The universe is doing it resonating thing again which means, as those of you who for whatever reason keep reading this blog know, SOAP BOX TIME! In which I encourage women to worry less about who might get an elbow in the stomach if they fail to step back when we choose to stand akimbo.
The best thing about NaNoWriMo this year has been by far my NaEaYoWaThrWrANoMo group, or National Eat Your Way Through Writing a Novel Month, not only because of the incredible tea and baked goods (and they have been legendary), but because of the excellent writers I’ve been getting to know. There are four of us in the group–all women and all unpublished as of yet–and the most helpful facet of our interaction has been the constant stream of little emails of encouragement and commiseration and interesting links we’ve been exchanging throughout the month.
One of the writers is working on a novel whose main character is a young woman during suffrage in the United States. As this writer was describing the character’s key transformation to our group, I was struck by her use of the phrase “She’s learning to take up space in the world.” This resonated with me–one of my beloved writing mentors in college used those same words with me over and over and it’s a mantra I have to force myself to act on because we live in a world that makes it uncomfortable to take up space as a woman. That space-taking journey is still relevant for women nearly a century after women got the vote.
Another writer in the group shared this article by Sarah Rees Brennan on the problems she faces trying to promote her writing. The reality of what faces even women who have “made it” to one degree or another in the creative world makes me nauseous. I just want to line up all the misogynists in the world and run down the line, high-fiving them in the face. While wearing an iron gauntlet. It’s not just men, to be clear. This is language women use on other women, which should give you a sense of just how deeply ingrained in us is the feeling that women, like children, should be seen and not heard, should sit in the background working their fingers to the bone without asking anything for themselves.
All of this was rattling around in my brainpan when one of the writers emailed the group noting her guilt over putting aside some other commitments in order to take time to write, and something struck a spark. She’s right. We are trained to feel nothing but guilt for saying no in order to take time to work on our personal creative goals. I have been getting up at 5:30 in the morning to try to squeeze out my word count without jeopardizing the time I spend on housework or grocery shopping or communicating with family or my paid job. And then staying up until 11 at night or later working on little projects to make the house “just so” for when I host Thanksgiving or trying to finish handmade gifts before Christmas.
Side note on that: whoever decided to put National Novel Month during one of the two most insane months for family holidays and folks who like to make gifts? You’re fired. I want to play along in, say, March, which is the most dreary and boring month and actually needs something to spice it up.
Back on track: Why do I think my only option for finding time to write is to bankrupt my sleep cycle? Why is it so difficult to tell the dishes or the dust or the dirty clothes that they can wait because I have a scene begging to get out of my head? Why is it that I empathize so completely with the guilt my writer friend felt for making her writing work a higher priority?
It comes back around to the question of taking up space, or rather space-time, as learning to take that time for one’s work is a part of the process of learning to take up space in the world. I don’t know if I will ever stop hearing the nagging, whining guilt in my head telling me I should be less of a self-centered bitch, more of a good little woman, but I hope I will always be listening harder for the voice of my mentor. I’ll pass on that call to the rest of you women, creative or no: take up space in the world. Take up time. And let me know how it goes, because I can’t wait to see what you all do with your own little room in space-time.
And if our husbands can’t find clean pants one morning? I’m betting they can find the washing machine.
It is 8:17 a.m. I’ve have been at my computer with the intention of doing writing work since 6:00 a.m. I have managed to put exactly zero words on the page. There comes a point in the procrastination process when you just have to walk away and do something productive elsewhere. I haven’t quite hit that yet, so I’m justifying my continued presence in front of the keyboard with this blog post about process.
Process is unexpected.
My friend Dan (this guy, remember? He’s cool.) recently shared a piece of advice he’d been given for writing, which is to think of all the awesome things you wish would happen, put them in chronological order, and then use that in place of an outline. I think it’s a sound principle, especially for writing science fiction and fantasy. Most of my favorite bits in my own writing comes from the sheer joy of committing wonderful nonsense of the page. But sometimes…sometimes the universe gives you the gift of unfettered inspiration.
A little known fact about John: he can’t produce a rolled “R” to save his life. It’s not exactly a prereq for communicating in English, so the subject doesn’t come up often, and I occasionally forget. Goofing around with language sounds, like ya do, I sometimes pull out the rolled Rs. And John, bless, always makes a fresh attempt to roll his Rs.
