Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Details

One of the first things you learn, as a traveler, one of the hardest lessons, is that you always take yourself with you.

This sometimes really sucks.

You default to the best and worst in yourself when you strip everything else away, and you figure out how much of who you are is tied to place and how much of you is something you carry with you, always, the same way you carry your heart, your lungs, your faulty pancreas.

I figured this out in Alaska, when I bought a one way ticket to Fairbanks and decided to start over in a little town at the edge of nowhere. The whole world was wide open, and I believed I could be anyone I wanted to be. I broke a lot of my own rules. I drank too much and ran around with drug addicts and drank home brewed beer and carried around a rifle and collected stories. I biked everywhere, worked out regularly, and said yes to nearly every party invitation. I didn’t want to be a sedentary wallflower anymore. I wanted to build somebody different.

But when things got bad, when somebody’s girlfriend threatened to kill me, when I got brushed off by the guy I was – for some bizarre reason – pursuing, I would default to old ways of dealing with stress. I’d retreat to my room, sleep a lot, eat ice cream sandwiches and yogurt pretzels. I would stop saying yes to invitations. Bruised from all the effort it took to be with people only to get hit over the head, I knew how to retreat, how to protect myself, and I reverted to those ways of comforting myself, though I knew that by reverting to those old habits, it was just a step to the right of reverting to everything else I was, everything I had been and had hated.

I made a lot of headway toward being somebody I wanted to be, in Alaska, but I still spent far too much of my vacation in Juneau sleeping in the hotel room and eating overpriced steak. I learned to love to be alone, and I kept loving people who didn’t care about me, because believe me, loving people who don’t love you is really cozy and safe and totally free of obligations. I built a lot of my own safe spaces, and I’ve spent much of my 20s in a constant state of advance and retreat, advance and retreat, running out of the trenches waving my arms and screaming and then holing up somewhere and sobbing hysterically before the next push.

In South Africa, I played the same sort of game, rushing outside and going to parties and a couple of clubs in an attempt to be extroverted and pretend I was slim and blond and brilliant. Mostly, social interactions left me with a horrible feeling that I had somehow failed. I had failed to be pretty enough, well dressed enough, witty enough, brave enough. I spent most of my time in South Africa drinking Laborie Pinotage and smoking Peter Stuvyesant cigarettes.

I also wrote a thesis and finished a book and was asked to measure my worth in cows.

Thus, it wasn’t all self-immolation, but the undercurrent was there, because when I became fearful, when I was uncertain (which was pretty much my entire time in SA), I retreated back to old modes of behavior, old ways of dealing with stress – sleeping and eating; retreating inward. Being fearful.

When I was under pressure, the fear often won out over my drive to be better, do better, to learn new ways of coping.

I am constantly amazed at how difficult it is to change oneself, to alter these childhood patterns that we learned to keep us safe.

I can learn other ways of behaving; I can even learn to cope differently and consistently apply those new methods. But when everything breaks, when my new lives fail, what I find at core, after I’ve stripped it all down, are those same coping mechanisms that have worked so well for me in the past.

But there are other things I find, too.

When everything else fails me, when people fail me, when my body fails me, there is something else I reach for, something I carry with me just as I carry those bad habits, something that keeps me going when I have nothing and no one else (or feel that way, at least). I push myself back up. I have books to write. Places to see. Things to accomplish. Miles and miles to run before I sleep. I have lists and lists of things I need to be doing, things that I’ll be happy once I’ve done, completed, made steps toward, but I’m never completely satisfied, because the closer I get to these goals, the further out the goals move. I can’t ever die, really, because I have too much to do.

When I sit down and open the book of my life, there are things I want to see there, and those things are huge and big, things you see out there in the stars; I want everything. I want the whole world; I want more than I can hold.

So despite getting knocked down, despite watching myself fall off the wagon during the worst of it, I still reach for those huge things; that big life, the one where I’m tootling around Rome and have a beach house and a couple of other vacation houses and I make a living writing and I take up a whole shelf at the book store and I travel wherever the hell I want, and I am happy and spend time on the beach and I have good friends, good food, good coffee, good conversation. I’m strong, and I’m healthy, and I am surrounded by people I love more than my life.

