Momming, Writing, and Thanking #NeilGaiman

Momming is hard.  (I assume that Dadding is hard, too.  But, not being a Dad, I wouldn’t presume to know.  It just seems like it would be.)  Momming takes time and energy (so, so much energy).  It takes patience, and it requires a certain tacit agreement to go without sleep.  Momming means changing your child’s clothes a dozen times a day…on days when you may not even manage to change your own clothes even once.

Momming is especially hard when you try to pair it with something else that is hard like, you know, Arting.  Arting is hard by itself.  Arting takes time and inspiration time and dedication and time.  And…well, did I mention time?

Yeah…with one husband, three children, three cats, four chickens, and one beagle, time is at a premium.  I know, I know.  I’m not special.  What was it that Neil Gaiman said?

quote-you-get-what-anybody-gets-you-get-a-lifetime-neil-gaiman-35-41-19
Image Credit: AZ Quotes

“You get what anyone gets – you get a lifetime.”  ~Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes.

Smart man, that.

I really like Neil Gaiman a lot.[1]  I like his books.  I like how he talks about books.  I like that he appreciates librarians.  I even like how (for whatever reason) my beagle barks incessantly whenever I listen to Neil Gaiman’s audio books, as if she is convinced that a well-read Englishman has broken into our house and might decide to steal her kibble.

Not too long ago, I read a lovely response on Tumblr that Neil Gaiman had written about, well, writing.  In part, he said:

Set aside time to write that’s only writing time. Put away your phone. Turn off or disable your wifi. Write in longhand if you wish. Put up a do not disturb sign. And make your writing time sacred and inviolable. 

 And in that time, this is the deal. You can write, or you can not do anything. Not doing anything is allowed. (What not doing anything includes: staring at walls, staring out of windows, thinking broodily, staring at your hands. What not doing anything does not include: alphabetising the spice rack, checking Tumblr, taking your pen apart, playing solitaire or running a clean up program on your computer.)

 You get to pick how long a day your writing time is. An hour? Two? Three? Your call.

Doing nothing gets pretty dull. So you might as well write. (And if you write 300 words, one page, every day, you’ll have a 90,000 word novel in a year.)

Let me be the first to admit that I absolutely defer to Mr. Gaiman on the subject of writing.  He has done it longer.  He has done it better.  But I have Mommed longer than he has—what with him not being a Mom and all.  (Yes, yes, he has Dadded—his is Dadding–I know.  Hear me out.)

When I read Mr. Gaiman’s writing wisdom with a friend, I choked at the bit about picking how long a day your writing time was.  Seriously, an hourTwo?  Three?  *snort laugh*  I know of Zero mothers who have an hour to set aside without someone bellowing Mom?  Mama?  Mommy?

The Mom Version of this would be more like:

You get to pick how long you can ignore the crashes and whining coming from the other side of the door, or how long you can hide in the bathroom until your kids/spouse/co-workers find you. Ten Minutes? Fifteen? Until the person in the stall next to you asks if you have a roll to spare?  

Your call.

I understand that writers must write.  I do.  I get it.  And we do learn to steal our moments where we may.  For instance, in order to carve out about 30 minutes of writing time in the morning, I get up at 5:00 a.m.  I also write on my lunch hour.  I write at football practice.  I write in the stadium while waiting for color guard practice to end.  I write on my arm at stop lights.  I write on the back of envelopes.  I have even written out a particularly pleasing turn of phrase in the steam on the shower door, then attempted to fog up the room again to retrieve the snippet.  (Yes, it worked.)  But I honestly cannot tell you the last time that I had an uninterrupted three hour stretch of writing time.

With three kids, all of my vacation time and sick days are used tend to the needs of others.  Sick children.  Teacher conferences.  Rehearsals.  Recitals.  Dentist.  Asthma attack.  You pick.

