who has shown me any kind of support on Twitter, whether or not they followed him in the first place, and whether or not they were party to the actual conversation.

I purely loathe that there are sides in this matter. That what was a(n admittedly heated) discussion turned into a huge fucking deal, with battle lines drawn up.

This is supposed to be my fault, incidentally, because “it’s wrong to slander Jason on the Internet.”

1. It’s not slander to say what a particular person actually did. It’s not slander to post screen shots of a person’s actual words.

2. I don’t feel any more obligation to protect the identity of a guy who defended a sexist position beyond the point of rationality than I would to protect the identity of a guy who groped me in an elevator at a convention or drugged my drink. You can think this is hyperbole if you like. But it’s a position I’ve tried to remain true to ever since I reported being raped fifteen minutes after a guy held a knife to my throat and told me he’d come back and kill me if I told anyone what happened. (They never caught the guy, whose face I never saw, but as you can see, I’m still here.)

The Rebuttal

Apparently Jason wrote his own blog post. I’m not going to link to it, but I encourage you to seek it out and go read it for a different perspective than mine. I say “apparently” because I did not read it for myself. I asked my husband to read it and summarize it for me. I trust him to have done this to the best of his ability and without inserting his own agenda or letting the fact that we’re married unduly influence him. But I want to be absolutely clear that I did not read it for myself and so the next portion of this post is based on my husband’s summary.

Accordingly, from Jason’s perspective, he’s been having a rough time and dealing with some triggering issues. When he made a statement about it on Twitter, “an incident” ensued wherein he got bullied, his points were dismissed, and he was judged. The upshot of the post seems to be that “you don’t really know me, and if you really knew me you wouldn’t be so mean to me.” Again, I encourage you to seek out the post and read it for yourself, and make your own decision about whether this interpretation is accurate.

1. Making sweeping generalizations about anything on Twitter isn’t a great way either to deal with your issues or invite measured conversation. Making sweeping generalizations about sexism from a place of unrecognized privilege and shouting “INCORRECT” whenever someone with an opposing view raises a point isn’t engaging in a dialogue.

2. At no time did Jason own his behaviour. He did not say, “I’m dealing with some issues that are really difficult.” He did not say, “Someone accused me of mansplaining and I feel shitty because I don’t think I’m that guy.” He did, at one point, tell my husband that someone had asked him to stop mansplaining (as I mentioned in my previous post). My husband’s response was, “If a woman asks you to stop mansplaining, maybe a good thing to do would be check your behaviour instead of denouncing the whole concept as sexist.” Jason’s reply: “I have. Many Times.” When I consider this answer, what I hear is, “I checked my behaviour and I didn’t see anything wrong with it, so THEY SHOULD STOP SAYING IT.” Moreover, he several times complained that it was unfair for people who are allies (or see themselves as such) to be lumped together with “real” sexist guys. Well, dude, A) That’s not women’s problem, and if you want it to stop why don’t you try being an ally by working to educate men instead of complaining about semantics, and B) You’re a white guy (though I’ve recently been informed he’s gender fluid, rather than cis as I thought). You rolled the dice and got handed the lowest difficulty setting for the game of life. If you want to be a true ally, this means checking your goddam privilege multiple times every day. Claiming ally status doesn’t exempt you. In fact, it makes your work harder. Step up to the plate and deal or leave the game.

3. You’re right; I don’t know you. I know a little about you. I know you have issues and you struggle with depression. In point of fact, I have asked if I could do anything for you or if you wanted to talk multiple times, and you’ve always declined. You gave me no opportunity to know you better. Therefore, I can only judge you by your behaviour, which was abrasive, defensive, and bordered on the irrational. And by the way, you don’t know me, either.

4. I am sick to death of being blamed for other people’s hurt feelings and altogether through with cosseting people, putting their emotional state above my own, and being required to use psychic powers to divine what the fuck is going on with them when they don’t tell me. You don’t get to play the “you don’t really know me” card.

