[language warning at one point]
Liana Brooks, twin of my soul if not my actual blood, and I email each other quite a lot. Actually truth be told, I email her more than she emails me, because she is the kind of creature who will send considered emails at sustainable intervals, or else will email me the day’s writing for safekeeping, where as I am the kind of creature who will fire off seven single-sentence emails to the same person in under and hour. Oops. O:) Somewhere in the midst of all of this crazy, an email genre I like to call “Dear Amy” has been established – and I’m not sure Liana is even aware of it? but any time I get an email from her that starts ‘Dear Amy’, I know it’s That Kind Of Email.
Which kind? The kind where someone you know, love and trust is basically doing you a favour by telling you to pull your head out of the ground, stop having an unproductive whinge, and bloody well get on with it. We all need someone in our lives to give us a Dear [Name] talking to once in a while, that’s for sure 😀
However. Sometimes, procuring a Dear [Name] email when I need one is all too hard: maybe the twinny one is preoccupied; maybe I’m preoccupied and don’t have time to email my whinge in order to provoke the necessary reply; or maybe, the issue is just too complicated. You know, sometimes, when you try to explain a problem to someone else, and all their answers are super helpful in theory but in practice are actually just slightly off point, like they’re not quite understanding the crux of the issue? Yeah, that.
You know what, though? You can totally write your own Dear [Name] letter. I had a bit of a Moment the other night when I was lying in bed attempting to get my brain to shut up so I could sleep. It just sort of hit me what one of the main problems I’ve been having with writing is, and before I knew it, I was composing my own Dear Amy letter in my head. I’ll share it with you on Thursday, but in the meantime, this is just your official permission in case you needed it to say that yes, sometimes (not all the time, but sometimes) what you need most is a kick in the proverbial pants, and that yes, you are totally capable of doing that for yourself. Because you are awesome, and you rock. *fistbump*.
Amanda Palmer, multi-media artist extraordinaire (and, though I am loathe to fall into the old ‘identify the woman by her family’ trap, wife of Neil Gaiman) is pregnant. I happened across this article today, in which she defends herself from an eloquent yet, in my opinion, insufferably critical and nosey fan who is concerned essentially that Amanda’s standards are slipping, and will continue to slip when/because she has a baby. Amanda has some lovely things to say, and I think you should definitely take a couple of minutes to go read the article (link again), because this is an Important Issue.
What’s the issue? Fundamentally, a compartmentalisation of women’s roles, stemming, I think, from the fact that a woman’s contribute to the public sphere has been historically undervalued. Put simply, this issue is this: while it is never called into question that men balance fatherhood and careers on a daily basis (some better than others), women are constantly beleaguered with questions surrounding their ability to balance motherhood and a career. I’m too lazy to go look up links right now, but there are plenty of examples of female celebrities being asked this question in professional interviews, while their equally-famous husbands are quizzed simply about their jobs. I’d like to say that this goes double for artists of any kind, but let’s be honest: western media culture as a whole lacks competent role models who are both mothers and workers. Trying to figure out how to balance the two falls solely on our shoulders and, if we are fortunate enough to have personal role models, those around us.
Amanda notes in her article that she is terrified that becoming a mum will somehow vanquish her identity as an artist. This really resonated with me, because I had the exact same fear when I fell pregnant with my first child. Teaching, I knew, wasn’t optional: for us, me not working was never an option. But writing? Art? Writing was a hobby, a love, something I wanted to turn into a career but something that wasn’t really contributing to the family income. Would I have time to write? Would I even want to write? What kind of person would I become when I had a small person to depend upon me?
The answer, obviously, is that I would become the exact same kind of person I was before I had a small person depending on me, because becoming a parent doesn’t change your identity, it just throws another cap in the ring. Yes, becoming a parent has changed me profoundly in many ways–but it hasn’t changed me, if you understand the distinction. I’m still the same kind of person I was–just without a lot of excess flaff. As my husband once put it, having a baby is a great way to distill your life to its essence, to what’s really important and what’s not–because you don’t have time for what’s not.
And to my great pleasure, writing was one of the things that was really important. It took time, of course; I quit writing at one point because it had become yet another yardstick by which to measure my own failure. But before my son was a year old, the itch returned–and by the time he was two, I was writing my non-fiction book From The Ground Up (2016). Last year I wrote over 100,000 words. So far this year, I’ve written nearly 70,000 words of fiction. My best year ever was 200,000. Has having children slowed down my art? A little, yeah. But has it killed it? Hell no. And as the babies grow ever, onwards, older, they will need me in different ways that are somewhat less demanding on my sleep reserves and time, and late evenings (my peak writing time) will once again be mine. (In point of fact, my day job has interfered with my ability to write far more than having children, because in busy weeks I’m stuffed by the time the kids are in bed.)