Still, I do take his meaning.  And, honestly, I am grateful for the reminder.  It is the doing of The Thing that makes The Thing possible.  In other words: if I want to be a writer, I’d better write.  So, I do.  God help me, I do.  I set my alarm to an hour that even my chickens find deplorable.  I also linger in the bathroom longer than strictly necessary for bodily functions.  In between moments of Momming, I find time to do something else.  I write words.  I turn phrases.  I craft Art.  Perhaps the method is haphazard but, for now, it is the only method this mom can manage.

Life is short.  Kids grow up.  So, in the words of Neil Gaiman, I might as well write.

Thanks, Neil.

[1] I am especially fond of him because when my eldest child was eight years old, she decided to write to Mr. Gaiman and to send him a “book” she had written (and illustrated) entitled “Regina the One-Winged Owl.”  Mr. Gaiman was kind enough to very promptly send along a handwritten note of encouragement telling her how he liked the cliffhanger ending.  My daughter was thrilled.  She is now 14, and she still has the note.

Why I Encouraged My Teenage Daughter to Read #Outlander

When I was fourteen, I read Flowers in the Attic. Several of the other girls in my grade were reading it…whispering about it…stashing it away when the teachers walked by. Of course, I had to read it, too.  I was lucky; my mother was always happy to buy me books (although, had she read the book herself, she might have rethought that, at the time).

Some of my schoolmates had borrowed the book from their own mothers…and by “borrow” I mean that they took the book after their moms left for work and then slipped it back into place before their moms came home in the evening. In the time in between, we consumed the story with a kind of perverse fascination.

So this was what grown-ups read!

Outlander-blue-cover-198x300So when my own fourteen year old asked if she could borrow my battered copy of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, I didn’t hesitate long before passing the book to her. My heart skipped a beat as she dashed to her room to start reading but, to be perfectly honest, this was likely more concern for the fate of my beloved book than for how my daughter would react to the story.

No, that was a given.

This was one of those books that would leave a mark on her soul.

Some stories do that…they stay with you forever. I simply wanted to make sure that her first Adult Book was one worthy of the honor.

I read a lot of the same books that my daughter reads. Not because I am policing her reading, but because I want to share in it. When she comes to me sobbing over some book betrayal, I need to know who has earned those tears. But some of the books targeted to teenagers seem to portray the female protagonists as perpetually enduring some Great Tragedy, or waiting for a male character to define them/save them/notice them/love them.

Not all of the stories, mind you. There are some really good YA books with strong female characters who represented a wide range of diversity. But, honestly, we waded through a lot of simpering fools to find a few strong female protagonists. And a lot of the love interests shown in the books were either sparkly or broody. Many were emotionally manipulative or controlling. If she was going to have a “book boyfriend,” I wanted better for her.

So when I realized that my daughter seemed interested in this massive tome which made me laugh out loud, and ugly cry, and real passages aloud for the simple pleasure of feeling the words on my lips, I didn’t discourage it.

In fact, I encouraged it.

I scoured the books to find passages which showed the strength of love, the resilience of the human spirit, the anguished soul clawing its way out from the pits of despair. Some passages I read aloud. But sometimes, I left the book conspicuously next to the sofa—pages temptingly dog-eared—like an offering.

So when she finally asked to borrow the book, it was a relief, really.

“Where are you?” I’d ask eagerly. But not too eagerly.

The book served as a way to talk about hard things, scary things, awkward things… We talked about love and sex and respect and mutual pleasure and consideration between couples. We talked about marriage and expectations and the roles we construct for ourselves (and those that others wish to inflict on us). We talked about sexuality and about when feelings aren’t reciprocated. We spoke of honor and vows. Of promises kept…or not. We shared tears and heartbreak and loss. We talked about rape and brutality…and of healing. We spoke of hope and faith and trust.  We talked about when to hold on; we talked of when to let go.

I let my fourteen year old daughter read the book not in spite of the fact that the books is mature, but because it is. I let her read the book because I know that a book can be more than just entertainment—more than just a story.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a book can be a conversation…or at least the beginning of one.

