This is a horror story. I’m serious. It will thick your blood with cold; it will turn your hair the color of terror. We begin in London, amid the fog and freezing rain…
As some of you know, I spent the better part of August in the UK. I went to Worldcon, I went to Yorkshire on a research trip for a new book, I met David Tennant and Peter Davison (!), saw some old and new friends, learned to take the London Tube system as my legal spouse, to love, honor, and cherish it under construction and in good service, made puns as part of a Worldcon version of the iconic British radio show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, and ate approximately All the Pies. Important to note: my partner in crime during all of this running about was one Heath Miller, actor, director, secretly a Muppet in a human suit.
The other thing we did in London? Comedy. Now, I may not have made it totally clear how much I love stand-up comedy. I love it all the way. If I could I would probably go see comics two or three times a week. Even when it’s terrible, I still love it. I can’t even really explain why. Some loves are just pure. They have no provenance. They just are. Sketch comedy and improv also, but stand-up is tops for me. I spent so many hours watching old-school Comedy Central at 3 am, and only recently have actually gotten to go see live comedy, and OMG it smells awful and the food sucks and the drinks are weak and the walls smell like cigarettes and sometimes the comics are just the most old-timey misogynist jerks and you never know whether it will be any good at all or not and it is THE BEST. I know, it’s weird. But Dave Atell showed up to do a surprise set at the Comedy Cellar and it was my birthday and it was all I could do not to scream like he was The Beatles because EEEEE REMEMBER INSOMNIAC I LOVED THAT SHOW THAT SHOW IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. He did ten minutes about dogs and cats. It was awesome.
The point is, my comedy appetite approaches the insatiable. When Heath and I first started seeing shows together, I don’t really think he believed me when I said I am a Fan of stand-up as much as I am of SFF. He thought I’d bail the first time someone got up and complained about their wife. But I know that people being awful is just a standard hazard of watching comedians, like SFF has alien words with apostrophes in the middle of them or thinly veiled versions of orcs.
So we went to Edinburgh, where I went to University for awhile, and where my dear and nearly-oldest friend Kaite Welsh lives, and it was Fringetime, so holy crap we saw a lot of comedy. Most of it was great. One was memorably terrible–but half the fun of seeing live theater of any kind is talking about it afterward. It is our general philosophy that you either get your money’s worth from the show being wonderful or from the entertainment of tearing bad art apart afterward and figuring out how you would fix it if you were In Charge of That Thing. So I get value even from execrable theater. I am comfortable with the roulette-wheel of This-Thing-Costs-Way-More-Than-A-Movie-O
THE STAGE, SHE IS SET. Buckle up, kids.
Picture Heath and I, at the end of August, exhausted from traveling, both of us having brought a nasty cold home as a Yorkshire souvenir, climbing into the back of a lovely black car we’d arranged to take us to Heathrow. Looking forward to a long, quiet ride. Because one thing I’ve always loved about British drivers of cabs and car services has always been that they don’t try to talk to you the whole time. Sure, they may appear to hate you like the plague, but they won’t tell you about it. Here in Maine, it’s basically a constant barrage of questions and weirdness (my last cab in Portland? The guy drove with the driver’s seat reclined all the way into my lap, complaining the whole time that he was neither high nor drunk right now and really ought to be).
Oh, we were so innocent then.
He seemed like a perfectly nice man. He started talking right away, but he was charming and pleasant. He was from Pakistan. He switched accents flawlessly about four times in two minutes while telling us where he was from and the assumptions people make about him. We were delighted. For a moment, a precious, shining moment suspended in the air like a brief, crystal raindrop, we were delighted.
Then, he put a portable DVD player in my hands. While driving. One already open, on, and cued to his performance at the Comedy Store Gong Night.
It was like looking into the abyss.
He told a couple of jokes. Not stand-up really, just question and answer jokes. The answers were 100% the most racist, sexist, ableist things I’ve ever heard out of a performer’s mouth in real life. When he ran out of those, he just tossed the mic from one hand to the other over and over, and when that ceased to amuse even the most hardcore microphone-tossing fetishist, he just dropped and started DOING PUSH-UPS on the stage. My mind has refused to retain the jokes themselves, having some sense of the traumatic ripple effect of holding those punchlines next to the more important, functioning parts of my brain. If I remembered them, I’d never write anything again. I’d just stare at the screen repeating: “If I had a dog named Syndrome, whenever someone came over to my house and rang the doorbell I could yell Down, Syndrome!” Oh, God. The emptiness. The dark.
We handed the player back, pale and shaking from our brush with utter nihilism. We thought it was over. I remember us then, so young. So gentle-hearted.
He worked us over with a few “What do you call a deer with no eyes?” numbers, which we just answered wearily (No idear) and prayed for death. I can’t even watch a television show in which the characters embarrass themselves. I hide my face like it’s a slasher movie, not a sitcom. So my heart was already trying to hide behind my liver like a kid watching the Daleks from behind a damn couch.
But then it happened. He asked us how broad-minded we were. Now, normally, when asked that question, I expect something good and wholesome to follow. Something that speaks to the world becoming more open and honest. Coming out. A confession of being aroused by Victorian rocking horses. A nice threeway. Hell, even “Would you mind carrying this package of drugs back to America with you?” would be better, warmer, fuzzier, than what was actually about to fall out of this guy’s mouth. So I made a non-committal sound. A “yes, I am broad-minded but mostly I am please-stop-you’re-hurting-me-minded so unless this is going to turn into something else please stop” kind of whimper. But Heath is wiser than I. He knew it was code. Code for: how offensive can I be right now? How shit can I make the shit I’m about to say?
Heath said: We are not. Broad-minded. At all.
It didn’t matter. The ritual to raise the Old Gods was already in progress. There was nothing we could do to stop it.
The driver started talking about how you can’t make good jokes anymore. Everyone’s so sensitive. Like, he can’t even tell that Down, Syndrome! joke anymore. (Heath broke through our rictus of politeness at that point and said: that’s because it’s a terrible joke. I couldn’t manage more than a sustained, high-pitched whine like my dogs make when there’s thunder outside. Good for him. I was trained too well to be polite to strangers. I could feel my manners trying to claw their way out of my eyes and flee screaming, but I clung to them. They were all I had.) But really, it should be ok for him to make jokes like that because he can take the mickey out of himself as well. At which point streamed forth a river of blisteringly racist anti-Pakistani “jokes” (The mildest one, and thus the only one my benevolent brain has allowed me to retain is: When I tell people I’m from Lahore, they think my mother’s a French prostitute!) that made him giggle like a schoolkid while I slid down in my seat, trying to vanish into the leather, whispering to the lock: Please, God, make me a bird, so I can fly far, far, far away.
At this point, it was clear he was just practicing his “act” on us. And it wouldn’t end because we had no Gong to bang. We literally couldn’t leave. We were a captive audience–actually captives, in a four-door prison hurtling down the highway, driven by a warden barely paying attention to the road because he had to keep looking in the rearview to see our reaction to his star turn. He kept saying: you gotta have a hobby. It’s not easy, is it, being on stage. Writing material. It’s not easy!
Thing is, this driver was in a car with a writer and an actor. Both of whom have directed theater, both of whom have written comedy, both of whom are semi-professional dissectors of performance. Both of whom find being on stage and writing material pretty damn enjoyable most of the time. It is not our hobby. It is our job. So we rallied. We made the decision individually and began almost in unison. We thought: we can make him better. We can teach him. We have the technology. Mostly, we can make him stop talking if we talk louder.
We started giving him notes. Hey, you know, you’re pretty good at accents, that bit in the beginning was great, when you were telling us about expectations. You know, you could really make something of that, play with an audience so they don’t know what your real accent is, so they’re forced to examine their own preconceptions. And that really works better with story-based comedy rather than one-liner jokes, which is not really what stand-up is all about anymore. Try telling a story, something personal, something real, and shifting your voice so that your voice becomes part of the story. It could really work for you.
You see? We tried. Tried to engage, to help, to share what we knew. To steer him without pissing off the guy who held our lives in his hands, careening between cars and not wearing a seatbelt. When we die fifty years from now, grandchildren gathered around us, clocks stopped in the hall, the light softly fading on the mantle, both of us will whisper with our last, rattling breath: we tried.
And it seemed to unlock something deep in his soul. Something too big to keep inside.
“Oh!” exclaimed he. “You mean like…” And out it came. An “Asian” “accent” right out of the Breakfast At Tiffany’s school of subtle humor and sensitivity. And he did tell a story. In that voice. Nay, not a story. A folktale from the ancient mists. We’ll call it How Chinese People Got Their Slanty Eyes. (My brain was shrieking at this point: SAFEWORD NOPE NOPE SAFEWORD FUCK I NEED AN ADULT WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME I’M A GOOD PERSON). Do you want to know how? You don’t, you really don’t. No one does. Seriously, even circuit comics in the Catskills in the 40s would have thought this was a little much. It’s because they eat too much “flied lice” and it made them constipated, at which point, as a people, the Chinese nation strained so hard to take one massive, colossal shit that their eyes went slanty forever there is no God or goodness love is dead and the sun is as sackcloth. It was like being stuck in a car with a Dementor. Then he switched to a “funny” “black” voice and I felt as thought I’d never be cheerful again.
I feel like London was with us in that car. Sitting between us with a beer and a microphone yelling: YOU LIKE COMEDY, DO YOU? I HEARD YOU LIKE A BIT OF COMEDY. BIT OF NICE COMEDY ALL UP IN YOUR EARS? YEAH, COME ON, YOU LOVE IT. COULDN’T LET YOU GO WITHOUT A BIT MORE, COULD I? WHY, YOU WERE JUST SAYING YOU WISHED YOU COULD STAY A LITTLE LONGER AND SEE A FEW MORE SHOWS IN MY WEST END, WEREN’T YOU? YEAH, YOU WERE. WANTED YOUR GIGGLES, DID YOU? WELL, HERE YOU GO. DON’T SAY I NEVER DID ANYTHING FOR YOU. A WHOLE HALF HOUR SHOW, JUST FOR YOU. YEAH, I KNOW WHAT YOU LIKE. GET IT ALL OVER YOU, ALL OVER YOUR FACE. STOP COMPLAINING. COMEDY’S THE BEST. YOU SAID SO. YOU SAID YOU COULD SEE IT EVERY NIGHT. I HEARD YOU. I LOVE YOU AND I WANT YOU TO BE HAPPY. STOP PLUGGING YOUR EARS. WHY ARE YOU CLAWING AT THE WINDOW? COMEDY, YEAH, LAUGH IT UP, YOU COLONIAL FUCKING PEASANT PILLOCKS, LAUGH!
And I was. Clawing the window. Tapping the glass. Crumpled against the arm rest, my back turned toward the driver to protect my precious internal organs from shrapnel. I envied the birds outside, trying to land on pigeon-proof spikes. What is freedom? What is life? What is silence?
We kept trying. We were valiant. We would not give up on him. No, no, that’s still racist, we insisted. Like really, really racist. Tell a story. About you. About your life. Something personal. And for a moment, just a moment, a little butterfly of a moment flitting through the summer grass, he seemed to stop and think. And said: “You mean like…my father came to this country in 1963 with only five quid in his pocket.” Yes! “That’s the great thing about Britain, you can come with nothing and you can really make something of yourself.” Yes! “And now my Dad still has five quid in his pocket–it’s the same five quid!” No! Well, I mean, it’s the least racist thing you’ve said, only implies that Pakistanis are cheap, so I guess that’s progress? It’s not good but it’s better…
And with manic glee, he looked back at me and said: “Listening to my wife is like agreeing to the Terms of Service on a website. I have no idea what it means but I always click ok!”
ARE YOU A ROBOT? A ROBOT PROGRAMMED WITH NOTHING BUT JOKES WRITTEN BY HATEFUL TIM, THE HAPPY BIGOT, WHO LIVES UNDER A ROCK IN BRIXTON AND DEMANDS TRIBUTE FROM ALL WHO PASS HIM BY? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME? I AM A WOMAN, WHY DO YOU THINK THAT ONE WOULD REALLY ZING ME? AM I ON SOME KIND OF PRANK SHOW? IS IT THE CASH CAB? IT’S THE CASH CAB ISN’T IT? THERE’S A SECRET CAMERA IN THE DASHBOARD AND NOW I’LL WIN A HUNDRED POUNDS BECAUSE I DIDN’T CRY. PLEASE SAY THEY HAVE CASH CAB OVER HERE. OR CANDID CAMERA. THE WORLD WILL MAKE SENSE AGAIN. NO, BAD ROBOT! STOP TALKING. STOP. STOP WORDS. WORDS OVER.
Heath opened his mouth to cry uncle. To surrender and beg for terms. Just stop. Whatever it takes. Just stop the violence. But we were pulling into Heathrow and it didn’t seem worth it. Nothing seemed worth it. All hope had fled the universe. We stumbled out of the car and held up our arms in the rain like it was pure Shawshank up in that car park and we’d crawled through a river of shit to come out clean. He tried to overcharge us– 20 for the ride, 10 for the show, I guess–but we had strength enough left to refuse. We watched him drive away, our ears still ringing. Did that just happen? Is that a real thing that happened in the real world? How can we ever be whole again?
