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Complicated

11 Aug

I am a millennial. A twenty-something. A whatever-you’d-call-it. Mostly I’m just a young adult trying to get her shit together. This is my general impression of most members of my generation, whatever their current socioeconomic status. We might have a good job with lots of money and work we love to do, or we might have no job and no money and be getting really fucking bored of the wallpaper in our parents’ basement. But no matter what, for the most part, we’re trying.

The world got a lot bigger for us than it was for previous generations. Sure, the same is true for those other age cohorts as well, but the internet was really quite an impressive thing when it came to exposure-expansion. My generation saw phones go from pixel bots you played snake on to life boxes you can somehow use to do your laundry. On the scale of what’s available to us to see and know and do and talk about, the world got blown pretty fucking wide open.

And we’re trying really hard to put all that shit together and figure it out.

We’re willing to work with gray areas. We’re willing to question and re-think and reconsider. We’re willing to toy with paradigms to stretch discrete units into spectrums. We’re willing to rewrite the rules. We’re willing to rewrite a lot of things, actually.

Let me talk to you about Harry Potter fanfiction.

As someone who fancies herself a writer, I resisted the idea that fanfiction carried any sort of legitimacy for a while. “It’s just copycat. Unoriginal. Cheating. Usually just a facade for slapdash porn, at best.”

Okay, at the point I was thinking those things I hadn’t really read any fanfiction yet. But that’s how stigmas work. You don’t approach the taboo thing because the thing is taboo because… it’s… taboo… because…

*endless loop of unreasoned fear-avoidance*

And then I spent more time on the internet and was exposed to a lot of the “best of” snippets that people posted on facebook and tumblr and such, and my pretension about this genre of writing that can be as good or as bad as any other sector of writing slowly faded away.

Yes, some fanfiction is unoriginal. Cheating. A cheap facade for shitty porn full of too-quick nudity and broke-back sentences.

But some of it is brilliant.

I like what books do to people. I like seeing how my generation has grown up and whipped out our own pens (or, ya know, keyboards) and managed to occasionally add on or change up the writing that was already given to us, in a way that doesn’t feel strange or blasphemous but real and clever. I like seeing how my generation gets to creating, when it comes to the Harry Potter story. I am delighted by the number of good writers it’s gotten talking, because they wanted to put their own spin on our favorite childhood narrative.

But I am delighted, most, by the way it shows how my generation is thinking.

Here, let me show you the particular piece that got me blathering:

prismatic-bell:

cinematicnomad:

aplatonicjacuzzi:

crazybutperfectlysane:

So I was rereading Harry Potter, when I came across this and thought- what if instead of Cedric Diggory, Cassius Warrington had been chosen to compete in the Triwizard Tournament?Imagine Dumbledore calling out the name of the Hogwarts champion and it isn’t a Gryffindor, or a Ravenclaw, or even a Hufflepuff, but it’s a Slytherin. A student from a House most people hate.Imagine Cassius Warrington getting up, and three out of four Houses are booing at him and shouting things like “NO!” or, “We can’t have a Slytherin champion!” or demanding a retry. But he’s a Slytherin- he’s been dealing with this shit since he got sorted, so he keeps his head high and joins the other champions.Imagine Harry trying to catch Warrington alone because he doesn’t really want to associate with Slytherins (plus Malfoy has this tendency of being around the guy ALL THE TIME since he got chosen), but at the same time he’s also fair enough not to want him to walk into the first task unprepared.Imagine Warrington walking over to Harry a few months later, and Ron and Hermione both jump into a protective stance, wands out, but instead of attacking Harry he just tells him to stick the egg underwater. (Because Slytherins don’t forget those who helped them out).Imagine Warrington and Harry helping each other out in the labyrinth.Imagine Harry being devastated when Peter kills Warrington- because Voldemort doesn’t care what house they’re form, a spare is a spare.Imagine the uproar that causes among the Slytherins, because some of their parents really are Death Eaters and they know what really happened.Imagine Slytherins fighting in the Battle of Hogwarts and shouting “This is for Cassius!”

Imagine Harry returning with Warrington’s body, and the crowd realizes what’s happened, but Warrington’s parents don’t show up. There’s no one to mourn him, to cradle him in their arms and cry for their son. The Slytherins know why. His parents were Death Eaters, too.Imagine Slytherins reaching out, asking for help from classmates from other houses. They’re terrified, truly terrified because the being their parents claimed would never hurt them because they’re pureblood, they realize that he does not care.Imagine Slytherins in the 5th book sneaking off to join Dumbledore’s Army, to learn more about who Voldemort is without their parents acting as a filter. Imagine the shock when they’re told what he’s really done.Imagine that a few talented Slytherins went with Harry and the others into the Ministry of Magic. The others are a bit wary but they prove themselves as friends.Imagine them being confronted by Lucius Malfoy in the the Hall of Prophecy, and when the Death Eaters descend, they know that any one of them could be their parents.Imagine the shocked gasp of a Death Eater as they realize their own child, a pureblood, is standing defiantly with Harry Potter. They choke back a cry. They can’t let their child know that they were about to duel to the death.Imagine a DA Slytherin facing off against their own Death Eater parent. That they make the decision to let their child defeat them, because in that moment, they realize that they love their child more than they fear Voldemort. They go down, mask unveiled, and the Slytherin kid has to be dragged from the fight before he gets killed.Imagine Book 6 Slytherins getting more friendly and cooperative with the other houses. Two years of Voldemort terrorizing the muggle and Wizarding world, two years where their parents just up and leave some days, cringing from the pain in their arm, two years after the death of the first Slytherin pureblood, Cassius Warrington, killed by Voldemort’s right-hand man, and they’re slowly hitting the breaking point.Imagine Slytherin kids keeping tabs on their parents, sending the information to Harry, who shares it with the Order of the Phoenix, and hoping that their parents won’t be killed.Imagine Book 7 Slytherins low-key rebelling against the new oppressive Hogwarts staff.Imagine the final siege on Hogwarts, where Slytherins stand proudly by their fellow houses, knowing full-well they could be fighting their own parents. Some Slytherins know their parents were in the fighting. They hope to find them first and sneak them away. Their fellow students understand. Professor McGonagall allows 7th Year Slytherin, Pansy Parkinson, to duel a death eater in her stead; her father is under that veil. She knows it.Imagine the aftermath of the battle; every house suffered loses. Slytherin students crying over the deaths of friends they made in every house.Imagine 

 a Cassius Warrington statue made in his honor, the first Slytherin to fight and die nobly with Harry Potter, the boy who lived, in the face of ultimate evil. He was a true Slytherin, and it’s in his name that Slytherin children and their families have cut all ties with the Death Eaters, denounced Voldemort, and are finally living in peace.

