Things that are basically fucking miserable: finally waking up after a major life/responsibility crash and being deeply aware of just how much shit one has to shovel to get back up to speed.
Like, just looking at the laundry, and stuff all over the floor, and the weeks-old e-mails, and realizing that groceries haven't really been happening consistently, and knowing that the only way out of all of it is to deal with it.
And, you know, that would be awesome except that as ability tanks, accumulated crap intensifies. So when you wake up on that morning knowing that Things Must Happen Finally, the difficulty level on the Happening of Things is absolutely ridiculous and totally inimical to the gradual reintroduction of Thing Happening.
Because if you Happen Some Things, there will still be a billion Things That Must Happen, and some of them will require an extra push because procrastination and inertia are both shockingly difficult things to confront and work with.
So maybe you figure, "Okay, I've got a shovel. I'll just take it easy and work my way through this pile as I have time and energy." Except that pile didn't just appear. It's the sum total of regular daily things left undone, and the regular daily difficulty level is already a challenge because you're not 100%. You're maybe 50% or 75%. So you do stuff, but the pile just gets bigger.
And that's if you're lucky. Because if you're not lucky, you'll be tooling along trying to get through this, promising yourself it'll get easier as you get stronger, just in time for the Shit Truck to mow you down and leave some new fresh Hell to deal with.
This is why picking up the shovel is terrifying, and why it can feel like leaving it where it is, or ignoring it, or nesting in the great big pile of shit feels like a reasonable life decision. I mean, if your options are: a) re-injure yourself trying to do a thing, or b) accept the status quo and/or perpetual downward spiral?
Well, let's just say that familiar pain is background noise.
So why even bother picking up that shovel? Here are some reasons:
1) Forfeit is no longer an acceptable option.
Not-doing is an automatic loss. Attempting to do at least comes with some potential margin for success. You might still lose, but at least there was a chance.
2) You do not exist in a vacuum; you matter.
I have yet to meet a person with no redeeming qualities, and who does not improve somebody's life by existing. It's hard to remember this if people never tell you -- which is probably the finest argument for small acts of kindness as a lifestyle choice I've ever encountered -- but even if nobody is saying it, you are beautiful. You are worthy. You are not required to hurt. You're allowed to dig toward the things that connect you, or to ask for help with the digging, or just to acknowledge the enormous pile of shit to others.
3) There's a light.
Sometimes you can't possibly move the whole pile, but maybe there's a thing you can get to that nourishes you and makes you stronger and at least gives you some comfort while things are a mess, and can give you a toe-hold on the whole shit-moving thing.
4) Something to do.
Maybe not right away. Maybe not even for a long time. It might even get worse for a while. You might fuck up and end up with an even more ridiculous pile of shit. But at least you got to have an adventure on the way, right? Vastly superior to treating life like a waiting room.
5) You are a mad scientist.
Human beings genuinely can move a shocking amount of shit if we try. We are wily and industrious and strong even when everything is coming down around us. We survive in absolutely murderous biomes. We have gone to space. We make tools and use reason and create art. And most importantly, we learn. We can spot patterns. We're freaky-clever. 5000 lbs of manure? That's not an impossible obstacle. That's raw materials. Admit it: building a castle out of that pile of shit, filling it with fireworks, and setting that bastard off sounds pretty cool, right?
6) It really can get better.
I'm not going to lie, it might take some time and a hundred false starts. The fight-to-reward ratio might suck. You might never get to be an astronaut. But having agency, even in a bad situation, is fucking magic. Never forget that if you are alive you can make choices and do things. "Better" doesn't mean perfect, and it doesn't always look how we expect it to, but it can and does happen. You can do this.
So yeah. Talk to me about life shit management. Talk to me about your poop-based technologies. Talk to me about small kindnesses, things you have blown up just to survive, and what you do with your shovel when the party's over and things are back in order. Talk to me about the things that make it hard to dig.
Let's do this.
It's been a challenging month and a half, and I haven't really been talking about it here, but the short version is that coming out of a long period of survival mode has consequences, and those consequences take time and courage and energy to work out. I'm working hard at making room for the work, and having to be brave in new ways. When I have hard days -- like yesterday, when I had a difficult call with the people who care for my mother -- it knocks me down.
Being vulnerable is hard.