So we did what we could to heal. We went to the airport bar. And alcohol said: I am a merciful god. There, there. Tell me what the bad man did. And then tell the Internet, and Lo, you shall be cleansed.
And it is done.
Sometimes when I am on a deadline, my brain wanders off into traffic with a propeller hat on and its shirt pulled up over its head because SCREW YOU IMMA THINK ABOUT EVERYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD EXCEPT THAT BOOK YOU LIKE SO MUCH WHEEE IS THAT A FIRETRUCK? And by sometimes I mean always.
At the moment, my brain is jumping up and down on a stop sign hollering I’M GONNA THINK ABOUT X-MEN ALL THE TIME HA HA YOU CAN’T STOP ME. My brain is a stone cold doofus a lot of the time. After my chapters are done for the day, I go straight to reading about the goddamn X-Men. I’ve watched or re-watched five of the seven movies in the last week and fallen asleep three separate, majestic times with my phone in my hand, glowing with the useless, mocking light of a wikipedia entry on Genosha.
It’s not really my fault. Days of Future Past came out, and my descent into mutant madness began with watching X-Men: First Class, which I had only seen half of on a trans-Pacific flight with the sound broken so that the only dialogue was the intermittent apologies of a harried flight attendant. Which was much more genuine and interesting, it turns out, than what January Jones was actually saying. ZING. Anyway, the X-Men have always attracted me in concept, if not always in execution–it appeals to my love of categorization, of pantheons, of chosen family and marginalized groups. And matching outfits.
And so, at first, I was a happy little squirrel searching out delicious walnuts of storylines both familiar and un-, because holy cats is this shit convoluted. But then I got mad. It usually happens eventually, when it comes to blockbuster mainstream intellectual properties–and yes, the X-Men are mainstream now. Indie niche uncool flicks don’t have $100 million opening weekends. I didn’t even see X-Men: Last Stand until last week because I didn’t want to see Dark Phoenix turned into a nuclear vagina on the fritz who ruins everything with the power of kissing. Spoiler: it was as terrible as I thought it would be! Yay!
But everyone said Days of Future Past erased all that! It is so awesome, you guys! 91% on Rotten Tomatoes! Quicksilver! Time travel! Beloved arc from the comics! Mystique gets to do things other than be naked and barefoot in Xavier’s kitchen! Well, great, let’s make this happen! To the sensible compact car!
Perhaps you can see, even now, the dark stormclouds of my fury gathering in the distance. Perhaps the severity of my side-eye can be seen from space.
Because here’s the funny thing about that beloved arc from the comics. The filmmakers looked at it and clearly thought to themselves: yeah, yeah, this is all great. Everyone loves this story about a woman who takes the fate of the world into her own hands and goes back in time, with the help of another woman, to fix history and avert the horrible deaths of everyone she knows and pretty much everyone she doesn’t know either. Fans have loved it for thirty years, men, women, kids, adults. It’s universal! Literally no one has ever had a problem with the protagonist being female, which is pretty damn impressive, if you think about it. We’ll make a billion dollars. One problem, though! Women are the fucking WORST. Nobody wants to watch a chick do things unless they are sex things or secretary things or sex secretary things or sometimes bad things that the men can come clean up because, as previously mentioned, they are the worst. So here’s what we’ll do! Even though we could literally act out a comic book with stick figures, play-doh, and a fifth-grader who just woke up from a nap and still fall asleep on piles of money come opening weekend, we can’t have a girl in our clubhouse! We’ll just replace that big dumb girl with Wolverine! That way we don’t have to get any cooties on our movie of Masculine Glowering. We’ll put her in there somewhere, just so the fans know we know what we did, but don’t give her too many lines. After all, if women get more than 20% of the lines in a summer movie, the moon turns to sackcloth.
YOU SIR, ARE A GENIUS, HAVE A YACHT.
So they did it. They pulled a Morpheus and turned a strong female protagonist with agency and a storyline of her own into a Duracell battery. Instead of being the one to go back in time and make decisions and affect the course of events, Kitty Pryde sits very still, grits her teeth, and provides transportation for the male hero she’s been replaced with. She barely speaks. She gets wounded, but only because nobody thought strapping down the guy with knives for hands might be a good idea. No one gives her medical attention, though they do pet her hair and tell her she’s doing great, like she’s a dog at the vet. She moans a lot. They took her story, gave it to a man, and made her a prop.
(And look, yes, before you say it, I know she wasn’t born in 1973. If it’s cool to change the protagonist of the story, it would not be sacrilege to make her just physically go back in time instead of the younger-body-consciousness thing. Or if it really is impossible to have a woman onscreen without a chaperone, send her and Wolverine back together. Or do another damn story arc. Wolverine has shit-tons of his own. Writing is choices. Narrative is choices. The writers made a choice. And their choice sucks.)
But the thing that really gets me is The Hobbit. Non sequitur, you say? NAY, say I. See, when word got out that Peter Jackson et al were adding in a new character to their Hobbit films, a non-canon character, a female character, fandom collectively lost its fool mind. You can’t just change Tolkien! Oh no! (Except for cutting out the end of The Lord of the Rings which is totes fine even though it changes the entire meaning of the story.) Cram in a whole mess of The Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales and the Appendices and whatever the lead animator dreamed about last night until the poor Hobbit burst at the seams into three unnecessary movies, but not a GIRL! Heavens to Betsy! (Not that that excuses Tauriel, who is awful, and exists for a romantic subplot and little else. But it’s not being a girl that makes her awful. It’s just bad writing, which knows no demographic.)
We cannot have a female Doctor! We cannot take men’s stories and give them to women! It would never work! The sexes are so different! It would be silly to have a woman acting like a man! But a woman’s story? Well, who cares? Give it to someone more interesting. Someone more worthy.
But replace wholesale the female protagonist of a darling comic arc with a man? Crickets. Everyone is fine with it. Oh, a couple of feminists are all buttmad, but they don’t count. Most reviews I’ve seen don’t acknowledge it, or if they do, they praise the filmmakers for making a “better” choice. Who cares? That Quicksilver scene was so awesome! Yes it was. I’m so glad yet another woman was erased from her own narrative so we could have another cigar joke. It really is a better choice. This way, no one will make the mistake of thinking there were ever women in comics, and those icky girls will stop trying to read them and everything can go back to the way it was when the real comics fans were eleven and girls were just scary aliens they could keep out of their rooms. Except in 1981, we were allowed to have a marquee comic book story that revolved around a woman. Marvel thought people would like that–lo and behold, they did. And in 2014, it doesn’t make sense to anyone anymore. That just breaks my heart. Really.
It also feeds into something else I’d been thinking about since seeing About Time, in which time travel is explicitly only possible for men, for literally no narrative reason whatsoever, just because. See, women don’t get to time travel much in the movies. Beyond Peggy Sue Got Married, which is explicitly about time traveling for romantic/reproductive purposes, the protagonists in time travel movies, and much of TV, are men. You can say it’s because history is hard for women, but it doesn’t really wash. If men can get away with clothes and words and abilities that are all wrong for the eras they travel to, women can get away with being women. Give her a strapping male intern to keep off the barbarians if you like–it’s more than Kitty Pryde gets to do. An escorted woman can go more or less anywhere, and honestly, a woman can find out more information in a drawing room in Edwardian England than a man can on a battlefield in Crimea. And there’s always, you know, the future. But no, a time traveling woman would get all her periods at once or something, so she has to stay home. There’s even a sneaky little through-meme of men not even telling their wives, girlfriends, or female friends that they are time traveling. Don’t worry your pretty head about it. Sleep on the porch.
Comic book movies are, increasingly, the only cinematic game in town, at least to bring in billions and go up on every screen in the world. In part because they take advantage of the big screen in a way most of our home theaters, awesome though they are, can’t quite duplicate yet. In part because no part of my generation’s childhood is safe from being packaged and marketed back to us. In part because they present a comforting black and white moral universe in which arms dealers are really charming heroes, honor equals military service, and there will always be some big strong man to save us whose personal integrity can be unerringly and unquestioningly relied upon. And if that sounds a little fascistic to you, well, it is. The fact that these movies, these vast cultural events, have settled into a self-satisfied world of representation that would be outdone by any 90s SF/F television series, in which one woman and/or one person of color is sufficient, especially if they are wholly defined by the most stereotypical traits of their gender or race (Black Widow and Bumblebee, I’m looking at you), to stand in for, you know, the majority of the human race that is not white, not male, or both, is alarming. When stories are taken away from a woman and given to a man, when a woman is reduced to a power source (oh, irony) for a big, strong, straightest of the straight man, what should we make of it but that she is simply not worth our attention? It teaches everyone, kids and adults, what stories are worth telling. Whose voices count. Who is allowed to act. Who is allowed to decide. And if you don’t think people carry that into their everyday lives, I’ve got a Brooklyn Bridge to destroy for you.
Nebula nominations are in, and CMV is very pleased to announce that Six-Gun Snow White has been nominated for Best Novella! The 49th annual Nebula Awards will be awarded in San Jose, CA, on the weekend of May 16th, 2014. While only members are eligible to attend the Nebula Awards themselves, there will be an autograph session open to the public – see the full list of nominees at the SFWA’s website, and find more information about the Nebula Awards Weekend.
The Hugo Awards nominations are also in! They were announced via live feed from Glasgow on April 19, and CMV is quite excited to share that Six-Gun Snow White is up for a Hugo in the Best Novella category. Read up on all the nominees here, and then purchase a membership to Loncon 3 if you’d like to vote. (Remember, you can vote for the Hugos even if you can’t attend the con itself via a supporting membership.) Find everything you need on the Hugo Awards ceremony, including livestream news and how to vote, at the Loncon 3 Hugo Awards website!
It is April 16th and there’s like 2 inches of new snow out there and I am NOT OVER IT OK.
However, I am still alive, contrary to the outrageous claims made by the date on my last blog post. I’m even nominated for a Nebula for Six-Gun Snow White and going to be Guest of Honor at Minicon in Minneapolis this weekend. Which means no Easter Egg dying for me this year, but panels for everyone!
Also I saw Captain America 2 last night and am mildly obsessed with reading the VERY FEW negative reviews because if it’s Marvel critics are now required to like it or face a personal visit from a hungover Iron Man, so that I can dissect how entirely I felt it went wrong when I loved the first one–really the only superhero movie of the current coolkids vibe that I liked on its own merits. I’m endlessly fascinated by stories that seem to almost work but blow the dismount in some way.
All the set pieces were there, albeit run through the guts of the same desaturation engine that video games seem to be churning merrily through at the moment. (Seriously, 4 color panels are starting to look downright lurid in comparison) But they were just set pieces, and not even superhero set pieces so much as Jason Bourne set pieces glitter-glued onto a We Stand With Snowden plot, which actually doesn’t play that well with a superhero universe where all solutions must be phraseable as personal mottos and tie into a movie that won’t be out til next year and also magic. Plus, don’t ever ever mention where all the money to build these evil systems comes from or any kind of class issues while trying to say something about contemporary politics, because the whole genre sort of winces at 1% issues and goes “Oooh! Look over there! Tony Stark is so cool!”, or show anyone but the 20 people allowed to live in a single-hero film/province of MarvelWorld so that there can be a PG 13 rating and we can ignore the massive civilian casualties which are actually inevitable during the pitched machine gun broad daylight super secret “spy” battles. Instead, Twitter stands in for the rest of planet Earth. Which leaves one with a feeling that you can always spot evil because it’s blowing things up, when the truth is the worst things happen without a sound, behind closed doors, with a handshake and a smile. And the Greatest Generation that Captain America provides such a nice clean altar for us to worship, far from being a bastion of wholesome morals, shook a lot of those hands before most of us were born.
The first film actually wanted to dissect some (SOME) of this stuff. The strange obsession with superheroes and simultaneous terror of dictators when it really just takes one bad day to flip one to the other, propaganda, the military using up bright and beautiful young men until they turn into monsters. But somehow Winter Soldier just really wants to be a mainstream spy thriller, and seems wholly uncomfortable with its speculative trimmings, and has in fact trimmed them down to little more than your average James Bond jaunt. Captain America is in the actual military doing straightforward pirate boarding missions. There was a sinister story to be told there about how militaristic and frightening superheroes actually are, but they didn’t want to tell it, along with about five other more interesting stories hiding between the lines. What they did want, as many interviews have attested, was to make “an old school 70s spy thriller.” Oooook.
I feel like there’s something going on there, that filmmakers want the geek money that comes with any superhero franchise at the moment, the longing to see these characters onscreen, but is still deeply ambivalent about the subject matter. Either because there is a desire among those for whom these films are passion projects to make what was once mocked as being childish Extra Serious and Adult, or because those for whom they are not want the money without having to dip their fingers into anything so unsavory and suspect as, like, color, or fun, or magic/tech/mutation that doesn’t stand in for the civil rights movement. Either way, every “geeky” intellectual property seems to be getting the artistic equivalent of Captain America’s transformation: something weaker and smaller and weirder with a good heart being pumped up with industrial chemicals until it looks like some higher-up’s idea of a real man.