Sometimes I feel bad that I still want those things, I feel foolish and youthful and I think, “Man, why don’t I just settle into the fact that I’ll be a bitter secretary my whole life!”

And then I remember that the reason I don’t do that is because, well, it’s not true.

That’s not the life I want. It’s not the life I’m going to have. I’ve been presented with a good deal of different lives to choose from in the last decade, and despite several things having been chosen for me (dead pancreas), I’ve chosen the life I wanted wherever possible. I have a very clear idea what I want. I’m down, yeah. I’ve been down before. I’ll be down again. But every time I’ve hit a wall I’ve gotten back up again with a clearer idea of who I am, what I want, what I can do.

Because yea, you know, we all carry these things with us through our travels, through life: we carry the bad things, the broken pancreases, the reversion to red wine and binge eating as a means of getting through a shitty day, but there’s the good stuff, too. There’s the passion. There’s the determination. There’s the blind stubbornness in the face of overwhelming odds. There’s the drive. There’s the persistence. Always, the persistence.

I fall and I fall and I fall and I fall…

It’s not a perfect life I’ve lived. I could weave a pretty good story from some of the highlights, but the brutal truth is that the highlights aren’t living. We leave out the drudgery. The getting up everyday, the persistence. We write about the big heroism, the great war, the big book sale, the wedding, the funeral, the birth, the marriage.

But life is about how you lived on turnips and spent long hours reading outdated magazines during the bombing of the city, and the big box of rejection slips in your garage and that night when you got the rejection from Ellen Datlow and cried because it was just the perfect way to top off the perfect shitty fucking day, and it’s how you courted somebody you really thought you should marry but weren’t sure and had nightmares for months that you’d lose them and how you fell all over yourself trying to be too perfect, trying to be just right; it’s how you dealt with the daily quiet grief of death, how you ate your eggs alone every morning afterward with this big hole in your life; and how you make that marriage work during the horrible times when you’re both being assholes and you’re exhausted because there’s no money and everyone in the whole world looks like a better mate than whoever the hell this person is you ended up with, and how you get up every day, after, and how you learn to love them again.

Life is the details. It’s in the lows between the markers where we spend most of our lives. It’s in the imperfect times. The boring times. Those long stretches of desert that not everybody gets through, but that I slog through on my way to the big hills, the grand vistas.

Life is the stuff you blog about.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Fuck the Sugar

Note to self: yea, you know, all those complex carbs you know you can't eat anymore but you decided to get all pissed off and eat anyway?

Yea, that's why you had headaches all last week and felt like your feet were going to fall off at night.

A bagel once a week is fine. A bagel followed the next day by some pizza, and the next day by half a muffin and a croissant, and etc... no. No, really, you can't do that anymore.

Nice thought, tho.

Choice

Games, Like Crack

Improve your spacial reasoning skills! Trounce others online!

Make the biggest snowball ever! Trounce others online!

Kill slugs! Pretend to kill other people's slugs!

Ne fume pas! Trounce smokers!

Yeah, it was another great ass-kissing day here in balmy Chicago...

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Campbell Award Eligibility

Well, it looks like I'm still eligible for the Campbell award for Best New SF/F writer (2nd year of eligibility) because of the screwy rules regarding when Strange Horizons became a pro market.

For anyone interested in voting, here's the list of eligible nominees.

SO VOTE! No pressure. :)

As usual, I'm a pretty small fish (I mean, Naomi Novik, Justine? Sarah Monette? And then there's Meghan McCarron and Cherie Priest. Yea, right).

Tra la.

Is it Spring Yet?

Really, any time now, folks.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Free Hugs

On Thursday night I was walking home from work downtown when I saw a woman on the corner of Washington and State holding up a Free Hugs sign. I'd already seen the original Free Hugs video on YouTube, so I had a little shot of happiness at seeing somebody out in Chicago doing the same and prepared to step hastily by and get to my train.

But as I passed by and saw her hugging people, my step faltered, and I wanted to turn back.

I really wanted a hug.

Here was this person offering some bit of comfort without requesting anything in return, without obligation, without any power-crazy or twisted ulterior motives (that's the idea, anyway). You don't see that a lot. You don't get unconditional comfort or affection all that often.