I’m An Abusive Bully

The most delightful part of my evening yesterday was receiving an email from a woman I had considered a close friend–BFF-level, in fact–in which she informed me that my behaviour was atrocious, mentioned other incidences of what she considered my atrocious behaviour, told me she’d been “walking on eggshells” out entire relationship, and that I am abusive and bully other people when I don’t get my own way. She then said she expected I’d write about her next because “that’s how you punish people who disagree with you.” And she told me not to bother emailing her back because she didn’t want to hear anything I had to say.

Well, look: I AM writing about you! Good, you can feel justified now. Climb right on up there on your moral high ground.

Oh, speaking of moral high ground, she also said she wasn’t going to tweet about me or write about me on her blog. It took me a while to figure out why this was even relevant, but then I realized she meant it as a condemnation of my using my blog and Twitter to talk about my lived experience. Evidently I need to remain silent when people are assholes to me. Evidently, when I tell someone I’m having a bad day and something they said hurt my feelings, and they block me because “they can’t stand the idea that they’re causing people pain and they can’t change,” I should shut up about this already instead of using my blog to process. Or maybe I can use my blog to process, but I shouldn’t actually publish it. (If you want to read the post about this other incident, it’s here.)

Honestly, I can’t even with this email. It’s sitting in my stomach like a lump of undigested oatmeal. “Walking on eggshells,” REALLY? Am I so threatening that everyone automatically assumes a defensive stance in my presence? And if that’s so, why the FUCK did you stay friends with me? Two days ago we were sharing jokes and writing stories, and now you’ve NEVER trusted me? What about that time you were suicidal and I spent a considerable amount of time and energy listening to you, even when you attacked me and told me everything I said was rubbish because you’ve dealt with all your issues?

This really fucking hurt me. For the information of everyone, I spent the remainder of the evening crying and wishing I had a gun to put a bullet through my head because I obviously don’t deserve to live on this planet. Because maybe I AM abusive. Maybe I DO write about my life on my blog to punish people. I don’t think I do; I think I write here because I have experiences that other people might also have had, and I have the ability to write about them and the willingness to put myself out into the world. But, you know, maybe that’s a lie I tell myself to keep from acknowledging my behaviour. My husband says this is not the case, but I don’t have any way of knowing. I mean, this keeps happening to me. What am I doing to bring it on myself? My therapist says I make bad choices about the people I get into friendships with because crazy, dangerous, toxic people feel “normal” to me. But maybe it’s just that I’m the terrible person they all say I am when I decide I’ve had enough.

Where I Am Now

I don’t think I’m suicidal, but I don’t know. I don’t think I’m mentioning the fact that I might be suicidal as a blackmail tactic or an attempt to get sympathy, but I don’t know. That’s something abusive people do, and I don’t think I am one, but I don’t know. I keep replaying old tapes, like my mother saying I’m a liar, and I’m manipulative, and I pretend to be depressed to punish her. Old, old tapes that I can’t erase.

I don’t know if I can continue writing. Book six let off at a decent point to end that venture, and thinking about going on with it, continuing to make myself vulnerable through my work, hurts a lot. Part of me thinks that giving up the thing I love above all else because some assholes hurt me is letting the assholes win. That it would be just as much self-abuse as the cutting I used to do in high school, or the anorexia. Then I think releasing any more books and opening myself to possible repercussions like, “She’s an evil cunt; don’t buy her books” isn’t something I want to do. And then I wonder if my books don’t sell because everyone already thinks I’m an evil cunt. And I question everything I have ever said, every word I have ever written, because if I’m the abusive bully certain people claim, then my entire perspective is flawed. I don’t know what’s real.

I’m considering pulling out of all social media, even though that’s historically where I’ve found support. But according to some, when I get support it’s just propping up a flawed self-concept. The people who don’t think I’m evil are wrong. I shouldn’t listen to them anyway.

I’ve been through a lot of shit in my life and I’ve survived. I don’t know if I can get through this one.

ADDENDUM:

I think it’s really interesting that even though a couple people chimed in on yesterday’s conversation, I’m the one that got taken to task for it, called abusive, and labeled a bully. The other people who chimed in on the conversation were MEN. Coincidence? Unlikely.