And, you know, be sure to never let Black Widow have a story of her own outside of bending over center screen, booting up a Mac, and worrying about the real hero’s relationship status because, well, girl, am I right?
In other news, April 16. Snow. What.
When I was ten years old, I ran through a plate glass door. I thought it was open; it was, rather emphatically, shut. My legs were cut to pieces, including an extremely severe gouge to my right thigh. I ended up with a couple of hundred stitches and a chunk of missing muscle in that thigh. It kind of looks like a giant was playing golf using me as a tee and took a divot out of my leg on his upswing. My doctor took a kind of Swedish Chef approach to sewing me back up again and left messy, ropy, uneven scars which, a number of plastic surgeons have told me, represent some of the shoddiest patchwork going in the 1980s.
It took all summer to get to the point where I could walk and run again. I remember the fantastic luxury of getting to spend my days in my mother’s huge king size bed playing Nintendo and reading–and nobody could tell me to go outside and play and get my nose out of books or quit rotting my brain with video games.
Until this Christmas, that was my only experience with compromised mobility, with an injury that brought my life to a screeching halt. This is what’s called able-bodied privilege, and bow howdy, is it a thing.
Carpal tunnel is, if your work involves keyboards, more a question of when and how bad rather than if. Of course I’ve had aching wrists before at the end of marathon writing sessions, banging toward a deadline with my usual barrel-girl over Niagara Falls habits. And yes, my hands had been going numb during those last weeks of the book. I woke up in the night completely fuzzed out from the forearms down. But I didn’t think much about it, because I don’t think about much else when I’m pushing my body to finish a project. And then, some combination of finishing Radiance and immediately sitting down at my spinning wheel for hours on end to make Christmas presents pushed me over a line I didn’t know was there. I woke up, not numb, but in agony, with a burning ache in my wrists and forearms and hands. I was trying to cut up fennel for dinner and couldn’t keep a grip on the knife; I dropped it, my hands shaking.
And that’s how I became the Armless Maiden, the Girl Without Hands.
It’s been this way for two months now. At first, I couldn’t do anything. I had to keep my wrists immobilized completely or the pain was overwhelming. Even laughing too hard or nodding too vigorously jostled my hands and caused pain. I got arm braces, thinking it would help, but they made it worse. After wearing them for three days, the muscles in my forearms weren’t even up to the minimal activity they’d been able to manage before. My world shrunk down until it was just barely the size of my body inside my house. I couldn’t manipulate anything. I couldn’t use my touchscreens–that thumb-scroll motion was too much. I couldn’t type, which meant I couldn’t work. I obviously couldn’t knit or spin or cook or walk my dog. The cold made it worse, so going outside became a needs-only proposition.
I decided I would use the time to read–I’d had so little time and space to read and love books the way I wanted to. It would be good for me. And when I tried to lift a book to read, my hands crumpled. I didn’t even have the strength to hoist a paperback. I burst into tears. You use your hands for everything, everything.
I have never felt so helpless in my life. And embarrassed. Humiliated by the failure of my body to keep being a body, to keep being useful, to keep being good. I felt inhuman–our opposable thumbs, our ability to manipulate objects, use tools, affect the materiel of our environment, is a defining characteristic–what we get to play with in the animal kingdom instead of claws or razor teeth or spots or tails or exoskeletons. And I couldn’t even feed myself.
And I couldn’t work. All the stories I’d been working on froze in place, schedules rearranged around not knowing when I’d be functional again. But my mind wasn’t numb. My mind kept churning along, making things and planning things, but it had no fingers to make them happen, to make them real. I can say I felt impotent, but it doesn’t begin to cover it. So much of my pride, my emotional life, my sense of self, rests squarely in my work, my feeling that I am worth the air I displace, that my life has motion and a shape. And it was gone. I couldn’t even talk to most of my friends, who are so far flung that the tap tap of the keyboard is our speech and hugs and warm smiles. The world shrunk and shrunk and I couldn’t do anything about it. And the intense boredom of being forced to be passive ate me up inside. I could read or watch. I could not write or act.
I’ve been lucky, I’ve been cared for by those I love. No one is at their best when they’re helpless and in pain, and they deserve all the cake and cocoa for putting up with sick-Cat, which is the worst-Cat.
By the fact that I’m writing this, it’s probably clear that I’m better. Better, but not the same. I suspect never the same again, or at least not for a long time. The last few weeks have been a slow improvement. I can do more, though it hurts afterward. It’s better than doing nothing. I use creams and anti-inflammatories and ice packs. I’ve read like Cookie Monster, if he ate books–and I feel so full of those books and grateful for them. I soaked up unlimited reading time the same way I did during the Plate Glass Summer and it has been intensely good for me.
I got a SafeType keyboard, which looks like something out of Star Trek and has a learning curve like a sheer cliff. I tried, I really tried, but it made me feel like a stupid child, plunking away at keys at the fabulous speed of 4 words a minute. And as there’s no place to rest your arms, you end up needing some real endurance to hold your arms up for hours at a time. After two weeks of practice and pain, I got up to 24 before realizing that the cost in hopelessness wasn’t worth the benefits. To every day feel like this act which has come to define your world is impossible is an all-access pass to the pits of despair. I found it easier to learn the accordion. I’m writing this on my old keyboard, my wrists resting on a towel. I’ve ordered a different brand of won’t-break-you keyboard, hopefully it will be better. (And hey, if anyone’s in the market for a SafeType…)
But things have changed. I thought they would change back quickly, a couple of days of rest, no problem. Or maybe a couple of weeks. But it hasn’t yet. My world is ruled by a simple question, asked every morning the moment I wake up:
How bad is the pain today?
Not am I in pain? That answer is always yes. Every day. It’s only a matter of how bad. What can I do today? What will I suffer for tomorrow? I’ve never had to ask that question–and that’s privilege in a nutshell. Your privilege is comprised of the questions you’ve never had to ask. Which questions, how many, how often. Having gone through my life without chronic pain, the utter tyranny of this question presses damnably hard on my heart and my spirits. To all of my friends who’ve lived with pain for much longer (and with much worse) than I–I only understood intellectually. I get it now. I get how hard it is every day to do simple things. And I’ll tell you something–it’s nice to not get it. It’s nice to feel sympathy without a concrete idea of what is happening in the bodies of those you love because yours is fine.
This is the first day I have felt I could work, and I am trying. I have given myself two hours to write what I can, resting when I need to. I’ve noted when I had to stop writing this post because my thumbs had gone numb or the ache got to be too much. It is hard. To have a blog post be a physically punishing task. I have blogged for all of my adult life. And now I ration my strength for it. I have been saying for years that I need to slow down and figure out more sustainable work habits–well, my body has decided it’s tired of waiting for me to figure it out and holler as loud as it can.
So I am trying to think of my daily work not in terms of wordcount but in terms of time. Two hour segments. Not pushing so hard I feel like my eyes are bleeding. Tortoising it up–slow and steady. Anyone who’s met me knows how much that galls. But pain is a wonderful enforcer. You change or you suffer.
But this is the first day of me being, tentatively, back in the land of the living. Reviving this blog, which went rather dark last year for a whole host of other reasons. Getting through the backlog of emails. (Please be patient!) I’m at the outer limits of my ability to not speak–online, in my books, with the keys that are the core of my life. The Girl Without Hands got new ones, eventually. I hope, with all my jangled, pinched-off nerves and frenetic brain, that I will too.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s an icepack with my name on it.
Welcome to the yearly accounting of my published works, in handy list form for those who are inclined to nominate works for awards. (Also for those who don’t nominate, but would like links to things I’ve written!) Hugo nominations opened last week, and Nebula awards nominations are open until February (as are nominations for the Rhysling Award). If you’re a member of the World Fantasy convention, you can nominate works for the World Fantasy awards through May.
The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two (Feiwel and Friends)
(Most of the stories in these collections were published elsewhere prior to 2013, but the collections themselves are still eligible for the World Fantasty award.)
Six-Gun Snow White (Subterranean Press)
We Without Us Were Shadows (Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy)
The Shoot-Out at Burnt Corn Ranch Over the Bride of the World (Subterranean Press Magazine)
Ink, Water, Milk (The Melancholoy of Mechagirl)
Aeromaus (The Bread We Eat in Dreams)
A Great Clerk of Necromancy (Apex Magazine)
Thanks for your consideration! And if you’re not into nominating, I hope you enjoy these things I’ve made!
I had every intention of starting the year by revitalizing this blog, with many exciting posts about things both significant and insignificant. But instead, my body decided it wanted to celebrate the new year with a vicious flare-up of carpal tunnel. I am dictating this blog post, which is extra fun since I am historically unable to dictate so much as a post-it note with any felicity of language. SO FUN.
I haven’t been able to use my hands for anything more strenuous than feeding myself for the better part of a fortnight. On the bright side, I have cool robotic arm-bracers that make Terminator-like clicky noises when I adjust them. So I have that going for me, which is nice. Actually though it is not nice. I’m improving somewhat but it sucks and it is slow and it is frustrating. Also — it’s one thing when I slack of from work to play videogames, its quite another when I can’t work at all and I hate it. LISTEN UP WRISTS, I GOT FAIRIES TO MAKE OKAY?
So the upshot is, I have been invisible and absent but I have a really good reason. I don’t know when I’ll be able to be a full-time primate with the use of my opposable thumbs and tools again but I hope it is soon. In the meantime, I had a new short story collection come out over the holidays: The Bread We Eat in Dreams which includes my last two years of published fiction along with several new stories. The New York Times liked it and stuff. Though the trade edition sold out in a day there are a few (less than fifty) copies of the fancy leather-bound limited edition left here, along with my notes on each story. There are however infinite copies of the ebook, for just five tiny dollars. You can still listen to the Audio Christmas Cracker edition of one of the stories, Twenty Five Facts About Santa Claus, read fabulously by Heath Miller anytime you like. It will stay up throughout the year.
See you all when I am fully functional again. (clicky clicky)
Good morning everyone! Whether today is a Holiday Eve for you or not, I hope it is a lovely day full of goodness.
As a small gift sent out into the world, I present this audio Christmas Cracker (for my American brothers and sisters, a Christmas Cracker is like a little foil happybomb that goes BANG and then there’s a little present and a paper crown and a joke inside). It is a short story from my collection The Bread We Eat in Dreams, called Twenty Five Facts About Santa Claus, read wonderfully by Heath Miller, and given free to all this rollicking cold December. (Or rollicking hot, depending on where you are.)
Please enjoy this little tale, and the carnival of lights and sleighbells and occasional warmth that goes up this time of year. From the islands of Maine to all of you–may the new year best the old and bring your wishes to your hands.
We hope you’ve got questions, because CMV’s got time and space to answer them! Her AMA thread is now live on Reddit– you can head over there now to get your question in. CMV will be live from 3-5 PM EST answering them.
Here’s the link: Catherynne M. Valente’s Ask Me Anything on Reddit.
Go forth and query!
CMV will be doing an AMA on Reddit this Wednesday, October 30, from 3-5 PM EST!
If you’re not familiar with Reddit’s AMAs, here are the facts: AMA means “Ask Me Anything.” On October 30, from 3-5 PM, you can find a thread posted on Reddit on which you can ask any burning questions you may have for CMV. She will read your questions and respond! We will post a link to the thread on the day in question, and the best place to get last-minute reminders are CMV’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Ready your questions, people! And kids, get your parents to help you with participating on Reddit. CMV can’t wait to talk with you!
The last stop on the Fairyland tour is tonight, at Longfellow Books in Portland, ME! Any Maine or Maine-adjacent people should make their way to Longfellow Books by 7:00 PM for a reading from The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two! CMV will also being doing a Q&A and signing any books you like. Girls, boys, sprites and goblins, all welcome!
CMV even recently appeared on local Portland channel WCSH to talk all about the Fairyland series:
If you missed out on the Fairyland tour, you can find CMV at Mile Hi Con 45 this weekend in Denver, CO, where she’s appearing as Guest of Honor along with Seanan McGuire. (If you’ve never seen these two together before, and you’ll be at the con – you’re in for a real treat!)
Here’s a last treat for everyone, regardless of whether you manage to catch CMV on tour:
The press kit for The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two is now available for download as a PDF. Right click the link above to save the file. It includes succinct info about CMV and the Fairyland series, as any good press kit must. But it also includes DIY Fairyland bookmarks!
If you happen to craft either of the bookmarks, feel free to post pictures on Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, or Facebook and tag them with #Fairyland3. We’d love to see them in the wild, and happily serving their purpose.
As usual, Valente enlightens readers with pearly gleams of wisdom about honesty, identity, free will, and growing up. September often worries who she should be and what path she should follow, but the lovely truth, tenderly told, is that it’s all up to her…
Booklist, starred review
October is here! And with it the third Fairyland sibling soars for the moon and hits her mark — which is to say, Happy Book Birthday to The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two!
I’m in New York today with people I love, visiting schools to talk about this amazing series that grew from your generosity and enthusiasm. September is partially grown up, yet still fleet with joy and wonder, and these are the chief qualities I take with me on this Fairyland tour. I hope you and your children will come meet me during this month of harvest and magic, and that we can all launch on another adventure with September together through readings and songs.