#i do enjoy cedric #but this would have been immensely wonderful in many ways (via batty4u) 

Imagine a story in which Harry wasn’t in love with his fellow champion’s girlfriend, but after her boyfriend’s death just hugs her so long, so hard, and says “he wanted to win for you. You should know–you should know he won, he did it for you” and gives her the best hug and shoulder he knows how to be because her parents aren’t there either and she must know why.Imagine Harry staring over her head at everyone else until Hermione steps up–it doesn’t take long, but it takes long enough that when she does all eyes are on her as a source of motion–and says “we’re never going to forget this. They’re not going to get away with it” and the girlfriend just latches onto Hermione and everyone is in wands-out stance convinced she’s about to attack the shit out of Hermione, and then the girlfriend stares into her eyes and says “do you promise me” and Hermione just gives her this super-firm nod and says “I promise” and the girlfriend just collapses on her, sobbing. Imagine Dumbledore trying to give some flowery speech about inter-wizard solidarity while glossing over why, because Slytherins have always been a touchy subject, and Ron gets to his feet and says “Professor, I need to say something important” and Dumbledore is so surprised he just cedes the floor, and Ron–after that awkward moment when he realizes everyone is staring at him–says he didn’t know Warrington particularly, but he knows how Warrington and Harry played. That each was always cheering on the other. Both wanted to win, but neither was willing to undercut the other by underhanded means. He finishes up saying “I think–I think it’s important everyone should know he died being what a champion should be. Because he could have abandoned Harry and instead he stood up with him to play the game the honest way, and he died for it. And–and Slytherin House should be proud, and we should all be proud, because Warrington was a good bloke.” He sits back down all flustered because he didn’t actually stand up meaning to make a speech. And then Pansy Parkinson stands up before Dumbledore can take back control of the room and says “I want to tell Weasley thank you.” And all of Slytherin House raises a glass–to Warrington, to Weasley, to Potter–and the other houses follow suit. Many years later, Wizarding scholars will say that was the moment Voldemort truly lost.Imagine later that summer. Harry gets several owls on his birthday, all unsigned. The birds are plump and pretentious and well-cared-for. He will never know which Slytherins sent him their treasures: parchments with hexes developed by the Death Eaters; a strange locket that will only open if he whispers a special spell but that always shows him the picture he most needs to see; a page torn from a potions book that, brewed properly, will allow him extra time to summon a Patronus by giving him a few crucial seconds not just of happiness but of bliss. It doesn’t matter. Harry knows these gifts not as birthday gifts but for what they really are, and he treasures the locket and copies out the potion to send to Hermione and Mrs. Weasley, and when first summoned by the Order of the Phoenix he marches straight up to Dumbledore with the hexes and says “I can’t tell you where I got these, Professor. But they’re in use by the Death Eaters and I think you should have them.” Months later, Sirius will recognize the spell Bellatrix shoots at him, and will dive out of the way just in the nick of time.The final battle. Everyone is there. Sirius somehow ends up herding a group of Slytherins. They all stare at him and he at them, across a centuries-old divide Voldemort has only succeeded in deepening. Then he remembers the hexes. Harry’s locket, now tucked under Sirius’ shirt because Harry’s friends are with him in this battle but most of Sirius’ are dead. The moment that happiness potion saved Remus’ life, his very soul. Snape’s final words to Harry, finally seen not as mockery but real true advice. What Harry said Voldemort said–his first words in his new form. They are kids, and they are sharing the same kind of hurt he once wouldn’t admit to, watching his mother burn his name off the family tree. “When we go in there, it’s going to be hell,” he tells the Slytherins. “Some of you are probably going to die. I might go down too, and if I do I want your best curser in the front. But I want you all to remember one thing. There are no spares.”  Later retellings of the battle never fail to mention the moment a group of angry, screaming teens burst into the Great Hall, wearing their green and silver as the badge of honor it should be, shouting NO SPARES, NO SPARES at the tops of their voices in between hexes and curses and the occasional physical punch. When Hermione is present, she always interrupts the storyteller to be sure everyone knows about the moment Blaise Zabini shoved her to the floor, dropped on top of her, fired off three curses in rapid succession and said “stay alive, Granger, we need you” before jumping back to his feet and vanishing into the melee–how, for all anyone knows, those may have been his last words, and she will not let his sacrifice go unnoted. The aftermath. Malfoy holds out a hand to Sirius, badly injured on the floor. Sirius asks how Malfoy is willing to trust him. Malfoy nods at his chest. “You’ve got my godfather’s locket,” he says, and when Sirius and Harry finally speak after the battle Harry gives his full agreement to the very first thing out of  Sirius’ mouth. They give the locket to Malfoy. Sirius grits his teeth and closes his eyes and opens them and says “He probably saved my life, giving Harry that.” He doesn’t say thank you. Malfoy hears it anyway. The school reopens under a single banner: the four Houses united. The House rivalry is reduced to just that–a competition in fun–with those deep divides slowly healing to scars, and eventually away to nothing at all.Imagine it.

prismatic-bell:

cinematicnomad:

aplatonicjacuzzi:

crazybutperfectlysane:

So I was rereading Harry Potter, when I came across this and thought- what if instead of Cedric Diggory,Cassius Warrington had been chosen to compete in the Triwizard Tournament?

Imagine Dumbledore calling out the name of the Hogwarts champion and it isn’t a Gryffindor, or a Ravenclaw, or even a Hufflepuff, but it’s a Slytherin.A student from a House most people hate.

Imagine Cassius Warrington getting up, and three out of four Houses are booing at him and shouting things like “NO!” or, “We can’t have a Slytherin champion!” or demanding a retry. But he’s a Slytherin- he’s been dealing with this shit since he got sorted, so he keeps his head high and joins the other champions.

Imagine Harry trying to catch Warrington alone because he doesn’t really want to associate with Slytherins (plus Malfoy has this tendency of being around the guy ALL THE TIME since he got chosen), but at the same time he’s also fair enough not to want him to walk into the first task unprepared.

Imagine Warrington walking over to Harry a few months later, and Ron and Hermione both jump into a protective stance, wands out, but instead of attacking Harry he just tells him to stick the egg underwater. (Because Slytherins don’t forget those who helped them out).

Imagine Warrington and Harry helping each other out in the labyrinth.

Imagine Harry being devastated when Peter kills Warrington- because Voldemort doesn’t care what house they’re form, a spare is a spare.

Imagine the uproar that causes among the Slytherins, because some of their parents really are Death Eaters and they know what really happened.

Imagine Slytherins fighting in the Battle of Hogwarts and shouting “This is for Cassius!”

Imagine Harry returning with Warrington’s body, and the crowd realizes what’s happened, but Warrington’s parents don’t show up. There’s no one to mourn him, to cradle him in their arms and cry for their son. The Slytherins know why. His parents were Death Eaters, too.

Imagine Slytherins reaching out, asking for help from classmates from other houses. They’re terrified, truly terrified because the being their parents claimed would never hurt them because they’re pureblood, they realize that he does not care.

Imagine Slytherins in the 5th book sneaking off to join Dumbledore’s Army, to learn more about who Voldemort is without their parents acting as a filter.

Imagine the shock when they’re told what he’s really done.

Imagine that a few talented Slytherins went with Harry and the others into the Ministry of Magic. The others are a bit wary but they prove themselves as friends.

Imagine them being confronted by Lucius Malfoy in the the Hall of Prophecy, and when the Death Eaters descend, they know that any one of them could be their parents.

Imagine the shocked gasp of a Death Eater as they realize their own child, a pureblood, is standing defiantly with Harry Potter. They choke back a cry. They can’t let their child know that they were about to duel to the death.

Imagine a DA Slytherin facing off against their own Death Eater parent. That they make the decision to let their child defeat them, because in that moment, they realize that they love their child more than they fear Voldemort. They go down, mask unveiled, and the Slytherin kid has to be dragged from the fight before he gets killed.