This morning I felt like I needed some answers. It started with me wanting to know something sure about my father and guessing maybe mom might have had something about him in the Red Book, mostly because I assumed she'd started it the year I was born.
I was wrong, as it happens. Her first entry is from January 30, 1987. And this is in it:
The full section reads:
"And you came down stairs [sic] telling me the doctor who delivered you 'made a mistake' and you are a boy not a girl cause you like cars more than dolls etc -- had to remind you that boys are made a little different than girls -- at least you are sure your [sic] a girl now."
I knew. I wasn't quite seven and I knew.
And then I spent nineteen years believing her, haunted by little things around the periphery, and the way I never fit, etc.
Eerily, the final entry in the Red Book is from 2010, and is about my legal name change:
One of the things we talk about as writers is that the difference between fantasy and reality is usually the fact that fantasy has meaning in it, and symmetry, and that stories wrap themselves up by fulfilling the promise of their premise. You start a thing in one place, and it has to end in a place that makes sense in relation to that starting point. That stories end is also really important, since even when life things come full circle one still goes on (unless one is dead, in which case other people do that bit).
Life just gave me symmetry today. I'm startled, and I'm angry, and I'm glad. I am in no place to forgive, honestly, and I think I'm giving myself permission to hang on to this for a while. After all, with my mother's dementia I will never be able to process this with her or hold her to account (which feels like a continuation of the way I could never communicate anything important to her because of the ways she chose to wield her hearing loss).
I know that I knew. I know that there are things that I loved that she talked me out of, ways that I saw myself that got lost, and that I can have them now if I want them. It hurts. It's liberating. I don't need a blue fairy to prove I'm a real boy.
I'm still thinking about fandom, and the way my anxiety about the (increasingly fictional) fan/pro divide sneaks up on me.
Some of my best, most enduring friendships started with fanfiction. Mostly other fanwriters -- like any breed of bird, we flock -- but also some of the people who enjoyed reading the stuff I posted. Fanwriting is social and performative all at once, like DIY punk or Raqs Baladi, and a fair few of us also do pro work as well.
I mean, cue complete lack of surprise. We've officially entered the age of the fan-who-is-creator at more or less every level, with high-interaction environments like Twitter and Tumblr. The membrane is porous, now, and we fan in public where the creators can see.
I think this is mostly good, though I confess to a lot of anger when I see fans (a group with whom I identify) take out their anger on creators (with whom I also identify) in ways that drive them back out of these fora. It's a multi-layered feeling of shame by association, desire to defend, and frustration at the loss.
"This is why we can't have nice things" colliding with "They're not with me, I swear," basically.
And I spend a lot of time looking at people who are very much in that pro realm framework, and think concretely about how very strange their lives are, going from eating breakfast with the family to sitting in an auditorium with a thousand screaming people who've got these parasocial bonds with a character or a public image or a book or whatever and have expectations based on that, and how deep that divide must feel in that moment.
In my head this thing is huge and tough to navigate. As a human, I want a lot of the things that fans want: to be chosen, to be seen, to be affirmed by someone close to the thing I love, to say thank you to a stranger. As a creator, I feel weird and bad about some of that, because I know that writing a story or playing a role doesn't confer superhuman graciousness, psychic ability, and resources or desire to fulfill everyone's emotional fantasy, or just to withstand the barrage.
Let's pause here to reflect that sometimes that barrage looks like people randomly giving celebrities dead sharks.
(Side note: I am not a celebrity and I do not need any dead sharks. I already have one, preserved in a jar, on my bathroom counter. That is enough dead sharks for anybody who is not a marine biologist. Send me denture bracelets instead.)
Potential for creepiness aside, though, I'm almost painfully interested in the effect this interaction has on the real production of things. Characters whose tenure is meant to be short -- think Ianto Jones or Castiel -- become fan favorites and regulars. Subtext gets acknowledged by showrunners and actors at conventions. Shows like Castle and Supernatural play with the fan/pro relationship in within the text. Richard Castle and Kate Beckett both cosplay, for example, while Sam and Dean occasionally have to deal with the implications of their story having been published by a prophet as a series of novels with its own fandom.