Hey, if you’re in New York City, you should come see me at Word Books tonight at 7 PM! We’re doing a reading and a Q&A and OMG S.J. TUCKER IS GOING TO BE THERE DEBUTING SONGS FROM HER NEW ALBUM WONDERS!
What is Wonders? Get this, it’s only a s00j album full of songs inspired by the Fairyland books! Guys, there’s a rollicking song by our favorite Wyverary, a terrifying Glashtyn shanty, and so many other gorgeous and disturbing songs that effortlessly evoke Fairyland in all its strange glory. You can actually listen for free here, but you should totally purchase a copy if you like it. s00j is amazement, scientific fact.
Thank you to everyone — every single one of you who has been there, who supported the original project, who bought the first books and told me how they made them feel, who talked about it online. Thank you to my tribe. To parents and librarians and teachers who shared September’s adventures with their children. And to my publishers who have been a dream of support and love. There are not enough thanks in the world. I will never stop offering what thanks I can.
Which mostly means being overcome with delight, and giving you more September adventures – hey, this is a five book series!
Here’s everything you need to know about The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two!
September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.
The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two is another rich, beautifully told, wisely humorous, and passionately layered book from New York Times–bestselling author Catherynne M. Valente.
The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two is available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your local independent bookseller, and basically anywhere you care to look for books. You should be able to get it on the ground at all the big booksellers, too. It’s available on the Kindle, the Nook, the iPad, and most other electronic formats.
If you want your copy signed, mail it to me with the cost of return postage and I will sign it for you. Email me for my address if you don’t already know it. Or find me on the tour at any one of the readings and conventions I’ll be doing in 2013-14. Check my Appearances page for details.
How You Can Help (if, you know, you’re inclined to do things like helping out authors. And if you like the book.)
Buy the book. Obviously, this is the best way to support the book–and ensure that there will be many more in the series. Buying a copy during the first week and even doing so today is a huge slice of awesome–it’s the most important week in a book’s life. It’s when the strange math of the NYT list can inexplicably blow your way, as it did with the first book. If you want to do me a solid, buy it this week. I really appreciate it.
Come to my readings in the next month. Come to the show, be part of the tribe. Besides reading from The Girl Who Soared, I’m also doing Q&As and sometimes even having tea. There’s also the promise of singing at some events, and I’m turning up at New York City Comic Con! Get all the details on my Appearances page.
Review it. On your blog, or elsewhere if you work for a review site or a magazine. I can send a PDF if you haven’t gotten the book from other sources. Physical ARCs are also available. I’d like to hold review copies for people who review for venues, however.
Put up a review on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Totally easy and a nice way to say what you thought even if you don’t review professionally. Don’t be shy!
Ask your local booksellers to carry it, if they don’t already. This is important, as it is still the place where a whole lot of people buy books, and the brick and mortar ordering system determines a lot of a book’s success.
Check it out from your local library. If they don’t have it, request it. This can result in both you reading the book for free, and increased library orders, which are awesome. Also, libraries: we need them, yo, more than ever.
Link to the book in your journals/Twitter/Facebook/websites–Spread the word! And if you know kids who might like it–tell them. Please do get the word out, if you can. All books need help to get in front of readers’ eyeballs. If you want me to cross-link to any of your work in exchange, let me know.
Use the hashtag #Fairyland3 when talking about it on Twitter – also, if you’d like to win a copy of the book, make a tweet (or write a post and spread it via Twitter) with the hashtag #tothemoon BY NOON ON OCTOBER 2ND, 2013, and I’ll choose 3 winners as soon as my tour schedule allows. (That’s tomorrow, people.)
I’ll be signing stock at Borderlands Books in San Francisco tomorrow – one cool thing out of many about Borderland Books is that they let you order signed copies over the phone! You can call toll-free (much better deal than you get from the Glashtyn) at 888.893.4008 to reserve a copy and make arrangements to get your hands on it.
That’s it. I am full of joy today, that we stand here at the start of another trip to Fairyland. Wash your courage, put on your favorite wind-lent coat, and let’s begin.
Clear your October calendars, ladies and gents, boys and girls! Catherynne M. Valente may be blowing into your town, courtesy of the dashing Green Wind, on her wayward and curious tour for The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two! We’ve got readings, we’ve got signings, and we’ve even got an S.J. Tucker performance and a tea party.
(All events not redeemable at all locations, check your events accordingly, void where prohibited, avoid fairy food, and beware time-traveling moon-Yetis.)
Step right up for dates and locations:
A Trip to Fairyland with Catherynne Valente
10/01/2013 @ 7PM
Word, A Neighborhood Independent Bookstore
126 Franklin Street
Brooklyn, NY 11222
Linden Tree Books
10/02/2013 @ 7PM
265 State Street
Los Altos, CA 94022
Mrs. Dalloway’s at the Berkeley Public Library
10/03/2013 @ 7PM
Claremont Branch of the Berkeley Public Library
Berkeley, CA 94705
Afternoon Tea Party & Conversation with CMV
82 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02482
Once Upon a Time in Fantasy Lit… (Panel)
10/11/2013 @ 12:15PM
New York Comic Con
1A17 – Javits Center, NYC
(Con membership required to attend.)
10/11/2013 @ 1:30PM
New York Comic Con
Autographic Table 21
Javits Center, NYC
(Con membership required to attend.)
Books of Wonder
10/11/2013 @ 6PM
18 W. 18th Street
New York, NY 10011
10/17/2013 @ 7PM
1 Monument Square
Portland, ME 04101
Crow about which event you’ll be attending on Twitter using #Fairyland3, and spread the word to other fans!
Last time on TL;DR Theater, I talked about all the junk that led up to August 2011 and beginning the long process of losing the equivalent of the luggage I checked on my trip to Australia from my frame. Well, I didn’t lose it. It’s not like I misplaced it and I’m looking behind the couch cushions for a vaguely Cat-shaped 90 pound dustbunny. It was far more often mysterious to me where I’d gotten all that to begin with than where it all went to once I was done with it or it was done with me. It did not, more’s the pity, get up and totter adorably off to the mothership like the Adipose on Doctor Who–an episode that always felt far more uncomfortable to me on account of the bafflingly unspoken fact that most everyone I knew would glad chug alien larvae if it meant being skinny than the using of humans as EZ-Bake Ovens. Losing weight was not an accident; it was deliberate and painstaking and difficult As a certain Wyvern would say: that’s not losing it, that’s leaving it.
These days I’m in that phase where a lot of people haven’t seen me in awhile or have only seen photos and thus aren’t used to my looking the way I do now. It is not yet the new normal. So I end up talking about it quite a bit. And the question I always get asked, in one form or another (but mostly this one) is: What’s your secret?
I always look apologetic. I know, being a veteran of Diets What Read Like Magic Spells, what they want to hear. That the pounds just fell off when I started doing X, where X is something solid and pointable-to, whether something reasonable and repeatable or something radical and so crazy it just might work: cutting out carbs or gluten or sugar or Fill in the Blank Celebrity Endorsed Meal Plan or running marathons or pilates or eating nothing but lilies plucked under the light of a crescent moon–but I could have as many as I wanted and I never felt deprived!
The thing is: there is no secret.
There’s not even One True Technique that I could point to and say: THAT. That is why this time it worked when I failed so miserably all the other times. Slap a barcode on it and start shipping nationwide. It was a lot of different things, some dietary, some behavioral, some psychological. Some came from me and some came from others. And it’s all very specific to me and might not work at all for anyone else–so before I start counting off the circus funbag of actionable items, allow me to repeat that I am not giving advice, I am not telling you what to do or claiming that any of what I did is the way, the truth, and the life. There is plenty of judgmental I Was Once Fat Like You evangelism online and I am allergic to the pulpit. If I’m trying to squeeze into my empathy hat, I might say it’s natural, I guess, to some extent, for people who have spent much of their lives as physical beings thinking they’re worthless and lazy, to come out on the other side of significant weight loss with the attitude that if they (a worthless, lazy person) can do it, anyone can, it’s not like it’s hard, because worthless, lazy people can’t accomplish hard things. Thus, anyone who doesn’t lose weight must just not care. Those people must not want to try. Those people must be so much more worthless and lazy, so much as to be utterly beneath contempt.
Yeah. The Empathy Hat doesn’t really fit that well after a decade and change of hearing this sort of thing online and off, only without the Empathy Hat or even a skinny, decorative Self-Awareness Scarf. Seriously, if people could stop bleating online about how simple it is and how all you need to do is care and put forth a little effort and chanting Calories In, Calories Out God Fat People Are Dumb I’m Totes Glad I’m Not One while toasting each other in comment sections like Victorian industrialists chortling in their clubs over how simply gauche one finds the poor, Cecil, why, I’m quite sure I read a highly scientifical study that discovered fat people’s brains are 80% cake, Ye Olde Lolle!
So I don’t have a secret to share. I have what worked for me. I am a beautiful and unique snowflake of bad habits and psychological ick and several chins. It took 18 months. I didn’t start out with all of these tools in my belt. I started out pretty blind, with only what extremely dubious lessons I’d learned from the diets of varying logic and patterns set down in my early twenties.
It shouldn’t surprise you, then, that the first bit of the tale is a screeching false start.
In August 2011, I decided that now, right now, I would really lose it this time I swear to every god with a tummy that fell over his or her loincloth. So I did what I usually do, which is to decide that since low-carb worked for me at age 21, it is the only thing that ever will. I started off trying the Harcombe Diet, which is an Australian thing that would have you do that standard low-carb foxtrot but also eat your weight in yogurt because intestinal flora. Honestly, if a diet didn’t have a name or proper noun in front of it I didn’t know what to do with it. I should have distrusted anything with fonts and color schemes that look like a middle-schoolers diary, in retrospect. I picked a goal weight, more or less out of thin air: 160 pounds. A little above what I weighed the last time I could bear to look at photos of myself. It honestly felt like a mythical number, it had little meaning other than the ritual of the thing. You declare a goal weight because that’s what you do. It was mostly just a thing to fail to achieve, in my head.
It’s important to note here that the other major change in my habits was that, after several conventions in a row wherein the traditional sojourn out for ice cream at a fancy shop made me double over in pain, a dim thought appeared in my thick skull that I might be lactose intolerant. Growing up Christian Scientist means that it takes longer, sometimes, for such connections to get made, because you grow up in an environment where no one admits to illness. I still remember explaining patiently to someone that it’s not that I’m allergic to lemongrass, it’s just that whenever I taste it or smell it I feel sick and my lips tingle and my throat gets tight. I just don’t like it, is all. Why are you laughing at me?
So anyway, I cut out dairy. Which was in itself a long process, figuring out just how intolerant and what I can and can’t have. Many people can still have yogurt, which is why a diet that was like 50% yogurt seemed like it would work. It actually turns out that the amount of dairy I can have is basically none, I’m not only intolerant but allergic, so Lactaid doesn’t help. I can slip in some hard/aged cheeses once in awhile, but that’s about it.
As those who have tried dieting may know, any change in your diet will have some effect, however minor. Ten pounds came off fairly easily and quickly. But when you’re as heavy as I was (250 pounds), ten pounds ain’t nothing but breakfast, you’d never notice it. I knew that the first ten are always easy, so I couldn’t really even consider myself making progress until I’d lost more than that.
But I didn’t. I just couldn’t seem to lose any more than that. I was utterly miserable shoveling yogurt into my face (I don’t even like yogurt that much and I understand now that my whole body was waging a Return of the Living Dairy Product war on my guts and there could be no winners. And eating basically just meat and greens and veggies was doing its usual number on my mood, which is to say I basically slouched around the house like Buffy in her caveman episode. Meat bad. Cat pretty?
So I decided to change tacks and just start tracking calories with one of those new fangled iphone apps. I can’t remember which one I was using at first. I figured 1200 calories was a thing I had heard dieting people say (SCIENCE) so that was a good calorie limit. I punched in the numbers and gratefully started eating bread again.
And nothing happened. I still couldn’t lose any more than that first ten pounds. By this time it was getting into October and I was frustrated to tears. I was trying so hard. Somewhere in my head I thought I should be losing weight the way I had when I was taking those “herbal” supplements I got off a telephone pole advertisement: a pound or two every couple of days. But nothing, nothing and I had been so careful.
At this point I tweeted for advice and I’ll tell you right now, Tobias Buckell is the person who turned it around for me. (If you don’t read his books, you should.) He IM’d me and explained that his own medical issues meant he had to lose weight but couldn’t take the strain at exercise, so he’d become awesome at hacking diet. We talked for quite awhile and he explained that at my weight, 1200 calories was an insanely low number to be working with and probably wouldn’t be effective. My body would hold on to every last pound on account of the terrible famine of 2011. He told me to download an app called LoseIt! and let it calculate what I needed for me, and then just eat that. If I wanted a jelly donut in the morning, fine, just keep the whole day under that number. Don’t deprive myself, just record everything.
LoseIt! suggested a daily calorie intake of a little over 1600 calories.