Imagine Book 6 Slytherins getting more friendly and cooperative with the other houses. Two years of Voldemort terrorizing the muggle and Wizarding world, two years where their parents just up and leave some days, cringing from the pain in their arm, two years after the death of the first Slytherin pureblood, Cassius Warrington, killed by Voldemort’s right-hand man, and they’re slowly hitting the breaking point.

Imagine Slytherin kids keeping tabs on their parents, sending the information to Harry, who shares it with the Order of the Phoenix, and hoping that their parents won’t be killed.

Imagine Book 7 Slytherins low-key rebelling against the new oppressive Hogwarts staff.

Imagine the final siege on Hogwarts, where Slytherins stand proudly by their fellow houses, knowing full-well they could be fighting their own parents. Some Slytherins know their parents were in the fighting. They hope to find them first and sneak them away. Their fellow students understand. Professor McGonagall allows 7th Year Slytherin, Pansy Parkinson, to duel a death eater in her stead; her father is under that veil. She knows it.

Imagine the aftermath of the battle; every house suffered loses. Slytherin students crying over the deaths of friends they made in every house.

Imagine a Cassius Warrington statue made in his honor, the first Slytherin to fight and die nobly with Harry Potter, the boy who lived, in the face of ultimate evil. He was a true Slytherin, and it’s in his name that Slytherin children and their families have cut all ties with the Death Eaters, denounced Voldemort, and are finally living in peace.

#i do enjoy cedric #but this would have been immensely wonderful in many ways (via batty4u)

Imagine a story in which Harry wasn’t in love with his fellow champion’s girlfriend, but after her boyfriend’s death just hugs her so long, so hard, and says “he wanted to win for you. You should know–you should know he won, he did it for you” and gives her the best hug and shoulder he knows how to be because her parents aren’t there either and she must know why.

Imagine Harry staring over her head at everyone else until Hermione steps up–it doesn’t take long, but it takes long enough that when she does all eyes are on her as a source of motion–and says “we’re never going to forget this. They’re not going to get away with it” and the girlfriend just latches onto Hermione and everyone is in wands-out stance convinced she’s about to attack the shit out of Hermione, and then the girlfriend stares into her eyes and says “do you promise me” and Hermione just gives her this super-firm nod and says “I promise” and the girlfriend just collapses on her, sobbing.

Imagine Dumbledore trying to give some flowery speech about inter-wizard solidarity while glossing over why, because Slytherins have always been a touchy subject, and Ron gets to his feet and says “Professor, I need to say something important” and Dumbledore is so surprised he just cedes the floor, and Ron–after that awkward moment when he realizes everyone is staring at him–says he didn’t know Warrington particularly, but he knows how Warrington and Harry played. That each was always cheering on the other. Both wanted to win, but neither was willing to undercut the other by underhanded means. He finishes up saying “I think–I think it’s important everyone should know he died being what a champion should be. Because he could have abandoned Harry and instead he stood up with him to play the game the honest way, and he died for it. And–and Slytherin House should be proud, and we should all be proud, because Warrington was a good bloke.” He sits back down all flustered because he didn’t actually stand up meaning to make a speech. And then Pansy Parkinson stands up before Dumbledore can take back control of the room and says “I want to tell Weasley thank you.” And all of Slytherin House raises a glass–to Warrington, to Weasley, to Potter–and the other houses follow suit. Many years later, Wizarding scholars will say that was the moment Voldemort truly lost.

Imagine later that summer. Harry gets several owls on his birthday, all unsigned. The birds are plump and pretentious and well-cared-for. He will never know which Slytherins sent him their treasures: parchments with hexes developed by the Death Eaters; a strange locket that will only open if he whispers a special spell but that always shows him the picture he most needs to see; a page torn from a potions book that, brewed properly, will allow him extra time to summon a Patronus by giving him a few crucial seconds not just of happiness but of bliss. It doesn’t matter. Harry knows these gifts not as birthday gifts but for what they really are, and he treasures the locket and copies out the potion to send to Hermione and Mrs. Weasley, and when first summoned by the Order of the Phoenix he marches straight up to Dumbledore with the hexes and says “I can’t tell you where I got these, Professor. But they’re in use by the Death Eaters and I think you should have them.” Months later, Sirius will recognize the spell Bellatrix shoots at him, and will dive out of the way just in the nick of time.

The final battle. Everyone is there. Sirius somehow ends up herding a group of Slytherins. They all stare at him and he at them, across a centuries-old divide Voldemort has only succeeded in deepening. Then he remembers the hexes. Harry’s locket, now tucked under Sirius’ shirt because Harry’s friends are with him in this battle but most of Sirius’ are dead. The moment that happiness potion saved Remus’ life, his very soul. Snape’s final words to Harry, finally seen not as mockery but real true advice. What Harry said Voldemort said–his first words in his new form. They are kids, and they are sharing the same kind of hurt he once wouldn’t admit to, watching his mother burn his name off the family tree. “When we go in there, it’s going to be hell,” he tells the Slytherins. “Some of you are probably going to die. I might go down too, and if I do I want your best curser in the front. But I want you all to remember one thing. There are no spares.”  Later retellings of the battle never fail to mention the moment a group of angry, screaming teens burst into the Great Hall, wearing their green and silver as the badge of honor it should be, shouting NO SPARES, NO SPARES at the tops of their voices in between hexes and curses and the occasional physical punch. When Hermione is present, she always interrupts the storyteller to be sure everyone knows about the moment Blaise Zabini shoved her to the floor, dropped on top of her, fired off three curses in rapid succession and said “stay alive, Granger, we need you” before jumping back to his feet and vanishing into the melee–how, for all anyone knows, those may have been his last words, and she will not let his sacrifice go unnoted.

The aftermath. Malfoy holds out a hand to Sirius, badly injured on the floor. Sirius asks how Malfoy is willing to trust him. Malfoy nods at his chest. “You’ve got my godfather’s locket,” he says, and when Sirius and Harry finally speak after the battle Harry gives his full agreement to the very first thing out of  Sirius’ mouth. They give the locket to Malfoy. Sirius grits his teeth and closes his eyes and opens them and says “He probably saved my life, giving Harry that.” He doesn’t say thank you. Malfoy hears it anyway.

The school reopens under a single banner: the four Houses united. The House rivalry is reduced to just that–a competition in fun–with those deep divides slowly healing to scars, and eventually away to nothing at all.

Imagine it.

(via sci-fantasy)

(original post here)

JKR gave us these books, seven wonderful, complex books with a story about bravery vs. cowardice, right vs. wrong, light vs. dark, and they were good. Really good. Something we could all pretty much get behind.

But then we readers grew up and came of writing age, and while we all appreciate what was given to us, I see in our fanfic how we also sit down and look at the world and look at each other and go, “Yeah, but what if it were more complicated than that…”

And that makes me really goddamn proud.

So Give Us Something Better

14 Jul

The Singer - cropped

Slate journalist Amanda Hess released an article today entitled “Let Them Blog” discussing why “the panic over pro-anorexia websites and social media isn’t healthy.” Her article talks about the function behind the form, and how vilifying a very grey area of self-expression ultimately nets more harm than good. She does an excellent job analyzing the nuance that “pro-ana” has evolved into over the past decade or so, and I highly recommend reading the entire piece for yourself.

Especially since, as someone who struggled with anorexia for about a decade and had to fight pretty fucking hard for her current three years of solid recovery, I agree.