One of John’s defining qualities is persistence. Did you see his Prince Gumball hair for Halloween?
We’re talking 10-12 hours of painstaking carving, coating, sanding, and painting to produce that. Some might call that a little crazy for a hairpiece that’s going to be worn for about three hours once in his life, but that’s how John rolls. When he sets his mind to a task, he sticks to it until he either gets it right or until I talk him down. This quality is one of the reasons he and I make a good team–I have a bad habit of rage-quitting difficult boss battles or calling slapdash joinery good enough and nothing would ever be finished or high quality around here if not for his boundless patience with the finicky and ridiculous.
When you take that dedication and apply it to the task of learning to produce rolled r’s, what you end up with is forty minutes of the two of us sitting on the carpet making ridiculous noises at each other trying to identify what’s going on in my mouth compared to his in order to troubleshoot whatever mechanical issues make it so impossible for him to produce this sound. Geek moment: there are two Rs in Spanish: the alveolar trill (the rolled R most people think of, which can sound like purring if you draw it out) and the alveolar tap (which is similar to the T in water). We were working on the trill, which is what English speakers tend to have a harder time with. In order to get there, we were making a pretty wild range of spitting, consonant-ish sounds.
It occurs to me that communicating exactly how funny this was is impossible given that maybe two of the people who read this blog are comfortable with the IPA and phonology in general, so “And then he held a prolonged bilabial fricative!” loses its comic edge. The point is that, as I listened to John buzzing and spitting in his attempts to trill, I realized that I was listening to the perfect range of sounds for the alien language I’m writing into the current section of my space fantasy.
And sometimes, that is how process works.
There comes a time in every woman’s life where the true nature of her character is revealed because, at some point, she will have every right to tell a man, “I TOLD you so.” Whether one does or does not utter the words is deeply indicative of their character. I don’t know what it says about me that I did not slap John upside the head with these words earlier but am now going to tell the story of how I earned the right to the entire internet. Probably nothing good.
We’ve been busy little homeowners today. John has been doggedly working at the finish carpentry for our inset bookshelves and I have been playing with electricity. I know, this sounds like a terrible idea, and it probably is, but I figure as long as I stick with swapping in new fixtures for ones that were already there, I’m at least not making the wretchedly deep electrical problems of our antique house any worse. Probably.
I would also like the record to show that my track record, while short, isn’t bad. No electrical fires were started in the week between my wiring up two outlets and my dad checking my work. He only needed to fix the grounds, which was why he was looking at them in the first place because he was coming up anyway and had the tools and supplies in his truck. This morning, I successfully wired a three-way switch up on the first try (well, discounting the first try before I talked to my dad and discovered that the switch, which is not paired with any other live switches and is really old and therefore not what I’m used to looking at, was a three-way switch). And this success came in spite of the fact that the old switch was really old and set up differently. My point? Swapping out basic fixtures ain’t rocket science, especially when you have a direct line to a contractor with decades of experience who was raised by an electrician, and even I can make a competent job of it.
Things got trickier when I moved upstairs to swap out the light fixtures, not because of the circuit itself, but because two out of the three lights have wiring that is probably original to the mass market availability of electricity, or close to it. (Yes, we know it needs replacing. By a professional. It’s on “the list.”) This mean that they aren’t housed in modern junction boxes for which our mounting brackets were designed, which meant that it took two heads and a bit of Yankee ingenuity to figure out how to safely make the flush-mount lights mount flushly. I can handle simple replacement wiring, no problem, but making things look pretty is John’s department, so I turned the project over to him and went to do some touch-up painting elsewhere.
Half an hour and much suspicious drill noise later, John asked me to switch the breaker back on. The bedroom light, where he had been kajiggering, turned on nicely. Not so the office light, the third fixture we had swapped. Nor, as we discovered a few moments later, the kitchen, the bathroom, or the hall lights, all of which are on that same breaker. (Don’t ask me how that makes sense. Our house was built piecemeal by a series of extremely ingenious Yankees…nothing here makes sense.) I called my dad at this point to ask him why that might have happened.