It made me wonder if this is what the appeal of prostitution is, that you can pay someone to pretend to care about you for an hour. The difference, in this case, of course, is that Free Hugs are given without the need to receive anything in turn. I'm not shaking hands or giving out blow jobs because I can't pay my rent. It's done out of pure compassion as opposed to desperation/material gain.

And man, did I want to turn around and go back, to the point where I started crying there in the street, because I couldn't believe that it was possible for anyone to give me something without desperately needing something back, without taking something away from me, and I was so, so tired; after the year or two I've had, I felt like I had nothing to give to anyone, and I couldn't turn back and receive that hug because I didn't have anything to give her in return.

So I cried on the way home on the train, and I thought about a world full of free hugs, of compassion without obligation, of being able to give of yourself without fear of having someone try and take it all away.

I would like to live in a world like that, or even a world where I believed that was possible.

One of the best heroines I've come across in a really long time is Nausicaa of comic book fame. She's strong and compassionate and will fight if she needs to, but prefers negotiation and the showing of love and compassion over brute force if possible. I loved the idea that that heroine could exist. The idea of nonviolence and universal love as a means of changing the world is what draws me to stories of people like Ghandi or Jesus or even MLK. I want to believe that love can change the world. I write about bloody, violent, mean people who fight hate with hate; they're the sort of monsters created by societies that use hate against hate, that keep order through strength and submission.

That is not the world I want to live in, and it's not the world I want to believe in. I write about it because it fascinates me, and because I hope that someday, if I can understand it, I can find an alternative to it, one that I really believe in. I don't buy the idea that all we need to do is stand in a circle and put flowers in our hair and dance around saying "I believe in fairies!" (what about health care? Who's going to make insulin? Who's going to do the laundry and build the houses and make great medical breakthroughs if we're all standing around in a circle all day patting each other on the back?), but I know that there's an alternative to all this blood and anger and hate.

Sometimes I feel that what I do with a lot of my writing is take all of the anger and hate and violence that I've absorbed from the world and try and excise it through writing. Otherwise I just turn it inward, and it seethes inside of me and treies to claw itself out, and it chews me to pieces. I'm tired of being full of self-loathing.

I want to be able to let good things in, to appreciate all that good stuff, all those free hugs, without the desperate fear that by letting those things in, by releasing all the fear and anger, I'll become weak and vulnerable.

The only way to learn how to fly is to let everything go. I know that, but the fear of falling, the fear of falling... that's the worst fear of all.

Revolutionaries

The Secret Lives of Secretaries (Blowjob Edition)

As much as I downplayed my former job as being that of a "glorified admin," I realize now that I was not really an admin and I definitely wasn't a secretary or a receptionist, even though I did cover the phones sometimes when the receptionist was away at lunch. No, the bullshit of job titles aside, I was definitely a project assistant. I was treated like a human being. My boss brought me coffee and I went out to lunch with the guys on occasion.

I was not a secretary.

The strange, exhausting thing about being a secretary is that you have to be nice to everybody and pretend that you like them and that they're all smarter than you because they make gobs and gobs of money (if the guy upstairs is making $238 million, I can only guess what all these VPs are making. His executive assistants alone are all making six figures). I don't mind presenting a pleasant front to company guests - they send all of the guests up to us first, and most of them haven't done anything really inane and I only see them once or twice, so you know, I can cut them a lot of slack and be helpful. Afterall, I recognize that that's my job.

The kicker is when you have to be uber pleasant to regulars who aren't pleasant, who do and say stupid things, don't clean up after themselves, and have expectations that you must be pleasant under all circumstances. I have yet to run into particularly nasty individuals - most people are very good about avoiding being assholes - but there are slick assumptions under some very polite requests, and I try not to let it get to me. This is a temp job, after all. This isn't my life, it's just my rent check.

Nell had her 30-day review with our supervisor, who is more than a little unstable, and was told that she needed to be more "professional." She needed to smile more, because so long as she had a smile on her face, all her words would come out pleasant! (seriously) She needed to make sure that whoever she spoke with had the last word. She was not to argue with anyone, whether they were executives or admins or project managers.

