Category Archives: Meditations

Why I’m a Feminist

(I wrote this back at the beginning of the year.  I was waiting to post it until I’d written its Feminism & Fairy Tales follow-up post but haven’t been able to get to it, for health reasons.  We’ll see if I pull it off later.  Meanwhile, I should actually post this before the year’s up….)

So, the topic came up and so I decided to write it all out, as that’s easier for me than trying to come up with sound-byte style pithy spoken statements to address all the concerns about feminism, what it is, and whether or not feminists are manhaters.

The short answer is no, feminists as a whole haven’t hated men (they’re evil, don’t marry them, don’t sleep with them, etc.) since the feminist wave in the 60s, but you have to remember what the 60s feminists were reacting to and pushing up against.  But I’m not going to go into the history of feminism and feminists here.  The only thing I can really speak to are my own experiences.  So.  The shorter answer is no, I don’t hate men.

Now for the longer answer: how I became a feminist.

Stage 1: “I believe in the power of women but I’m not a feminist.”

I grew up really privileged to have a father who is kind, thoughtful, reflective, humble–but also compassionate, patient, intuitive, and empathetic.  Even though the chores around the house and yard were mostly split along traditional gender-role lines, my father not only embodies a lot of personality traits that society has delegated to women, but he was always open to watching things like chick flicks, reading the female-led books I practically shoved in his hands growing up, and whenever I expressed opinions about the world he listened and responded to me as an equal.  I also saw how my mom was allowed to pursue her goals, to become a professional on her own terms and timing.

I thought the whole world must be like this.  And, if the whole world is like this, where traditionally feminine things are given equal value to traditional male ones, then the world clearly had no need for Feminism and Feminists.  One of the things I have always disliked is when people complain about their blessings, or complain just to complain, irregardless of whether or not the thing actually needs improvement, and that’s what I thought feminists did.

That’s not to say that the world I actually lived in was perfect.  But it does mean that I ignored all the imperfections, just “letting boys be boys” or “men be men,” because it was easier to deal with a lot of the ways I was treated or the misogynist things I experienced by not dealing with them or confronting them at all.  Plus, I was told over and over that feminists are only really adamant about things like “equal pay for equal work,” but I didn’t know anyone who’d ever earned less than a man. But more on this later.

Stage 2: Too many dramatic, eye-opening experiences.

This attitude of mine continued for many years, even through many unpleasant experiences, until finally in 2009-2010 I reached saturation point.  I finally had enough.  I could no longer deny my own experiences and observations.

In 2009 I started living and volunteering in Armenia.  Now, Armenia is a place where bride-kidnapping is an accepted cultural norm, (though not necessarily a wanted one).  To demonstrate, let me give you a few slices of life.

-From my first week or so there, I got to deal with an insistent man/stalker trying to follow us home. Luckily I’m tall and can be very intimidating, but it was the first in a long series of varied incidents over the year+ I lived there.  Leering drunks, stalkers, unwanted propositions and proposals, kidnapping threats, harassment at home, etc., etc.  And I had it so much easier than most of the other female volunteers because I’m tall, curve-less, not super blonde, and I cut my hair boyishly short.

-The words we heard used for “kidnap” and the word for “elope” are the same word in Armenian.  The excuse I heard was that getting married requires an “expensive” license, though I never found out how much it actually costed and whether or not it was expensive because it wasn’t free.

But this concept of kidnapping and eloping meaning the same thing meant that once, when we’d heard a girl had had this done to her, we had to track her down to figure out whether or not it was voluntary–it was.  She felt that it was her only way to get married, and so she took being kidnapped as a compliment.

But I remember clearly the day I innocently asked a young mother at a dinner I’d been invited to how she and her husband had met/married, and she told me the story point-blank that “He asked me to marry him, I said ‘no,’ he asked me again, I said ‘no,’ so he kidnapped me.” And since once you were married you become touched, spoiled goods culturally and can never marry again, she’d resigned herself to it like so many women before her.

To add to this underlying horror, I met a man who bragged about the women he’d chloroformed and helped kidnap for his friends.  And on television, soap operas often portrayed women being kidnapped–but with the happy ending of being rescued by their fathers and brothers.

However, the woman I know of who was rescued by her father from kidnapping is now culturally shunned because even though she wasn’t raped yet no one would believe her word on that.

-Changing to a less dramatic example, in Armenia women are not allowed/encouraged to drive.  Female drivers are… extremely extremely rare.  And few women sit up front/ride shotgun.

-Extended families often live together, and these dynamics can be… really eye-opening, as well.  Daughters-in-law are the lowest in rank and treated like servants doing the housework for everyone while the matron sits back, her reward for doing her duty to her own mother-in-law when she was young. The men laze about as well, going off to drink and play games with their friends, minus the single father-figure who provides for the family.  However, it wasn’t just the work-sharing dynamics that felt off.  We also encountered too many men who beat their women, including sons beating their mothers–I even knew young, five year old sons beating on their mothers who were allowed to get away with it, as if it were “expected.”

This isn’t to say that everyone in Armenia was like this, because they’re not.  I met good men in Armenia and good women and functioning families with tender relationships.  I mean no disrespect towards these good men and women living like candles in a much darker world, nor to all the families who live surrounded by these things and are strong enough not to participate in them.

But my point here is that I was also exposed to a lot of extreme, dramatic examples of this dysfunctional relationship between men and women on a cultural whole, and I can’t deny that.

(And you know what? It doesn’t matter that the people who made me hit my saturation point and opened my eyes were Armenian.  There are sectors of every culture and society where the disparity is frankly rather obvious.)

Stage 3: Once I saw and acknowledged the dramatic examples, I began to see the subtle.

After living surrounded by men not respecting women in dramatic, rotten ways, my whole perspective changed.  I began to pick up on the subtler trends I’d encountered all my life that I’d previously ignored.  For example,

-how I learned quickly in elementary school that boys would flip my skirt to see my underwear unless I wore shorts beneath.