 

 

I Love “Love Actually”–Truly, Deeply, and Without Apology

This is without a doubt the closest thing to a seasonal post I’m going to write this year. I originally meant to post it in a series of tweets. But as I thought about it in the shower–where I do most of my best thinking–I realized that while it may make a short blog, it’s far too long for Twitter. So here.

I get really sad this time of year when I see people dissing Love, Actually. I remember watching it when it came out and loving it. Last year, we re-watched it for the first time since its release. And you know what? I still loved it. In fact, it may have made its way into the position of my number one favourite holiday movie, edging out White Christmas for the honour.

Most of the flak I see about it calls it unrealistic, privileged, and sexist. And if I try really hard, I see elements of all those things, sure. It deals with rather well-off British people and presents most of its stories from the male point of view. Does this make me love it any less? No, and here’s why:

Love, Actually is a movie about a commodity that is all too thin on the ground these days: Love. Love that comes unexpected. Unrequited love. Weird love. Bad love. The love that sustains two people over years, as in the case of Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) and his manager. The love that fails. The love Emma Thompson’s character finds for herself when her marriage falls apart. The love of a father for his son and the first crush that dazzles with its intensity. The love that makes you do crazy things you never would have tried before.

I don’t care that the relationship between Liam Neeson’s character and Emma Thompson’s is never defined. Do we really need a platonic friendship between a man and a woman spelled out for us? I’d rather simply accept that it exists. I don’t care that the uniting metaphor of the airport indicates class privilege or creeps you out. I don’t find it at all hard to believe that the guests at the wedding didn’t remark on the saxophones sitting next to them, or that Billy Mack is recording a Christmas single five weeks before the holiday. I’ve been a recording musician, see. And I’ve played weddings. Guests will pretend not to notice all kinds of stuff to keep a secret from the bride and groom, and sometimes you throw together a recording at the last minute to see if it flies. What the fuck is wrong with people that they have to grasp these picayune details as a way to support their dislike of the film?

I love Love, Actually because it’s a character-driven fantasy in the best tradition of the white telephone movies of the 30s. It shows us life as we’d like it to be. It shows us things working out–or not, but even when they don’t work out as the characters might hope, there are always reasons to go on. Yes, it plays on tropes that maybe some people don’t like. And it does it in a light-hearted fashion you can take or leave. It’s uplifting and put together so well that I can’t help cheering at the end. And in a world where I am seeing more and more violence and less and less tolerance every day, I need that. I need the reminder that we can be more. And I am more than willing to overlook certain flaws for two hours to experience the joy.

As a Tarot reader I am experienced in the ways symbols and imagery can strike a person differently every time they appear. Sometimes, when The Lovers comes up, you see the couple. Sometimes you see the Angel with the bow. And sometimes you see the snake in the garden. In the same way, your focus can shift when you watch a movie multiple times. Today it’s a fun romp, and tomorrow it’s a travesty. So I do get it. Not everyone is going to like what I like, and those who do like what I like may not like it every time. Still, I do think it’s sad that there seems to be a trend of focusing on the things this movie doesn’t do–many of which, in my opinion, it was never meant to do–and ignoring the things it does so spectacularly well.

If you don’t like it, fine. You don’t have to. But I’ll keep watching it, and I’ll keep enjoying it.

Happy Holidays.

I Consider Gender

I’m an inveterate taker of Internet quizzes, and have been pretty much ever since the Internet became a thing. Doesn’t matter what the topic is. If someone offers to reveal my inner Disney Princess, or the colour of my aura, or my ideal toenail length, I’m there. So when, a few weeks ago, I stumbled on this quiz to reveal my gender identity, of course I had to take it.

I didn’t expect it to shake me.

Going into it, I thought, “Like anyone really needs a quiz for that!” I was sure that people figured out their gender at an early age, whether they identify as Cis, Trans, or none. Or some combination. And I fully expected the quiz to confirm what I’ve always believed about myself–or believed since I started thinking about these things: that I’m a Cisgendered woman.