It is, indeed, our job to be nice to people. To make them feel good about themselves.

So I make small talk with everyone. I look up from my book or my writing and smile at everyone. I pretend pleasantness, but I don't take any of it seriously and I don't care if anyone complains about me having my nose in a book. There are a million jobs just like this one.

And after a couple of months of this, you start to get to know a lot of people; you deal with a lot of people, and some of them you do come to genuinely like, of course, but it occurred to me yesterday as I stepped off the elevator after work and one of the marketing guys said hello and wished me goodnight, that there's a far better reason for the "powerful guys marry secretaries and stewardesses" stereotype that Maureen Dowd was nattering on about last year than "all men are just whiny assholes who want mothers."

The people in these positions as secretaries, receptionists, admins, assistants, are primarily women, and as women who fill these positions, they're required to be nice to *everybody.* You have to smile and make small talk with everybody who comes in the door, and you know, outside of work, smiling and making small talk with strangers is often seen as flirting (I'm reminded of when Wal-Mart moved into the German market and had to discontinue its policy of having Wal-Mart employees smile at customers, because men read this as an invitation, and the women were getting hit on and harassed at an alarming rate).

And though there are certainly people I genuinely like, I can see a lot of people who would construe the pleasant niceness I must give to everyone as actual pleasure at seeing them. You can be chatty with secretaries and admins. They *have* to be nice to you. The kicker is that a LOT of people just assume that we're genuinely this way and not doing it as a part of our job. Those are the clueless people who assume that we'd make great helpmeets at home in addition to at work.

There are certainly far hotter women in this company that those of us at the reception desk, but they're not required to be quite as nice, and yes, being in a far more high powered position than, say, secretaries, hitting on them and being rejected would probably be more humiliating than hitting on a secretary and having her pleasantly laugh it off.

The secretaries and the admins are pleasant people you interact with everyday who aren't in competition with you over your job. They're nice, safe, cozy people, and when roles like these become so commonplace as to be invisible, I guess you just assume that that's who they really are in real life. And sure, maybe a lot of them are. But it doesn't always work that way, and being a part of the underworld of secretaries and admins, I'm also in a position where I'll see the brutal side of all the admins, too, who refuse flower deliveries from admirers and make faces at puerile requests from execs.

A group of guys walked through the reception area the other day, and one of them said, "Have my girl talk to your girl." The hierarchy is a funny thing, perhaps not so much that it exists but that the people at the top have the privilege of not even bothering to notice that it's there, and there's a whole other soap opera among their admins and assistants going on, a whole nother power play underneath theirs. But there's really no reason for them to care: we're all just pleasant people who cater their meetings and clean up after them, and so long as our power struggles are for jobs they don't want, they're not important enough to notice.

What's important is that we're pleasant, and always put a smile our faces, so that everybody can pretend we're happy to see them.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

One For the Road

Random Word Generator

When you need just the right word... that doesn't actually exist.

Plotting Failure

Plot should really be a very simple thing.

Something bad happens to someone.

Then things get worse.

I'm pretty good at heaping on trouble, I'm just not sure that in the end, any of it makes any sense. Being a sort of "sit down and see what happens" writer, the whole process of discovery thing when I'm writing a book is great. The horrific result of writing this way, however, is that I spend years rewriting in order to figure out how the plot sticks together.

Character, setting, dialogue: I started out being pretty strong at character, worked real hard at setting, worked my ass off at dialogue, and now I feel competent at all of this. What has continued to elude me is... plot.

Not even "something bad happens. Then things get worse." Oh yes, THINGS GET WORSE. But why? How do I tie all that together and make it resonate?

I just sat down and revised an old story of mine from Clarion, the template character for the one I'm currently writing several books about, and I managed to tie up some of the themes so that when you get to the end you go, "Oh." (Well, *I* went "oh." It has yet to be seen if anyone else will). It's taken me seven years to make this story something more than a "so what?" story.