The panic over the proliferation of pro-ana and pro-mia sites isn’t healthy. Mass cultural freak-out over the existence of twelve-year-olds and seventeen-year-olds and twenty-four-year-olds launching a wordpress page or even entire forums to give vent to the mind-chewing of their internal delusional demons is some seriously misdirected fear. Terrified of these internet shrines to life with the disease? How about we shift that feeling to being terrified of the disease itself.

Shutting down these sites won’t shut down the eating disorder, after all. And these testaments to life as a slow death from fucked caloric addition only exist because generally, culturally, their hosts and their visitors in their search for relief have found nothing better.

Once upon a time, I was very, very eating disordered. And once upon a time, I visited these sites, too.

I was not the most religious of visitors, and it was a fairly long road that finally got me peeking at that corner of the internet. I’d known about pro-ana sites for years before I ever visited one. It was a marker, for me, of my decline into the disorder. I’d gone from restricting for reasons my brain had generated all on its own while I really had no clue what I was doing, or that I even was doing any sort of something, to eventually having the label for it all tossed at me – by my mother or a health professional or some after-school special, I don’t really remember – to embracing the label as yes, the proper term for the beast of internal mis-wiring that I was fighting.

Or riding. Depended on the year.

I was already an adult, in college, by the time I first visited a pro-ana site. I was slowly, quietly slipping back from the “surviving” end of the health spectrum towards the “dying at an alarmingly faster rate than usual” side of things. I’d been drowning in the disease long enough that I wasn’t out looking for all those “tips and tricks” of the trade. I’d gotten them down quite well by then, thank you very much. No, my brain was out looking not for self-carving fuel but for the ever-so-slight-sense of thickening that is validation.

A very strange, warped sort of validation, sure.

But the sentiment was at least more self-affirming than eating disorders usually allow for.

I was struggling. And I wanted to embrace that struggle. Confirm it, I guess. I couldn’t go throwing my dysfunction at my friends – worrying other people was not what I was out for – but I wanted something that would strike some resonance in me, instead of just hollowing out further my ever-growing emptiness.

So I wandered my way through the pro-ana selection. Clicked through a few narratives. Poured over stories of other people’s decline into our shared brand of madness. Read about other people’s fasts and weight loss and body-whittling and mind-mangling.

And at the end of it, having glutted myself with proof of the vast existence of the disease, I felt… better.

Did I want to lose weight? Yes. Did I want thinner thighs? Sharpened collar bones? Yes. Did I want to feel the slow cloak of a self-destructing existence tighten even more around my suffocating life? You betcha.

But surprise, surprise – it’s because I’d already felt that way before.

I felt the same way, before and after perusing those pro-ana sites. But afterwards, those feelings, they felt less imminent. Less pressing. Less I-need-to-do-something-about-them-right-now.

Because while I still felt all those terrible, terrible things, I also felt less alone. Less strange. Less crazy. Less like something that had gone horribly, horribly wrong and was now an abomination compared to the rest of humanity.

I had been shown, in thousands and thousands of Google search results, that I was not the only one who felt this way.

“This way” was a complicated thing, too. Eating disorders are very much like abusive partners – you love them, you hate them, they do things for you in one area of your life while cutting you off from so many others. And somewhere along the line of the nauseating emotional flip-flop, you convince yourself that you can’t tell anyone else about it.

There, in those pro-eating disorder corners of the internet, you tell people about it.

And these people, they understand. Because they’ve got that abusive partner, too. They understand that you can’t “just leave.” They understand the good and the bad of it. They understand the hook. They understand the fear. They understand how to leave you, this broken thing making horrible decisions, feeling slightly less like someone who’s already dead. Validation. Empathy. And eye contact that doesn’t hold judgment or fear or condescension in it, because to them you are not some strange, sick, alien thing. You are them.

I’ve seen quite a few treatment professionals in my time. Therapists. Psychiatrists. Dietitians. Without them, I’d probably be dead now. I needed them, these people on the outside, in order to break out of the secluded, inwardly-collapsing world of my disorder. I needed them to call me out on my shit. I needed them to help show me what “better” was.

But kind and diligent and sympathetic as most of them were, those with only a clinical understanding of what I was going through could never really reach me when I crawled into the darkest of my brain’s corners. They had never been there, themselves. They didn’t know. Their attempts to pry me out often boiled down to essentially trying to shame me out of my darkened corner. Shame and guilt, as it turns out, are less than the best of incentives to use when fighting a disease of shame and guilt.

And yet I know that even still, I was one of the lucky ones. I had to fight my insurance tooth and nail for it, but I at least got treatment, and at the appropriate level of care for most of the time. I managed to find the centers with staff that actually knew what they were doing. I had enough of a support network around me that I could manage the luxury of garnering a team to help me fight my battle.

Not everyone has that ability. Not everyone has those friends. Or that money. Or the insurance. Or the time. Or the community resources. And even then, treatment – whether it’s due to the center or the staff or the structure of the health care system – fails a lot of people.

And so there is the internet.

The internet will not tell you that you are not recovering fast enough, and so you can no longer be in treatment. The internet will not tell you that you are recovering too quickly, and so you can no longer be in treatment. The internet will not tell you that there is no money, so you cannot enter treatment. The internet will not tell you that there are no treatment providers in your area, and so you cannot get help. The internet will not tell you that it is your mother, or your father, and you should just suck it up and stop disappointing them. The internet will not tell you that your pain makes no sense. The internet will not tell you that your pain is too much for it to hear, so you should just suck it up and pretend like nothing is wrong. The internet will not tell you that it does not understand.

The internet will tell you that it does understand, all too well.

And while yes, pro-ana and pro-mia websites will drive some people further into their disorder, if the websites didn’t exist, those people would still have found fuel for their decline elsewhere. Eating disorders will get what they need. It’s the people underneath them that don’t.

If pro-ana and pro-mia websites, these hosts of people’s shared pain, are so damn popular, it’s because they are better than those people’s current alternatives.

That is what we should be panicking about.

Don’t want so many pro-eating disorder sites? Until there are enough other accessible, effective resources to help people deal with what’s eating them alive, they’re going to stick around.

So give us something better.

what you do when no one is looking

13 Jun

In The Little Princess by F. H. Burnett, the main character – a young girl called Sara who starts life the daughter of an affluent Englishmen riding the boom of colonialism – falls from her position upon her father’s death and finds herself poor and friendless. Having just traded in her furs and silks for the rags of a scullery maid, Sara wonders whether she, who has been always told she is a good child, really is one. Is she truly kind and gracious, or was she merely so generous because with her wherewithal, it was easy for her to be?

Goodness, as it turns out, is very often a luxury item.

I am currently rather poor. I am lucky to have friends and roommates who can cover rent and keep me off the streets and step in when unavoidable costs carry a few too many zeroes for me to be able to handle them on my own, and who apparently even enjoy buying me coffee and lunch sometimes. I am incredibly lucky, as this allows me to allocate my income to necessities like food and medication and bus fare. It’s a precarious game, but I’m currently making my life work through the gift of social affluence.

But monetarily, I am dirt poor.

Reference scale: My ability to transport myself around L.A. can switch over the gain or loss of a single dollar.

Today, at the Springfield airport, a food vendor gave me incorrect change.

They’d given me a dollar more than I was due.

And while back in college, when what I did and did not need to pay for was different and the impact of cost scaled differently, I probably would have not hesitated to hand back that dollar, would have felt not a single qualm – today, I felt it.

I had been given a dollar. An extra dollar. That was one more bus ride I could pay for. One more granola bar. One unit closer to being able to buy a new pair of shorts, one that wasn’t years old and close to literally falling apart at the seams.