 

Fandom Shaming Needs to GO #RespectTheFandoms

I have no idea what a Magmar is, other than the word kinda looks like Ragnar. Which makes me think of Ragnar Lothbrok…which makes me wonder when the new season of Viking starts. I don’t know because it isn’t my fandom. And I’m okay with that. Some people, however…aren’t.

My kids like Pokemon Go. They like walking around the neighborhood catching them. They volunteer to run errands with me, and they bring their phones, and they ask me to turn right when I could just as well go straight, but I do it because it costs me nothing and yet it makes them happy, and it gives us a few more minutes together, and later I overhear them telling their friends that they caught a Nidorina…which means nothing to me. Except it makes them happy, and the word kinda looks like Narnia, which makes me wonder the last time I read C. S. Lewis, and I make a note to dig out the books.

I understand the lure of books, and games, and television shows. I know firsthand how a book can open your eyes to new possibilities, or breathe life into interests that had been left for dead. The Outlander books reminded me of my interest in herbs, and nudged me into gardening more seriously, and urged me to track down my ancestry. The books reminded me of the importance of strength and endurance and made me want to take better care of this body I inhabit. The books whispered to me and echoed the beauty of the words of my ancestors spoke, and the words they spoke were Gaelic, and I wanted to understand. So now I have dozen books on the subject on my shelves, and I can say a few halting phrases, and it makes me stupidly proud…

My daughter went to a Con this weekend. It was her second. She planned her outfits months in advance. She spent hours on her makeup. She styled her wig. On the first day of the convention she walked around for eight hours. She found her place among other made-up faces and she took photos to share. In the photos, she smiled; in the photos, she was no longer the awkward 14 year old who was self-conscious of her smile or her adolescent skin—she was brave, and she was alive, and she was…happy.

There is strength in numbers. There is joy in recognizing yourself in those numbers.

Personally, I don’t care if Pokemon Go gets people to—however unwittingly—exercise. I do not care if you are a forty-three year old who wants to Catch Them All. I do not care if you spend your down time scavenging for super rare creatures whose names escape me. I don’t care—not because I am Above It All—but because it makes you happy. And that is enough.

For those who think that time is better spent studying or reading or creating or doing…ANYTHING other than Wasting Time…perhaps a reminder is in order: It is their time to waste, and perhaps your time would be better spent doing something—anything—other than sucking the joy out of another person’s life like a Dementor. (Yes. I went there. Deal with it.)

Because in a world where we actually have to remind ourself that lives—any lives—matter, and where those sworn to Serve and Protect are being assassinated by those eager to have their names written in the annals of time, if we can find something that brings us joy, something that brings us a bit of peace at the end of the day, something that makes the news for bringing people together rather than tearing them apart…then I am all for it.

I will happily drive my kids over another block, or another, or another.

Collect that Magmar, Exeggutor, or Nidorina if it makes you happy. Read Outlander if it gives your peace. Watch Supernatural, or Sherlock, or Game of Thrones if it gives you something to look forward to…no, in fact, watch them all. You don’t have to choose.

Because tearing down someone else does not raise you up…and tearing down another person’s fandom does nothing to strengthen your own.

#BoysReadGirls and the Myth of Book Genitalia

#BoysReadGirls was the hashtag that greeted me on Twitter this morning.  I had seen the rumblings for several days.  Some schools are inviting authors to speak, but if the protagonist is female, the male student body is often given a pass and doesn’t attend because, ya’ know, that’s a “Girl Book.”*  Unless it is the book is Hunger Games, because, well, Katniss. *knowing nod*  Or, Divergent.  Yeah, boys might read Divergent.

This happened recently to author Shannon Hale.  You can read her account of events here.

Apparently, The Powers that Be assume that boys are okay with reading about bad ass chicks who blow stuff up, but if they are forced to read about “normal” girls, it might somehow mess with their chromosomes and make them less manly.  Or grow breasts.  Or start crying at chick flicks.  Or something.