And that, at core, is I think what my problem is: when I'm not careful, I can write a lot of "so what?" stories. That's all well and good if you're content to go running around a wacky world with fucked up, wacky (often violent) people, but it's not usually until halfway through the story that I either find my point, or... I don't, and I have to trash the story. Then, once you actually find your point (if you do at all), you have to go back and make sure you set all that up at the beginning. If I'm *really* cool I can write forward by constantly looking back at the beginning of the story and trusting that everything I need for the end was totally frontloaded at the beginning by my really kewl subconscious.

Right now, that's sort of how I'm swinging things, but I want to be really good at plot, the nuts and bolts kind, not just the bordering-on-didactic kind. I want all the world's political pieces to come together. I want everybody running on their little plot highways to smack into each other and make the reader go "Oh! Of course!"

Basically, I want to be BRILLIANT.

So I suppose that's nothing new.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Worst. Fight Scene. Ever

Come now, who didn't LOVE this show?

I think Kirk should have just taken his mask off and screamed, "AHA!!!"

I Felt Terrible....

... when I was sick. But I could wear such cute clothes!

Indeed, I am well aware of the fucked-uppedness of that.

"What kept me sane throughout the diet, and stopped me from tipping over the edge and wanting to keep the new skinny self I'd worked so hard to achieve, was the realisation that my life was no better, or more successful, or colourful, when I was thin than before."

The Secret Lives of Secretaries

Yesterday, Nell and I discovered that someone has been stealing the handsoap bottles in the kitchen and in the coffee bar behind our reception desk at work (yes, we have a coffee bar behind the reception desk). Now we're missing a huge jug of Jergens lotion.

We have no idea who's doing this, or why they need that much handsoap. Or that much lotion.

In any case, it's not like it's a big deal. The head guy in the office upstairs made $238 million last year.

It might sound really exciting to have a plasma TV in the reception area you're working in, but believe me, 24 hours of CNN is really mind-numbing when the day's biggest stories are who gets to bury Anna Nicole Smith and Is Britney's Haircut Prelude to a Stint in Rehab? (the answer is yes, apparently). These are the sorts of things no reasonable human being really needs to know. And yet.

I figure if things get real dull we can always spice it up by ordering condoms for the bathrooms and renting out the conference rooms by the hour.

We'll need to order more lotion.

Gendered Writing

Surprise! If you write from a male POV, you must be a male writer, and if you write from a female POV, you must be a female writer.

All hail the gender genie!

I think this would have been more amusing if I didn't peg the whole insert male POV scene followed by "try again" and then insert female POV scene. That was way too predictable.

(via making light)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Call Me Crazy...

... but when I was a kid, I didn't think, "Golly gee, I want to be a professional Executive Assistant!"

And yet, these people exist.

Granted, in downtown Chicago they're making six figures. But really, who would have thunk it?

Friday, February 16, 2007

There are Few Things More Annoying...

... than a 52 number right after you've brushed your teeth.

Dammit.

Man, I Hope I Get That Interview...

... or I'm going to need to get a weekend gig at Starbucks.

"Girlfriend in a Coma, I Know/I Know - It's Serious"*

I have been trying to write up a post about writing and trauma for the last hour, inspired by this post.

I guess I'm still in a bad enough place that I don't feel like I can talk about it. Of course, much of my reluctance is that so much of the current situation would also be talking about the private business of somebody else, and that's not kewl.

So here I am.

Suffice to say that things have not been great for me or my roommate/Clarionmate/formergirlfriend/friend for the last year. There were bad relationships prior to us getting together, professional failures before and after we got together, a bad breakup, subsequent meltdowns, more professional failures, a job layoff, and let's not even get started on the whole, "Surprise you have a chronic illness"/"OMG Kameron's in a coma in the bathroom fucking shit fuck fuck fuck!!" thing. Cause that's some heavy shit to deal with on top of everything else. Or, shit to deal with as a nice appetizer before the meltdown.

We've chosen to deal with our pain and grief in very different ways, and I hope that, just as I'm rebuilding, she will continue to rebuild as well, and in twenty years we'll be better people.

Because, yes, at the end of the day, you do have to go on. If you don't go on, you die. If you choose to dwell in the darkness, it will devour you. You must find a new life outside of that. It's not like you're going to forget the darkness, it's not like it's going to go away, but you can build a place in the sun somewhere, knowing that the sun is all the brighter because you are one of those who knows what it's like in the dark.

