New year, new plans

For the last couple of years, I’ve made some resolutions that have been a little outside the box, I suppose you could say. For 2014, I resolved to become the person I used to be. Yes, to some that sounds a bit odd, I’m sure, but somehow after college I started morphing into this quiet hermit of a person who wasn’t intrusive, wasn’t offensive, wasn’t obnoxious. Wasn’t anything, really.

But, you say, isn’t it good not to be offensive?

Of course! I don’t mean storming around shouting swear words in church or racial slurs in crowds or anything like that. I mean, I started going out of my way never to hurt anyone’s feelings in the slightest, even when that meant withholding necessary truths or even allowing myself to be hurt. I wanted to be the person I used to be, because I used to be someone who was outgoing, confident, funny, adventurous… but I suddenly realized I’d become the opposite of all those things. I don’t know when it started or why, but I knew I hated it and wanted to change.

So in 2014 I decided to start identifying places in my life where I’d allowed myself to become a doormat again, and either change my own behavior or start cutting out the people who abused my silence.

I got a tattoo.

In 2015, I made a more concrete resolution: Stop giving other people so much control of my thoughts and actions.

It’s good, to an extent, to care about what others think of you. Really, isn’t that what stops us from doing a lot of things we really want to do but shouldn’t? Like finishing that box of donuts by yourself or texting your ex or fill-in-the-blank. It helps us keep the reputation we want. I don’t want people to think I’m a cruel and heartless person, but I also don’t want them to think I’m easily manipulated, waiting to be used for their purposes.

I forced myself to sit down and think about the areas of my life where other people’s opinions didn’t and shouldn’t matter:

  • My appearance
  • My career goals
  • My educational goals
  • My writing
  • Our family planning decisions

It’s stupid, I know, but I was letting worry over what people thought of me and my choices dictate almost everything I did. I didn’t get another tattoo in 2015 (I wanted to) but we did buy a new house and a new car and make plans for me to go back to school, plans I’ll be acting on very soon.

I got two new piercings. (Just my ears, piercings are the worst)

I dyed my hair every color I could think of, sometimes changing it multiple times a month. It’s now a point of conversation when I see someone at work that I’ve not run into in a few weeks.

So for 2016, I’m continuing in the same theme. This year, I’m going to stop coddling everyone around me at my own expense. I’m not going to cause needless drama or seek out confrontation, but I’ve spent the last several years bowing my head and biting my tongue and hiding my tears when what I really should have done was say what needed to be said, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable. The truth really does hurt, even when you choose not to expose it. I could go in depth about what brought me to this decision, but it was a hard one to make, so I’ve spent enough time already trying to parse it.

Women's Do No Harm Shirt

My mantra for 2016. Buy the shirt here.

I feel I’m making the right choice. It’s time to stop putting myself last just so everyone else feels safe and happy no matter what. It’s time to stop excusing every offense with phrases like “that’s just the way s/he is” and “it’s okay, I don’t mind” or “things will be different next time.” But what’s right isn’t always easy, so I know this year’s resolution may be more difficult than last year’s. But I think there are better and brighter things ahead, and I’m excited to see them arrive.

‘Tis the Season…

…to be sick, apparently. I even had a book review post outlined and ready to post, but the plague descended on our house like an unwanted fruitcake (that’s probably redundant), and I’ve only just started feeling back to 100% in the last few days.

I’ll do my best to get back on schedule. At least I’ve got that review lined up! Right now I’m reading Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi. So far it’s an excellent read, but it’s also really emotionally heavy, especially on the heels of the last book I read, which was a light and airy teen romance. Not my usual style, I know, but I’m really glad I read it. That’s the book featured in my upcoming review, which will hopefully go live tonight, so you’ll hear more about it later.

In the meantime, we have managed to decorate the house for Christmas. Despite feeling like a pile of garbage, I was still able to get the tree up.

