There is something very relaxing about making a cup of tea, then sitting down with a book (or my Kindle or the iBook app on my iPad) and reading. It was especially nice to do that out on the veranda when the weather was warmer. I still go out there with a mug of tea, but I wind up drinking the tea faster because it’s getting cold (and I’m chilled). So I come back inside once the tea is done. Besides, now that we get frequent visitors to the bird feeder, I feel guilty being out there and scaring the little guys off.
I do sometimes sit in front of the window and watch them. Which means I don’t always get much reading done. But it’s all good.
It has only been a few weeks since I changed the format of my Friday round up of links, and I have to say that the much shorter list has made Thursday night feel much more relaxing. I wish that I had been self-aware to realize that the old long form version was such a stressful chore, but that’s okay.
I’ve mentioned that I began questioning how much effort was going into the process because the number of people reading the round up had gone way down. What I didn’t mention was the timeline. If I look at the stats on my blog, I can point to a very specific time when the readership dropped: the first Friday after the Inauguration. They didn’t drop all the way to the recent lows right away, but the drop off was noticeable.
Now, long before then, the round up had always included a stories about unpleasant topics. And I dare say the ratio of bad news to good news was about the same. But I totally understand how exhausting it is to be reminded about this bad stuff since there is now so much of it, and it’s hurting everyone, and it feels as if there’s nothing we can do about.
So, that’s another motive for the change: I don’t want to contribute to other people’s sense of exhaustion or hopelessness, and I don’t need to wear myself out, either.
This doesn’t mean I’m not still reading as much news as before. Nor does it mean that I’ll stop calling my congresscritters and adding my voice to the throng. I’m just not spending as much time aggregating the news for other people.
There are other habits I’m trying to get into to try to limit how often I’m having to think about unpleasant topics. That’s part of the reason there is a lot less activity from me on Twitter, for instance. I still find reading my friends, acquaintances, et al on Twitter useful, I’m just limiting how much time I spend on it.
I’m behind on my writing goals (NaNoWriMo notwithstanding; there are things that I meant to have done before November that I didn’t get done). But there’s a lot of stuff going on, and I just have to accept that some of my energy is going to go into other things. And some of those other things are about taking care of myself and my husband.
Like curling up with a good book and a nice warm cup of tea.
One of those things we’re doing this week specifically along that line is we are not going to drive down to see family for Thanksgiving. I don’t need the stress of the drive each way. Neither of us needs the stress of constantly biting our tongues around my Trump-voting, Bible-thumping relatives. It will do wonders for the blood pressures of several of my relatives, too, truth be told.
Which means that instead of figuring out what dishes I can make in advance and transport down there, we’re doing a whole dinner! So far it’s just the two of us; which will be fine. And since I love talking about food, here’s our current menu:
- Relish tray (many many olives, pickles, pickled carrots, pickled green beans, pickled asparagus so far…)
- Turkey (my hubby found a 10-pound one, so not too big!)
- Green bean casserole
- Creamy sweet potatoes
- Sweet potato pie
There will likely be other things added before we’re done.
Also, the official cocktail of our holiday will be a Spicy Manhattan. Based on the recipe suggested at Central Market, this weekend, but after trying it, I have to change it so:
2 oz of your favorite bourbon or rye
1.5 oz of sweet vermouth
Several dashes of orange bitters
Tillen Farms Fire & Spice Organic Maraschino Cherries
Chill your glasses. In a cocktail shaker with ice, mix the vermouth and bourbon, stir at least 45 seconds. Shake a generous number of dashes of bitters into the cocktail glass, strain the contents of the shaker into the glass (turn the glass while he do so to mix the bitters better). Garnish with two of the spicy cherries.
Cheers! And happy holidays!
(Also, feel free to leave your menu or your favorite holiday food in the comments!)
I keep saving various images to possibly use to illustrate a Friday Five post or a political commentary, then wind up using only a fraction of them. So, here are a few of those memes and graphics you may find amusing, enlightening, or thought-provoking:
Then a couple of nurses turned off the monitors, removed the respirator tubes, and turned off the rest of the machines.
I held Ray’s hand. I said, “Good-bye.”