Ladies? It is possible to both mum and art. You can be an arting mum, or a mumming artist. Having children will change you profoundly–but it only makes you more you. If being an artist is what you are, don’t fear. When the dust settles, when the sleepless nights are over, your identity remains. Art on, my lovely one. Art on.
Sometimes, when you’re writing, you hit the point where you just want to give up. On the current story, maybe, or maybe even on writing altogether. We’ve all been there, I promise. So this post is for me as much as for anything, and it’s as the title says: bookmark it for when you need encouragement. I’ll put this over in the writing articles too so there’s a static page, and I’ll add links as and when I find them. The list ain’t pretty, it’s just a mess of hyperlinks, but every one of these represent something that has helped me rekindle my determination and love of writing–and, most importantly, my confidence–when I’ve had IHATEWRITING patches.
Hopefully, you’ll find it useful too 🙂
http://99u.com/articles/7094/the-future-of-self-improvement-part-i-grit-is-more-important-than-talent (and part 2 as well)
http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2011/07/19/25-ways-to-defeat-the-dreaded-writers-block/ – language warning 😛
http://susandennard.com/2014/11/the-productive-writer/ – a compilation of links
http://susandennard.com/2014/11/facing-fear-and-tackling-writers-block/ – another compilation of links; look for the FRAB ones particularly
Don’t be a dick. Don’t SHARE the photos.
Because it takes more than just the girl to have the photos spread around the entire school. Unless she’s sending them herself. In which case, y’know. Don’t.
Just don’t friggin’ send the photos, m’kay?!
(Yes, me with my teacher hat on. Deal. 😉 )
“Shocking? What? Why should this concept be shocking?” I hear you ask. To which I counter: why is it not? How is it not, when so many of the fundamental assumptions our society is based on are designed to tell men that they are wild, uncontrollable, savages to be tamed, creatures of undeniable violent instinct who, when confronted with a flash of skin, a hint of cleavage, or – heaven forbid!! – butt or upper thigh, cannot help themselves; they MUST HAVE THAT FLESH NOW.
Yes, I’m talking about feminism. I’m talking about rape. I’m talking about ‘they deserved it’ mentality and slut-shaming and all those sorts of things, and you know what I’m saying? They’re disrespectful to men, too.
Dude, I KNOW that the primary victims of these patriarchal paradigms are women, but if we’re going to convince men that feminism – real feminism, not “femi-nazis”, not man-hating, not these things which are just as bad as patriarchy, only in reverse – no, real feminism – if we’re going to convince men that this is something they need to get on board with – and ladies, lest you think we can do it alone, never forget that while we make up about 50% of the population, so do men – we need, as a culture, to recognise why these ingrained narratives are damaging not just to women, but the whole of society.
Men are not brainless sheep. I have a husband who, shockly enough, is a man. While we don’t always see eye to eye on things, we have tremendous respect for each other and for each other’s opinions and individual lives. And my husband, whom I have been married to for seven years, whom I have been ‘with’ for over ten, whom I met and started dating at sixteen – sixteen! – has never, ever once touched me without my permission. Not once. Ever. Not before we were married; not after. Not when I was dressed in sweats, and not when I was dressed provocatively. Never. NOT. ONCE.
Please take a moment to absorb the implications of that.
My husband, you see, is not a brainless sheep. He is not a bundle of uncontrollable impulses, something that is triggered by the appearance of womanly flesh and cannot be reined in, denied, constrained. He has a mind, and willpower, and morals, and knowledge of right and wrong – and he understands – really, truly, deeply understands – that women – even beautiful, attractive, scantily-clad women – do not exist for his gratification.
Husband? I know you will never read this, but thank you. With all my heart, thank you.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for society. And I do mean society as a herd rather than individuals; I think most people in isolation are fundamentally decent (whether because I am an optimist or have a restricted circle of acquaintances, I leave to you :D). But the paradigm in which we’re operating is designed to bring out the worst in people. It’s a paradigm where someone can hit you in the face, and it can be your fault. It’s a paradigm that says humanity is foundationally brainless, that women are empty vessels and men are mindless urges.
This comes because I was reading Elizabeth Esther yesterday, and in a link-click-link spree, came across this:
Rick Warren came out and said that a battered woman was not allowed to leave or divorce her abusive husband. In the ensuing cries, he backpedaled and said a woman could leave her husband physically “in the heat of the moment,” (as if a man so crazed that he is beating his one-flesh partner whom he is supposed to honor and sacrifice his own life for would allow her to walk out on the beating) but must return when things have “cooled” and submit to his authority. At no time have I seen him following up with a statement, “Men, you cannot beat your wives for any reason. It is a sin and a crime.”