I wanted that dollar.

But that dollar was not mine.

Mentally, I went through the math again and yes, that dollar was definitely not my due. But it was just a dollar. I could walk away. No one would notice. It wasn’t like I was taking much.

But the dollar. wasn’t. mine.

And what’s more, the food vendor hadn’t given me any reason to want to take more from them. There was no karmic justice in me walking away with that dollar. The cashier had been professional, efficient, polite, even friendly. The vendor, as far as I know, wasn’t some chain with terrible corporate practices. They had done nothing to me that required restitution. Honestly, if the cashier had been some massive jerk, I maybe wouldn’t have felt so bad about contemplating walking away with that dollar. Yeah, they’d have to go through the cash register at the end of the day and try to figure out why their sales weren’t squaring up. Were off by a dollar. Just one dollar. So maybe they’d just made an addition mistake… maybe it was really there, and they’d just missed it… maybe if they just… checked again…

If I’d been somehow massively inconvenienced or wronged, maybe I could have justified inflicting those consequences for the sake of having that extra dollar. Maybe, very probably, I would have been fine with implementing that sort of system.

Or maybe I would have given the dollar back anyway. Because as much as I theoretically can support less-than-perfect actions, I carry around way too much guilt, or something, to really be able to carry out those actions myself.

Yeah. I gave the dollar back.

And while it is no great thing, giving a single dollar back to a vendor that gave you too much change – internally, for me, it still meant something.

It was an opportunity, to show myself, at least, that my goodness doesn’t just scale with my bank account. That I am honest, even when it’s very hard to afford to be. That my values last, even when they carry real cost. Even when I could have justified taking advantage of a minor slip to gain a little bit for myself.

It’s relieving, in a way. To know that at least in this small way I will actually act in reality how I’d say I would, were the scenario presented as a thought exercise. That I’d behave the way that elementary school-aged me reading The Little Princess would have told me that of course I was supposed to behave.

I like knowing that I am who I think I am, even when no one is looking.

Memorial

25 May

I’m never really sure how to respond to things like Memorial Day.

To start with, I am not a veteran. I have never been to war. I have never trained for war. I have not been close to war in any sort of meaningful way. Any opinion I have is from observations, not experience. Therefore, I am willing to forfeit any and all opinions I have on anything and everything having to do with war and veteran status as second to what an actual veteran has to say. It feels incredibly presumptuous, to even think that I could posit anything remotely relevant on the matter.

But, well, I’m a human who thinks about things. So I do. But always, always with the caveat of “I respect your experience before my opinion.”

Okay. Let’s begin. Me being conflicted about Memorial Day. Alrighty.

To start with, when I was little, I barely understood what Memorial Day was for, confusing it with “Labor Day” in my mind quite easily as “one of those vague grown-up holidays that I get a day off for YEAH WOO FREE MONDAY!” I mean, as far I could tell, celebrating both days pretty much meant playing in my backyard for a long time while the adults ate hot dogs. Sure, I’d have the small little spiel from my elementary school on the Friday before. “You all have Monday off because we’re honoring our veterans.” And I would nod politely and go back to thinking about how much math homework I had to do while honoring whatever “veteran” meant.

Eventually, I learned that particular vocabulary term but had no clearer feelings about the holiday. I was told I should appreciate that other men and women had gone off and shot others and been shot in the name of protecting my rights and freedoms that to me never felt particularly threatened. I lived in America, after all. For a really long time, war was something I only saw on a TV screen. It was quite easy for me to sit back and say that no, that out there surely was not necessary. I mean, I knew that my grandfather was a veteran, but he never talked about his time in a war that concluded before my parents even married. As a kid, I didn’t understand that the silence was probably testament enough. No, I didn’t yet understand the absence of recognition as a problem itself. So for me, to all intents and purposes, war was just a word. An easily judged word. Not anything like a reality.

I have grown up more, now. Those shades of black and white that made me so easy a pacifist before have been pushed and shoved and regretted and cried into something more smeary a grey.

But while my thoughts are more complex now, they are by no means more decisive.

There are many reasons war happens, but honestly, most of them boil down to humans having decided that the world and life in it are zero sum games so it’s us against whoever we’ve designated as “them,” boys. There aren’t enough rights or resources to go around, so let’s fight to get the most of them. Because we, whoever “we” are, deserve them most.

Sharing is not a thing humans do well. Humans are too good at fear to be able to really share all that rationally.

War is the product of imperfect action on a global scale.

It’s massively bad for everyone involved. But no one can stop while everyone else is still going. If you play the game that way, you wind up with the punnett square that gives you absolutely nothing.

So we all keep playing.

That is the reality. As terrible as war may be, it is undeniably still happening. Standing and screaming for it to stop without being able to offer any sort of real solution on how to do that is as useful as telling a choking person to just start breathing again. No, the upheavals are still racking the global body. War, for my foreseeable future, is something that’s going to stick around.

So the empathy behind my pacifism has decided to start dealing with the micro-scale.

Okay, let’s go back to talking about our veterans.

They are not the reason that war is happening. It is necessary to divorce how you – I – feel about “war the thing” from what I know about “war the people.”

Because now, it’s not just “oh yeah my grandfather fought in a war.” It’s “yeah, that kind, quiet man on skid row I brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to every week for three years is a veteran.”  It’s “wow, those boys in reserve uniform in line at the airport look even younger than my young-enough-to-still-be-making-bad-decisions cousin.” It’s “that woman I met on the beach with premature osteoporosis from chemical exposure in the Gulf War who after a badass life is going back to school to learn another trade she can do with her failing body and that’s fucking incredible.”

And it’s my friends, too.

A countable many, all in different branches of the military. They are some of the smartest, kindest, most capable people I know.

And now they’re in uniform, too.

The choice to go into the military and the actions performed therein can be stupid, ignorant, brave, heroic, smart, life-saving, death-causing. But as long as we keep choosing to play the zero-sum game of perpetual war, we need people who are willing to make them. Good or bad as it all may be.

“Proud” is a word that gets thrown around a lot on Memorial Day. I cannot be blanketly proud of a label. I can be proud of action. I can be proud, to an extent, of intention.

“Honor” is also a word that comes up a lot today. Again, I cannot blanketly honor so varied a group as humans, but I can respect. I can respect the hell out of the choices someone else has made that I have not, would not, because it’s what they needed to do, or what a country needed them to do. I can respect that they are also another human, trying their best. Or at least, that’s what I can hope they’re doing.

Hope is not a word that gets said a lot on Memorial Day. And that, I think, is what I wish were different.

War is not a hopeful thing. And it is my impression that with mementos like PTSD, lost friends, shit economic resources, massive and constant assumption about what your experience was, and all the other hangers-on of a life now ingrained in you that most of your country only understands as scenes on their TV, “veteran” is not a very hopeful status, either.

I’m not sure I can thank someone for accepting that.

More and more on Memorial Day, as a civilian, I instead feel the need to say sorry.

I’m sorry your lives and your deaths are our memorial to this zero-sum game.

And I am sorry for all the hardships you have accepted that you will get no memorial for.

Sláinte

23 May
So I hear your country kinda looks like this again.

So I hear your country kinda looks like this again.

Roughly two months ago, I was in a gay bar in Dublin. Oh, the foreshadowing.