I wrote the bulk of GW when I was slowly dying, when my personal relationships were bouncing all over the place just like my sugar numbers, during a time where I wasn't doing a lot of higher level thinking. It was all about this thing, and the next thing, and sleeping, and drinking water, mmmm sweet sweet water....

It's no surprise that when I was done with GW and still recovering from the mess of my life, dealing with a lot of resulting emotional craziness on both ends in this house, that I decided that GW wasn't a book, it was bookS. I didn't want to start my next stand-alone project just yet. I needed to work with this character and this world. I wanted to work through the issues I had to deal with in the life of this bloody, strong, brutally traumatized woman who masked all her weakness with witticism and pretended she was fine when she wasn't, and was, in reality, only alive because of the good graces or serious fuckups of others, and who knew it, but told herself a lot of stories about why that wasn't so, becuase those were the stories she needed to tell herself in order to go on.

And on the one hand, I worry that the GW books will end up being nothing more than Mary Sue-ish books, the sort of cathartic writing we all have to do every once in a while to get through the worst of things. On the other hand, I think they could be some of the best of what writers do: culling all the shit and blood in our own lives, mixing it up with what we've seen and heard and read of others, and making something new and powerful and wonderful out of it, something people can connect with.

That would be great if it happened.

In the meantime, it certainly gets *me* through the day, and believe me, right now, that's a really fucking great thing.

*

Writers' Rooms

Theirs.

And mine: old and new.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Names I've Given My Hardware

I was never one of those people who had names for my cars, mainly because I never actually owned them - my parents did. I got my first laptop as a graduation present when I finished highschool, and though I never named it at the time, the person I gave it to when I upgraded starting calling it "The Beast" because it weighs something like ten pounds (it also, unlike two of the three laptops that followed it, still works).

I had a nice, big-screened Gateway computer after that, which also went unnammed, though I certainly whispered many and varied terms of endearment over it when it actually managed to store 20 gigs worth of music.

When that one blew up on me, I bought one of those tablet PCs and called it "bird" because of it's small size (I think it weighed 2lbs).

When that one gave out on me last year or the year before, I bought this new Sony Vaio with the slick looking screen and comfy keyboard. It's reasonably light, but far from compact, and I've got a big wide screen for watching movies and a big keyboard for comfortably typing up a lot of fucking books.

It also just so happened that I was hip-deep in God's War about that time, and when I had to type in a name for this computer, the first one that popped into my head was the name of GW's heroine: Nyx.

My ipod, which I got soon after, has the name of Nyx's female sidekick: Anneke (that's the little name that shows up next to the drive letter and everything. It always makes me snicker).

If I keep burning through computers like this, I may have to shelve the old shells on the ego shelf with the actual books whose characters I named the hardware after and whose pages were typed on the same machines.

Books and dead laptops filed away on the same shelves feels very Gibson.

When the Plucky Heroine Stomps Her Foot and Tosses Her Hair, You Know She Means Business

I've been trying to get through Martha Wells's City of Bones for a while now, mainly because it's got a blasted-out desert setting with Old Ruines, bugs, mutants, and pirates, which sounded a lot like GW's world to me, and I wanted to see how somebody else handled that sort of setting.

And yea, you know, the world's cool and all, but it lacks a certain richness, mostly due to the writing style, and, worst offense of all - the characters are completely unlikable. I really don't care if either of them live or die, and they just aren't interesting.

There are great prose writers and great story writers, and if you're great at story or great at prose, I'll read you (I think writers like Catherynne Valente are great at prose, and writers like Stephen King are great at story - I'll read both, but for different reasons, and I'll get different things out of them), but great story means I need to enjoy reading about the characters. I want to be invested. It's not that they have to be likable: they just have to interesting.

Though SF/F has come a long way with it's female characters, they tend to suffer a similiar fate shared by their male counterparts, which is that they end up getting two or three character traits assigned to them, and in the same way a bad actor starts raising their voice during a particularly emotional scene as if to say "LOOK AT ME, I'M ACTING!!!!" these characters display their formulaic template of "plucky heroine" traits: stomp their feet, clench their fists, tug their braids, and then verbally spar with the Brooding Hero who doesn't get laid because he's "misunderstood," and then we move on.