-anything girly or feminine was “stupid” or “boring” or “silly” unless a boy liked it too (pink was only cool because Michael proudly/defiantly loved hot pink)

-I began to hide my love of ballet and instead talk more of jazz and tap to my friends.

-I eventually gave up skirts and became a rough-housing tomboy because those aspects of myself were far more acceptable than my more feminine half.

-I loved and could identify with books/films with male protagonists but none of my guy friends ever gave girl-led books the time of day, and though this made me feel sad and often lonely, I dismissed the feeling every time: they were boys, they didn’t have to like the stuff I liked, even if I liked their stuff.

-Once I hit high school and started working at Sears, I was often sexually harassed.  My body and its sexiness–or lack thereof–was often put on display, talked about, and ridiculed by my coworkers and the store’s patrons, both male and female.   Then, whenever I worked in the hardware section, I dealt with customers often disrespecting my knowledge of the tools we sold, where they were, what they did, what they were called.  These things hurt me, but I dismissed them all as “expected.”

-Then I hit college and that opened a whole new can of worms.  The most awful was how when I would tell people “no” or “stop” they wouldn’t.  My no’s meant nothing.  “No that hurts me” became a phrase to laugh at or mock or dismiss, not take seriously. I realized I was just a body, a receptacle, an object, a bystander.   My feelings and wants meant less than a man’s, no matter the situation–I won’t go into them here.  You will just have to take my word for it.  Can you?

-I counted and realized that 10+ of my female friends had been raped by people they knew, including family members.  I counted the number up several years ago, and since then I’ve met more.

-While in college I had fellow students (both men and women) tell me that 1) women are terrible writers they should stop writing books, 2) women could never learn to be fluent in another language they should just stop trying so hard, 3) women aren’t as smart as men.  And yes, THIS IS THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY.  I also had a professor mock women who make money off their hobbies as part of our class discussion, to enthusiastic agreement, specifically mocking mothers who write books while raising children.  I stood up to him and called him out on it, and he later ended up hiring me, but still.  Too many incidents.

-My grandpa often tried to correct my driving.  Not in the “oops you made a mistake” way but in the “you can’t possibly know how to drive well, you’re a young woman, so I’d better tell you everything you need to do” way.

-All the anti-woman jokes.  As an example, an uncle once made a “let’s us men sit in the front and keep women in their backseat place” joke that I let him know was not funny.  Y’know, considering all the men I’d encountered who fully believe that, not just 50% believe it.  Because if no part of him believed it, the joke never would have occurred to him.

-All the times I’ve participated in a discussion and my opinions are dismissed (by a man), and then the only topic they want to know about/from me is whether or not I have a boyfriend.

-All the entertainment about women we take for granted and that persists in popularity.  Like Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing that was turned into a popular Joss Whedon movie in 2012.  Watch that, but picture every dynamic about the female leads being real, because it was, and still in the world that is.

-I got a bunch of 1950s comedies for us to watch when I was taking care of Grandma.  1950s are supposed to be the golden age of clean, wholesome entertainment.  But what I saw instead, with all these experiences behind me, was the stand-up comedian joking non-stop about inane women and women’s work and women’s lives; the comedy duo arguing about who gets the gorgeous, personality-less girl who cleans up after them, makes them food, cleans their clothes, and does their housework; Annie Get Your Gun that changed history to an ending where she gives up her career so that a man doesn’t have to compare himself to her anymore.  Needless to say we only watched a few before I had to put it all away for both our sakes.

So, What is Feminism?

Feminism is not about man-hating.  It’s recognizing the trend that on the whole, women are still treated like they’re a step beneath men, that feminine is valued less than masculine, that a woman’s word is valued less than a man’s, that women are still objectified, that women’s voices and stories are given less representation, and so on.

As an example of women being treated as less than men, think of the disparity between women reading books and watching films with lead male protagonists written by male writers vs. men reading books and films by women with female protagonists.  Why is there a disparity?  How are male characters seen as universal or a default but female characters are seen as specific and niche or deliberate?  Why do boys see “girly” stories as “beneath them” or uninteresting?  We’re just as interesting and just as human as boys.  But the inequality is at the subconscious, cultural level.

As an example of how culturally “feminine” things are seen as a taint to be avoided at all costs, look at the trend of naming.  When girls are given boys names it feels like a step up, like they have something to prove to those above, that they’re being edgy and cool.  But then once that “boy” name is given to a girl, it can’t be used for a boy anymore.  It’s tainted, it’s girly and gross and the boy will be mocked forevermore if he’s given a girl name.   This is proof that women are treated like something less.  If women were valued and honored, then having a girl’s name would be a blessing for a boy, not a curse.  It would be cool and edgy and unique, too.

As an example of how culturally women’s word is valued less than a man’s, look at the story of Cassandra–the prophetess who spoke the truth but wasn’t believed–versus the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, the boy who lied again and again but was continually believed despite proof from the beginning he was a liar.  These two stories keep replaying themselves in life.  I keep encountering stories in the news about women who are raped but how their rapist is given the benefit of the doubt, not them.  She isn’t believed, and if she was drunk then she was “inviting” it.  Being devalued is just expected.  A man’s reputation is by default protected over the woman’s.

As an example of how women are objectified culturally, let’s take a brief look at how we teach modesty in conservative communities.  We’re taught that women need to cover up to protect men from seeing things that might give them lusty thoughts.  In other words, it’s the woman’s job to protect a man from himself, and that whatever she’s wearing is at fault, that a piece of clothing or lack thereof is a provocation.  But arousal is more complicated than that.  Sight-based arousal is as much about what you’re used to seeing as what you’re not used to seeing, so what arouses a man will vary from community to community and from man to man, thereby making it impossible for a woman to protect all men from themselves.   I’ve also learned that wearing “too much” clothing is as “provoking” as wearing too little, to further add to the impossible job of man-protecting.   I’ve been propositioned, cat-called and wolf-whistled and shouted advice at in all kinds of clothes and situations and cultures.  But the point is, it all comes down to being taught that my body is not my own but belongs to the eyes of the beholder, specifically to male eyes.  And people wonder why there is such a huge problem with pornography addictions in conservative communities…. Mental boundaries are not taught about anything except respecting the bodies of your sister, your mother, your daughter.  (And even then….)