I hope, if you’re reading my blog, you will find the above horrifying on many levels. Yes? Good. Actually, the source is a good article, discussing the recent phenomenon of prominent (male) Christian leaders going out of their way to emphasise the sexiness of their partner (wife), and how this is just wrong on so many levels (But it’s monogamous sexual objectification!! That’s practically Godly!). But the takeaway point for me was as above in that quote: while we are busy reminding young women not to ‘put themselves in risky situations’, society is doing very little by way of reminding young men that this kind of behaviour is not, actually, acceptible. We’re operating from the default position that men cannot control themselves and so it’s up to the women to remove all temptation, and if something goes wrong, well, we told you the boys couldn’t control themselves, what did you think was going to happen?
Men: our culture has been telling us for so long that you are the ones who deserve to be dominant because you’re smarter, stronger, faster, all the while pulling the rug out from under you, insidiously operating on the assumption that actually you’re just a bunch of dumb impulses. Society is lying to you, just like it’s lying to women. But now – now is your chance. Don’t buy into that crap. Of course you’re not a conglomeration of lusty, violent instinct; you’re an intelligent human being. I know. I married one of you. You can do this.
Dear girls in class, who are currently discussing gender politics: I am so proud of you. As you sit there and realise for perhaps the first time the ways that social constructions of gender restrict us, I can almost feel your hearts and minds being opened. And the fact that, although we are studying women’s rights in a girls school, you are discussing how sorry you feel for boys who are socially constrained to being “Male”, while girls have options, makes me practically burst. You’re chatting casually about how unfair it is that girls have so many options for clothing, and yet boys can’t wear dresses, can’t wear skirts… You note that a man once told you he’d love to wear dresses because they look so comfortable, and you agree: yes, dresses are great! Cool in summer, so easily personalised, formal or casual with little effort – and yet boys are stuck wearing the same tux over and over to formal events. Wow, you realise: gender constructions suck for everyone.
You have big hearts, girls, and they are growing bigger. Thank you, thank you, for reminding me that this thing I do… it has purpose.
Thank you for being you.
In response to Michelle’s fabulous post here.
Actually, I reject the notion that endings can be divided into ‘happy’ and ‘more realistic’. This is a topic of frequent debate at work (i.e. in the English faculty), because there are certainly those in the faculty who despite any kind of popular or populist fiction as ‘trashy’, those of use who take a more midline approach, and those of us who would be more than happy to teach Twilight for its literary merit. I am refraining from commenting on that one, because we are all entitled to our own opinions, but suffice to say I am in the midline group.
One of the most interesting characteristics that delineate the approximately two groups (teach only highbrow lit fic, and teach more accessible texts that have equal merit too) is that it more or less ends up being a discussion about teaching sad endings versus teaching happy endings. Many of the classics are quite bleak, and it is entirely possible to get through several years of schooling and not read a single happy ending.
Personally, I protest. WHY are sad, bleak or depressing endings more valuable than happy ones? One argument is that they are ‘more realistic’, but that entirely depends on whose reality you are living. I have ups and downs in my life, as we all do, but honestly, on balance, my endings are happy. I have a great job, a wonderful family, a lovely home… I am privileged and (by global comparison) wealthy. My endings are happy. A bleak book does NOT reflect my reality, not at all.
I’ve talked about this before – why I don’t believe in depressing fiction.
I’m not saying that we should abstain from sad, depressing endings. I’m not saying that endings should be saccharine. Personally, I find the most satisfying endings are the ones that are bittersweet, or the ones that are happy, but where the happy ending was hard-won. No, I’m pretty sure most people don’t have saccharine endings. No, I’m pretty sure that for most of the world, things do not just appear out of the blue to give you a happily ever after. Some people like those books, and that’s great – whether because the books are wish fulfilment, or because for a small minority they really truly do reflect their reality, it doesn’t matter. Some people like sad, bleak and depressing endings too, and while I’m pretty sure that’s not wish fulfilment, and I acknowledge that it’s the reality for a much larger percentage of the global population, it’s still not the norm for the average voracious western reader, which, let’s face it, is the target market for a ridiculously high percentage of these books.
Ultimately, I couldn’t care less which kind of ending you prefer. I am free to teach ‘happy books’ in my classes, and my colleagues are free to teach bleak fiction in theirs, and you as a reader are free to prefer whichever the heck kind of books you want to. But please: can we all stop pretending that happy endings are less realistic than bleak ones? Because for the majority of readers, that’s just not true.