The thing with this sort of set up - plucky heroine & brooding hero - is that that template *can work.* And when it *does* work - when it's done well - you can create characters people really love (Mal & Inara of Firefly, Alanna & her Thief King in the Alanna books, that Kushiel's Dart chick and the brooding celibate warrior guy in the first of the Kushiel books, etc); you know, the sort of characters people like to write slash fiction about. heh heh

The problem is when people get lazy, and they reach for that "plucky heroine" template and just scribble somebody in, like this Elen character in City of Bones. When she's feeling strong emotion, when we're given a scene meant to illustrate how Plucky & Independent she is, she does one of those clench-my-fists-and-stomp-my-foot things that I find really annoying. You see the same problem with Nynaveave in the Jordan books. When she feels particularly plucky, she'll tug her braid and stomp her foot, and then you know she means business! (this is amusing the first couple of times in book one. By book six, you want her to die quickly and suddenly; you hope a tree will fall on her).

I wonder how much of this is just plain cardboard character writing and how much of it is just seeing a lot of people rush to write Strong, Plucky Heroines without really knowing how to do that because most mainstream literature was about Brooding Male Heroes. The template you *did* drawn from that had strong female characters was romance, and I'm wondering how many of those Plucky Space Opera Heroines were originally conceived as pure Romance heroines.

So you end up with these women characters who may be smart and spunky, but they're pretty childish and vulnerable, too (again, how much of this is just poor and/or lazy writing?). After all, if she was *too* capable, and governed her emotions a little more diplomatically, then she wouldn't *really* be a female character, she'd just be a Guy in Drag.

I guess I've just never bought the idea that a fully realized female character who didn't act like a fourteen year old at thirty-five was "a guy in drag."

The Mounting Cost of Living

I received a bill in the mail today for $1617.73.

This is the amount of money I owe to COBRA if I'd like to have continuing medical coverage through March. I have paid $360 of that, which leaves me to come up with roughly $1250 by March 10th or forfeit my ability to be insured through COBRA.

I am currently making $15 an hour as a temp receptionist in the wake of my December layoff, which is a pay cut of about $4 an hour and another, what, missing $400 a year in matching 401(K) benefits. The layoff also meant the dissolution of my high-deductible-though-free (yes, free) health insurance, which is what kept me from going bankrupt when I spent four days in the ICU in May.

All those medical bills and a couple of blown-out computers have left me with roughly 10K in credit card debt (I was bemoaning the fact that I owned nearly 3K about this time last year. Oh, what I'd give to owe 3K!), which I'm paying off, minimum payment a month, $200. Rent and utilities are $750 a month. Medical supplies are $100-150. Gym fee is $109. Student loans are a whopping $300. I've gotten groceries down to $70 a week when I'm playing it lean. Transit costs are $90 a month.

I can almost make it with these bills at $15 an hour, cause I can clear nearly 2K a month, and bills above add up to $1900. Every three months, my endocrinologist charges me $95 for a 20-minute check up, so yea, those are tight numbers. Real tight. But I could almost make it.

What this slim little budget fails to provide for, of course, is that $360 a month in health insurance.

I try to keep my spirits, up, yo, but it's math like this that makes me "grimly optimistic" instead of, you know, optimistic.

It's also why I'm not a math major.

Numbers are cold, cold things.

Sometimes, just in order to get yourself going forward, to not give up, to stay resolute, you have to just say "Fuck it."

I don't think a lot about how I'll get through all this. I just get through it. I think, sometimes, that if I stopped and thought about it, I might not be able to get up again.

Close your eyes and leap.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Greatest Gift

"We allow each other to work. That's the greatest gift a husband can give a wife and a wife can give a husband. Especially when they're both artists."

- Helen Mirren, on marriage

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Lessons

You can give it all you got, and squeeze blood from stones, and you can give a little more after that.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Writing Down the Bones

One of the things I've tried very hard to do with my adult life is to be a strong woman. I took it for granted that I was nominally intelligent: I could put a sentence together and pass a test without homework and I didn't put my hand on the stove just to see what would happen.