As an example of how women’s voices are given less representation culturally, I’ll briefly mention the 70/30 principle.  The principle states that when we “feel that women and men are given equal representation, that in fact it’s not a 50/50 split but a 70 male/30 female percentage split, and when it’s actually a 50/50 split then we feel like women are dominating or taking everything over.”  Andrea K. Höst recently counted up all the male and female characters in a book she wrote that she thought she’d skewed to lean female as an experiment.  You can see the interesting results here.  Related to that, the Washington Post just published an article studying male/female ratios of dialogue and dialogue content in Disney princess movies.  The results might surprise you.

Though I’m trying to stay away from statistics, since numbers can be easily gathered then twisted to say whatever you want them to, I think both of these links provide good examples of the trend.  One prominent female character generally “needs” to be balanced out by a lot of men in order for us to feel comfortable.

thedatingfeminist said on Tumblr: “Feminism didn’t teach me to hate men, but it did teach me to stop prioritizing them over women. And it turns out a lot of men think that’s the same thing as hatred.”

Why is Feminism important for everyone, not just women?

Assigning traits like compassion and intuition, colors like pink and purple, occupations like child-carer, careers like fashion or elementary school teacher, and interests like self-care and health to women and then simultaneously valuing them as “less” hurts and limits everyone.   It puts people in boxes and devalues anyone, male or female, who is compassionate, who likes pink, who stays at home to raise kids, who wants to teach children, who is interested in living healthily, and so on. It also builds resentment and adds to the burden, if your partner simultaneously devalues housework as “women’s work” and also as “too hard” and “not my problem.”

I have heard young men complain over and over again about women being “too hard to understand”or “too hard to date” who don’t read books written by women with female protagonists.  I can promise you that once you start seeing women as people, with stories of equal value and interest, the quality of your relationships with women will go up.

I have also heard lots of men complain about women’s tendency to be passive aggressive.  But…they rarely ever stop to think how women, as a whole, got that way.  If nothing you say is listened to, believed, or matters, then you’ll find ways to express yourself in a backhanded, backwards, upside-down manner.  If all the women in your life can’t speak to you directly, then maybe you should ask yourself if you’re the problem.  Trust me,  I hate it when I’m blocked into being passive aggressive about my thoughts and wishes, too.

There’s another angle to passive aggressive-ness that I should mention, and that is that women are often forced to use it as a defense mechanism.  Women can find themselves stuck in situations where denying a man can either lead to a dangerous repercussion (such as being kidnapped or killed) or on the more day-to-day level, disagreeing with a man can lead to his rage, offense, or hurt.  He may see it as his authority being questioned, his opinion being set down, his self-esteem belittled because this woman-creature beneath him dared to disagree or hold her own inconvenient opinion as his equal.   When you have to protect someone else’s ego in order to survive from day-to-day, it’s really hard to consistently say what you think to whoever holds the power.

As for how feminism is needed in religious communities, think about the traits you say are “divinely delegated to women” and which are “divinely delegated to men” and then ask yourself if your very masculine, father-figure God is kind, merciful, compassionate, nurturing, loving, intuitive, empathetic, and emotional.  If you’re a man who believes that you’re incapable of nurturing–or that it’s somehow beneath you–because that trait wasn’t given to you but to women then think again.  Please.  For all our sake.  (You will note that even though women are taught that we are emotional nurturers from birth, that we still often seek to develop stereotypically/”divine” masculine traits like courage, strength, foresight, intelligence, knowledge, wisdom, leadership, stoicism, fortitude).

And last but not least, to the men in my life who are compassionate, intuitive, patient, understanding, thoughtful and considerate but find themselves walked over, made fun of, or verbally and emotionally abused by women or men for possessing these “weaker” aka “feminine” traits, then feminism is definitely for you.  Because, at its core, it is about respecting all of human nature, and finding value in all of its goodness.

The Political and Corporate Side to Feminism.

Feminism is an ethical and social-consciousness battle rather than a political battle, first and foremost.   So I’m not going to spend very much time on corporate or political topics such as equal pay or equal work and the legislative battles there.  However, I should say that, due to the efforts of feminists, laws allowing women’s right to vote and laws against domestic abuse exist.  Legally, the definition of rape and sexual abuse didn’t include abuse within marriage until the 70s/80s.  It was not legally possibly in the United States to sexually abuse someone if you were married to them, before.

I think it’s easy to get caught up in arguments about whether or not women are paid less or whether or not companies pass over women when hiring, and use those arguments to oversimplify and then dismiss everything feminism is asking for.  But you should always remember: if someone tells you about their own personal experiences, you should give them the benefit of the doubt and listen to them.  Being skeptical and wanting to wait for more evidence is allowed, but never dismiss someone’s experiences out of hand.

All this is to say —

Feminism is about seeing the trends of inequality between men and women and about how this trend hurts all of us, both men and women.  It’s not about subjugating or hating on men.  Observing and pointing out trends is not hatred.  Asking to be treated with respect and equal value is not suppression of male voices.  (Though I do agree with the insight that the men who are afraid of being oppressed or losing their current male privileges and unquestioned voice are generally afraid of being treated like women already are).

An Apology to my Friends.

I want to formally apologize to my girl-friends who tried to convince me of the need for feminism before I finally hit saturation point for myself.  There was a lot I didn’t see because of my home-life, and a lot I didn’t see because I didn’t want to.  I also want to apologize to my friends who confided in me how little their husbands respect their opinions/words/experiences and how I blew you off, too, choosing to take your husband’s side automatically and instinctively.  I still cringe whenever I think about how I treated you.  I didn’t think.  I’m sorry.

Next up: Feminism and Fairy Tales.