I’d been crying off and on for hours—days, technically (though I’d only slept a couple hours out of the previous 59-ish, so it seemed like one really long, horrible day).
My last chronologically-in-order memory is taking hold of his hand that one last time. My memories for the next few months are like the shards of a thoroughly shattered stained glass window.
When we had our commitment ceremony several years earlier, he promised me he would stay with me for the rest of his life.
I consider myself indescribably lucky to have had that kind of love in my life. The fact that after Ray’s death I later met and fell in love with another man does nothing to reduce the sense of loss I feel when I think about Ray.
A tumblr post recently came across my dashboard that summed up an issue I keep running into (often with folks who I consider friends). The original blog, feministpixie.tumblr.com, has been deleted, but the words are still true:
“Oh, so because I’m straight I’m not allowed to have an opinion on [insert LGBT issue here]”
I’m an english major. I know next to nothing about science, engineering, and astronomy. Sure, I think space is cool. I’m very supportive of NASA’s efforts. I might even have an opinion on where we should send the next shuttle or how much money we should spend on space travel.
But at the end of the day, my opinion on the matter is not valuable. I’m not going to enter into a discussion about the next shuttle launch with a bunch of trained scientists and expect them to take me seriously.
Sometimes, your opinion is not valuable. Sometimes, you aren’t qualified to enter a discussion.
And, lets be honest, straight people’s opinions are valued in literally every other situation. Hell, straight people get more awards for lgbt “activism” than queer people themselves.
If you really can’t accept that sometimes your voice isn’t the most important in the room, you might need to get over yourself.
Recently I’d re-tweeted something someone else retweeted in which a person commented about some “no homo” behavior he had observed in the real world with a comment about how fragile some people’s masculinity seemed to be. A friend jumped on the tweet to lecture me about how there were plenty of other reasonable explanations for the observed behavior, specifically saying the observation was the moral equivalent of an anti-gay slur.
I pointed out that the original observer was summarizing something he saw in a 140-character tweet, and might have left out a lot of other cues that he might have observed to deduce that the guys in question were homophobic. To which the friend replied, “That’s like gaydar, which is fun, but—” and then went on for a bit, concluding with the tired old chestnus, “I try to just mind my own business and not judge strangers in public.”
There are several things to unpack here:
- Gaydar isn’t merely a game. Gaydar isn’t accurate (though there is science to show that it is more often right than random guesses). And I’m sure to a straight person someone claiming to have gaydar is just about fun and giggles and guessing who might be part of the family. But that isn’t what gaydar is. Gaydar is an outgrowth of a survival mechanism. In a world where people are gay-bashed (sometimes to death), a queer person learns from a very early age to start looking for signs of who might be a friend, and who might be an enemy. Gaydar is just one manifestation of that.
- Therefore, keeping a wary eye for possible homophobes is not being judgmental. Again, as a queer person, I don’t have the luxury of minding my own business in public. I have never had that luxury. It isn’t just the bullies that beat me in school. It isn’t just the junior high coach who called me “faggot” all the time. It isn’t just the stranger on the street who shouted the word “faggot” and other things at me as I walked to work years ago. Gay bashing still happens. It isn’t just the occasional nutjob who goes on a mass shooting and kills 49 queer people in a single night. We never know when it might happen. So again, from an early age we look for warning signs, non-verbal cues, et cetera. We learn to avoid certain types of people, not because all of them are violent homophobes, but because some of them are and not being careful is risking more just getting our feelings hurt.
- It isn’t always about you. I get it, you’re not a violent homophobe. You may share some superficial characteristics or behaviors that a stranger might interpret the same way, but you would never attack someone. That’s good to know, but this isn’t about you. This is about our own safety and our experiences.
- Being thought of as possibly homophobic is not the equivalent of being gay bashed. I also understand that when you, a straight person, read about this sort of thing, you get your feelings hurt because you think that queer people who don’t know you might think you’re a homophobe because you act in a similar way. I’m sorry that your feelings are hurt, but your fear of being judged doesn’t balance out against our very real fear of being attacked. You’re not going to have to go to an emergency room to get stitches in your feelings. Your loved ones won’t be going to a funeral for your feelings. We, on the other hand, very well might get beaten or worse if we just mind our business and be ourselves around the wrong person.