I haven’t always thought about gender. Not my gender, not other people’s. Sexuality, sure. I remember when David Bowie came out as Bi and was on the cover of some national news magazine my parents subscribed to. I think I was in grade school, maybe middle school. I thought, “Oh, okay. Boys can like boys. I guess that means girls can like girls.” And it didn’t matter so much to me. It just made sense. As I got older, I met some people who didn’t feel much connection with sexuality at all. And that was okay, too.

But I never thought about gender as distinct from sexual identity. I knew some Trans people, mostly Trans women, and I knew they were distinct from the drag queens I knew. And that was about it, until last May after the Eliot Rogers business in Santa Barbara and the wash of related hashtags that came out on Twitter. One of them was #CisGaze, and I started following it to…well, because I thought a responsible person who’s concerned with issues of social justice should listen to different kinds of people talking about their experiences. So I connected with some people who identify as Trans, and some who identify as Genderqueer, and some who don’t identify with gender at all. I started looking at my simplistic notions about gender: that it’s part and parcel with the genitalia you’re issued at birth and you’re Trans if you don’t agree with them. Or something like that.

I always identified as Cis because I agreed with my genitalia. At least, I never had a problem with them. I never thought, “I should have a penis!” or anything like that. Which was pretty much the entirety of my concept of a Trans person’s thought process: not feeling at home in the body they were born with and trying to reshape their personal reality. Trans people who didn’t transition through surgery, or at least intend to transition some day, weren’t a part of my reality. So hearing about that, trying to absorb the reality of it, men who are fine having vaginas and even being pregnant, and women who’ve never had boobs or even wanted them…It was uncomfortable and challenging to process, and it still is. In fact, I’m still working on simply accepting these things as so, without delving into the wider implications of what it does to my world view.

Anyway. So, this gender identity quiz popped up on some feed of mine, and I took it. And this is what I got.

What the hell??
What the hell??

I took it again and got the same result. And a third time. And more. And I got the same result every time. The thing about these quizzes, when I take them, I always try my best to choose the answers truest to my reality. Sometimes there aren’t any that come even close, of course. And I most often think, because of this, that Internet quizzes have more to do with the internal reality of those who make them than that of those who take them. (I have to pause here to say I really like that last sentence. It has a good rhythm.) But this one–I couldn’t stop thinking about it, because I gave honest answers, and the result was SO NOT WHAT I EXPECTED. Because I’ve never had a problem with my genitalia.

The more I thought about it, the more I had to consider the idea that this stupid Internet quiz was right. That I’m not exactly the Cisgendered woman I have always supposed myself to be. I’ve never gone out of my way to present as “a combination of the two” (which I realize is missing the mark, because gender isn’t binary). But there are definitely things about me–many things about me–that clash with the strictly “feminine” identity.

(Side note: Right now I’m feeling as if I need to put any and every gender identifier into quotation marks.)

I’m big. I’m loud. I take up space. I’m proud of my intellect. I’m outspoken in my opinions. I drink straight Scotch, by preference. I get impatient with typically “female” clothes and styles; I’d rather have freedom of movement than look pretty (although I enjoy looking pretty). I joke that I don’t “Girl” well. I wear make-up on special occasions, or when I’m getting a picture taken, but I’d rather sleep than mess with all that shit. When I was in school, I was always the one whose socks were falling down and whose hair looked ragged, whose shirt came untucked. I’m interested in Math and Science.

I never considered these things “masculine.” They’re just me. But as I think more and more about gender being a social construct, and maleness and femaleness existing on a…on a behavioral spectrum, I guess, where Male people are supposed to be one way and Female people are supposed to be another way, I have to wonder. It’s disturbing. I feel it in my stomach, which is interesting to me because that’s the area of the third chakra. The third chakra rules matters of identity, self-worth, and personal power. And it’s my weakest chakra, the one that’s blocked.