I thanked him for this ever-so-helpful answer and John, baffled but undaunted, decided to try to diagnose the issue. He took down the new office fixture and asked me to flip the breaker. I was upstairs and looked at his wiring in doubt.
Me: “I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to join the hot and neutral like that.”
John: “That’s what happened when the light’s on. It makes a loop.”
Me: (moment of doubtful silence) “I don’t think that’s the way lights work. Aren’t there capacitors or resistors or something in there?”
John: (shrugs) “What’s the worst that could happen? It should just flip the breaker if it’s a problem, right?”
Those of you who know wiring are probably laughing your asses off right now, but I have more faith in my husband’s knowledge of the inner workings of the house than I do in my own instincts and half-remembered observances of my dad working. All the same, I didn’t want to be anywhere near those two wires when they went live, so I volunteered to flip the breaker. In the basement. Two floors away.
What I did NOT expect was sparks. Lots of them. Noisy and big and blue and eight inches from my face. I did not know until that moment that I am capable of jumping five feet backwards in a single leap. John came running at my startled shout, but by the time he made it all the way to the basement, I had determined that the circuit box was not going to set itself on fire and worked up the courage to flip the breaker, which had not, in fact, tripped itself.
And that is when I chose not to say “I TOLD you so.”
In good news: we just capped the ends of the office light (separately!) and left it without a fixture. Fortunately, that seems to have fixed whatever was shorting out the rest of the lights, so we are not stuck sitting mostly in the dark while we wait for a professional to bail us out of our ineptitude…
Guess what? November is almost here. You know what that means. Aside from an ill-advised a proliferation of creepy mustaches, I mean. Seriously guys….ew. A mustache without a beard just screams “I’m a pedophile who traveled here from the 1980s.” Unless you’re Tom Selleck. He might just be the only man on the plant who looks more like a pedophile without a mustache than with one. Not that I’m saying we should start profiling sexual predators based on their facial hair…mustaches are just creepy and it annoys me a bit that they get to share a month with the bit of insanity I’m actually excited about: NaNoWriMo.
That’s right. National Novel Writing Month. I skipped it last year, but this year I’m back, and I have goals, baby!
The first year I participated in NaNoWriMo was awesome. I won. I wrote a book. A book that is still haunting my pile of things to finish editing, granted, but it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A conflict, complicating events, and a resolution. The main character grows and changes from word alpha to word omega. It’s not a particularly good book, no genre-redefining behemoth of immensitude, but I learned a lot about storytelling in the process of making it and I don’t completely hate it.
Year two was a bit of a drag. I did not win. I was working on the sequel to book one, and let me tell you something about sequels: you have to know how the first book ends to write them. I hadn’t really finished with Autumn’s Daughter and as I was trying to write the sequel, I realized that the ending of the first book did not work. It completely killed my momentum on Autumn’s Sister and I still haven’t regained my footing there, which is more or less why I skipped last year.
This year, however, I have a story I love the hell out of. It’s probably rubbish from beginning to end, but it’s my kind of rubbish and it is unspoiled by uncertainty about my previous work. I have an outline and a cast of characters. And, as I said, I have goals.
Hitting a specific word count during one month has, to me, become equivalent to trying to fit into a bikini before summer. It’s completely possible, but if it requires me to make drastic life changes that are too far removed from my current life habits, I will not continue with the actions that led to change once my goal has been met. So…instead of trying to meet a specific word count, these are my personal victory conditions for NaNoWriMo 2013:
1. Get up with my alarm.
Even on weekends. Getting up at 6:00 am is my best chance for getting some writing done before I have to interact with John, before I start my busy list for the day, and before I wear my brain out writing copy for other people.
2. Work on my writing every day.
Seven days a week, folks. Something valuable to the progress of my current projects needs to be done.
3. Add words to my novel 5 days a week.
The plan is that most days I need to be writing actual story stuff in my book file and on those days I’m not allowed to waste my precious writing time doodling around the internet doing research or writing for the blog. I will set aside two (probably non-consecutive) days each week to do things like editing, connecting with other writers, researching agents, and learning more about self-publishing. So unlike other years, there’s a chance that this NaNoWriMo will actually see me adding more to my blog than I have been lately. Exciting stuff, right?