Now that may seem like simple stuff, but to me a diet had always had to be something radical, hardcore, painful. If I wasn’t suffering, then I wasn’t serious about the process. I always put whatever self-worth I had left into how much I could deny myself, because that, in my head, was the measure of the likelihood of success. It was like some kind of fucked up idea of sympathetic magic. If I could punish myself enough, I’d get what I wanted.
Toby checked up on me every week for awhile. It was one of the kindest things anyone’s done for me, and I’ll be forever grateful. Armed with his advice (and I’m really shorthanding it here, he taught me a ton) I gave myself the following parameters:
Track everything: LoseIt! (though I would not now recommend this as an app–it didn’t evolve with the tech and I use MyNetDiary now, which is fantastic, and lets you track water and sleep and nutrients and a lot of other stuff as well) allows you to log all your food and exercise and will automatically add anything you burn to your daily allowance. I had to be honest, and I had to put everything into the system. And the fact of having a smartphone where it was so easy to input the information was a huge help–it’s not like I am ever without my phone, for I am a child of technology.
No dairy: And not yogurt either. Or cheese of any kind. I was aware that I could have hard cheese but given that I was still having reactions to all kinds of things it seemed better to just cut it out entirely. And funny thing, not having dairy cuts you out, automatically, of a whole lot of things: cheeseburgers, pizza, any dessert menu (seriously you can make a dessert without dairy I SWEAR), creamy sauces and soups.
No eating out: I decided that I’d stop eating out unless it was a business meal. All the effort and energy I put into wanting food and eating it, I’d put into preparing it. I grew vegetables in my garden and baked and cooked elaborate, high-committment meals. At home I can control what goes in, I can be sure it’s actual Plants and Animals That Used to Be Alive and not I Can’t Believe It’s Not Food industrial product. I would remember that part of the magic of food is in making it. I’d take delight in local everything and homemade awesomeness. If I was craving something bad for me, I had to make it myself, from scratch. If I didn’t know how to cook it, I’d learn. I know very, very well that this is a little easier for me as I live on an island with two restaurants, neither of which are so amazing they represent much of a temptation, and going to one of the restaurants in town required a boat ride that provided plenty of time to consider whether I actually wanted that sandwich at Duckfat or not. (The name of that wonderful place should tell you exactly how doctor-approved it is.) It’s also easier because I work at home, I can take the time (and expense) to cook everything from scratch. It’s not a luxury everyone has. But there’s no point in having a luxury if you’re not even really using it. So I’d use the hell out of it. Which leads to–
Think hard about everything I eat: I decided that I would try to be as mindful as possible about what I was eating, a revelation that came from reading the Fat Nutritionist. Whatever I was eating, I’d ask myself whether that specific thing was what I wanted to be eating in that specific moment, or whether I was eating because I was sad or bored or it was the time of day when humans traditionally eat or because it was a social gathering so there’s food out and no one who grew up poor can ever turn down free food. I could have anything I wanted if I was absolutely positive that it was what I deeply, genuinely wanted in that moment. And if I stayed within my daily calorie count–which basically meant portion control. Eat whatever, but only some. I would apply all that love of food that was a profound part of my nature, all that conviction that treating food as fuel alone is just as disordered an attitude as overeating and a miserable way to go through life and I’d actually commit to that idea: I wouldn’t eat anything I didn’t really, really want to eat.
I would weigh myself every day: And here’s one that I’m wary about sharing. This is an absolutely terrible idea for a whole lot of people. You’re meant to weigh yourself once a week, every few days at max. And for people with disordered relationships to their weight, weighing yourself every day can be a quick road to breakdown town. I chose to do this knowing that it might even be a terrible idea for me. But I’d ignored the scale for so many years and it had left me totally unaware of my own body. I did it knowing it’s pretty bad for your brain. My reasoning was a little strange, but bear with me.
NOW IS THE TIME WHEN WE DISCOVER THINGS ABOUT CAT. I’m an obsessive counter. My particular brand of OCD manifests itself numerically, and it is a Conan of a beast. What is good in life? Knowing how many steps are in every staircase and counting my own breaths! Oddly enough, knitting has been an enormous balm for me. Knitting is counting and knots, after all, and holding my position in a pattern, rows, stitches, repeats, takes up the place in my head that used to instantly tally up the number of tiles on any given floor. But my obsession with numbers, while eased somewhat, never goes away. So I figured, Self, I figured, why not put your crazy to work for you? If you’re going to obsess about numbers anyway, let’s just give in to that and let it take over for awhile. Go ahead, weight yourself constantly and look at your calorie counting app a million times a day. It’ll either get less interesting or you’ll learn something from it, but trying to scrupulously avoid obsessing about numbers will only make your vampire brain double down. Go ahead, treat yourself. Count everything.
And that was what I started out with. Those rules and a friend who cared enough to check up on me on the regular.
And it worked. Not like a miracle. Not easily. Not even quickly. Through the entirety of the process I never managed to lose much more than more than five pounds a month. That ended up being terribly frustrating as my I’m Losing Weight! expectations were set during the era of buying speed at Wal-Mart so long as it was called Metabolife. I always felt like I should be doing more, faster, better. I’d see people post their Success Stories online and it would seem to have happened so fast for them. I couldn’t even escape the dread twin demons of Compare and Contrast when I was demonstrably making progress. Some Lady on the Internet lost 100 pounds in a year. If I can’t, I must be a failure like I always was. Lather, rinse, repeat, the brain is a wonderful place, isn’t it?
But I did break through the ten pound barrier that had plagued me. I started going to hot yoga regularly (though I’ll fess up, I did not stick with that nearly as much as I should have. The exercise portion of my diet and exercise plan often, often fell by the wayside and I am no kind of poster child for that side of the business). I wasn’t perfect. I had days where I broke down and ate way too much. But those days were almost exclusively at conventions or on the road, where it’s so much harder to control things. At home, it wasn’t a misery to stick with what I’d planned out. Much. It was somewhere around eight months that I realized I would very likely be able to get to 160 if I just didn’t stop what I was doing. It would happen, I just had to wait.
For the first several weeks, because I had been restricting my calories so much, it was almost freeing to have to fill 1600 a day. I was still hungry sometimes. I was never as good about drinking as much water as I needed to as I could have been. But it was possible. The first few months were a huge adjustment, both terms of my stomach growing accustomed to a new definition of full and in terms of my psychology, which still wanted to panic and boredom eat and take short breaks to hate myself.
And I had to realize a hard truth. I’d always kind of said to myself that I didn’t really eat more than other people, I just had a slow metabolism or something, or I’d gained weight way back when and hadn’t lost it but it wasn’t that I was eating a ton now. Having never done a diet where I had to record everything that fastidiously, I had never had the numbers in front of me. I’d never just counted up the calories.
And the truth is, I was eating a lot. (This was true for me. Not for everyone.) There wasn’t any way to ignore that if I was eating pretty close to my hunger/comfort limits at 1600 a day, I had not exactly been the frugal gourmet before. I learned a lot about just how many calories are in Things, which I had really never given much thought to. My diets had always been about eating a Particular Thing, not about the energy contained in That Thing. But it was plain as the app in front of my face–if bacon and egg and an english muffin was just under 400 calories, then the breakfast sandwich at the cafe plus a pastry was probably almost 800 calories I had started a whole lot of days with in the past. SOBERING SHIT, I TELL YOU WHAT.
And for awhile, that basically made me feel like a manatee whose flippers were self-delusion and whose blubber was the blubber of bad choices. I didn’t have anything to protect my psyche from guilt, not the idea that it had all been rogue birth control or that my body just didn’t do things right. My brain just went full bastard on me, convinced that now was an awesome time to embrace that I was clearly a pig and a glutton and what do you know, my outsides did match my inside.
And so when I backslid and cheated on my diet? I cheated with other diets.
I’d decide that it was time to go on juice fasts or other ill-concieved Proceed Directly to Hell Do Not Pass Go anguish rallies. And I’d fail because I was hungry like the womby girl in Slither and sometimes crushed applecelerycarrotmush is not going to cut it.
But slowly, I evened out. I clung to the idea of how much I loved food. Of only eating something I really wanted to put in my mouth right then. Of being mindful about food. Of taking pleasure in it, but listening to my body, which knows a lot more about what it needs than my brain, which mostly knows about how to tear itself into tiny pieces.
It sounds facile when you put it like that. Because no process is anything but I did something and I kept doing it for a long time. And I feel a little strange about the fact that counting calories ended up working for me in a way nothing else did–except that I think the psychological stuff that went along with plinking things into an app was as big a factor. I feel guilty because I don’t have a secret.
And one day a couple of weeks before I left for Australia, I got on the scale and it said 160. No trumpets blared, no confetti rained down. It was just looking back at me in glowing blue numerals.
Now, I’m still not what our beloved culture would consider skinny. And I’m not really done. I picked 160 out of thin air, an abstract goal that I had no expectation of achieving, and thus had no real attachment to Cat’s Body. I’m pretty happy with how I look right now. I’d like to regain some muscle mass and lose a little bit more, now that I can look at myself and evaluate what I actually want to look like. What my body wants to weigh. What is maintainable. But that 70% of my brain capacity is no longer taken up with hating my physical self. It’s nice, to have that back. I may not keep it off. That’s the mountain on the other side of weight loss. Maintenance is just as hard. I never get to have an uncomplicated relationship with food.
I have a lot more complicated thoughts and reactions and scrunched up faces on the other side of 90 pounds, but this is quite long enough, so I’ll save that, and pictures, for part 3…
So as not to bury the lede, and so that if you find this sort of thing triggery or simply boring, you can skip right along, let me cut to the title card: I have lost 90 pounds (about 41 kg) over the last 18 months. I’ve gone from a size 18, creeping up on 20 to a size 6 creeping down on 4, if the black alchemical demonology of American women’s clothes sizing is a thing you can parse.
It’s weird. It’s surreal. It still seems impossible, even though I was, obviously, there the whole time and I did it on purpose. I’m gonna talk about it. With gusto.
This is going to be a series of not-short posts (it’s a pretty major thing in my life, I feel like I can take some space to ruminate like a boss) concerning how and why I did it, what the effects on my health and my life have been, and my thoughts on what it all means, both to me personally and in the funky social primateworld at large. I intend to be quite forthright and open about my own history, habits, body, psyche, and numbers–all things not spoken of in company. Because everyone can judge you for your body, but no one wants to hear what you go through on account of it. I’m doing this because I think it’s important, if I’m going to talk about this thing at all (and I’m going to try super hard not to call it a “journey” or a “transformation” or any of that diet blog jazz), to be plain and unashamed of either my former self or my current one, and none of it embarrasses me–we all own a body. It’s useful for me to write out all this stuff for myself, but obviously I’m doing it online because I want to discuss it with other, not myself, people. So to further that discussion I’m not going to be coy.
That said, I am exquisitely, painfully aware that this is not a value-neutral topic. I have done my own time reading blog posts by my friends detailing their fitness or weight loss or even just the cute clothes they bought and feeling deep shame, self-hatred, and a weird melange of envy, resignation, a frantic marshaling of resources to still feel like I was ok, and a renewed conviction that I was the ugliest beast to walk the earth.
I do not want to make anyone feel this way by talking about
my journey my transformation how I spent my summer vacation. I am acutely, personally aware of not only the privilege of body conforming but, to my mind even more pervasive an pernicious, the privilege of pretty. IT IS SOME COMPLEX SHIT YOU GUYS. I’ve been thinking about it for, like, half my life. And even more pressingly in the years since I turned into a person who gets their photograph taken on the frequent, whose face is public property and represents not just me but my work.
I’m going to talk about all of that. It is not separable from the story of how anyone changes their body in the current cultural climate. This isn’t a thinspiration rally. It’s a stock-taking of where I am and where I want to be, where I’ve been and how I got from there to here, with here being a constantly-fluctating state. It’s not about success or a victory lap or spitting on the body I had before. On the other hand, I am glad and proud that I did what I did. Dude, it was hard. COMPLEX. WARNING: XXX HARDCORE PSYCHO-CONFESSIONAL ACTION INCOMING.
So given all that, we gotta have some ground rules going in.
1. If you find these kinds of posts upsetting and damaging, for whatever reason, please, please just don’t read it.
You have the power to just click away and not feel bad or spend the afternoon having tea with self-loathing. It won’t hurt my feelings and hell, there may not even be anything new or useful in here. That’s the risk of any personal blogging. I didn’t post about the process over the last 18 months for precisely the reason that body stuff is so fraught and so hard and so triggery for so many people. So you fully have my permission to just carry on as though I never posted about it–and if you have a history of eating disorders, maybe you should. It’s cool, I swear. Nobody else’s body should have the power to harm the way you see your own. If you have trouble with that, and fuck, I know I do, don’t give me that power. Keep it for yourself.
2. When I get to the part about how I lost weight, there is a giant flashing neon sign over every word and that sign says: These Things Worked for Me But They May Not Work For You, Some May Even Be Terrible Ideas For You, Because Everyone Is Different And If This Crap Were Universal or Easy How Would An Entire Industry Revolve Around Making Us Feel Bad About It?