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This year, some friends gave us some great decorations, including an artificial tree. I put that one upstairs since I have room for two trees now (you have no idea how happy this makes me; I’m a huge nerd for Christmas).

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And we actually got to decorate the porch! Ugh, this is the best Christmas ever, already. I love Christmas. Yes, I know I still have pumpkins out. But they’re so cute! Maybe I’ll put little bows on them. And no, I don’t leave my poinsettia outside. It was only there for the picture.

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At any rate, regular content should resume soon, now that I don’t feel the heavy cloud of death and head colds hovering over me.

This past week, you may have noticed the absence of Tuesday Reviews Day. It will be back; I haven’t fully committed myself to weekly vs. biweekly, so for right now that may remain a feature that simply occurs somewhat randomly.

I’ve still been reading regularly, and I did recently finish a great book I can’t wait to tell you about. I’ve got a few in the TBR queue and one in the box that I’m working my way through, but it’s a pretty emotionally heavy selection, so I may take awhile to get through it.

But mostly, I’ve been sloughing my way through NaNoWriMo. I don’t know if any of you have signed up, but if you have, scope out my page and add me! (My username should come as no surprise.) I can use some encouragement, to be quite honest. I write at a very weird pace, which is to say I tend to write when I feel motivated. Of course, that’s a very bad plan; motivation is fleeting, like most emotions are, and waiting for it is sometimes as productive as waiting for Godot.

I won’t “win” NaNo this year, I know that already, but honestly I’m already really proud of myself. I’ve written about 4,000 words (please stop rolling your eyes) and that’s actually a personal best for me. I’ve never written a single creative piece of that length before. It’s intimidating. I’m a short story, flash fiction, free-verse poetry type of gal, and novels just don’t come easily to me. But I’ve had this great idea knocking around in my head for quite awhile, and with the help of my amazing sister and frequent visits to Chuck Wendig’s blog, I think I’ve made some great progress toward a novel. I have an actual outline (miracle of miracles!) and a real conflict and an actual idea of the ending and how I want to get there. I know things will change between now and completion, and that’s okay. I’ve already changed a lot, to be honest. But I’m feeling really great about this.

So, are you doing NaNoWriMo? Tell me about your story! Are you pursuing some other creative passion? Are you doing something else that scares you?

…………..why not?

Stages of Grief, or Stages of Writing?

This morning I read this post by Chuck Wendig. Of course it made me laugh, but it also made me realize something about my own writing process: I think I may be stuck in the “Depression” phase. And that makes sense, sort of, in the grand scheme of the things that are my life and personality.

I’m prone to depression. Notice I didn’t say I “have” depression. I think that may be because a large part of my family still harbors some of society’s stigmas toward depression. I’m not sure why that is, but I know it’s affected me and the way I talk about myself and my emotional and mental struggles.

I get depressed over the strangest things. You may have noticed, for example, that my posts fell completely off with no warning and no reasoning. I made a very brief attempt at weekly review posts rather than biweekly ones, and it proved more stressful than I thought. I like reading at a slow pace and giving myself time to process what I’m reading; otherwise I find myself reading just to be reading, and I don’t retain anything at all. Months later I may even entirely forget I’ve read a book if I read it that way.

When I realized that weekly posts were probably going to be too strenuous, it hit me hard. Harder than it probably should have. Instead of telling myself, “that’s fine, just adjust the schedule again. People will understand,” I told myself I was a failure, a horrible writer, and no one followed my blog anyway so what difference did it make. Of course, these are horrible things to tell yourself, and I know that, logically. But that doesn’t stop Scumbag Brain from being a scumbag.

So of course the conclusion Scumbag Brain reached was to just. Stop. Blogging. And somehow, I was mostly okay with this. I would get a twinge of guilt here or there, or really miss writing, or have a great idea, and yet somehow I’d dismiss it all with some lame excuse or self-deprecation.

But then I read Chuck’s post. And I get that it wasn’t specifically talking about my situation, but it seemed so relevant. It really struck me that this is what I’ve been doing with my writing for years; I get started, somehow get discouraged, and I get out. I put it down and never go back to it.