(I delayed posting this because I wanted to write a follow-up blog entry about feminist expression within fairy tales, but this year has been hard health-wise so I’m not sure when/if it will get done.)


Where are the asexual protagonists?

It’s Valentine’s Day when I’m starting this post, for context.  I’ve always had mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day.  On the one hand, fun candy and cupcakes and valentines when you’re in elementary school.  On the other hand…. Actually, let’s not discuss the other hand.  Instead, I’m going to talk a bit about love and sex and characters in stories.  So, fasten your seat belts.

Growing up as a teenager in a conservative culture, I was greatly bothered by all the adults telling me a series of things about love and sex, but most of them boiled down to:

When you’re a child, you’re only capable of puppy love.  Look how cute that is.  But once you hit puberty, then you start being capable of “real love” and so you should watch out and take care whom you date, whom you get attached to, how fast you let things progress, &c. &c.

The belief I encountered over and over was that a) children are not capable of “real” aka romantic love, and b) puberty aka “increased sex drive” is when love actually starts being possible.

I knew this was messed up at the time.  After all, my friends were more than capable of developing “crushes”, no matter that we were five, ten, or fifteen.  Sure, the feelings of the fifteen year olds were probably rated on a more intense scale than the five year olds, but the drama level wasn’t all that different between the age groups, nor was the complete sincerity of the moment.  To have the adults tell me over and over again that what we felt wasn’t “real” and that only when we were adults like them would real affection be possible was insulting, condescending, and seemed to me to be very short-sighted.  Had the adults all forgotten what it was to be young? Or were they just in some form of extreme denial?  Did they honestly think that children and adults were separate creatures? I wondered. Probably.

But today, as I was considering all the stories I sought but couldn’t find as a teenager, it hit me that it’s much, much worse than that.  The adults telling me that love only starts at puberty sincerely believed, at a subconscious level, that “real” love and sex are equated, inseparable, and…ugh. Ughgghghghg.

Take a look at this horrifying sentence: if you love me, then prove it by having sex with me.

Love, you see, only happens, at worst, when sex is involved, at best, when an activated sex drive is involved.

That’s messed up. Messed. Up.  Messed up. Messed up. Messed up.

This is me being squicked out.  But now we know where that creepy “request” snuck into our world from.

~~~

So, how does this relate to my request for more asexual and/or aromantic protagonists.

((Sidenote: For those of you unfamiliar with the terms asexual or aromantic, you might be more familiar with the other most-often quoted labels tossed around when discussing sexuality: LGBTQ – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer.  Asexual is often added to the list as a label for those who are not attracted to anyone or anything on a sexual level, ever.  Though it’s also broadened occasionally to a spectrum of people who are simply disinterested in sexual relationships–for now or for all time, that doesn’t matter and doesn’t need disputing.  Aromantics, on the other hand, are those who rarely–if ever–experience romantic attraction.  For this discussion, I’m not going to stick within any rigid labeling systems or go into a debate on who is allowed to be called what but instead open up the spectrum of possibility. ))

When I was a teenager, the storyline I wanted most to read involved a female protagonist who was disinterested in romance or sex.  I wanted to see someone more like me who was more interested in doing her own thing, creating, exploring, having adventures, or saving the world (without squeezing a love triangle in). Oh yes, and developing lots of friendships with all sorts of cool, interesting people.

See, I loved reading, but the problem with reading a lot of books when all of them decide that teenagers are hotblooded young things is that my reading experience all felt the same, uniform, and so it all felt both unrealistic and, frankly, like an overdose.  Sure, I had hotblooded young thing friends who jumped from love to love, who got into indecisive or shy love triangles, who had secret crushes that then spilled over into tentative dating, who kissed passionately and lived on the wild edge of desire, or felt the need to find a partner to “complete” them at seventeen.  But were all of my friends like that?  No.  Were they like that all the time? No.  So, reading began to feel like eating a steady diet of chocolate.  Sure, there were different flavors of chocolate: milky and light, dark and lush, adventurous and spicy, waxy and fake, drinkable or eatable.  But what I really wanted, what I really craved was something–anything else.  Vanilla, maybe.  Strawberry, cherry’s jubilee, mango delight.  Something that felt closer to home, for once.  Something that expanded possibilities.

Something that also didn’t do the bait and switch of “she’s disinterested in dating guys–but only because she’s lesbian! woohoo!”  Nothing against lesbians, but when I was hoping  to finally get an aro/ace storyline, it’d jerk my chain. x.x

Sure, you can read books by men, they often don’t write romance, you might say.  But think again.  Most of the time when I’ve read a story without any romance at all written by a guy it’s when the cast is all male.  And if you add a female, suddenly her one goal in life is to pair up with someone.  And, um, those aren’t really very satisfying underlying assumptions.

Here, let’s change tacks.  This might demonstrate better.

Imagine Harry Potter where Harry, Hermione, and Ron don’t fall in love with each other but instead treat each other like lifelong friends and might-as-well-be siblings.  Funnily enough, just like the actors became.  Emma Watson said it felt weird kissing the other actors because it felt like kissing her brothers.  No kidding.

Imagine Legend of Korra where instead of putting together a hasty bisexual/romantic ending that implies that one way or another romance is always needed for a happy ever after, the gang is allowed to end with: making the world a better place and friendship is enough.

Imagine Star Wars where the “two guys & a girl” scenario doesn’t end up in her falling for one or the other–or both–of them.  I don’t know.  If Earth blew up, I think I’d be too busy grieving and fighting back to be flirting, and if some scoundrel tried to get handsy I’d tell him to grow a heart, but hey that’s just me.  ((And yes, I know there’s a whole chunk of the Internet who really wants Finn at the center of this new triangle, but to them I say: whyyyyyyyy does it always have to be about romance whyyyyy. *whine* ))

Imagine a Frozen that doesn’t feel obligated to end with a kiss, thereby uprooting the point of the whole story up till that moment.

Imagine an Agent Carter that is less about how many men hate her or fall in love with her or want up her skirt and more about her awesome platonic friendship and dynamic with Jarvis.

Actually, let’s just imagine for a moment a world in which spending time with someone (of any gender) doesn’t become a contractual obligation that you have to consider dating them.  And saying a polite “no thanks” to their interest isn’t an insult.  It’s like the Romance/Hook-up Story-line of Life has the right-of-way or something.  If someone is romantically interested it’s like you’re obligated to either indulge or tip-toe around their fancies or else you’re some sort of unnatural monster.

Which is one of the many reasons why I think asexual and aromantic protagonists are so important.  We are what we eat.  Our expectations of the world and life are shaped by the stories we read and watch and are told.

And even if you wouldn’t label  yourself “fully” asexual or aromantic I really hope you have multiple asexual and aromantic relationships in your life.  I hope your S.O. or partner isn’t your only relationship outside of your immediate family.  I hope, if sex disappeared tomorrow, you’d still be able to love and appreciate your partner.  And if you’re searching for a partner, I hope you treat everyone you meet with respect and kindness rather than a “oh, they’re not for me, TOSS!” or a “they won’t give me the time of day, TOSS!” attitude.

((Sidenote: Sometimes it feels like the conservative Christian cultural ideal of Heaven is divided into male and female sections and the only people allowed to cross over and talk to each other are spouses and siblings. x.x))