And I’m going to get into my own history pretty seriously before I start telling you what app I used and all that. Because I could just say I tried a whole bunch of diets in the past but none really worked til now but then I’d just sound like a diet infomercial and there is an actual place in actual hell where you just have to watch those on a loop for all eternity. I said I was taking stock. That means opening up boxes in the back room and seeing what’s there. THIS IS ME WE’RE TALKING ABOUT, YOU KNOW IT’S GONNA GET ALL INTIMATE UP IN HERE.
3. This is not, and I will not let it become, about fat-shaming.
I say that because in telling you how I thought of myself through most of my adult life, I’m going to say some gross stuff. The world is SUPER EFFECTIVE at making fat people, particularly fat women, feel like utter slime about their bodies and I internalized a fire hose stream of that liquid crap over the course of my life. I’m slowly getting better about how I treat myself–it takes longer than losing weight to right that, actually. But there is a world of difference between I felt deep shame because I was fat and being fat is shameful. Mainly, the first one is a true fact and the second one is bullshit. So when I talk about my broken brain, it’s to say: my brain was broken, and if you feel like this sometimes, well, reading that someone else does too doesn’t make you right, but maybe it makes you feel less alone.
4. There will be no nonsense in the comments on the subjects of how terrible fat people are and how superior not-fat people are.
Pretty simple. I will kill that noise with an axe.
Ok. For those of you still here, let’s get this thing off the ground already. Imma tell it like a story, because that’s what I do. And that means AWKWARD FRONTLOADED EXPOSITION, YO.
A Brief History of My Human Suit
NEWS AT 11 YOUNG WOMAN HAS SOME ISSUES WITH HER BODY AND FOOD.
Let me try to arrange them for you in a tasteful bouquet.
I was a thin child in a family of athletic people who became a thin (but not athletic because apparently where I have the bookish nerd gene all my siblings have the awesomely competent at sports gene) teenager. I wouldn’t say I had the worst upbringing ever in terms of food. My stepmother (who has never been anything but a tiny, tiny woman; even her handwriting is thin and small) was always strictly Americana–not a lot of fresh or fancy stuff, but canned and frozen veggies everywhere, balanced meals, packed lunches, lots of casseroles and baked chicken and an unfortunate taste for Butter Buds and margarine and other artificially stuff but seriously no worse than anyone ever had growing up in the 80s. I was, however, brought up Christian Scientist, and boy howdy will that do a number on your ideas about your body. CS teaches that you don’t have one, see. Matter is mortal error–we are all perfect mind and this world is an illusion so no doctors because anything that’s wrong can be fixed with your mind because that’s all you are. (Step 3 is definitely profit. I seriously challenge you to have anything to do with that faith and come out with a normal relationship to either food or sex.)
My mother swung the other way. If she were a worse person she’d be a total food hipster–she was all organic and local and natural as mud before it was cool or even particularly easy to do that. There was a lot of carob, is what I’m saying, and I will go to my grave insisting that carob tastes not of chocolate or treats but a fallen world and your parents’ lies.
My brother John and I took over the household cooking when I was 13 and he was 8, as Mom was deep in her PhD program and we were interested and it beat almost any other chore we might get stuck with instead. We taught each other how to cook through trial and error and about a million cookbooks. (This was the Pre-Internet Universe) I still remember that our toaster broke at some point and we couldn’t afford a new one, so we adapted. I think our adaptation says a lot about who John and I are as people and our relationship to food: our afterschool snack became whatever spelt or quinoa or unicorn-pelt bagels we had on hand, split in half and pan-fried, with caramelized onions on top.
John is now quite a successful chef.
The point is, I love food, always have, always will. I am not a professional chef, clearly, but I am a damn fine cook and I pride myself on my ability to make more or less anything fantastically. I don’t think that’s boasting. The only thing I’ve been doing as long as I’ve been making overly-complicated meals is writing. You get pretty ok at things you do for a decade and a half.
Bear with me, I promise this is important.
So my attitude toward eating has always been, and remains, the opposite of the food is fuel meme that so many people espouse to my eternal bafflement. Food is pleasure and social interaction and caretaking and not a little bit of magic. In college I used to throw Stone Soup parties to feed my friends who lived on pizza and Coke: everyone bring an ingredient and I will mother you for the night. We have to eat to live, why not make it a joy and an art and an experience?
I fully admit that this isn’t an attitude that will universally lead to rock-hard abs and catwalks. That in particular never bothered me–but it’s easy to not get bothered when you’re sixteen, 100 pounds with clothes on, and blissfully unaware of the calorie content of anything you choose to eat. It is, however, among all the assumptions and beliefs and needs I was willing to alter or give up to lose weight, one I utterly refused to abandon.
Some of this is hard to write and to fess up to. I’m going to try to keep this personal rather than general–no generic “you”s, because good lord, I don’t know your life. But I suspect I am not alone in that I had a lot of ways of thinking about my weight that involved it not being about food per se, that involved it not being entirely my fault. Or my fault at all. Some of them were even true. For example–I first gained a significant amount of weight around age 17 when I went on Depo-Provera. (That’s a birth control shot, in case it just looks like medical word salad.)
Up until then I had been a pretty, bone-thin girl, an active dancer and actress. The picture of an ingenue. I didn’t have an eating disorder and I didn’t hate my body beyond having no breasts at all and shorter than everyone else in my family. I was a giant poetry-scribbling barefoot long-haired theatre dork with a feminist mother who taught me not to care what other people thought of my body. So far so good.
I really don’t know if Depo has been refined at all since but back then everyone I knew who got on it had terrible health issues. I had to sign a waiver saying I understood that I might gain some weight (the form said 5-10 pounds) before they would even prescribe it! I figured I could stand to gain ten pounds. Instead, I gained 40 in about three months. I had blood-red stretch marks all over my body, and having never been anything but tiny, I honestly thought I was dying. I went to the doctor for stretch marks because I was convinced they were a fatal disease.
So that sucked. And shortly after that, I moved in with my then-boyfriend, future-husband and his parents, and all those body issues I didn’t have came crashing down in the form of those parents’ opinions on the decline of my physique. At 5’4 I now weighed 140 pounds and that was apparently sufficient to trigger deep concern, fad diets that “we’d all go on together” (Oh Herbalife, how I hate you) and lectures on my health and attractiveness. Weight Watchers Points Are Your God Now. My ex-husband had his own crippling self-image problems and fully admitted years later that he’d been waiting through our whole relationship for me to go back to the way I was when we met. When I was 15. My high school sweetheart, who turned out not to be such a sweetheart when we broke up, smugly quipped, when he saw me post weight gain, that “now her outsides match her inside.” This is but a small sampling of the cargo of judgment that came sailing my way in the Good Ship We Just Want You to Be Healthy.
I got the message. 140 pounds was unforgivably obese. Not only obese, but that number contained some coded information about who I was as a person, and if I wasn’t at a good weight, I simply wasn’t a good person. I seized on the image of myself at 15 as the True Image of Me. That was what I looked like. That was who I was. A good girl. A happy girl. A thin girl. If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time, you may remember my posting not a few times about that cognitive dissonance.
Some people might have had the mental wherewithal to turn that into the mysterious magical OHHHH YEEEEAAAAH fruit punch called “motivation” but I am not those people. For all my ignorance of body-hatred, my fairy-tale level broken childhood left me with no defenses at all when it came (and comes) to love offered and withheld. Eventually I went off Depo, but I ate my feels FOREVER, abandoning even the pretense of food as joy and art and just eating Jack in the Box because it made me feel better and I was broke anyway so that’s what I could afford.
And for a long time I just blamed it all on birth control. I lost some weight when I switched to the pill, but the pill ain’t so hot for your body either and I was, as previously reported, eating for two: me and my sadness.
But I actually did lose a goodly amount of the weight at one point. My self-loathing reached a peak when I started college at UC San Diego, Home of the Perfect Blond California Co-Ed and State of the Art Fitness Facility In Lieu of Adequate Student Housing. I went to a dance class and weighed myself in the locker room (I’d started avoiding scales) and saw that I’d hit 202 pounds. It was crushing, that number. Keep it in mind for later. I was 21. Over the course of about 10 months I lost 47 pounds and at 155 was a size 8 and pretty damned happy there. The rush of success and the constant praise of anyone who saw me losing weight temporarily bounced me back into the innocence of my Pre-Body-Loathing Adamic Garden.
How did I do it then? Well, it was the year 2000/2001. Cast back your mind. Taking all bets!
LOOK HERE, LADIES AND GENTS, WE HAVE A WINNER! THE WHEEL OF POOR LIFE CHOICES LANDS ON ATKINS AND PSEUDO-EPHEDRINE!
Oh, yeah. Those were the days! And this was before Atkins became so popular that you could get low-carb stuff anywhere you looked. I didn’t even know it was called Atkins at first. I actually took a damn number off of one of those 30 Pounds In 30 Days! fliers stapled to a telephone pole on campus. First of all, I know those things look sketchy, but DUDE THEY ARE SUPER SKETCHY. I was given directions to a guy’s condo. I took my ex-boyfriend/husband/boyband for backup. I was given a list of low-glycemic foods, a brochure about how Carbs Are Satan and Have Poisoned the Soul of Civilization With Evil, instructions to call a number and report my stats every three days on account of how they were conducting Srs Bsns Klinikal Trialz, and a 30-day supply of “supplements.” At the end of 30 days I could come back and get more.
Well, I was 21 and I hated myself and I’d had to sit through worse from Herbalife salesmen, who also would like you to take a range of horse pills with dubious ingredients. Plus fancy science words! Seemed legit!
Well, it worked. At the time I was like IT WORKS BECAUSE OF MAH DISCIPLINE AND AWESOMENESS. And I did stick religiously to the no-carb thing, even when it meant literally sitting at an empty cafeteria table crying because there was nothing I could eat. But mainly, mainly, I think it probably worked because those pills were pseudo-ephedrine/stone cold speed. I say this because since the FDA got all party pooper on that particular “herbal” supplement, I have not been able to lose a significant amount of weight on low-carb diets. More on that anon.
So what happened? What usually happens when you lose weight through a fad diet and pills. I moved to Scotland and ate all the fried things and gained it all back. Whatever role the birth control had in Original Recipe Weight Gain, the second one was all on me. I leveled up my cooking and I lived with a guy who said food is fuel with his mouth and McDonalds tastes like love with his soul and I didn’t pay attention or own a scale because I figured I had Lost the Weight and therefore I Was Done. Results: predictable.
For the rest of my twenties and into my thirties, I went through the So-Classic-It-Wears-A-Toga cycle of “I am a pig and it’ll never change and I’m worthless anyway so why bother trying” through to “I’m going to do X crash diet and that’ll fix it and this time I won’t fill my soul with meat pies and I’ll be True Me again.”
Essentially, if you can think of a LOSE WEIGHT NOW diet that seems both scientifically and morally dubious, I’ve done it. Those “Hollywood” juice fasts that taste like passionfruit, aspartame, and nihilism? So many times. Master Cleanse (the “cleanse” means poop)? Sure, only it’s so gross I only made it two days. Blood Type? Mostly Yogurt? Everything Has Acai In It Because Reasons? South Beach? Warrior Diet? All Fruit? Pay Per View Lose Weight By Breathing Fast for 10 Minutes a Day? OH YES SIR SEND ME THOSE TAPES 2 EZ PAYMENTS.
And because it’s how I’d done it before and there was so much blather about how carbs are an invention of the Uggo-Industrial Establishment and THEY ARE COMING FOR YOUR CHILDREN I kept coming back to Atkins and its fell sisters. But it made me so miserable. Just cranky and angry all the time, and exhausted, and unsatisfied. And not even really losing much weight. Turns out sparklejitter pseudo-ephedrine REALLY HELPS OUT with losing weight fast and set me up to think I’d always be making significant progress every three days. And I wasn’t. So I’d give up. All those diets were so restrictive that I would just break down crying after a few weeks and give up. I mean, the breathing one was cool. But not what you call “effective” or “not a hilarious scam.”
I didn’t do the thing where you just drink passionhorror juice and not exercise, either. Though, looking back, I really, really seem to have had a problem with late night television, impulse control, and OUR REVOLUTIONARY SYSTEM WILL TURN YOUR LIFE AROUND tapes. When I recall mistily Exercise Regimens I Have Known, I see VHS tapes. VHS tapes everywhere. Tae Bo, Abs of Steel, the Goddess Workout, Jane Fonda On a Trampoline, Pilates At Home, Ab Roller…ah, my old friends! Wii Fit, I haven’t forgotten you!
I did, while living in Japan, manage to turn it around a little. I was 24 and alone more or less all the time as boyband (now full-fledged husband) was at sea for the vast majority of our time there, and at some point I was all I have nothing but time. I should just flip out and do whatever one of the million and four Designed For Dudes, By Dudes workout books in his office tells me and then when he gets back I’ll be pretty again and Everything Will Be Fixed.
And by Everything I meant not just my body but my whole life because they were the same in my head. Indivisible, with humiliation and vicious cycles for all.