Outside the text, we get videos of Misha Collins taking Diestel brand products to mailbox stores to "ship it," Gail Simone and Matt Fraction being incredibly conversational with readers on social media about their characters, Gareth David-Lloyd and John Barrowman kissing on convention stages, and...hell, Orlando Jones. That man is his own damn category.
Where I'm going with this is that authorial intent and fan desire collide so much more audibly than I remember growing up, and the implications of that. I think about, as a writer, how much I hide my work when I'm not ready to talk about it, because for me there is a fragile stage. I think about reading episode codas for shows I like in fandoms in which I might want to commit some fic, and stopping because I don't want my process contaminated.
There is a concept called "death of the author," which basically comes down to the idea that once a creator puts a thing into the hands of the public, authorial intent ceases to be relevant. I have mixed feelings about this, mostly because my philosophy about creative work is that it exists in a space between the work and the observer. It's the creator's job to put the data in the work. If somebody gets the work and doesn't get the data, something has gone wrong.
(Side note: I recall, but cannot find, an interview with Jon Stewart about that idea that communicating an idea successfully is the responsibility of the author, from around the time he and Colbert did that big rally. Anyone remember it?)
The nice thing about death of the author is that we can, in our fan roles, engage a text however we want to. Happy (or unhappy) accidents in the text are ours to comment on and play with. I think, though, it's also a tricky model to believe in now that the channels are this open. What we really get is the author creating a text, releasing the text, and then existing in an environment where text feedback is present, and sometimes very explicitly so, and people either fervently desire more info about intent or want to silence the author entirely.
What that means in my preferred philosophy of the work existing between the text and the audience, then is that it's doing that thing, but in a triangle with the author, and the position of the work is continually shifting closer and further away from the author, the text, and the audience.
In my head I love this, both as creator and fan. In reality, I'm completely intimidated by it, just like I'm intimidated by my own weird attachments to works and creators. These are things we love -- the things we make, the things we read and watch and identify with -- and it's hard not to be afraid of getting hurt.
It's like falling in love. You take the risk, or you hide it away.
When I met Kate Bornstein, my brain interrupted my moment of being starstruck with the very important information that ze has a TARDIS tattoo. This of course led to excited geekery, me showing of the giant Seal of Rassilon I have on my right calf, and hir pulling the sonic screwdriver out of hir bag. It was a short, magnificent, amazing, wonderful moment of connection, not least because I got that tattoo to celebrate starting on testosterone as part of my transition.
I have others. I have the spider from Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys on my right bicep as a reminder of the salvific power of creativity. I've got the Corsair's ouroboros (albeit turned 180) on my left wrist to remind myself that my complicated body and gender is beautiful, and that I don't have to feel guilty and afraid about it with other people.
I have other tattoos, too. A rose on my back that I got with one of the first friends I made when I moved to Columbia. A wren with a needle through its ankle from the Mabinogion to celebrate my name change. Gautama Buddha, from when it looked very much like I was going to become a lay minister with a small Buddhist church (and possibly the only story I regret putting on my skin because without context it looks...well, not great from a social justice perspective). A drawing I did based on the Burney Relief that was the "ring" from my messed-up, failed marriage in my twenties. The pseudo-nautilus a friend got me for my eighteenth birthday.
I even have a scar on my shoulder from the tattoo a friend's friend did for me when I was a teenager using a sewing needle and India ink, which was summarily removed by the dermatologist my mother dragged me to. I like this scar. There's nothing else like it on my body. It's the memory of a story.
People can be weird about fan tattoos, though. I'm not sure how much of that is the stigma associated with being really into a thing -- or, rather, certain things because it's apparently okay to be really into sports but still kind of weird to be really into a sci-fi show -- or the idea that those stories aren't important enough to get etched into our bodies, but John Lennon quotes and pin-up girls are. Or maybe it's the idea that these things are ephemeral or imaginary? Or that somebody else's story is the wrong language, and we should all be required to make up our own stuff using an acceptable symbol set? It it too close to brand names?
And yeah, I think there's an element of misogyny happening here -- women in fandom get a disproportionate amount of flack for profoundly irritating reasons, and body policing is a thing -- but that can't be the whole story.
This is really bothering me. I'd love to hear what others think about this, not least because I'm getting the ink itch again, and there are things I'm considering that fall into this range, and that's more emotional than I expected it to be.