Nevermind that girls read all kinds of books with male protagonists without suddenly sprouting a penis, or having their voice deepen, or even simply having their eyes glaze over with boredom or the inability to relate…or comprehend…or empathize.  Because, well, it’s different for boys.  *Grunt*  *Fist bump*

I grew up reading The Great Brain books, because the child detective was wicked smart.  The fact that he was male did not detract from the story for me.  And I read Harry Potter and, while admittedly fond of Ron Weasley’s ginger hair, I did not become bogged down with the fact that he was equipped with a… erm…wand.

I also read The Diary of Anne Frank, and although breasts were mentioned in the book (although this tiny portion was removed from some editions of the book, since preteens are clearly not equipped to encounter brief references to the female anatomy in a book!) it was hardly the focus of my attention.  No, I was mesmerized by my breathless fear for the family…not references to gender or burgeoning sexual curiosity.

I read a lot.  No, seriously, A. LOT.  And never once, in all of my 42 years, have I thrown across the room and thought, “Pfft, I can’t read this $&#*&%$, clearly the writer had a penis.  Hand me a book written by someone with a vagina so I can relate!”  Nope, not even once.

Nor have I ever passed on a beloved book to a fellow reader with the recommendation, “I just know you will love it!  You can almost feel the femininity of the author.  The book simply oozes estrogen!”  *swoon!*

Nope.  Not ever.

Now, I have recommended a book due to an incredible strong protagonists, or unique plot, or amazing dialogue, or disturbing premise, or amazing imagery.  But never due to the protagonist’s private bits, and never due to the author’s gender.

My son has read The Hunger Games trilogy, and the Divergent trilogy.  He has also read The Fault in Our Stars and Coraline.  He read them before they were movies.  He read them because they were good stories; they were stories that spoke to him.  They were books that made him want to read.  And really, isn’t that what we want for our children?  To find books that speak to them and make them want to read?

So, while I don’t plan on stockpiling a hoard of books by female authors to spoon feed my son, I do plan on providing him with a steady diet of good stories.  I plan to continue to expose him to all kinds of books by all kinds of authors.  Because a good story is good no matter what the gender of the protagonist, or the author…or the reader.

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* The concept of “Boy Books” and “Girl Books” is a myth.  I have read a lot of books, and I have yet to encounter a book that has sexual genitalia.  So let’s quit trying to assign gender to books, shall we?

The Art of Conversation (a/k/a When to Stop and Listen)

Sometimes you strike a nerve.  It is easy to spot when this happens because the reaction is swift, defensive, and (often) dripping with vitriol.  I found that out when I dared to talk about The Objectification of Sam Heughan.  I was just thinking aloud…or on the screen…or, well, you know what I mean.  But apparently some took it as a personal attack…and they attacked in kind.  *insert catty snarl*

Fortunately, I am 42 years old.  And while my skin may be the approximate color of paper, it is not nearly so thin.  I can handle snark.  But not everyone can.

Since that post, many have shared their thoughts and opinions (Yay!  Discussion!), and some have forwarded me links to other blogs that have explored the topic (Yay!  More discussion!).  A few have warned me about some seriously snarky blog posts, FB comments, tweets, etc.  (Ya–  Oh, wait…)  *Shrugs*  Just another day on the internet.  Right?

But it also made me think long and hard about the fact that, despite the fact that I can instantly talk with people all over the world (Thank you, Twitter!), it has become harder and harder to have an “actual conversation.”  Discussions have grown less civilized.  Perhaps it is the anonymity of the internet (you know, the fact that you don’t have to look someone in the face while you stick a knife in their heart).  But whatever the cause, the effect is the same–the give and take of conversation seems to be breaking down.

The idea of “agreeing to disagree” is seen as selling-out rather than respecting another’s point of view.  It appears that the endgame is to make your opponent agree with you.  Discussion is a lost art, long forgotten, and has been replaced with an increasingly loud discourse in which the only way to “win” is to out-shout the other.  The concept that someone else might have legitimate points and that, even if you don’t agree, you can both still take something away from the discussion seems to be lost somehow.