As always, I’m happy to connect with anyone else who’s playing along. My username is MWalshe. Come be my friend and let’s meet our creative goals together!
Almost two weeks ago now, John and I celebrated our fifth anniversary. We had decided when we first got married to renew our vows every five years because it seemed important to us to take a moment to step back, re-evaluate where our marriage is at, and be mindful about what we need to do to keep it healthy going forward. Having gotten through five wonderful years together, it’s a decision I’m glad we made. Even in five years, the tarnish of life has a way of building up and a celebration and renewal is a way of bringing out the can of silver polish.
We had a grand old time with some of the best sports on this planet–just about all of our guests went along with our request that they play 1940s dress-up with us to varying degrees. Our backyard proved its worth as a sparkly party venue. Flame and fireworks were enjoyed safely. Food was nommed. The weather was perfect. Basically, I think everyone should be so lucky to have such a celebration of their marriage, whether they’re just getting married or whether they’ve been married for the better part of a century–it was a blessed evening.
To share a little of the joy with you, and for the benefit of some of the guests who made requests, here are a few resources for partying like us hound dogs.
We used a Grooveshark playlist through John’s tablet, hooked up to some computer speakers that have nice sound. Here’s our jivin’ rockabilly playlist.
We tried to stick with easy finger foods, but failed. Still, there were a few winning recipes that make generally great party foods.
Apples with Caramel Cream Cheese Dip (minus the peanuts)
Cider Cheese Fondue (don’t use a Crockpot and don’t use pre-shredded cheese)
Sweet & Sour Meatballs (Crockpot style, no black magic involved)
Lemon-Blueberry Tarts (this crust in cupcake wrappers topped with jam and lemon zest)
There were many more recipes, but some of them only exist in my head. I think my mother-in-law’s deviled eggs (known to the family as “floppy eggs”) were the most popular, but I don’t know her secrets.
We don’t have a ton of electricity available to the backyard, but we managed to beg and borrow massive amounts of white Christmas lights to surround the fire pit, which gave the area a magical glow. In general, this event was a case study in Pinterest projects. If you’re interested in planning a similar event, feel free to bop around the Pinspiration board my valiant design team and I used.
You may call me Lady Walshe.
One unexpected but delightful side effect of this party was presents. I can’t express strongly enough how much all of these incredibly sweet and thought-filled gifts mean to us, but the one that got the most laughs and is likely to drive everyone else in our lives crazy the longest is the gift of twenty square feet of land in Scotland. Yes, that’s right. John and I are now Scottish landowners, legally entitling us to the honorifics “Laird and Lady of Glencoe.”
I had an interesting conversation with my mom last week about thank you notes and handwritten cards in general. She was bemoaning the lost art of thank you notes. I found this a bit funny, of course, because it’s not something she raised us up to do. I think the first handwritten thank you cards I ever sent in my life were when I was 11 and thanking the folks who sponsored me for our church’s mission trip to Haiti. After that, I don’t think I wrote a thank you card until I got married.
It’s not that I didn’t have many people to be thankful to. It’s just that I was never taught that thank you cards are a thing you do. I’ve gotten better about them now, but I mostly send them to folks of my parents generation and older or for gifts given following major life events (house-warming presents definitely qualified). I hadn’t thought about it much, but when mom and I were discussing it, I realized that I don’t like sending thank you cards for smallish things (like getting together for dinner) because I DON’T LIKE RECEIVING THEM.
I don’t even like receiving them for major life event presents. I mean, honestly. They’re a ton of work. My hand cramps in empathy of the poor bride writing out all those notes. They’re always on paper, which means that resources were spent processing the paper, embossing it, cutting it out, fixing glue to the envelope…lots of industrial labor was poured into this piece of paper that I then don’t know what to do with.
Because really, what am I supposed to do with those thank you notes? Keep them on my fridge forever? Save them in an ever-growing box that I will open once every five years to clean out because the event is too foggy in my mind for the note to have sentimental reason? Salvage the pretty covers for some Modge Podge project that I would never display anywhere in my own house because few greeting cards match my tastes in interior design?