When I was growing up, my parents never paid a lot of attention to my gender. In fact, in a good many ways they actively disengaged from matters of gender. I got girl clothes because I was born with a girl’s body, but that was about it. I certainly was never indoctrinated into the female rituals of presentation and grooming. No one ever told me “Girls don’t do X, Y, or Z; that’s for boys.” I played with dolls, and I also played with a chemistry set. In my world of Let’s Pretend, I was as likely to be an intrepid scout as I was to be a princess–and more likely to be a mountain lion than either. I’ve remarked in recent years, with people talking more and more about diversity in books, that I never felt under-represented because I was a girl. I identified much more strongly with Aragorn than I did with Galadriel, and I was perfectly happy being Tarzan to my friend’s Jane.

All this stuff looks different in the light of those quiz results. A piece of me wonders why it matters. Why does anyone have any gender at all? I relate to people as people, not as their gender. At least, I try to.

All the same, I think about how I feel looking at pictures of masculine men and feminine women. Invariably, I feel a stronger personal connection to the men. I tend to feel attraction toward very masculine men, and it’s not only that I want to tap that. I want to be that. Does that say something about my gender? It’s the same way I feel about anything I find moving or beautiful. I don’t want to own it. I want to be it.

I think about all the body dysmorphia I’ve suffered, and still suffer. Looking in the mirror and being confused because that’s not who I am in my head. Not this aging, fat woman, with saggy boobs and big belly. But something sleeker and more streamlined. Something I’ve never been able to attain.

I wonder if my not presenting a clear gender is the ultimate reason I’ve had so little success in sexual relationships. I’m heterosexual, no doubt about it. I’ve tried being with women, and it doesn’t do it for me, despite Donnie from U of M assuming that my best friend and I were “Lesbo Lovers.” (And no, this didn’t offend either of us. Donnie was a goof, but he didn’t mean any harm.) But though I’ve been with a fair number of guys, I’ve only had two serious boyfriends. one of whom is my current husband. I always thought it was because I wasn’t the right kind of girl, and I usually put it down to my weight or my lack of conventional beauty. Not being the kind of girl guys want. But what if it’s always been that I’m not really a girl at all?

Family picture from 1985. I'm second from the right.
Family picture from 1985. I’m second from the right.

I’ve never wanted to be a guy, not like a friend of mine who used to moan about having big breasts because they wouldn’t let her “pass” as male. I never aspired to androgyny. I’m always just the way I am. But the person I am is far more comfortable in clothes anyone could wear than in anything obviously masculine or feminine. I remember liking the New Wave movement because there was a lot of flexibility in the ankle boots and tunics. Frills for the men, straight cuts for the women. A guy I slept with on and off at U of M wore the same leg warmers and sweatshirts with the collars ripped out that I did.

Last night at dinner, I asked my husband, “Would you mind if I decided I’m Genderqueer?” He said, “Big shock there. Have you ever had the fish at this place?”

Am I coming out as Queer with this post? I don’t really know. I have some qualms about making a declaration. Mostly, I’m afraid of people who really ARE Queer saying things like, “You can’t just decide you’re gender fluid when you’re fifty!” or “You’re showing your Cis privilege by co-opting the Queer experience!” or “If it’s not a political issue to you, you have no right!” Things like that. It’s not a political issue, and I haven’t suffered for my gender (not so much, anyway). I’m in a safe relationship. If I come out as Queer, don’t I have to experience pain and oppression? I’m okay with the “She” pronoun. Does that make a difference?

Mostly, as with all of these blog posts, I’m just turning things over in my mind. Considering.

That’s okay.

 Addendum, 5 January 2015

A Trans acquaintance/friend read this today and had the following to say: “FWIW, what you said in that post said ‘Gender Nonconforming’ to me rather than trans* spectrum. Two different things that are often confused.” He went on to tell me that “Queer” refers only to trans* spectrum, and if I were Queer I’d probably know it, just like I know I’m straight. I didn’t know that Queer had that strict an interpretation, so now I do. And it makes sense, because I have never felt Queer, although I’m not sure I feel strictly female, either. Thanks, J. for setting me straight…uh, so to speak.