~~~~

Here are a few asexual/aromantic spectrum character ideas to start the writing world brainstorming:

-a child character who travels to another world, becomes its ruler, and realizes that in this world everything and anything is possible–which means they don’t have to return home from Narnia and become a child again in order to avoid the complications of getting married there

-a teenage girl who is more interested in filming murder mysteries in a graveyard with her friends (some of whom may be ghosts) than going to the prom

-a teenage guy who isn’t interested in  masturbation and/or porn, not because he thinks it’s evil but because he thinks it’s pointless, boring, or unfulfilling.  (But this trait isn’t just to show how “wonderful” he is as a future romantic lead, please.)

-a teenager called on to save the kingdom/world who doesn’t automatically fall in love with the only opposite-gender member of their party.  They’re too busy saving the day to experience more than passing glimmers of attraction and respect, let alone worry about feelings or romance.

-a cross-dresser who finds everyone attractive and interesting but is completely disinterested in sex or romance

-a character who was sexually abused in their backstory, who can no longer feel sexual attraction but who lives whole and healthy and happy in their asexual relationship of choice with their S.O.

-a chronically ill character who still has a ticking clock for a uterus but has no desire to “do anything about it” with anyone, but desires only to fill the time and energy they have to spend with other interests and pursuits instead.  Plots and subplots ensue.

-a character who finds stargazing more engrossing than attractive-people-gazing

-a character who shows up at the scene of a crime and doesn’t automatically start narrating about how hot someone is while everyone’s standing over the dead body, and in fact doesn’t notice hotness at all because someone they knew just died.  Or else the mystery presented is more intriguing than the spectators or the colleagues, though this doesn’t mean they’re a jerk about it.

-an expert flirt who never goes past flirting.  The flirting’s the fun part.

-a courtesan who’s just doing their job.  The political maneuvering and the intrigue are the real perks.

– a character who lost their beloved spouse but then doesn’t turn around and fall in love with the next character you pair them up to adventure with during the course of your story.  Instead, they find a comfortable friendship.

-a pair of friends who grew up together who then (surprisingly *cough*) remain still just friends by story’s end

-an extrovert who loves people and whom everyone loves to be around, who is charismatic and charming, but who isn’t interested in dating “just yet.”  (They’ve been saying that for years–if not decades–at this point).

-a Regency spinster who thinks she got the best end of the deal

-a eunuch who doesn’t mope a lot about how he no longer has “real man parts”.  He’s probably too busy being besties with one of the ladies in the harem and making sure all the other eunuchs stop having dramas long enough to remember their duties–and solving the king’s murder.  Or maybe it’s the queen’s murder.  ‘Cause, y’know.  Just add murder mystery.

-an old, young-looking vampire who–after centuries of watching them be born, grow old, and die–has developed the boundaries necessary to not actually fall in love with mortals, but enjoys their friendship and their company.  (You might think this is impossible, that all it would take is the “right mortal” to woo him back to romance, but then I ask you how people generally don’t fall romantically in love with their siblings or, now, with their first cousins :p)  I would love love love to read a paranormal friendship romance sometime.

-a character who finds themselves completely disinterested in sex with their current partner, and finds this baffling despite their romantic attachment, …to be dealt with amidst high-stakes car chases, or something equally crazy but generally sexualized.

-a religious celibate who doesn’t make a morose martyr out of themself or pull a holier-than-thou or actually need to “suppress” or “fight” anything but enjoys their singledom with a sense of simplicity and true, relaxed enjoyment.

-a tender-hearted (rather than tough/stoic) knight, who loves deeply, who swears loyalty and protection, but who is uninterested in relationships beyond brother, sister, friend, liege.  Extra points if it’s a ladyknight, since everyone is constantly trying to pair those up with someone. :p

Later I might recommend some stories, but I think this post is long enough. -.-

What about you?  Favorite asexual or aromantic/non-romantic/platonic stories or characters? What about character wishlists or scenario wishlists? Let’s brainstorm together, wooooo~.

 


Disappointments in Final Books

I jotted down this list last summer, after I’d read a lot of final books in trilogies/series and found that a lot of them were disappointing for the same set of reasons.  I wanted to write up the list while it was still fresh in my analytical-reader mind.  I meant to turn it into a blog post then, but a lot of crazy life stuff came first.  So, here it is now.  Feel free to add your own in the comments. I figure I can refer back to this list with my writer hat on later.