I’ve decided in recent days that I want to change all that and let myself be the person I want to be. I need to get out of my own way, basically. So I signed up for Habitica — which is already making a difference in the way I think about my free time and my priorities. I did some research on online graduate schools and got some input from some of my career mentors. And most terrifying of all: I signed up for NaNoWriMo. I’ve signed up for it before, but this time, I mean it. I work at my alma mater, so I enlisted the English department chair to help keep me accountable, and I added daily writing to my Habitica tasks. Plus, last fall I was able to attend an excellent character-writing workshop with Mary Robinette Kowal, and I’ll be drawing heavily from what I learned there, not to mention using the completed excerpt I ended up with as a basis for my concept.

I’m really excited about what’s in store. I’m just hoping that I can hold on to this momentum, because life isn’t always a stroll down a sunny lane. Recently, husband and I moved into a brand new home and, while of course it’s exciting and wonderful, it’s also very stressful and a little scary. Part of me wants to stay home all day in my pajamas and enjoy it to the fullest, and part of me wants to be ten years old again so I can stay at the home I grew up in in my pajamas and not have anything to worry about, apart from which flavor of Ramen I’ll eat for lunch and whether I can sneak a second soda.

Chibird's penguin encouragement :)

Chibird’s penguin encouragement 🙂

But that won’t do either. It’s time for the Acceptance phase.

I can do this.

So now I’m going to go do it.

Not Quite a PSA

You can expect the usual Tuesday Reviews Day content tomorrow, about something I’ve recently promised to cover, but I wanted to drop in briefly today and say a few things.

First of all, I haven’t completely forgotten about the other days of the week, and I do realize that currently there is an average of two weeks between each Tuesday Reviews Day post. I want to remedy that, so hopefully I can up my reading game and get you guys a fresh review every week. I also want to make a return to personal posts, which will appear more regularly. Of course, I would like to stay focused on reviews, but I like having some content in there to switch it up.

So on that note, what are some topics you’d like to see this blog cover? Do you like the snapshots of my personal life, or would you prefer I stick with general geekery? (No offense will be taken, no matter which answer you provide.) While I would prefer not to review video games (for a host of reasons, none of which I feel obligated to explain), I don’t mind reviewing books you’re curious about reading but nervous to purchase, or movies you might like to see but aren’t sure you’ll enjoy it. (My husband is a huge movie buff, so you can rest assured we’ll either see or own a majority of popular films, especially.) Of course, you’re more than welcome to ask about my opinions on video games that are available on my preferred platforms (PC/Mac, Xbox, PS3, Nintendo 3DS), but I do like focusing on books so I’ll attempt to keep that the same.

And finally, tomorrow’s Tuesday Reviews Day will be book-related but not focused on any single book; you’ll see when you get there. But next week’s installment will focus on a book I’m currently reading, and it’s already made such a huge impact on me I couldn’t resist giving you a sneak peek at my feelings on the book: Shadowshaper, by Daniel Jose Older. This is the second book of his I’ve read, and it’s every bit as amazing as I expected. But what’s so striking about this book is its focus: the main characters are all POC. And honestly, I hadn’t realized how whitewashed my book choices were until I took the No-SWCM Authors Challenge back in March. I’ve discovered worlds of fiction I never envisioned, and this book is amazing. Not just for this reason, but it strikes me as I read that this is not about me. And I love it. I don’t feel excluded at all; it feels familiar and comfortable, like hanging out with friends, but it isn’t mine the way my family is mine. It isn’t my story. And I love it for that. It’s refreshing to read something that doesn’t feel worn out. It’s refreshing to see books about people who look like people I know, who talk like people I know, but who are not exactly like me. I know the inherent privilege that comes with admitting that; I might as well say “wow, it gets really boring to read about people like me all the time,” and I realize how that sounds. But I am bored of it. I’m tired of ‘White’ being the default setting. It is refreshing to read about something else, to learn about someone else. And I imagine that, for POC readers, it is refreshing to finally see a mirror. I truly believe this will help change the way I write characters of my own. I can’t wait to tell you more about this book, and I can’t wait to finish reading it for myself.