The book in question was Body for Life. It remains one of the worst-written diet/lifestyle/exercise books I’ve ever read. It’s very meathead hoo-rah beefcaaaaake. It promised, as they all do, 12 weeks from obesity to rippled muscle deity, and while, to my credit, I knew that was crap, I did think the severity of the system would deliver–and it did. I only lost about 12 pounds over 12 weeks, but I put on a lot of muscle and lost something like 20 inches total and I was considerably stronger. Went from a size 16 to a 12–pretty respectable. Plus I felt all badass with my weight lifting. While I went through my workout every day I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs for the first time and I’m not gonna pretend like I didn’t get cheerful when considering whether I could take on a vampire.
There was no chance I was going to stick with the diet after 12 weeks, though, no matter how many times the book said it was a “lifestyle change” and not a diet and should become a Way of Life. A Way of Life that involved buying a bimonthly truck full of their supplements and meal replacement bars and shakes which tasted like powdered ovaltine DEATH. And on top of that, it was the epitome of “food is fuel.” There was absolutely no concern for how anything tasted–dry spices were allowed, but no salt, no oil, no condiments but mustard. You’re gonna eat undressed steaks and plain baked potatoes (I don’t even like baked potatoes) veggies with ONE of your six daily meals (for moral fiber, I guess) and an infinite number of egg whites. To add insult to injury, it intended to make up for that by encouraging you to use margarine, salt substitutes, fat free and sugar free products of dubious space origin, all manner of artificial substances that are almost, but not quite, entirely unlike food. Everything tasted terrible all the time. I felt good because I was strong and much healthier, but I was deeply unhappy because I felt like I’d excised an entire sense from my life and replaced it with dust and shadows. (On the other hand, I could have as much dust as I liked.)
So Body for Life was pretty much destined to be Body for As Long As I Can Stand It for me, and it was. I came back to America and got a divorce and got together with Dmitri and I was happy, so much happier than I had been, and he didn’t judge me or think I was anything less than beautiful, he wasn’t waiting for me to be “willowy” again, and I let myself relax, really relax about it for a few years. I sort of just accepted that I was fat, but still had a pretty enough face and that was just how it was. Maybe I had a slow metabolism. Nothing was wrong with my thyroid and I had low blood pressure and no health issues, so this was just my body and I would live in it. I’d been struggling with it for so long it just didn’t seem possible that anything would really change and I just had to look on the bright side. I had a great rack (finally!) and awesome hair and nice eyes. I was loved, and my career was going well. I was cooking like a fiend because I was happy and I was making a new home. Writing is, of course, a solidly Sitting Down lifestyle, and my particular brand of Getting Books Done involves just not noticing that I have a body for several weeks and putting anything it wants in it to keep going. So I slalomed between homecooking domestic Strega Nona and a high-performance ice cream-to-literature conversion engine. And yet, it was a peaceful time in the part of my head that controls berating myself.
But it crept back up. All of it, eventually. I never escaped the poisonous idea that that image of myself at 15 was the Right One and I was failing by being so immensely Other Than That. I loathed having my picture taken or seeing any photos of any part of me (thanks, Facebook tags!). I got married and even on my wedding day I spent half the time internally beating myself up about how big I was. I was ashamed to go home and see my family, none of whom ever seemed to struggle with more than a spare 10 pounds or so. (And some of my family never said a word, and some did say words.) Shopping for clothes was agony. I avoided full length mirrors; I tried to ignore the fact that I existed from the neck down. I felt embarrassed every time someone met me who I’d only known online, or anyone who had read my books but never seen me. I was always convinced they were disappointed. That they secretly thought less of me. That is not a good mindset for an up and coming author, I tell you what. Conventions were often torture. There was no article of clothing I could buy that didn’t make me feel like an ogre. Just the shame I felt at being seen in public looking the way I did was a constant pain. And oh, that lovely Wiscon-past when that woman took secret pictures of all of us fatties and posted them to 4chan with color commentary! GOOD TIMES.
I was still loved. My career was still going well. But to be perfectly honest, 70% of my brain processes were pretty much taken up with feeling like shit because of how I looked. That’s how bad it was in my insides. Comparing myself to others. Promising myself that I’d change. Losing hope that I ever could. That constant voice that whispers in your ear that no one really likes you or could ever be attracted to you, they just feel sorry for you because you’re ugly. It was exhausting. The bandwidth it took up in my head was staggering. (This is not meant to be a valentine box where you can tell me I was always beautiful in the comments. I realize that my self-image was seriously bent. That’s kind of the thing about body-image issues. You can’t see yourself, you can only hear your worst thoughts.)
I’d go through phases of trying to piece together something from my two successes–work out all the time but screw that Eat This Margarinotato And Love It diet. Try to run–hated running with a fiery, all-consuming passion. More low-carb attempts. Didn’t really help and I couldn’t stick with it anyway due to getting the meat-sads after a week. But it turns out that if you don’t change your diet you’ll just get strong underneath the fat–and I know that’s a good thing, but it didn’t help me to not cringe every time I saw myself in the mirror. If I ever did manage to make progress, I’d then go on tour or hit the convention season hard or have another book to power through and it would all unravel.
And I do live on the internet. I read all the blogs that talked about accepting your body at any size and I believed (and still do) every word of it–but not for myself. Other people are beautiful at any size. Other people should embrace their bodies and feel no shame and to hell with anyone who says different. Other people are gorgeous and happy and fat at the same time and other people are awesome.
But not me. I hated every inch of my body and I could fully hold the conflicting ideas in my head that a. being fat isn’t a failure and it doesn’t mean you’re not beautiful and if you’re healthy that’s all that matters and b. I am disgusting because I am fat and I deserve nothing ever goodnight.
That’s some ugly shit to say. There’s a certain acceptable narrative of weight loss that goes: I just wanted to get healthy, it wasn’t about conforming to beauty ideals, I loved my body then and I love it now, I only did it for my health or to build strength and no other reason. It’s not about how you look, it’s never about how you look. No, no, no, of course not. People who care about that sort of thing are shallow, even though how you look is literally the battleground on which a very specific cultural war is being constantly fought. I always thought, with a bitter frown: Buddy and/or Lady, if it wasn’t about how you looked, why did you post before and after pictures?
And yeah, getting healthier was a thing for me. But I also reached a breaking point of cognitive dissonance and self-flagellation and that was a thing, too. I don’t feel like I can be honest about it if I don’t say that you know what? I was spending all day every day running a constant background program of iamtheabsoluteworst.exe and that wasn’t about my inability to run a 9 minute mile, that was about how I looked. Which feeling is absolutely informed by my whole history and everything anyone ever said to me about my weight and the whole of our culture that says a woman looks this way and if you don’t you are invisible and had best act like it also no fatties lol. I tried to not give a shit how I looked. I was and am smart and capable and funny and I know stuff about stuff and I had a partner who loved me and it shouldn’t matter and I tried to brute-force it into not mattering for years. I succeeded for whole days at a time. But I am steeped in my culture and you guys it is stupid hard not to give a shit how you look when so much is predicated upon it around here.
These are bad things to think. Let me be straight about that. It ain’t right. This is how culture talks when it’s so deep in your head you mistake it for your own, authentic voice. We’ve had some cowboys in here. It’s taken a lot of time and talking to even get my head on as straight as it is about it now. I lay it all out because the only way to purge this stuff personally and at large is to talk about it and every post I ever read where someone lost a lot of weight made it sound like everything was awesome then and it’s awesome now and we always lived in awesometown all the awesometime with our awesomepuppies being awesome together. It just made me feel worse because really, if the rule was you had to love yourself before you can make a change? I was never going to make that change. I wasn’t the kind of mentally balanced, self-accepting, devil may care diva that achieved total body transformation and then said they never cared what anyone thought like an Oscar winner saying it’s not about the accolades. That river of awfulness was the internal monologue I had on infinite repeat and it was absolute acid to my psyche. I got to a point where I simply couldn’t hear anything else and apply it to me personally. Acceptance was for other people. Better people. Literally anyone else I know. I would look at my friends who were plus size, some bigger than me, and I thought they were hot and amazing and I’d bash my heart in for not being more like them. I wish I had been a better person and not just constantly chewed my soul to bits over it, but I wasn’t. I just wasn’t. I’d read the Fat Nutritionist and think: yeah, but she weighs less than me. Look how pretty she is. It’s all fine for her but I’m still scum. AWESOME. SLOW CLAP FOR CAT’S BRAIN.
And that brings us up to 18 months ago. And the funny thing is, it’s not even that I hated myself into a frenzy and flipped out and took ahold of my fate and full speed ahead. I was relatively at peace with it for once–at peace for me, which meant that I figured I’d just always be fat and obviously that meant I was lesser and bad and fundamentally unlovable, but I’ll just have to keep on being lesser and bad and fundamentally unlovable so yay I guess. A couple of months before I started this particular
journey transformation slouching toward Bethlehem I even went through my closet and threw out all (minus two or three items which I thought I might cut up and make into something else) the stuff I’d been holding onto on the assumption that some day it would fit. It wouldn’t, and GOD I was just being a gross cliche by keeping them.
August, 2011 and I’d hit 250 pounds, though I didn’t know it yet, because I had made the decision years back not to own a scale, as numbers just made me feel like dirt and I’d know by clothes not fitting right or fitting better how things were going. (Oh, Rocky, that trick never works.) So far beyond the 202 that had crushed me so much in college. So far from the 140 at which I was first told my body was completely unacceptable I couldn’t see it with a time-traveling telescope. And I had absolutely zero faith or hope that I was actually going to be able to do anything meaningful this time at bat, either.
It was the Wrongness Cherry on top of the giant sundae of all the things I’d been Wrong About.
To Be Continued…
Queen Elizabeth had died and a young princess was being crowned Queen Anne. She was certainly not a princess that actually exists in real life. Long, lovely black hair that she wore down for the occasion, swept over her shoulder and flowing down the front of her white dress, obscuring all the medals and sash. She had thin silver crown.
I was a flutist playing in the orchestra for the coronation. Anne started crying in the middle of her coronation speech. A crowd of ministers with pelican heads rushed to console her and guide her away from the crowds. We had to stop playing and wait for her to return. But she didn't.
Ages went by. We finally started playing just to entertain everyone, anything we could think of. Then no one could think of another song and we all got up and started dancing with our instruments and each other on the floor of Westminster Cathedral until the flute section all turned into crows and flew up to roost on the buttresses. Anne was hiding up there, too. Her black hair flowed under her gown to become big black wings.
And then: alarm clock.
A dream from last night ever-so-slightly too long for Twitter:
Queen Elizabeth had died and a young princess was being crowned Queen Anne. She was certainly not a princess that actually exists in real life. Long, lovely black hair that she wore down for the occasion, swept over her shoulder and flowing down the front of her white dress, obscuring all the medals and sash. She had thin silver crown. I was a flutist playing in the orchestra for the coronation.
Anne started crying in the middle of her coronation speech. A crowd of ministers with pelican heads rushed to console her and guide her away from the crowds. We had to stop playing and wait for her to return. But she didn’t.
Ages went by. We finally started playing just to entertain everyone, anything we could think of. Then no one could think of another song and we all got up and started dancing with our instruments and each other on the floor of Westminster Cathedral until the flute section all turned into crows and flew up to roost on the buttresses. Anne was hiding up there, too. Her black hair flowed under her gown to become big black wings.
And then: alarm clock.
So remember how like, a million years ago, I post a list of 25 things I wanted to do before death if I believed in making lists like that, which I don’t? And then I updated it because I’d done a bunch of the stuff on it? (That list is seriously gutted now and I am so proud of myself, honestly. Most of the stuff that’s left I don’t even know if I really want anymore.)
Probably not, as it was a million years ago and dinosaurs roamed the Internet, posting angrysaurus comments and learning to open doors.
Well, one of the things I listed on the update was to go Somewhere Else and write a book. I’ve thought about this so often–whenever I’m in a new city for more than a few days. Writing books is the great activity of my life. Some people look at place and imagine the club scene–I imagine what it would be like to write a book there. For me, the process of writing is such an otherspace–out of my own everyday and into the unknown and odd and untethered to such things as like, a normal workday clock or regular meals.
I’ve wanted it for ages. To see how another place would affect the book, would affect me. It’s not even as expensive as you might think, if you are a bargain hunter like me, and if you write as quickly as I do. I had a taste of it in Budapest with Theodora Goss last year and it was amazing. I’ll never not be in love with Budapest. But it wasn’t enough time, in the end.
SO THE POINT IS OMG I’M DOING IT IN LIKE TWO WEEKS.
I’m headed to Melbourne, Australia (not Florida as my weather app keeps insisting I must mean) for six weeks from April 14th-May 29th. I’ll be working on Radiance, my new adult book (yay! So excited to write for adults again!) with Tor, based on the short The Radiant Car Thy Sparrows Drew. It’s my hope and my design to write it entirely in that time, but we’ll see if I am actually boss enough to pull that off. Either way, a massive portion of it will be done in Melbourne.