It was St. Patrick’s Day. Two of my hostel mates and I had met a local named Jonathan after we scaled a building to get a better view of the parade. “I come every year,” he said. “When my parents stopped taking me, I just started taking myself.”

In our post-parade quest for water [me], a bathroom [me], and Guinness [everyone else], we eventually wound up at what I’m going to call “one and a half gay bars.” The first one was not so much officially so, but happened to be around the corner from the pink lamp-lit, two-dance-floored, loud-and-proud gorgeously-bar tendered watering hole that made no pretense about its primary clientele.

But back to that first bar. It’s the one I’m more interested in, right now. Because it wasn’t explicitly a gay bar. But it also wasn’t explicitly not. The patrons we were milling about with wore suits, jeans and t-shirts, tight crop tops and skinny jeans (yes, both sported by all genders), green tutus and crinkly ribbon wigs and even a St. Patrick costume. The bar was your typical mahogany-bedecked, low-light mellow-ambiance run-of-the-mill “stop in for a pint” kind of place. It had your most stereotypical, straight-laced sallow-faced business men drowning their work day worries and your most stereotypical, flamboyant queers spilling a bit of whatever-that-pink-liquid-is all over your shoes as they sacheted past. And they had everyone who fit in between.

And, to paraphrase Jonathan, the bar honestly didn’t give a shit.

While it would have been anathema to show up in even just that only-mildly-sacrilegious St. Patrick’s costume as little as a year or two ago, Jonathan told us, now, it was just accepted for what it was – just like the clientele. People had just sort of got over themselves about it all. Gay, straight, a long-dead saint resurrected for the sake of some Guinness, it was all just taken as normal now. Because the bar and the people in it had looked around, nodded, and all just sort of collectively decided that yes, this, this was Ireland. Or at least Dublin. Even on days when the city wasn’t erupting in a parade of pride over itself.

Which is what appears to be happening right now. As it should. As it better. Yes.

Sláinte, Ireland.

p.s. Northern Ireland – you’re pretty much surrounded by rainbows. Hurry the fuck up.

My Response to an Anti-Feminist

14 May

On the Twittersphere, I recently shared a blog post by Katherine Fritz over at I Am Begging My Mother Not To Read This Blog. I got a response tweet from a self-proclaimed anti-feminist. Since his response came through a public forum, I felt it would be appropriate for me to release mine through a public, easily-put-link-in-140-character-box medium as well. Thus, the following post.

———

Hi Ian,

thanks for your thoughtful response! I appreciate your civil discourse and lack of ad hominem attacks. Seriously.

Due to your lack of actual citation beyond the link to a blog post that itself looks at largely anecdotal data, I will also respond using broad strokes and summaries. I can provide factual citation and data from research on historical trends from non-biased sources as requested, if necessary. Also, while gender and sexuality are multivariate, not binary, in order to most directly and efficiently respond to your letter, I will mostly be talking about feminism in largely binary terms.

So, I see your hurt feelings. They are true and valid. I will not dispute that they exist. However, I think that there’s some conflation going on assigning causality in incorrect ways. I am not saying that nothing was done, or that no one did anything. Things were done. People did them. But from where I’m standing, there’s been some conflation of separate entities in what all went down.

Yes, feminism has pointed out that there are issues that exist with men, masculinity, fatherhood, and male sexuality. It has not, however, said that those categories are the issues. They have the issues. And lots of those issues have affected women at a systemic and subsequently individual level. Yes, women, femininity, motherhood, and female sexuality also have issues. And those issues have affected men on a systemic and subsequently individual level. But feminism posits, with the whole of history that I won’t repeat here to back it up, that men’s issues have had the harder hit, when it comes to the way society has shown bruises. The phrase “it’s a man’s world” is an incredibly crude phrase, but it is a good summary of what the main problem throughout history has boiled down to.

You say that feminism has not been inclusive of men’s issues. I say that this is an unfair critique. Every activist movement only has so many resources to go around. You wouldn’t criticize a puppy rescue for not seeing to the homeless kittens out there, too. It’s not their scope. Do they care about kittens? Yes. Do they want organizations to exist to get the kittens help? Yes. Do they think that by addressing the cause of homeless pets while working specifically with the target population of puppies their work will also help kittens? Yes. When they go out to the public to talk about their mission, are they going to use their limited time and resources to talk about kittens? No. Feminism works on the overall condition of human rights by focusing on a target dynamic. We think men and their plights are important too. We’re just not that organization.

Finally, there is the important distinction between “the actions of an individual who claims a label” and “the definition of the label itself.” A person can claim that they are a certain thing, and then act in no such manner. It’s been the recognized case with religion for years. People claiming to be Christian and to believe in love and forgiveness have gone and slaughtered millions in crusades and KKK rallies and abortion clinic bombings. Were those actions produced by Christianity? No. They were actions produced by angry individuals who falsely claimed the nearest convenient label as a justification for their own independent action.

Feminism is not about taking advantage of or attacking men. Feminism is in fact exactly the opposite, about righting a systemic abuse of power to bring us all back to a playing field of being reasonable, decent humans to each other who don’t make assumptions based on stereotypes, whether about males or females. The actions of not-actually-feminists only “stain” the movement as much as the action of male rapists and serial killers and bigots and otherwise terrible humans “stain” the whole of manhood.

As Katherine mentions in her blog post, true feminism does not discount subsets of feminist interests. Women are allowed to want to be mothers and wives and mascara-appliers and hair-doers and skirt-wearers. They are allowed to care about their high heels and children. That is fine. Acceptable. Laudable. As is not wanting to be a wife or a mother or to wear makeup or do anything remotely similar. Or, to be a male and to want to be a husband and father and to wear makeup and do hair and wear skirts. Or, to be someone who falls in none of those categories. Feminism is the idea that boxes are idiotic, and no one should be trapped in them – or outside of them. You say my idea of feminism is naïve, but I would counter that perhaps your experience of it is limited. I do not deny that there are angry people out there calling themselves feminists and acting the opposite. They are visible. They are loud. They are really quite noticeable. Yes, they exist. But feminists who are reasonable and don’t go gutting others in the style of exactly what we’re trying to end exist, too. The “warm, happy, sunny feminism” you claim I know because I practice it, or at least try my damnedest to. Katherine does as well. There are others – women and men – in my day to day life who practice it, too. I see them. I know they are real. I’m sorry people like them apparently don’t exist in your personal world. Though when presented with two people – one who’s smiling at you and the other who’s about to stab you with a knife – I can understand how the knife-wielder might take more precedence in what you’re remembering came at you that day. I promise there are more of smilers out there, somewhere around you.

But don’t get me wrong – people who are good feminists, are decent humans are allowed to get angry, too. Just like you, we’re allowed to feel hurt at our own knife wounds. And we’re allowed to fight back. Just as you are.

Best,

Miceala Shocklee

My Mom Is Not My Best Friend

10 May

My mother is not my best friend. And that’s okay. The concept of who my mother is has changed in my life over time, as I think it should have.  As a kid, my mom was that great mass of maternalness that gets epitomized in Baby Muppet’s mother-human-thing-character, a body wearing a dress tall with a nice voice who’s tall enough that her head is somewhere off the top of the screen and all you can really see are her legs and the tray of cookies she’s bringing into the room. My mom was my mommy – dinner-making, school uniform-buying, rule-creating, playdate-arranging woman who took me out to Gloria Jeans Coffee for hot chocolate with whipped cream and cinnamon flakes on top on my days off school. She was the Adult And Thus Essentially God who brought me to the pediatrician the zillion times I had strep throat, forced me to wear sunscreen when I was too young to understand the words “Irish complexion,” and for god knows what reason took on what must have been the hell of running my elementary school Brownie troupe. As it goes with most kids, for me in my childhood, my mom was a set of actions and routines and a few shades of mannerisms. I loved her, I needed her, but I had close to zero understanding of her as a person.