(Mladen Antonov, AFP/Getty Images)

A Long Day Without You, My Friends

I’m sure none of you are strangers to the news of what happened last week in Charleston, SC.

(New Yorker)

The New Yorker’s memorial cover art. (New Yorker)

What you may not know, I’m honestly not sure if I’ve mentioned this on my blog before, is that I’m from South Carolina. I’m not from Charleston, but it’s a city that is near and dear to my heart, a city that I know quite well. I love it. I love its streets that flood in the rain, its markets that bustle with artisans and locals and tourists alike. I love its people. I love the way the trees hang over the roads and I love the sound of horses pulling carriages through the city. It is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. It is the only place I would pack up and move to with no hesitation whatsoever.

Last week’s act of terrorism — because we need to be honest with ourselves, that’s what this was — devastated our state. And to be honest, I’m still not quite sure how to even articulate my emotions. I’ve erased and rewritten these paragraphs several times already, even thought about not posting at all. Because what words do I have that haven’t been made empty from the repeating?

(Dan Xeller)

A man holds a sweetgrass rose. Woven sweetgrass is one of the oldest African arts in the country, and many in Charleston and the Lowcountry still practice it. (Dan Xeller)

But that, I have decided, is not the point.

The point is that as a white person, as a white feminist, I cannot sit idly by and allow moments like these to pass unaddressed, unresolved, into the pages of our history books. Yesterday I finally found the words for a Facebook post that was probably a bit too long for the medium, but I think it fits well here:

I’ve got a few more things to say about the Charleston shooting, things that I think, as a feminist, and specifically a white feminist, I really need to say.

First of all, the Confederate flag needs to go. I am not going to argue this point or attempt to justify my reasoning because, quite truthfully, I feel if this needs to be explained to you, you are part of the problem. I do not think my opinion on this has more weight because I am white than it would if I were not; I do think that as a white person, my silence on this matter would be tantamount to acceptance, and I refuse to allow people to think I condone or promote the things this flag represents. If you would like to argue this point, here are my real feelings: The battle flag that we and other states fly, that hang from trucks and are printed on shirts, is no different to me than the Nazi swastika, which was a symbol of good fortune that was taken and perverted into something disgusting and evil, a symbol of hatred and violence. I’m sure there are people alive with ancestors who were Nazi soldiers, just like I’m sure you maybe have ancestors who fought for the Confederacy. But I will assume what type of person you are when you fly that, just like I will judge the hell out of a man wearing jack boots.

Second, it has been reported that Roof told his victims he “had to do this, because you rape our women” and assorted other ridiculous assertions. Let me make this clear:

We are not YOUR women. We are not HIS women. We are our own women, and we will speak for ourselves.

And finally, this was not about religion. Stop undermining the real issue here by insinuating that’s what this was about. This was about the culmination of years of hatred and poison poured into a man’s head by people who told him he was owed something, who told him he deserved sex and success and whatever else simply because he had white skin and male genitals, who told him that those things were being taken from him by people who were not as wonderful as he is. This was about racism, hatred, entitlement, and white privilege. And until we as white people recognize that privilege and start teaching ourselves and our children better, as Dr Seuss says, unless someone like me cares a whole awful lot, it’s not going to get better. It’s not.

I’m not doing this to argue. I’m doing this because I cannot stay silent about these issues and expect them to simply go away.

(Mladen Antonov, AFP/Getty Images)

Protesters in Columbia, SC call for the removal of the Confederate flag. (Mladen Antonov, AFP/Getty Images)

This week has been hard. But hopefully we open our eyes and move forward together into a future with real freedom, real equality, and real hope. I think we’re all ready for that.

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