Mom said that she likes receiving them because she does like to go through them. A well-written note, she argued, communicates how the recipient was a blessing to the life of the person sending a note. And it is sometimes nice, even I can’t argue this, to be reminded of what you have meant to people in the course of your life. It’s like attending your own funeral and hearing all of the nice things people have to say to and about you. I’d be suspicious of the person who had no interest in hearing that, because it is comforting to have evidence that we’ve brought worth and goodness into the world, and I suppose a collection of thank you notes is a reminder of that.
I guess the final word is that if in doubt about whether a thank you note is in order, go ahead and send one. And make sure it’s personal, because if you’re just going to dash your name on a bit of embossed paper, you’re just adding to someone’s recycling bin. But personally, if you ever find yourself wanting to send a thank you note to ME, feel free to stick with email–I never delete anything. I won’t be offended if you want to save your hand. And I would definitely rather have you spend the time you would spend working to pay for that card and postage telling me just how awesome I am, because that’s the bit that lasts. : )
Typing is hard this week, which is just great, because I type for a living. I can’t whine too much, of course, because the reason for the difficulty is my own stupidity. On Monday, I acquired a finger avulsion, which is a fancy-schmancy way of saying that in my dumbassery, I lopped off the tip of my finger by not using the safety guard for my mandoline slicer that was LITERALLY on top of the damn thing when I took it out of the box.
Don’t cook distracted, people. Extremities may be lost.
Being the daughter of a man who has avulsed (avulated? avulted? avunculared?) most of his fingertips multiple times, my initial response was, “Eh, it’s fine. Just give me some paper towels and some duct tape.”
Note 1: That may have come a minute or two after the excessive hopping and “Ow, ow, ow, ow”-ing around the kitchen.
Note 2: The duct tape may have been covered in Hello Kitty faces.
I did have to do some contortionist lying down with my feet up and my hand above my head, but it wasn’t because I was losing tons of blood. I just don’t bleed well. Seriously I’m on the Red Cross “Don’t let this gal donate because she’ll crumple at the snack table EVERY TIME” list. It’s embarrassing, but I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I recognize the “on my way to blacking out” feeling well enough in advance of blacking out that I can do what I need to do.
John’s poor dad was here helping John take out a stump, though, and he’s a much nicer person than his son. John knows me, so his reaction to my laying down dramatically in the living room while bleeding is to wait and see if I tell him I need anything. John’s dad, on the other hand, was sweetness itself, though I felt bad at just how alarmed for me he was.
As it turns out, his suggestions that we go to the doctor was the correct one. Even though I had iced the finger, applied pressure for several hours, and swapped the paper towels for gauze from our spiffy first aid kit (given to us by John’s sister, incidentally, in what I would call prophetic if I didn’t have a propensity for self-injury on a stupid scale), the bleeding wouldn’t quite let up. When I woke up in the morning, the gauze was soaked through.
The best first aid instructor I ever had told the class that even bleeding a little will kill you if it goes on long enough, so I decided that 18 hours of minor bleeding was cause to let a pro take a stab (ow, bad metaphor) at bandaging me up. It hurt and they made me update my Tdap, but it was totally worth it, bot only because they used their sci-fi-like “gel-impregnated foam” (doctor’s exact words, I kid you not) to stop the bleeding, but because of this:
Do you see that, knitters? That happy little gauze bandage marching up and down my finger is knit. Proof positive that knitting save lives. Or fingers. Or at least dry cleaning bills…
I have an alternate identity. She’s not a secret, exactly, but not many people get to know her. Most Tuesday evenings for the last few months, however, I have picked up my dice to turn into a roving ninja monk who has skillz with a quarterstaff and very little patience with nonsense.
My traveling companions, a half-elf druid and a barbarian warrior, have once or twice talked me into some nonsense they call “mercy.” After battling fiercely for our lives, when we have finally beaten a foe into mewling submission, they hear the pleas of our enemies and ask, ever so reasonably, “Do we really need to kill them?”
Now, I’d like to think that in real life I’d be reasonable and merciful, but the truth is that in my experience, games, no matter how complex, tend to break down into a fairly reliable dichotomy: good guys are good and bad guys are bad. Sometimes the guys you think to be good turn out to be sneaky bad guys, but it’s pretty rare that you find a sneaky good guy pretending to be bad out in the field, so I ask you: is it so unreasonable to slaughter those who have tried to kill you in a game and loot their corpses?