Newsflash:  Conversations do not have “winners” and “losers.”  Conversations have participants.  And the participants do not, at any time, have to agree with one another.  They can disagree ad nauseam–and they can do so with courtesy, and respect, and without threats or name-calling.

You can be heard without silencing others.  

But not everyone understands this.  As a result, sometimes an unguarded comment can awaken The Trolls…

Every morning, I drive my kiddos to the school bus stop and I tell them stories while we wait.  Over time, more and more of their friends have started joining us.  The kids get out of the cold, and they get a story in the bargain.  Win!

Last week, while we waited for the rest of the reading posse to arrive before getting starting the story, one of the girls mentioned that she had posted on social media that she felt depressed.  (My “mom ears” immediately perked up.)  Maybe she hoped that someone online would offer her sympathy or consolation.  Instead, she was told “Yeah, because you’re a piece of shit” and “Then why not go ahead and kill yourself?”  My heart sank.

We didn’t read that day.

Instead, we all talked.  And we listened.  We listened a lot.  Because part of having a real conversation is to know when to stop planning what you’re going to say next and to actually listen to what is being said.

It sounds so simple.

Just listen.

Diana Gabaldon is Not Your Mother

Neil Gaiman once famously informed a reader who complained about George R. R. Martin taking so long to finish a novel, “George R. R. Martin is not your bitch.”  I think of this whenever Diana Gabaldon gets grief about how she conducts her friendships.

It seems that there is a huge divide over whether or not Diana Gabaldon behaves “appropriately” with the actors portraying her characters.  Actually, let’s be honest, what these people have a beef with is the way she acts with Sam Heughan; specifically, they don’t like her talking to him about his ass.  And they really don’t like the way that she told Sam that she looked forward to him being raped and tortured.  (I know, I know, that does sound really bad, but hear me out…)

Now, I would never presume to believe that I know what goes on in Diana Gabaldon’s head, but it seems to me that what she is saying is basically shorthand for describing her excitement for seeing how Sam would bring to life the incredibly traumatic scene that she wrote.  Or at least that is how I am interpreting it.  Perhaps I see it this way because I am a writer, and I can imagine how amazing it would be to see something that you had dreamed up come to life right in front of your eyes.

Others seem to take offense with the familiarity that Diana shows Sam on Twitter.  The thing is, friends get to be familiar.  That’s one of the perks of being a friend.  (That and borrowing their books.)  And from what I have seen of their interactions, I do believe them to be friends.  They chat, they tease, and they tweet.  They have inside jokes.  Some might even be kinda dirty jokes.  Sounds a lot like friendship to me.  And friends, well, they get to draw their own boundaries.  They get to decide what they consider acceptable or unacceptable.  They don’t need us to draw those lines for them.  They got it covered.

Some have asked how the public would respond if George R. R. Martin told Lena Heady that he looked forward to seeing her raped or tortured.  A reactionary response would sound a lot like this:  That pig! How dare he? Is he some kind of psychopath?  Put his head on a pike. How would he freakin’ like that?  Teach him to kill Ned Stark  say crap that rubs me the wrong way! 

Perhaps a more measured response would look at the context of this imagined statement (Was he describing an upcoming scene?) and the nature of their relationship (Are they friends?  Do they normally joke like that? Is SHE okay with what was said?).  Notice that at no point when considering this exchange did I take into consideration their private bits.  You know why?  Because it doesn’t matter whether the speaker has a penis or a vagina.  What matters is the context of what was said, the relationship with the person it was directed to, and (this is super important) how the person addressed feels about what was said.

You might ask, “So how come Diana gets to talk to Sam about his ass, and you just scolded me for sending Sam a twitpic of the ass-pillow I made from screen shots from The Wedding episode?”  Well, because you don’t actually know Sam…you simply don’t have a “let’s talk about ass pillows” kind of relationship.