Wow me, Internets. I love you all.
A few weeks ago I started to fall off of the "well-maintained depression and brain chemistry" train and basically landed in the "missed a couple of days of Celexa just in time for insomnia and stress" ditch.
Which, you know, I was aware of as it was happening, but it's the same kind of awareness you have when you're doing home repair and the thing you're doing above your head comes loose and everything moves SUPER SLOW but there is nothing you can do but watch while it happens. And let's face it, I'm a popcorn kind of guy with the human condition (See Also: my ridiculous and awful Greyhound stories), including my own condition as someone living as human.
In any case, I learned some things this week that I'm finding amusing enough to share.
1) There is a liminal block of time in my day in which I am Very Eloquent with my hands and utterly useless with my mouth.
It runs roughly from 4-7 AM, after which I obtain the power of human speech. I've now got multiple proofs of this, including from this morning's adventure to Starbucks (because they open at 5 AM and I have some funds on my card and I wanted to write away from the house) in which I knew what I wanted and had to try something like four times to get the words "grande Earl Grey" out of my mouth. To his credit, the barista was very kind and did not laugh at me too much.
2) I have really strong feelings about blogging platforms.
During a workshop, I actually questioned a presenter who contrasted a WordPress-style blog (which looked like a slick and traditional website) and a Tumblr-style blog (which had stylistically consistent photography but was more magazine-style) who tried to use the Tumbl-blog as an example of website fail. I don't know if it's a generational thing, or if I'm just more inured to social media than I thought, but people, neither of these things is "better" than the other except that you'll have different audiences, and different intentions, and just because this one individual gave up on her project does not prove your thesis when I can point to more successful examples than I have fingers.
3) Getting Better is a Ridiculous Process
As things improve incrementally, I keep noticing that when I stumble, I react differently. Like, this week instead of just going silent and having panic attacks, I was joking about how I had "exhausted my vulnerability pool and moved on to my hostility pool." I mean, things were still raw, but they were raw in ways that allowed me to simply behave in possibly socially inappropriate ways rather than removing myself from society completely.
4) Falling Down the Fanfic Rabbit Hole is Both Satisfying and Frustrating
Satisfying because I really do love it as an art form and reaction to media, and the culture has many things to recommend it within the in-group once you abandon the stigma (which, let's be honest, is all about misogyny). Frustrating because being more or less not involved in this side of things for a while means that the signal to noise ratio in my reading attempts aren't yet well-tuned.
5) Sometimes People Pick Up When I Drop the Ball, and Those People are Awesome
So yeah. That thing with the train and the ditch? Means I am not always doing simple things in appropriate ways. Like, little stuff that supports bigger stuff? Comes apart. Gets ignored. Big stuff gets put off. Good choices get replaced by bad ones. And then someone is like, "Hey, so I have seven cakes in my car for the thing" and I am like, "HOLY FUCK, THANK YOU UNIVERSE FOR THIS INDIVIDUAL, AND THANK YOU INDIVIDUAL FOR SAVING ME AND OTHERS FROM ME." This is not a thing I ever want to expect, or to feel entitled to, but so grateful. Wow.
So yeah. That's...yeah. That happened.
- Books already in progress prior to January 1, 2014 may be finished regardless of the author's gender
- Books in a series I am already reading may be read regardless of the author's gender
- Books needed for a class or specific project may be read regardless of the author's gender
Also, last month I introduced guidelines for how to handle anthologies, and books with multiple authors or editors:
- Anthologies edited by a woman are acceptable even if the collected authors are not all female, but books with 50% or better representation are preferred
- In the case of multiple authors and editors, a single woman will suffice, but books with 50% or better representation are preferred
So! Here's what I read in March.
Empress, Karen Miller
I actually started reading this one a few years ago, put it down because college got overwhelming, and only just picked it back up this year. It's the first in Miller's Godspeaker trilogy, and focuses on its main character's journey from slavery to power in a brutal desert country called Mijak. Not a gentle book at all -- lots of blood and violence, and Mijak probably couldn't be more of a patriarchy if it tried -- but Miller is writing fairly rich epic fantasy, and I found myself binge reading this. It's a pretty chunky book, so prepare to take some time on it.