What I never had - or felt I never had - was physical strength. I always felt big and uncoordinated, and all attempts to lose weight were met with fierce resistance from a body that will never see a size smaller than two digits.

It took me a long time not only to accept that but to embrace it, and to begin building myself not based on the template I was given by the popular media, but a template that a body like mine could find more immediately useful; something far more realistic and attainable. I started taking boxing lessons and lifting 30 lb weights and going jogging, and I firmed up and got super strong and finally started to feel comfortable in my body. I started to define myself by how far I could run, how much weight I could lift, how good I felt when I threw a punch.

All that changed when I started to get sick, and found myself rapidly falling toward the fulfillment of that media template in the skinny department but spiralling futher and futher away from the goals I'd set for myself - the ones that really mattered.

It's hard to fall off the path I created for myself. I worked a long time to get comfortable in my own skin, to find my own strength, and to feel like that was all brutally ripped away from me with the unexpected devastation of a natural disaster was... well, devastating.

One of the most horrifying parts of coming out of my sugar coma and being able to think clearly again, to look forward, was my deep fear that now, finally, after all this work and all this time, after I finding the strength in myself, after learning to love and accept myself - all that was being taken away from me. I wasn't going to be strong anymore. I couldn't be this person I wanted to be. I had to take on the shroud of an invalid and live out the life of some other person, someone I had not chosen to be.

And that hurt. That was hard.

Worse: it wasn't true.

But when you're getting to know your new body, your new condition, when you're learning how everything works now that something is broken, you aren't sure what's true, what's not, what's possible and what's pure fantasy. You read up on all the horror stories and you lie in bed at night and you fight all those feelings of despair and you tell yourself, "I'm going to be different." It's what I've told myself about writing fiction for the last fifteen years: failure, giving up, that's what happens to other people. I'm going to work hard at this. I'm going to succeed.

And, like the writing, there are days when I feel like a total fool. You wonder if being delusional is really the appropriate way of handling yourself. Maybe you should be preparing for a different kind of future. Maybe you should be studying tax law and forgetting about climbing around Peru. Maybe you should just be small and quiet and weak.

There's already a template there to step into. Pull on that hopeless shroud! Complain about how "hard" it is cause you have a "condition"! Just hide under your bed and feed on your own feelings of self-hate and self-disgust at your body's own weakness, at your inability to cope like the strong woman you were supposed to be.

You can flog yourself with this shit forever, but it's not going to get you out from under the bed.

One of the hardest things I've had to do is give myself time to pick myself up again. I wanted to spend a couple of months setting things in order, learning my limits, and emerge like a phoenix. I wanted to be better this minute, this hour, today!

I have learned a lot about my limits since May, and some of those limits have been disappointing, but most of them have been surprising. I can still do all the crazy shit I want to do. It's just going to be harder. Some days that does get me down; it feels overwhelming. It feels like the whole sky is going to fall down, and it feels too big for me to bear, and then I flog myself for being so weak minded, so stupid, when did I become so weak?

The hardest lesson of all has been to measure out when I need to be hard on myself so I don't hide under the bed and when I need to ease up to allow myself the time to heal that I need. I have a whole new template to create. The last time I did it, it took me ten years. At least now I have a base to work with now, something I was very happy with, but learning to accept myself, to create a whole new conception of self, to some extent, that's taking so much longer than I was ever prepared for.

It is such a long road. I realize life keeps going until it stops, and, like writing, it doesn't get easier, but it's supposed to get better.

I am working toward a better place. A stronger place. With some patches perhaps, some addendums, some allowances for error.

There is always someone I'm striving to be, and I try to live like I'm already that person. It's why it's so difficult now to act when I feel so lost.

Year's Best SF 12

I was going to wait until they officially posted the TOC, cause there's always the chance of the story getting cut, but I've seen a couple of other people mention that they've got stories coming out in it, so hey:

My short story, The Women of Our Occupation, should be coming out in Cramer & Hartwell's Year's Best SF 12 this spring.

If you buy a copy, I'll even sign it for free!

BW is Back! Long Live BW!

& etc.

Let's Be Bad Guys