I don’t think so. In fact, having seen our “mercy” in action, I wouldn’t be surprised if our foes preferred not to receive it. One recipient we left trussed and dangling from the edge of a cliff. The other, potentially valuable for her academic skills, we smothered in iron and dragged, half-conscious, through a wide variety of battles where she was essentially defenseless. When she inevitably escaped from us, she fell to a gory death, being unable to spring nimbly over a vicious trap between herself and freedom.
Now, in game, mind you, I find “mercy” to have some pragmatic use. Dead men tell no tales, after all, so there is some potential utility in leaving alive one or two of the villains responsible for the sacking of a town I care about. In real life, however, I’m finding that my tolerance of mercy is nearly as ruthless.
Lyra found a mouse this morning, under my favorite chair. It caught my attention with its terrified squeaks and I hollered for John. I expected him to ride to my rescue and destroy the foul little disease monger, but instead, he cooed and aww’d and protested fiercely when I demanded, in no uncertain terms, that he expose the tiny rodent on the rocks, so to speak. He, the fearless layer of traps and disposer or corpses when we lived in the city…he, the battler against the hordes of mouse feces we’ve found in our walls…he was worried the little creep would die if left outside to fend for itself.
Now, to be fair, the mouse was a baby and barely had its eyes open. It moved with the fumbling awkwardness of a half-developed nervous system. We have also recently taken to letting the cats spend their days outside. His chances in the great outdoors are not particularly promising.
Any and all sway John’s argument may have had with me went out the screened door with a fury, however, when the SECOND tiny mouse made its stumbling way out from beneath my favorite chair. I don’t care how cute and innocent they may seem–if they’re old enough to be venturing away from mama mouse, they’re old enough to be spreading disease and getting into my pantry, which means they are old enough to take their chances outside, even if there is a snake living under the garden shed.
In other news: John is starting a mouse farm and I would recommend investing in humane trap stocks.
Update: I am a bad internet citizen. Dan’s response has been up four whole days. It’s great, and you should read it.
Someday, when I’m rich and famous and have a shelf full of Hugo Awards, the correspondence between me and my friend Dan Bensen (who I will no doubt be in cheerful competition with to see who can collect the most Hugos) will be the stuff of legend. We’ve known each for what will by then have been a hell of a long time (right now neither of us is old enough to have know anyone more than a heck of a long time) and with the exception of two years of middle school during which our friendship consisted largely of hollering at each other about writing, FSF, and Big Ideas, 95% of our friendship has consisted of emails about writing, FSF, and Big Ideas.
We’ve been trying to connect to do a podcast for his blog, which will be a fun listen if we can ever coordinate schedules between Maine and Bulgaria, but in the meantime, I offer you a lightly edited email [annotations for clarity in brackets because I’m too lazy to write a real post on these ideas right now] I sent to him earlier this week.
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl thing [responding to this article by Laurie Penny, which is what the entire email was about, so you should probably consider reading it] has been on my mind because I do and I don’t see where she [Penny] is coming from in some nuanced ways I’m still trying to mentally articulate for myself. It definitely has some relevant points for Autumn’s Daughter [my first book, which is still in private beta] that I struggle with. For example: when all is said and done, Niamh is pretty and Lance has always been able to see it–what kind of message does that send? But at the same time, part of the pleasure of writing fantasy is the ability to indulge in wish fulfillment, and I can’t avoid the deeply ingrained desire to be attractive even though I hate that there are these standards for what we feel we need to look like in order to think ourselves worthy. I suspect that men deal with the same problem too, but it rarely receives any focus, probably because it’s more widely acceptable for men to be less than Hollywood stunning if their skills/brain make up for it.
I’m babbling a bit trying to get at the idea, sorry.
I do agree with the MPDG article that (a) stories matter, (b) percentage-wise, there’s a paucity of great heroines for girls to take as a model for their self image (by which I mean that there are quite a few good heroines, but if you randomly pick up a book off a shelf, the odds are much higher that the hero will be a man).