The Ninth Floor, Liz Schulte
When I mentioned my resolution to Doug at Village Books, he handed this one to me. Schulte is a local author, and the whole premise of a nasty community secret and possible supernatural goings-on was really appealing to me. That being said, Schulte is mainly a mystery writer, and mystery isn't one of my preferred genres. It was a quick read, and I liked the set-up a lot, but I think I went in expecting a different sort of book than what I got.
Being a Pagan, Ellen Evert Hopman and Lawrence Bond
My "Not a Book Club" title for March over at The Land, Sea, and Sky. This one definitely goes onto my list of books people new to Pagan religions should read within their first year or so of practice, even if the info in it is increasingly outdated (the interviews took place in the mid-1990s). Good context and oral history.
The Riven Kingdom, Karen Miller
The second of Miller's Godspeaker books, this one mostly focuses on the matter of succession in Ethrea, which is sort of the Western European Island Trading Nation answer to Mijak, which is significantly less militarized, lower magic, and marginally kinder to women. Like Empress, The Riven Kingdom is focused on a woman's rise to power, except in this case she is the sole heir to the dead king, fighting against having being made chattel by the church. This one is just as chunky as Empress, which is hilarious because I actually acquired the second and third books as part of an omnibus edition of the trilogy, which is bigger than some family bibles and dictionaries I've met. (Side note: anticipate a longer discussion of this trilogy when I've finished it.)
That puts my counts for 2014:
- 16 books finished
- 13 read in their entirety
- I have no idea how I want to do ratios now that I've introduced multiple authors/editors, but I can count the number of men on one hand without needing extra fingers, so I'm guessing that's a win.
I've been aware of The West Wing for a long time. I've even seen a fair bit of it here and there, but I've never seen all of it, nor watched episodes in order, and so when I noticed the whole series had finally gone streaming on Netflix, that was it.
Decision made. Mainliney bingewatching behavior engage.
Well, mostly I'm hitting it a couple of episodes at a time, mostly in the evenings or on weekend mornings when I've got a couple of hours to have downtime and knit, and it's so good for me in these weird, unpredictable ways.
Case in point: the word "okay" is now in my secret fannish lexicon. It started with Danny Concannon (whose lines in S1 are about 97% basically just this word, I think) and has branched out to every "okay" in the universe.
Which is to say, Sorkin has managed to make the most bland and invisible of words a Glowing Goddamn Beacon to my brain. "Okay" is like "said." It should essentially be invisible under normal operating conditions. Instead, it is now a Thing in my skull. Like, every time I hear the word, I wonder what the subtext is. Every time I say the word, I get a little zing of nerd happiness, like I'm secretly communicating a thing.
I am probably not communicating a thing.
I am pretty sure I don't care that I'm not actually communicating a thing.
It's tiny. It's ridiculous. Like, this has to be one of those writer things that doesn't make sense to the rest of the planet, because I never hear people having this problem. And, predictably, I am enjoying it immensely because language is fun and weird and the way human beings relate to language and character and media is so unpredictable, and that this tiny thing keeps lighting up my brain is so beautiful.
Things like this are why I fell in love with language.
...a piece of black duct tape on the light switch for our back porch. Given that I live with four other people, I figured one of us must have had a good reason to do this, and that I'd eventually find out what that good reason was.
A little later, three of the roommates were heading out for breakfast while I was making my second cup of tea. They asked me about the tape. I told them I didn't know, but that we should probably switch the tape out for something that wouldn't leave sticky residue on the switch plate.
They left, and this short showed up on one of my social media feeds:
Well-played, Roommate J. If you are still alive, that is. Me, I'll just be covering myself in glow sticks and covering the walls with LED tap-lights.
This has been an interesting week. DST is still the enemy, though I think I've finally cleared the hump. Trying to ease in last week by getting up at 3:30 instead of 4 for a few days did basically nothing on the getting to sleep on time front. If anything, it may have just prolonged the agony. By Sunday night, the body was not even remotely interested in going to bed. At all.
It wanted to go onto its own native schedule, which looks a lot like what I do anyway except it wants to do it in GMT. Late nights and even later mornings, you know? Especially since the weekend is the only time during the week that I nap freestyle (i.e. "Oh, it's mid-morning and I've got free time...") and so by Sunday I was well-rested and didn't even twig that I should be considering losing consciousness until about two hours after I should have.