Why Melbourne? Well, it’s pretty amazingly badass there. I fell in love at Worldcon ’10 and I’ve been back since and it’s just an amazing city–not to mention one obsessed with Art Deco, which happens to be the aesthetic of Radiance, with a skyline that looks like a made for TV SF movie about some glistening offworld colony. Also they make the best coffee ever and public art everywhere and ocean and penguins and when I’m there it will be autumn. Two autumns in one year! I know Aussie autumn is not New England autumn but I can’t help being excited about a double dose of my favorite season. I also have friends there so it’s not just completely new and strange and would take six weeks to figure out how to do my laundry.
Through the magic of Airbnb I have an apartment lined up in St Kilda (with laundry). I’ll be keeping as much of an organized schedule as I can in order to make the book go, but I’m definitely not a complete shut-in and I’ll be around if people feel like grabbing a drink sometime. I’ll blog as much as I can. I know how insanely lucky I am to be able to do this, believe me. It seems impossible, even now. I am so grateful that a combination of good fortunes allowed this to happen for me.
I’m crazy excited, though overwhelmed by the idea of packing for six weeks. I’ll be leaving from NYC the day after my rescheduled reading/conversation with Lev Grossman at Community Bookstore. This does definitely mean I won’t be at Wiscon or the Nebulas (which is a bummer, but the stars aligned and I couldn’t pass up the chance to cross a thing off the list of things) and I may or may not be at BEA depending on Factors.
Mostly, though, I’m just squeeing all over my insides. Wish me monsters!
So those events I had at the end of the Fairyland 2 tour that were cancelled by Hurricane Sandy? Rescheduled!
I’ll be reading at Water Street Books in Exeter, New Hampshire at 6pm on April 5th.
And the CRAZY AWESOME “In Conversation” with me and Lev Grossman has been rescheduled for April 11th, 7pm, at Community Bookstore in Brooklyn.
Hope to see folks there!
So it is -3 outside, as glittering and hard and unforgiving a morning as we have yet had this winter and the car is in the shop so I am putting off walking through the crystal shards of the cold to get to my office and THUS I will procrastinate by telling you about my new favorite thing of forever.
After the fashion of Feminist Ryan Gosling (which I love, though my heart will always belong to Literary Agent Ryan Gosling), Academic Coach Taylor is a meme complex using images of Coach Taylor of Friday Night Lights and encouraging/motivational/tough love messages concerning the life of a graduate student and/or academic. Some of them are funny, some of them are full of awesome critspeak that makes me giggle, and some of it is OBVIOUSLY SPEAKING DIRECTLY TO ME AND MY WORNOUT BATTERED WRITERHEART.
truepenny once said, and I have quoted her SO MUCH, that it’s amazing how she chose a career that was exactly like being in grad school all the time, only it was always finals. This is a True Fact About Book Life. I dropped out of graduate school like a DANGEROUS LEATHER WEARING PUNK SLACKERBOSS, which makes me at least a non-practicing academic if I am being generous with myself. But also my mother was in her doctoral program for my entire adolescence and teen years so my brother and I were looked after by the denizens of our grad student housing complex who needed the babysitting money, from the entymologist who had pink hair and did not help my lifelong fear of insects IN ANY WAY by keeping larvae and grasshoppers for barbecuing in her freezer to the feminist theorist whose aged mother taught me to make pot stickers while she told me all about the position of women in 17th century China to the mathematician couple who gave me a new puzzle every time I came over.
My heart is an ivory tower. My mind is a student housing building where every apartment is something mad and new and beautiful.
And thus I see the truth of how very much like being a constant student being a full time writer is. You are always cramming. You never know enough. Every book I ever write is a dissertation I never wrote. Long time readers will know I occasionally suffer paroxysms of guilt over never finishing my own advanced degrees, though I’m getting zen with that now, in large part because I do the work–I even teach–I just get to put Wyveraries and sentient cities in it, too.
TONS of Academic Coach Taylor is SUPER RELEVANT to writers of fiction and I’m not going to lie, I cried a little reading through them. (I’m sure that’s wholly unrelated to the fact that the night before I drank about seven cups of coffee because I thought I made decaf but I did not make decaf. So I stayed up the entire night watching Tiny Fey era Saturday Night Live and occasionally take a break to chase my dogs around singing the Andy Griffith theme in a terrifying minor key. I was wrecked.)
Now, I love Friday Night Lights. I never thought I could love a realist football show, but I can and I do. There are so many amazing things about it, from the naturalistic acting to the cinematography to holy cats the music to the writing which even in its faltering (hello murderplot) faltered interestingly, took risks, and had Lessons for the Long Form Fictioneer. And of course, of course, the only healthy marriage I’ve ever seen on television, which is not based on an assumption of the essential antipathy of men and women, which does not present a wasteland nightmare of heterosexuality strewn with skulls and bile and vicious, intractable tank warfare presented as comedy. And the choice made at the end of the show, a difficult, complicated choice, is simply not one I believe has ever been made on American television. (I won’t spoil it.) And like it or not, the choices we see theatricalized are ones we are more likely to make in life, because we have models for how its done.
Coach Taylor and Tami Taylor are beloved of the internet. Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton are both trying to break out of the bone-deep goodness of those roles and the utter discomfort caused by seeing Tami on American Horror Story and Eric in his new Sundance film is a fascinating meta-play. But the Taylors are Mom and Dad for a goodly portion of my funny little over-media’d generation, (certainly not everyone, FNL is a show that clung to Not-Being-Cancelled by its fingernails every year of its five year run, but when Mitt tries to steal their slogan, you know even he gets that whatever “family values” means to anyone who doesn’t define them as hating women, gays, the disabled, and non-whites, are summed up in these characters) and I frankly think they are better at it than any Brady or Cleaver.
THUS. I look at Academic Coach Taylor and I wonder if the reason I myself and academics and liberals and feminists and all those filthy, dirty words that mean the Kind of People Who Don’t Like Football And Real Men love Eric and Tami is because they demonstrate two things few of us had.
Because look, my dad was nothing like Coach Taylor. Even dads who think they are Coach Taylor, and I know at least one, aren’t. And actually Coach Taylor isn’t–the very take no shit but love the size of the planet aspect of him is not one he trains on his daughter much. He doesn’t push her or demand excellence the way he does with his players. Even in the world of the show, Eric and Tami are tasked with being Everyone’s Parents, and that makes them ever so slightly less Their Own Kids’ Parents. But the fact is a whole lot of kids my age had very absentee mothers and fathers, or mothers and fathers, as in my case, truly messed up by divorce and the hypocrisy of their own parents and the constant flux of contradicting expectations flooding them. We were the latchkey kids everyone was so goddamned worried about back in the 70s and 80s. By the way–when I go to schools and talk about my books now? The word latchkey kid means absolutely nothing to students or teachers. Everyone is a latchkey kid now.
And the other thing is that we who are not football players and athletes rarely got the kind of motivation applied to high-performing jocks. They get the awe-inspiring pep talks and the tough love but hard-won pride and camaraderie and cheerleaders and very, very clear markers of success–the State Championship Ring has importance second only to the One Ring in the FNL mythos. The intellegentsia has no mechanism for that. Sure, all those slogans and butt-patting and go team go is often very hollow and jingoistic and empty and meant to cover up massive overspending on athletic programs in the real world. But if it didn’t inspire people to perform, they wouldn’t make any more sports movies.
So most of us, even if we had present parents, never had anyone pump us up for the work of the mind. And we wish we had. Because we’re human and we want to be pumped up. Because academics, far from being the anemic, gormless Morlocks of the library, are really fucking passionate about what they do.
But even when you’re passionate, even when what you do with your life is exactly what you always wanted and you have so many more stories to tell and so much inside you you want to let out, even then, sometimes you need someone to drag you up out of your funk and make you do windsprints and be proud of you when you fail to fail.
So I love Academic Coach Taylor even though he is a meme because he is a meme, in the classical sense. He’s the Dad we didn’t have and the Coach we wish existed for people like us. And he wants us to succeed, even when its halftime and it looks impossible.
Clear eyes, full hearts. Can’t lose.
I’ve been putting off this post for awhile, because it’s a bit of a bummer and because it’s the end of an era, but also because making it involves admitting that I cannot do All the Thing All the Time.
The Omikuji Project will be coming to an end in April.
It’s been five years since I decided to start writing short stories every month and sending them all over the world. It’s been an amazing, incredibly rewarding project. I’ve met people (and through meet-ups, people have met people) that I would not have met otherwise, I’ve been able to experiment and stretch my craft, I’ve had the tactile, primate pleasure of making something physical every month. (And often burning off my fingerprints with sealing wax.)
But it’s also been five years of writing a new, original story every single month. A story not published elsewhere, and of a not insignificant length. A story a month alongside the novels, poems, and other short fiction piled up on my plate. It’s a lot, a tremendous amount of work, both in the composition and the tactile, primate task that covers my dining room table once a month: the folding, sealing, stuffing, licking, and stamping of two hundred copies.
It’s gotten to be too much. Members will notice that the stories have been getting out late. I’m proud of the stories, still, but between touring and writing novels and trying to keep all my projects plus my head above water, a new story every month plus the labor of preparing them when I’m often not even in the country, is getting harder and harder.
I feel tremendously guilty about this, but I have to look out for my energy level in order to keep producing fiction for the foreseeable future. Burnout is a real thing and I don’t want to meet it in a dark alley. So I think this is a step I have to take. It may make room for more experiments down the line; it may just give me a rest, but either way, I think it’s time to draw the curtain with as much grace as possible.
Five years is an AMAZING run for a crowdfunded art project. The community created by the subscribers to Omikuji is warm and deep and invested, and I am so grateful to all of you for coming on this journey with me. So many of you are astonishingly talented artists in your own right, I’m honored by every person who opened that cream colored envelope every month and gave some of their time and energy to my stories. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
To preemptively answer some questions:
Most of our year-long subscriptions run out in April, as that was the date of the first story back in 2008. If yours runs out at another time, please contact me at my first name at gmail (NOT on Facebook, please) so we can work out a refund or a trade in kind. Monthly subscribers will simply have their subscription cancelled in April, no work is required on your part.
I will be doing another anthology of stories to accompany This Is My Letter to the World: Cycle One. I have not decided whether to put all the stories together into one or simply make a Cycle Two, nor have I decided whether to do it through Lulu again or seek out a small press to handle the collection. Once my February 1st novel deadline is under the belt, I’ll be able to sit down and make those choices. But there will be a print anthology purchasable by anyone.
Until April, I will continue making back-issues available. The site will be updated with pricing information on that score very shortly.
If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask in the comments or on whatever social media site you prefer.
Thank you again, from the bottom of my heart, to everyone who has been a part of this project, however briefly or long. It has been an extraordinary experience, and I hope it has been for you as well. Most projects of any quality come to an end point, and though we have reached it, there are more and new and exciting things to come. Life is long and unpredictable; so is fiction.
Thank you for helping me to make a whole lot of it in a very unique way. You made possible, made real, every one of those stories. And that’s straight-up magic.
YOU KNOW YOU WERE WAITING FOR IT.
Ok, not really, no one waits with baited breath for these, but I can barely remember what I’ve published in any given year, so here is a reminder for 2012, should you be inclined to nominate works for awards. Hugo nominations are open, Nebulas will be opening soon, and you can actually nominate for the World Fantasy Awards exactly as you would the Hugos, though many don’t seem to know that.
If you’re not the nominating type, please enjoy things I have made!
Turns out I can totally remember what I published in 2012 though! After the avalanche of books in 2011, 2012 was a fairly slim year. Here’s the fiction I committed:
Poems (Eligible for the Rhysling Award):
What the Dragon Said: A Love Story (Tor.com)
Mouse Koan (Tor.com)
Aquaman and the Duality of Self/Other, America, 1985 (Tor.com)
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (Feiwel and Friends)
The Girl Who Fell Beneath is eligible for the Hugo Novel category (YA novels rarely make it, but there’s no YA category yet. One can always hope.) and the Andre Norton Award, and it’s also eligible for the Nebula Novel category.
I’m pretty proud of my output this year. It’s less than usual, but I think I did good work. That’s all I can ask of myself. (Repeat until true.)
So like a
boss genius, I locked myself out of my office last night.
I left the key on my desk and locked the door behind me and I couldn’t find my spare anywhere and the landlord K (who lives two doors down) wasn’t home to open it and All My Book was on the office computer and I stood outside like a Victorian waif pawing at the window.
I called the landlord, left a message, ate dinner. We went back to see if we could get a window open–we could not. In frustration, Dmitri tried the door again, which had DEFINITELY been locked before dinner–and it was open! Hooray! Christmas is saved!
We figured K had come and opened it for us and just hadn’t bothered to call back or anything. Got my daily work done and didn’t think anymore of it.
K called this morning to arrange meeting me to open the office. I explained that it was open a few hours later and we thought she’d done it–she had, clearly, not.
Whereupon K laughed and said “Oh, well, that’s the building, though. It has a history of things like that. Radios turning on and off, that sort of thing. All benign, but I’m sure it won’t be the first time something strange happens there! Have a good day!”
Oh my god, I love this island. And New England. And Maine. My office has a friendly ghost that lets me in when I lock myself out. Of course it does. Caspar the Friendly Locksmith.
Best haunting ever.