My agreement with her breaks down on the specifics of what an MPDG looks like, where we see them, and how those defining characteristics relate to strength of character. She attacks Doctor Who, for example, and while I would LOVE to see a female doctor (which the show hints is a possible thing from time to time), I think that the reboot companions (unlike a lot of the original companions) are heroes in their own right. [I could give you 10,000 words on feminism in DW alone, so I'll save the detailed why for another article.] Rotating, to be sure, but they have their own distinct reasons for their patterns of decision-making (which makes them more than a collection of quirks), and if they do happen to crush on the doctor, well…he’s the complete package of looks, massive brains, and kind intentions, so who could blame them?
I can’t speak to a lot of the pop examples Penny was writing about, but I was half-watching New Girl while I was doing the dishes, and one of the moments clarified some of what was bothering me about this article. Jess (played by Zooey Deschanel and, at a glance, easily mistaken for an MPDG herself) [That's also another article altogether, and I will go there if you troll the comments telling me she's an MPDG.] is telling off the girlfriend of one of her roommates who has been nasty to her because of her apparent MPDGness and Jess says this: “I brake for birds. I rock a lot of polka dots. I have touched glitter in the last 24 hours. I spend my entire day talking to children. And I find it fundamentally strange that you’re not a dessert person. It freaks me out. I’m sorry that I don’t talk like Murphy Brown. And I hate your pants suit. I wish it had ribbons on it or something just to make it slightly cuter, but that doesn’t mean I’m not smart and tough and strong.”
The author of the MPDG article says that she stops being quirky around men in order to avoid giving them the wrong impression, and while I’m glad she’s found the spine to stand up for her own work, I think it’s ridiculous to imply that the solution all women should embrace in order to be taken seriously is to stop being girly if they enjoy it. Girly doesn’t and shouldn’t automatically mean childish, stupid, or weak. Widening our understanding of strength and intelligence to allow whimsy, optimism, and a love of beauty to strengthen them is a critical part of achieving a healthier balance between gender roles. Women will never be respected as equal members of society as long as they insist on hating themselves for liking feminine things or other women who choose roles that women have traditionally filled, and it sounds like, in spite of her continued adherence to the ukulele, the author hasn’t figured that out.
The other, and perhaps more serious, problem with her statement about changing her behavior to avoid giving men the wrong impression is that it implies that the nature of a woman’s existence is responsible for the behavior of men. That sounds spine-shudderingly like “I couldn’t help myself. Did you see the way she was dressed? She was asking for it.” (This is another sort of thing that women do but SHOULD NEVER say about each other.) Men are responsible for their own thoughts and behaviors, and who the hell cares what men think? If a man treats you like you exist only to be his dream girl, you kick him to the carpet and move on. If she stopped being a pixie because her only reason for being a pixie was to appeal to men, then good for her for finally being herself. But if she’s denying herself access to behaviors that she enjoys simply to change the way men react to her, it’s almost as bad as the reverse. [Dan had some good points about thinking of ethical decision making in terms of game theory on this facet, so definitely keep an eye out for that on his blog.]
This statement also bothers me: “Men write women, and they re-write us, for revenge.” I sometimes do that to men too. [Again, in response to a point Dan made, I should probably point out that I destroy most of that revenge writing because it's not any good.] Again, wish fulfillment is a perq of being a writer. It’s also indicative of a broader underlying premise in her article, which is that stories written from male perspectives are no longer relevant. Men piss me off plenty because of the undercurrents of their language and behavior that shout “I don’t respect women half as much as I want you to think I do,” but it doesn’t make their perspectives automatically null and void. She complains about the female character in Elizabethtown as being an MPDG, and though she’s right, that story isn’t ABOUT the girl. It’s about a guy coming to terms with his failure in business and his father’s death–the girl is a bit of a flat person because she’s primarily a dramatic foil for the main character’s man vs. self struggles. Not to put the film on the level with the classics, but I think I could make a compelling argument that Rhett Butter and William Darcy fulfill similar “more foil than person” roles in their respective texts.
Finally, Penny starts out talking about books, but her examples come primarily from films and t.v., and while I am shameless about my own consumption of television (partly for company while knitting, partly because I learn a lot about different modes of storytelling), I would argue that one of the primary differences between books and movies is the ability to create a truly complex and round character. The reason I say this is that books give you much more freedom to step into a character’s mind, which is where you find that 5th dimension that makes a character seem to live and breathe (Oh! on that note: Corey Doctorow’s article “Where Characters Come From” is great if you haven’t read it).