Combine that with a weird burst of impostor syndrome and the way my current writing-related projects are not playing well with one another at the moment, and I hit a serious low around Tuesday this week. Doubt, frustration, anger, depression -- really every negative feeling I could be having came to a head in the most miserable way.
For my birthday, my friend Chloie (who is a hell of a writer, and has amazing taste to boot) gave me a Mystery Box. The Mystery Box lives on my desk, and is full of odd trinkets and packets of tea, most of which are wrapped like wee gifts. I am allowed to use the Mystery Box as I see fit, obviously, but in general I use it as a reward system when I feel like I should get a treat, or as a kindness dispenser when I need something wee and shiny to improve my life.
Not that I really believed it would help on Tuesday. Which was ridiculous given that I'd not only sold something in the night from my Etsy shop, and I was doing paid work and blah, blah, blah. Feelings aren't rational. But any port in a storm, right? Plus, the fun thing about friends and gifts is that they seem to derive enjoyment when they give you things, and I derive enjoyment from my friends' happiness. So. Mystery Box it was.
I was not expecting something as perfect and ridiculous as the ray gun. It is so tiny as to be unweildy in my adult-sized human paws. It makes little noises. It lights up.
In a culture that can't decide whether it wants to buy all the guns and take them absolutely everywhere or punish anyone who so much as considers simulating a weapon, it feels subversive in my pocket. It pushes all the buttons in my head where my not-entirely-factual idealizations of classic sci-fi tropes live, and gives me the same tingle I used to feel when I was very small and playing Star Trek out in the yard with my
cassette recorder tricorder, or running around with the glow-in-the-dark She Ra sword the neighbor kid eventually broke because he was a jerk who broke everything, or the toy lightsaber I had that went "vwoom" because it was open at the end.
Oh, and I can use it to shoot doubt in the face with extreme prejudice.
It could not be more perfect. The more I think of it, the more sure I am that even the timing was perfect. I'd be enchanted by it, sure, but getting it in precisely this way at exactly this time?
That's what makes it a talisman. That's what makes it magic.
Most mornings, my alarm goes off at 4. I get up, I work -- writing, editing, etc. -- I shower and dress, and then I get into my car to go do different work for the rest of the day. About two or three times a week I do something else (e.g. meeting up with friends, going to org meetings, projects, etc.) before I come home, veg out for a little bit, and then shuffle off to the soft, dark place for a few hours.
A couple of days ago, I realized that DST starts this weekend. I moved my alarm back to 3:30.
The idea is that two little shifts would be less bad than a whole hour. If I'd been really smart I'd have started a couple of weeks ago, and bumped back to 3:45, 3:30, 3:15, etc., but so far this is working okay. I am unlikely to want to die on Monday when that hour I am using disappears out from under me. I may not even notice.
I'll tell you what, though: the idea of 3:30 is almost a little much. Like, I say I'm not a morning person, and that what I'm really doing is getting up in the middle of the night, but I'm still having to balance that with a diurnal life, and 3 AM is perilously close to what is probably a red line in terms of making that work. So.
At least I get that hour back at the end of haunt season.
And now, links:
30 Cats And Dogs Losing The Battle Against Human Furniture
I dispute that all of these animals are losing a battle, and not all of the human objects are furniture, but this is still magical.
10 Things That Every Brand New Creator of Science Fiction Should Know
I was surprised how good this list is. I'd also challenge that it's only for "brand new creator(s) of science fiction," since a lot of it is applicable to fantasy as well. And literary fiction. And so on.
Snake vs crocodile: A dramatic showdown
This is not a SyFy original movie. This is a thing that happened at a lake in Queensland where people swim. Australia: kind of amazing.
Ghosts of the Tsunami
Describing this essay as an account of the relationship between the living and the dead after the tsunami that cased the Fukushima disaster hardly does it justice. Longish, so set aside some time.
YouTube channel: Mahafsoun
Belly dance plus metal. Commentary should be entirely unnecessary, right? Beautiful stuff.
150 Journalism Cliches
I remember one of my teachers in high school had a list of bad writing habits to avoid, written in such a way as to demonstrate each habit in the instruction. "Avoid cliches like the plague" was one of those gems. Personally, I think we should use this list to make cable news bingo cards.