So, without further ado, things I thought made final books weak:

  • New set of main characters introduced, taking time/focus away from those we grew to love in the first two books.
  • New plot/story arcs introduced out of nowhere, then not given enough depth or resolution as the others.
  • Last minute betrayals, romances, or deaths included for “extra drama.”  These feel last minute because the betrayal/romance wasn’t set up or hinted at in previous books, and death wasn’t a possibility or a true risk before (no minor characters had died, so why should a major character die now, etc.)
  • Plot holes and other evidences of a rush job in writing, as if the author/editor were on a much tighter deadline than the previous books, less time allotted to think ramifications through properly, or they’d spent years mulling on or simmering over the first half of their story but only now discovered their ending, and so on.
  • An ending that isn’t given enough time or development to balance out everything that came before it, to feel satisfying or resolved.  (“In late, out early” misused).
  • Not enough hope (to counterbalance all the previous darkness)
  • Too epic, losing sight of the intimate stories and scale of the previous books and what made these compelling.

Anything about ending books that bothers you (as a reader)?


Space Opera/Adventure Wishlist

  • Pilot & navigator duo protagonists, yes please.  (If one of them is female, don’t make the whole point of the story revolve around her femaleness, please. -.-)
  • Great characters and characterization, fully developed & consistent
  • Witty and fun
  • Action sequences are welcome!
  • Respectful towards female and male characters both
  • Romance welcome, but not as an afterthought.   If present, give some thought to the actual relationship and development, not just the attraction/attractiveness aspects
  • Some sort of interesting take on spaceships or hyperspace or jump drives or other forms of FTL travel. (Not a huge fan of cryosleep and slower, generational-ship style stories)
  • Cool tech
  • Aliens that don’t resort to just being overlarge insects.  Humanoids are welcome, though.
  • Telepathy, teleportation, other superpowers and fantastic elements welcome alongside all the fancy tech
  • A nod to actual science is great, but I don’t like it when Science is the whole point of the story, nor do I think we need to limit the story by our current knowledge of the sciences.
  • No heavy-indebted, down-on-his-luck, alcoholic, lazy jerk character takes-a-gamble-for-his-redemption trope
  • Galactic Empire vs. Rebellion, overdone
  • Character’s past is the key to saving the universe, no thanks
  • Some thought towards language & cultural barriers

No story is going to hit all of these (probably), but anyone know of anything that hits most of these?  I’ve been craving space adventures and I have the worst luck finding things I like to read in this genre.


Changing Focus

So…these past six months or so I’ve been really struggling with discouragement in regards to my writing.  This is in large part due to the growing suspicion that what I really want to write isn’t something that editors are going to want to buy/license.  The acquiring markets are really specific in what sort of stories and lengths and styles they’re looking for.  Most short fiction markets, for example, want stories within the range of 5k, and the stories must be standalone, must have a certain kind of hook in the beginning, and so on.  Novels, too, have to be in a certain range, with a certain set of criteria to hit, and that criteria may change per editor but tends to be about the same on the whole.

But what interests me are slower-build stories with multiple layers, connected as a part of a series with repeating characters and growth over the whole series, depth, beauty, wonder, sorrow, the battle between hope and fear, as well as action and adventure and humor and bantering and… of an indeterminate and varied length.

One of the things I hate most about where I am in my writing is that I feel very much alone.  I don’t have anyone I can really turn to and hand over my writing and say, Tell me truly, am I deluding myself, is this good enough? Is this bad storytelling, am I not ‘there yet’?  Or am I running into all these roadblocks because what I like and want is so niche and I shouldn’t worry about whether or not it’s “good enough” and just strike out on my own?

On the other hand, I do know I’m not the only one with this question.  Pat Rothfuss recently posted about his 30k short fiction foray into a story about Auri, which sounds like the same conundrum I’m in, minus the fact that his story is part of an already-established series and he has people he can consult for their opinions and an editor already attached.

I also feel akin to Andrea K. Host’s post about writing the Touchstone Trilogy, and am beginning to admire how she withdrew completely from the submission grind and just wrote and didn’t share her work with anyone rather than deal with the stress and what ifs and so on.

Part of my problem is that with my chronic illness, I don’t have a lot of energy to find readers who might like my style of story and writing and gain feedback.  I have a hard enough time maintaining friendships and doing things with and for people as it is.  I don’t have a lot of money or energy to afford or attend classes or workshops.  I also am not able to write much in a given year.  So, writing a story or two per year and setting that out into the world to be rejected over and over has become disheartening when I know I have learned a lot and my storytelling chops have improved since I started this blog and process 3 years ago.  I’ve been doing the best I can.  I hate it when that best isn’t good enough, though, especially when whats a “good story” is so subjective and I’m not sure what to make of the increasingly varied responses I’m getting.

I’ve also made the mistake(?) of telling a few people about the stories I’m excited about, developing and researching–and gotten the polite, closed-off expression full of misgiving that only has added to my self-doubt.

Another struggle I’m facing is that with my chronic illness, I have a really hard time developing characters and worlds, not to mention I have a really hard time slogging through the muck in my brain to put down words on paper.  Creating just takes so much time and energy, I feel like if I want to be able to do this, to work towards a steady career in writing, that every story I work on must count towards something I could use or could be publishable.

However, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s post on abandoning the preciousness of time and art is something to keep in mind.  If I think only in terms of “I should only write publishable material” that’s putting a lot of pressure on myself.  Pressure I really don’t need.  I’m not saying that what I do shouldn’t be important to me personally, but…I do think I’m happier when I’m not thinking about whether or not what I write will be acceptable to others or whether or not this story will break into community-approved markets.

That’s the other thing.  I’m currently working on a self-pubbed project, to be unveiled later this year, and it’s been a real eye-opener about how just how little money I currently have available for the self-pub route.  See again: disability and a lot of recent medical expenses.

So, if my work isn’t going to be acceptable at more traditionally-minded markets and if I don’t have the resources for self-publishing, what do I do?

I guess…the answer is obvious.  Keep writing what I want to write, stop worrying about publication all together for now.  Pull an Andrea K. Host and write in my bubble for a while since the submission grind is starting to get to me.  Work on improving my craft for myself, with whatever resources I have available to me.  Focus on my health and getting better.  Assume to myself I’ll find a part-time job when I recover and reevaluate at that point.