It’s not impossible to get at the mental processes of a character in t.v. or movies, but it is harder and often neglected. For example: The Hunger Games is told from Katniss’s perspective and the books are all about these subtle thoughts and observations that the movie either externalizes (i.e., shows, but doesn’t note that Katniss notices it or why) or drops. As a result, the Katniss of the movie was flat, not particularly likable, and possessing of a mere fraction of the moral fiber she had in the book. The point: medium matters, and when we’re talking books, I can’t think of a single non-human MPDG off the top of my head.
Anyway…now that I’ve spent an hour grumbling about a meandering and verbose blog article in a meandering and verbose fashion…I should probably do some work or some real writing…
You’ll have to keep an eye on Dan’s blog for his response, which is likely to include such gems as “Fortunately, I can’t just plug my computer into my crotch and write ‘Burly Space Pirates Plunder the Planet Venusian Vixens Yet Again’ because of that damn civilization thing.” and “But the elephant in the room here is that (sorry) men are sexually attracted to any vaguely woman-shaped animal, mineral, or vegetable.”
Fair warning: I’m feeling a little stabby about “professional” writers at the moment. The language of this post is a mite stronger than usual. Uncensored honesty, and such.
I have more experience as a semi-professional editor than as a paid writer. What I do for work now involves a fair amount of editing work–probably at least as much as it involves writing copy. In college, I interned as an editor’s assistant, served on the editorial board of the school paper, did copyediting for the academic journal, and ran the student literary magazine. In short: I’ve been on both sides of the manuscript, and I promise you, if you love the starving artist mystique and don’t actually want to make a living from your pen, there are three easy things you can do to send your editor into a bloody rage spiral.
1. Miss Deadlines. Repeatedly.
One missed deadline, dying parent, sick kid–it happens. Fine. Two missed deadlines…well, you’ve got a drama-filled life, maybe we’ll try to cut you a break. Three missed deadlines in a row? You’re an inconsiderate asshole. Do you think your piece of writing flutters from your email directly to the printer? Do you think photos done’t need to be sourced, layout doesn’t need to be managed, or that the abundance of typos you created by vomiting out your piece in a last-minute felthesh of desperation are destined to be paradigm changers for the world of literature? When your work is late, you either force nice people into working late and missing time with their sick kids and dying parents or you lower the quality of the publication you’re working for, and by god, if you have an editor who will stand for it, you should fall to your knees and thank the muses who are looking out for your unprofessional self.
2. Ignore Word Count. Astronomically.
If you work for a print publication, you’ve had this lecture. More words means more money for the print job, and that is not going to fly with the publisher, even if you do have the kindest of editors, one who looks upon your egotistical rambling with motherly affection. In the information age, text is cheap, and you probably take that as licence to babble on and on. You might think that the low, low cost of being able to say as much as you want automatically negates the age-old saw that being forced to shorten your work improves your writing. You might think the cheapness of online text means that readers will put up with endless, badly written drivel. Your editor, if you’re working for a respectable publication, has no such illusions. Lengthy text will either force your editor to spend hours doing the thoughtful editing you, dear writer, should have done in the first place, or it will force your editor to bury your not-as-lyrical-as-you-think meandering as the self-indulgent pile of elephant feces it is.
3. Reject Revisions. Gracelessly.
Now I am enough a writer to know that when you’ve opened your veins onto a page, having someone suggest that you might need to bleach out a few of those bloodstains makes you a bit light-headed. Nauseous, even. But the truth is that you don’t end up as an editor if you have a dead ear for language, and, in fact, the very nature of editing means that editors are getting their hands dirty with bleedings of a much wider variety than writers tend to. Editors hear all the time, “I think I know how my blood ought to splatter a lot better than you ever could. Editors are just failed writers, so how right could you possibly be?” What you’re ignoring, to your peril, is that editors have something you can’t have: perspective. They also don’t spend their entire working lives with their heads up their own rumps, as writers, by the very nature of the work, sometimes must. So yes, go ahead and call your editor a burned out, washed up, talentless hack for the sake of preserving the first draft sanctity of your blood-soaked rags. You don’t need publication or a paycheck to validate how much of a literary giant you are, right?