The thing is, it’s good to talk about objectification.  It is good to know what we, personally, feel to be objectification–to know where we draw the line.  But it seems that there is a lot of finger pointing going on, and a lot of those fingers seem to be pointing at Diana Gabaldon.  Some even believe that she “set the tone” of the fandom…as if what Diana Gabaldon says to a friend somehow determines how the rest of the world may behave…as if we (as adults) cannot think for ourselves and must look to her behavior to decide how to act.

Come on.

Claire was famously informed, “You’re a guest of the MacKenzie. We can insult you, but God help any other man that does.”  Well, the same kind of thing applies to friends.  There are certain things that you can say to friends (both insults and racy-stuff), but that doesn’t give other people the right to say those things.  And it isn’t a matter of free speech, it is a matter of good taste…and respect…and having a filter that reminds you that everything that goes through your brain doesn’t have to come out of your mouth.  This is like when your mother told you “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.”  Which brings me back to Neil Gaiman…

Just as George R. R. Martin is not your bitch.  Diana Gabaldon is not your mother.

Fans Don’t Let Fans Up-Kilt (a/k/a Respectful Fandoms)

Why even bother?  When you get called a “hater” if you question anything, or “judgmental” for trying point out problems within a group, why even include yourself in a fandom?  My husband is not a fanboy but, when he took me to be his wife, he took on my obsessions, too.  He has dutifully watched more episodes of Doctor Who (and Outlander, and Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead, and…) than I can count.  So, when he asked, I felt like I owed him an answer.

Well, it’s not always like this, I told him.

And that is true.  In fact, most of the people are really nice and just want to share something they have in common.  But, really, it is more than that.  When you find another fan, it’s like recognizing a part of yourself in someone else.  Whatever other differences you have (race, gender, economic, religious, whatever), you still have THIS in common.  And because you respect* that person, you listen with an open heart.

Of all the words that I have heard to describe The Best Things About Fandoms, “respect” is the word that has come up the most.  Respect was what made people stay.  Lack of it had them running for the hills.  Such a small word to hold so much power.

Respect doesn’t mean I have to agree with you.  Respect doesn’t mean that I have to approve of your trashing someone’s weight or boobs or wardrobe.  Respect doesn’t mean that I should fake-applaud if you roll on the floor to look up someone’s kilt**.  Yeah, not going to fake applaud that.  Up-kilting is creepy.  Period.

Respect does mean that I will listen to you.  We can talk (without name calling), and hopefully find some common ground.  We can agree to disagree.  Nothing wrong with that.  Different opinions are good.  If we all agreed, the conversation would be pretty short (not to mention boring).

And I have LOVED the conversation…and I have learned a lot.  The comments have led me to some really respectful fans.  I found Positively Outlander over on Facebook, where fans can bond over the books: low drama and high respect.  If you’ve given up on Facebook groups, check them out***.  They might make you change your mind.

I was also invited to hang out over at Terry Dresbach’s forum, and the fans over there were incredibly welcoming.  They immediately made me comfortable, and within a few minutes I felt perfectly at home.  Like, seriously at home–there was talk about body hair, and books, about somehow or other we got on the topic of Amanda Palmer (oh, right! niplashes!), and there might have been some fangirl squeeing, and…it was wonderful.

At its best, fandom IS wonderful.  People come together to discuss things, to change things, to raise money for charities, and to support each other.  People find things in common and build on that, and that is why we bother.

Being a fan is bigger than just finding someone else who thinks that Graham McTavish rocks the felted bonnet, or that Sam Heughan’s should be the voice of the next iPhone (seriously, so much better than Siri), it is about finding new people.  People who make you think and who expose you to new things.  Your people.

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*See that word there? Hang on to it. It changes everything.

**I heard about this incident in the comments on the Objectification post.  This is the kind of crap that gives fandoms a bad name.  If a man did that to a female actress, he would have been (rightfully) arrested.  Don’t be THAT fan.

***I am sure there are plenty more respectful Facebook groups, and you are more than welcome to list them in the comments!