But I want to write, that’s not going to change.  I am bereft and easily depressed when I don’t.  Stories are who I am.

So, if I’m not going to be writing towards publication for a while, what do I do with this blog?  When I first started this blog, it was a great motivator.  It helped me combat my depression when I was first diagnosed and trying to sort myself out, what I could hope for and expect from myself and the new version of my body.  This blog still gives me an open book to work through ideas and thoughts, so I’m not going to close it, but I do think my focus will be changing.  To what, exactly, I don’t know.

If I’m not going to be pursuing publication for a while, do I really need an empty bibliography?  If I’m going to be reevaluating what stories to pursue or keeping them a secret, do I really need my Storybox?

(Yes, you can see that whatever thick skin I had a few years ago, is currently, strangely missing.)

I think I need a sandbox period.  I just need to play and figure things out and have fun.  I need to go into a mental space with no pressure, no rejections filtering into  my inbox, no criticisms from friends or strangers about how I’m doing everything wrong, no looks of misgiving, no judgments about how they don’t like what I’m doing, no confusion about who I should believe or what my stories are worth.

I have a short story that I’m writing/have written for an anthology I’m excited for, but that’s it.  Am going to draw a line in the sand and say, that’s enough. It’s play time!

ETA:  When this post goes live, I’ll have been sitting on this decision for a month.  So far, it’s made me a LOT happier.

I did backtrack to test the decision, though, to see if it was one I really want to do.  I submitted twice more.  One rejection was very nice,  quite cool and made me happy, the other rejection was extremely disheartening…and, to be frank, rejection isn’t really something I want to deal with right now.  Especially since the previous few weeks of sandbox had been fun and freeing.  So my decision stands, I’m going into sandbox fun mode.  No worries, no cares, no pressure.  Just experimenting and exploring and having fun and shaping worlds and having character adventures.  I know this won’t affect anyone but me and my own mental framework, but hey, you’re welcome to join me if you want.  It’s time to start taking everything a little less seriously.

ETA Again! Hah. I just found this blog post by Robin LaFevers on Surviving Nearly There, which pretty much sums up where I am and reaffirms the decisions I’ve made. It’s… rather uncanny.


Learning by Short stories

Story: The Ghost of Heaven’s Garden. (written 2007; revised 2011)

What I learned: There is such a thing as something that is too personal or inappropriate for the public eye.  Not everything written should be shared or thrown out to the masses.  Before this story, I’d never considered that view before.

The Miller’s Daughter. (April 2011; critiqued Oct 2011)

Even good or beneficial choices made should have a cost–which goes into conflict and raising the stakes.  My rough draft was good, and I still enjoy reading it, but it needs more depth. Every possible decision available to a character needs to have something lost and something gained.   Also, the story suffers from feeling too much like a Chapter One rather than a contained story with beginning, middle, and end. Not to mention, titles do matter. I renamed it to Songbird’s Choice.  Even if it’s not perfect, it’s at least better.

Decision at World’s End. (June 2011; published April 2012)

This story also suffers from a “situational” scene-like plot.  My goal was to give the moment of a crucial decision, to have a character-based plot wrapped up in a paper-package of an SF idea.  Great experiment! Imperfect results.  Perhaps because I wanted to show the turning point more than anything.  Also, I relied too much on the “shaky cam” to up tension. Woops?

– – –

Starspun. (March 2012; on submission till January 2013)

I had a lot of high hopes for this story.  Again it was an attempt at a character-based plot.  I wanted to show that crucial moment, that turning point between despair and hope, of choosing to do what it takes to save yourself, implying that she will or does go through with it and is victorious in the end.  But alas: a turning point, a moment of decision does not a story make, (at least not the way I’ve been doing it).  So though magazine editors really liked the story and the writing, they all agreed that the ending doesn’t hold up.   Again, too much like a Chapter One.

Pirate Ink. (April 2012; never finished)

I try again to write a short story.  This time… flop.  I can’t get it to stay short. I can’t get a handle on the characters. I can’t get a plot to form cohesively.  The stakes feel contrived.  So much ugh.  And all it does is take me away from my novella which I should be working on, not procrastinating from.

At this point I decide I don’t know enough about what I’m doing.  I don’t know how to construct a short story.  Novels I can wrap my head around just fine.  Short stories I’m going to have to admit stump me.  I decide to set aside my short story efforts again and concentrate on Queen.

– – –

Then I saw this post on World Weaver Press’s blog. My eyes go wide.  Look, it’s just the advice that I needed!  I grab my field notes and jot down quotes and advice in big letters so I can come back to it again whenever I decide to brave the world of short fiction again.

So out of this woodwork comes,

Desired. (First draft in Sept. 2013; Short-listed October 2013.)

With this story I finally managed to get a working beginning, middle, and end into a short story, thanks to Amanda C. Davis’ blog-post advice. It’s not just a scene or a chapter one.   I wrote it for World Weaver Press’ FAE anthology submissions window, but it was a story I needed to map out in any case, for character backstory reasons.  The need to write it and this perfect window of opportunity just happened to coincide.  I also learned how to effectively whittle down a draft with this story, seeing as I had a 7,500 word limit.  Before this story, I hadn’t had much experience with paring drafts down to their absolute basics, so that felt really good to do.

The story is by no means perfect, however, and I’m well aware it won’t appeal to everyone, but I’m still proud of it and what it has done for me.

A Gift Once Given. (Started in April 2014.)