Puberty hit, and I’m pretty sure neither of us understood the other as a person for a solid five years or so. With my flush of preteen hormones came the genetic ticking time bomb of mental health predisposition, with anorexia and OCD taking the lead. It was me and my brain against the world. (Well, it was really my brain against me and the world, but I wouldn’t know that until something like a decade later when I was three years into therapy.)

As I fell into a world of misconceived misperceptions and my mother tried to fix it all with tough love and no science or psychology, our relationship devolved into secrecy and butting wills. With my mom not really having a background in psychology or science, I don’t know all of what went through my mother’s head during those years, but I imagine it was something like “WHY IS MY CHILD BREAKING WHY WON’T SHE JUST DO WHAT I SAY WHY CAN’T I FIX IT FUCK FUCK FUCK.” My brain, in the meantime, was going “SEE HOW SHE DOESN’T UNDERSTAND SHE’S TELLING YOU TO DO WRONG THINGS SHE DOESN’T UNDERSTAND THAT EVERYTHING WILL BREAK IF YOU DON’T DO THIS WHY WON’T SHE JUST TRUST YOU SHE DOESN’T KNOW WHAT SHE’S TALKING ABOUT.”

Lovely, lovely communication there.

My early teen years were not pleasant. Combined with friendlessness at school and expectations all around of high-achievement, my developing mistrust of my well-meaning mother and growing resentment toward other family members led to a lot of walls and broken battleground. Things were wrong. My brain scrambled desperately to fix them in maladaptive ways. My mother tried in her own misinformed way to fix it as well. Everything was terrible. My mother was not my best friend. From within my eventually clinically depressed brain, she was barely even someone I liked.

It’s entirely justified if that sentiment were mutual.

Adulthood, or the mini-adulthood that is college, at least, offered some respite. I got both better and worse, but there was greater communication that happened. I mean, there kind of has to be when your daughter winds up in a treatment facility. You kinda have to talk about what’s happening for real, at least a little bit more, then.

I got to understanding my brain more, and it got harder for it to pull one over on me. I don’t know what changed for my mom, but she started backing off of mama bear mode and started interacting with me on a more peer level. Slowly, excruciatingly slowly, we started understanding each other as adults.

And honestly, I don’t even think I mean in some gushy, and-all-was-well way. I’d go home for a visit over the summer, and find out that my mom’s favorite band is PINK FUCKING FLOYD. And then she’d just suddenly rattle off the lyrics to some rap song. And then she’d tell me about how she put herself through a few years of college while working full time because she wanted the education for herself even though her mother didn’t. And I’d tell her about how I’d gone on birth control (at that point in order to regulate my unruly menstrual un-cycle, but my mother’s immediate response was “OH GOOD YOU CAN HAVE SEX NOW!”) and about how sucky vet school applications are and about how I adopted a snake (she was less okay with that than the birth control). With my mother’s mama bear a little bit more tamed, I can now ask her for advice on things like renting a car and how to do taxes, and, I mostly trust that she’s not going to jump into let-me-do-everything-for-you-oh-child-of-mine mode where I feel like respect for my own competence goes flying out the window. No, I feel like now, in her eyes, I am an adult. I can see her, the adult, more now too. I like her. I hope she likes me. I think we’re something like friends.

But not best friends. Which is good, because that’s not what I need her to be.

I need her to tell me to put on sunscreen when I delude myself I won’t burn. I need her to sit down and have hot chocolate with whipped cream and cinnamon flakes on top. I need her to somehow sometimes know more about old school rock than I do.

I just need her to be my mom.

Katmandu

26 Apr

The world falls out from under you.

They said you were prepared for this. The drills, the talks, even the seismological understanding. But apparently your buildings were put through no such rigor, born at a different time.

You are buried now.

You know help will come. It’s come before, to find people under the rubble of the lives they thought they’d prepared for. It’s all a matter of how angry you can be – will your heat show up on their scanners? Too much cold, uncaring detritus around is the real threat. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

This is what they prepared you for.

You know that elsewhere, feet still walk on firm foundations, the blessings that come with their more monotone landscapes. Fewer ups and downs, no sharp shadows at twilight to make you wonder about the curves and edges of the world around you. Safety.

You know you will be on their commercials. What – a week at most, this time?

Send help.

Send money.

Send you.

No – not that last one. It’s too dangerous for that last one. You risk other people’s lives and business meetings.

You understand.

They will try to sacrifice. Ten dollars, ten cents. Any little thing helps, but you will not be dug out of here with the shovel of other people’s well-meant quarters. Lives are bought in time and effort. It’s a pity now much you have to pay for that, nowadays.

But still, you understand. You understand why they can’t send more. They need that money. For their bread. For their gas. For their kid’s new start-of-school pencil box. These are what they build their foundations out of, and who are you to deny someone else what they need to ensure their world rocks a little bit less when they hear of disaster and misfortune?

A teacher calls about a scraped knee.

A lover calls to break a heart.

A boss calls to kill a career.

The news chatters in the background about an earthquake in Katmandu.

They will gather their children with their sturdy new pencil boxes close to them and clutch at the steadiest thing they have, eyes watering over with gratitude at this small foundation, while they wonder – what if that were me?

You wonder what it would be like to be clutching that pencil box right now.

Beside you, your hands try to curl into claws but they can’t because the debris of ages ago’s poor planning and yesterday’s shit luck prevents you from moving. The world crashed into itself, a byproduct of trying to stand up straight on too unstable a spine. It’s the way it’s always been. It will be again, somewhere.

It’s just you, this time.

You imagine that out there, the world is still shaking for you. Fear, anger, desperation at the rubble that provides too much metaphor for how humanity has built itself. They will fight for you, out of their own emotions.

You smile, a quiver of hope small enough to force its way past the crushing deoxygenation.

Maybe it will be enough, those other people’s movements.

But for now, you are still.

“Anger is bad.” No.

8 Apr

Life is short, live it. …okay.

Love is rare, grab it. …eh, sure.

Anger is bad, dump it. No.

Absolutely, definitively no.

Anger is an emotion. A typically unpleasant emotion, but that does not make it a bad one. Pain is also unpleasant. Pain telling me that my hand is on something hot and will burn beyond repair unless I move it is pretty damn useful. I wouldn’t call that bad.

I also wouldn’t call the roaring, screaming indignation that rises to your throat in anger because you are being raped or mugged bad, either. That anger makes you fight back. That anger tells you that something is wrong, and you should fight for your life in response. I would not call the sick, hot refusal that makes people jump into a fray and push back the monster attacking a child or kicking a dog or berating their wife in public or tearing your friend to verbal shreds a bad thing, either. Dump the anger, and you dump the potential for action.

I would know. I too was taught that anger was bad. So when I was molested, my anger turned to shame. Stuck in a shitty, degrading home life, my anger turned inwards and I defended my sanity with sharp knives on my skin instead of sharp words at my parents about maybe finally fucking owning up and dealing with themselves. Because hey, anger was bad, right? But these slashes here, they weren’t anger. They were despair. Guilt. Repentance. Better to be sad than to be angry, right?