I started writing another short fiction story after Desired, but I won’t talk about it here.  Instead I’ll turn my attention to A Gift Once Given which I’ve been writing during the last two weeks of April, as I type this out now.  This one I’ve approached differently than any of the others.  I have a general outline, I know what I want to accomplish, but how I get from point A to point B I don’t necessarily know, and not only that, but I’ve been so out of it during all my writing sessions these past two weeks that I’ve been writing just to write.  Today and yesterday are the first two days I’ve gone back to tinker with any wording or flow or correcting what’s on the page to what I wish it could’ve been the first time around.  I described the process on Twitter as a “rough sketch of a story” and that’s how the rough draft is turning out to be.  The writing itself has been satisfying and has kept me emotionally alive through these past couple of weeks, but what makes me not just satisfied–but happy–is when the story feels right and good and close to how I’d imagined or felt it to be.  There’s a dual satisfaction in not just creating but creating something I like, and it’s been interesting to see how those two facets have been balanced or imbalanced in different ways this go-around.

I’m writing this story for another upcoming WWP anthology, a dragon anthology that I suggested they do–on my birthday! So that’s been fun.  I have no idea how well this story will come out.  Since it’s so rough, it will require more detailed, finer work in later revisions I expect, but I thought I would add it to my list of stories, proving to myself that the rougher sketches can be satisfying as well as the finer, detailed work of honing it.  Still, I think I will always be the kind of writer who must hone the story and revise it as I go along, rather than leave it in “rough sketch” stage until the very end.


Hero: James C. Christensen

menandangelstradebook   When I returned home from Armenia at the end of 2010, I went through a period of reevaluation.  Part of it was that I was sick and not getting better and no one even knew what was wrong with me.  But that wasn’t the only thing.  I had left to volunteer in Armenia right after graduation, and the questions of “What does my art/writing mean to me? What do I want to do with myself?  What role should my talents play in my life?” were all spinning about in my head.

I try not to be very religious on this blog since spirituality is both a private matter and this is a public place, but I do want to talk a little bit about one of my heroes, James C. Christensen.   (Before you ask, no we’re not related. We just share the same last name.) He’s an artist who also happens to share my same faith and a lot of my same interests, being best known for his fantasy sketches and paintings.

When I was eleven, I moved across the country by myself and his illustrated book The Voyage of the Basset opened up my sense of wonder and was a companion for me on my own little adventure into the great unknown.  So it was only fitting to return to his wonder and his beautiful work and insights as I stepped into this new chapter of my life in 2010.

One of the single most perspective-shifting articles I read at this time was this interview at a small internet magazine.   Then earlier this week I read an interview where he talked more openly about his life and the lessons he learned along the way.  And finally I stumbled upon this article he wrote for a Church magazine in the late 1980s.   I encourage you to read and explore the things he shared.  You just might learn something new!


If one day…

If one day, I could capture the grit of mistakes, the flaws that hook you rather than reject you, that pristine, dust-moted dusk of what it’s like to live in a world that’s so beautiful but broken and raw and mortal, but not dwelling on the dark and not oversaturating the light, like laughing through the pain and weeping through the joy.  If I could do that, to capture the ache and longing of something that’s always out of reach but isn’t a torture–or maybe it is?–no, there are sunlit moments scattered like an arpeggio, there are. They dazzle and remind you why life is worth all off this muck and mess.

If one day I could capture all of that in a story, and then someone reads it and they get it. Or they heal.  Or they see something that flies them into an epiphany.  Or something. Something small and pristine but grand. I don’t know, like a butterfly flittering past on a walk when you weren’t expecting to see any yet.

If one day I could do that, then….

Then perhaps all this might be worth it.

You know, to more than just me.


Whimsy

Despite the fact that there seems to be only one rule about how to learn to write well (just write, buddy!), there seem to be a bajillion rules about what makes a good story.  For example – Everything needs to be plausible , all the characters need to have a purpose, every scene must streamline to fulfill plot purposes, if it doesn’t, it needs to be cut, and so on.

I’ve noticed that all the rules about what makes a “good story” these days are grounded in logic, pragmatism, and economy. (You’d think we’d got a certificate of graduation for the “Age of Reason” or something.) So I was tickled pink to read this in Rothfuss’ January Reddit Q&A:

Reddit’s I AMA Fantasy Author w/Pat Rothfuss

galaxyrocker:

Hey, Pat. I’m not sure if this has been answered, but I remember reading somewhere that Auri wasn’t originally part of the story. In a sentence, why did you decide to include her?

PRothfuss – AMA Author:

There is no rational reason I could give you that would be satisfying. I could explain to you some of the functions she serves in the story. The role she fills.

But that wouldn’t be the real truth. Not the true truth.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason. Merely that it is not a quantifiable, rational thing.

Some questions are not in the realm of raw logic. Art is one of these things. And so is Auri. You might as well ask, “Why a butterfly?”

There are so many gems, so much potential gold in stories that don’t necessarily tick off every rule in the rulebook.  I tend to feel defensive about this, though, (and have to justify my inclusions under the “subplot” heading). Like a dragon guarding her jeweled horde.  There’s no imperative, logical reason for that horde to be there. Is the dragon “using” it? No. Could that gold and those jewels be better spent? Probably. But if every story were crafted entirely by logic, then where would whimsy be? Life would be so colorless without it, in our lives and in the lives of our characters both.

So, cue me immensely relieved to discover I am not the only one who feels this way, and that it is perfectly acceptable to do this.  Thus I thought I would share, (as I combat my overdeveloped sense of responsibility in all aspects of my life).  For now, though, it seems like only epic fantasy authors are allowed to be whimsical with their nuts and bolts, and add in more for the sake of life rather than stripped-down, pragmatic story.

Thoughts?  Though I will say, I’m not advocating dumping every idea into a story willy-nilly, just…giving us more room to breathe.


Making Heaven series by MIH

I love reading posts by people who think deeply about things–and not just deeply, but approach oft-repeated ideas in thought-provoking ways.  Granted, such posts are never light reading, but they are worth it.

This week (celebrating the start of a new year and an Armenian Christmas) I want to link to a blog series entitled “Making Heaven” by authoress Mette Ivie Harrison.

  1. Making Heaven, part 1: Blessed are the poor in spirit.
  2. Part 2: Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
  3. Part 3: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
  4. Part 4.
  5. Part 5: Ye are the salt of the earth.

Please read each one, you won’t regret it.


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