Better silent martyr than screaming monster. Forget that there might ever be a middle ground. There could be no middle ground. Speaking up meant talking about my anger and anger was bad. I needed to dump it. So I did. Straight into some scars.

Perhaps it would have been better if I’d just kept on being mad and went ahead and yelled. It’s usually easier for people to hear you that way.

Anger is what leads to court cases and criminal convictions. Anger is what makes people go on in the face of someone telling them they can’t. Anger knocks down, and anger gets back up.

Anger is an emotion. It is neither good nor bad. What you do with the anger, that’s where the value judgment lies. Action can be good. Action can be bad.

When there is nothing to change or salvage or address or fix, letting go of anger can be the correct call. Siphon it out as energy for something productive. Breathe and let it fade. But don’t just dump it into a rubbish bin and pretend that you’ve actually dealt with it at all. Anger exists for a reason. And dumping anger isn’t the same as getting rid of that reason.

Don’t put your anger in a dumpster if you still need it for something else.

Anger is not a bad thing. It what’s you do with it – or don’t do – that’s the issue.

Just ask my scars.

Resurrection

6 Apr

Yesterday was Easter. As someone who know longer identifies strictly as either Catholic or nondenominationally Christian, the day does not hit my life as hard as it used to, back when Easter meant something like bunnies and chocolate and uncomfortable pretty dresses, weeks of waiting and a vague feeling of having made it somewhere when the trumpets played during the very last song, adolescence and jeans and strangled, crying prayers and final, desperate relief at sunrise. There was victory to it, back then.

There is some misgiving around it for me, now. I can look on it as a part of my family history and my life narrative, but not longer a part of my personal legacy. There would be less truth about me, if I went and sat in an Easter pew, now.

I am glad for those who can celebrate Easter with no taint of regret or guilt or hate or distrust lurking in the low notes of those Sunday hymns, whether the tinges be from wider eyes and disillusionment or vision shut down from hatred of the part of the world that isn’t you.

I belong to the former category. It’s a long story, but mostly boils down to my refusal to accept that what a group of arbitrary essentially-white men decided together in a randomly located room before the microscope was anywhere near invented is absolute truth about the universe at every single moment in time.

Call it doubt. Call it skepticism. Call it science. I don’t really care. It is where I am at, and I do not feel the need to try to force anyone else to try to be there. I claim no label because I do not presume that I know enough about the universe to say that yes, I am capable of finding absolutely the right one and yes, you should absolutely use it too.

I am not a god. I am not even a physics nobel laureate.

So instead, I have settled loosely upon allowing Shakespeare to describe my doctrine, with that Hamlet line, “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Science revisits and retests and grows and revises itself. Discards and discovers. Describes everything with an ever-expanding vocabulary. And as someone who grew up reading sci-fi and fantasy, who grew up writing sci-fi and fantasy, I am willing to clinging to a last little bit of hope that there’s some kind of magic out there, in this very wide place of existence.

Maybe it’s a network of universal consciousness. Maybe it’s a god. Maybe it’s the ridiculous self-trick that is the human mind, the reason that while I claim no religion I will still pray to the God that I muttered tearful little prayers to as a child because sometimes it’s nice to pretend that someone like that is maybe still listening.

Or maybe it’s just gonna be more science being really damn cool.

Whatever the case, yesterday was a day about celebrating resurrection. And even as the lovely little heathen I have become, I too could appreciate that feeling of a breath of fresh* air as a tomb opens and something you thought was dead walked out.

In my case, a character I spent five years writing and whose dead horse I thought I’d thoroughly bludgeoned beyond any future salvageability just up and showed up in the back of my mind and started talking and generating plot and apparently having a story again. And she’s not a character I’d heard from in a loooong time, outside of edits for that infernal manuscript of hers I swear I will finish cleaning up this year and finally send off into the vastly frightening, teeth-gnashing world of oh god please traditional publishing agents take on my book.

This character – Mariasa – she’s the closest analog of me I have in a character. Sort of. I’ve written short stories where the MC’s were also me, in some way, but I tended to be more self-aware about that. I wrote the short story because I needed to fling my emotions or my imagination into some other scenario so they could sort themselves out there. Or I was just playing pretend in words. That’s what we writers do, you know.

But Mariasa – I started writing her story when I was 14. I wasn’t super conscious of what I was doing, within my writing. I was just doing it. So I went along for about five years, pouring dreams and hopes and personality and adventure I couldn’t extract from my own life into this character. She was my soul, out having another life somewhere. And I didn’t realize this until about three years after I’d finished that first draft of her story. There is a line, in my development as a writer. “Before the time I realized that I’d used parts of real humans to shape many of my characters” and “After the time I realized that many of my female MC’s were basically alternate versions of me and that oh god so many of the male protagonists are based off of a certain guy friend and I should probably go smush my face into his and see how that goes.”

Ah, college.

Anyhoo. Mariasa. She lived in my head for so long. I would sit at my windowsill with my notebook in my lap and my dog at my feet and I’d loop the same 40-minute CD for hours and stare out my window at the world beyond it and it was really only a matter of how fast I could move the pencil to keep up with how fast Mariasa was traveling across her own world having adventures. She was the story I could just sit down and write. No writer’s block. No uncertainty. I’d sit down to pick up where I’d left off and suddenly have a backlog of five more scenes in my head that I needed to move Mariasa to. She was my great story.

And then I finished it. And I was 18, and my world and mental health simultaneously started to crack. Probably causative, that. But this meant that for five more years, Mariasa’s story stayed ended. I got stuck in this endless loop of editing. Because of course it was never good enough. Fix it. Fix it. Fix it. Grow into a different person with altered values and more knowledge and greater exposure and fix it again.

Over. And over. And over again.

Locked into a life structure of my own where I come up against the same brick wall again and again and locked into an editing loop where I’ve continually tried to smooth over the same set of passages while repeatedly stalling and not getting any further, I’ve been frustrated with the staleness of the same words and the same sort of life I’m writing them in, and I’ve been at the stage of “I just want to finish the damn thing” for a while now.

And then I went to Europe.

There was a lot of fresh air in Europe.

Mariasa’s story is one of adventures. I went out and had some adventures. Parts of me long quiet woke up again, and the other chatter that’s routinely bounced around in my mind and made it impossible to be properly productive, properly imaginative went silent. There was room for the quiet little voices in my mind that murmur about adventure to wake up again. I guess it makes sense that Mariasa would wake up, too.

And it’s a desperate relief, this resurrection. Because it means a part of me that I thought might be dead forever is coming back to life. Or at least did long enough for Mariasa to come out of whatever tomb in my mind she’d been hiding in.

She’s older now. Which is good, because it means that she’s grown. She’s got the light I build her character from but there’s spark to her now, too. Less worried about “good,” more able to make hard decisions. But still, as always, caring really damn hard.

She’s slipped on her sweater and the first pair of shoes in reach. She’s ready to go into the world again.

I’ve started her story – not sure if it’ll be a short of a full-blown novel as well, but I’m letting her decide that. This isn’t a story with an agenda. This is just a story.

Mariasa woke up. Apparently we’re going somewhere.

———–

*Okay, I know any air coming from a newly unsealed tomb around the time of Jesus would have been anything but fresh. Whatever. Pretend it’s the shiny Hollywood version. We’re talking metaphors here. Deal with it.