I hate the fact that I still have to check myself constantly. I hate the fact that I can’t just be in the moment when I’m out in public, especially with my husband. I hate the fact that I have to keep an eye out for how strangers around me are acting. I hate the fact that I always do a quick assessment of our surroundings when I’m in public with my husband and one of us calls the other “honey.” I desperately yearn to live in a world where I can just mind my own business and not pay attention to how other people talk or act or what their facial expression is when they look at me, et cetera.
Believe me, I really wish that I could just mind my business.
But I can’t. Instead of getting upset because someone might misinterpret some of your behavior and be careful around you, be thankful that you don’t live in that same fear.
Stop straightsplaining. We really do understand homophobia far better than you ever could. That’s just a fact.
Yes, occasionally the press will focus on the shooter’s history of domestic abuse, as they are doing with the Texas shooter right now. But even then they keep saying how we will never know why he did it.
It’s right there. The history of abuse tells us plenty.
Not just about the Texas church shooter, but for other mass shooters. Time and again we find a history of domestic abuse. If you go find those interviews of the people who describe the shooters as quiet, you’ll also notice hints in the quotes to other traits of abusive people. They’ll say something like the person had a dark sense of humor when he did speak up. Or they’ll say he had a wicked tongue when someone got his dander up. But they’ll hasten to say how those moments were rare, and he only acted that way when he was provoked.
There are a few things going on here. First, we’ve all been socialized not to speak ill of the dead; the rationale being that this event is so painful for the family of the shooter, you don’t want to make them feel worse by truthfully describing what a sullen, angry, antisocial person their loved one was. That’s why you’ll sometimes see one or two candid interviews early, and then the same people will claim their comments were taken out of context. Seeing what they said in black and white and realizing the shooter’s family have seen it, too causes people to clam up.
Another part happens before this. There is a tendency to decide when someone in your social circle says something angry or hurtful that they are just joking. He didn’t really mean it when he said, “Someday someone’s going to sock you right in the mouth when you say stupid stuff like that.” Or the time he said, “If someone put a bullet between the eyes of every one of those bleeding heart lazy assholes, the world would be a better place.” Or the time he said, “You know none of those perverts have never worked an honest day in their life. If they all died nothing of value would be lost.” He was just teasing, we tell ourselves. He wasn’t actually threatening anyone or seriously wishing anyone dead.
So later, when he actually goes out and puts bullets in people, the folks that knew him talk about the dark sense of humor and so forth. They don’t want to think that the missed warning signs (which they did).
Abusers believe that the people they abuse deserve it. They believe that when anyone does anything that irritates them, or doesn’t conform to their ideas of how people behave that they are doing so with malicious intent toward the abuser. It can’t be that those other people are simply interested in different things, the abuser believes. They must be doing it to annoy him. That’s why abusers yell, “See what you made me do?” at their victims. They blame everything on other people. Everything, including their own unhappiness. If other people seem to be happy when the abuser isn’t, it’s because those other people are laughing at his expense, or irritating him on purpose, or causing other unpleasant things to happen the he has to deal with, and so on.This is also one of the reasons why increasing mental health resources (the only thing that Republicans are willing to pretend to be willing to do after a mass shooting) isn’t going to do anything for the problem. The abuser doesn’t think anything is wrong with him. They’re never going to seek treatment for their anger and resentment. The few who do get ordered into anger management type programs (usually as a way to avoid felony charges after an abuse incident that got them arrested—and thereby letting them in most states retain their right to buy firearms) think of the treatment as punishment and a joke. They aren’t going to make a serious effort to change.
Another thing abusers do is target the loved ones of the people they are actually angry at. We see this in domestic abuse all the time. If punishing the spouse doesn’t seem to be making the the changes they want, then they’ll punish the kids or a family pet in order to hurt and motivate the primary victim. It serves the dual purpose of making all the frequent victims hostages to get what he wants, but it also hurts in a different way than a direct attack.
So in a situation like the Texas church shooter: he was angry at his wife and his mother-in-law. His mother-in-law attended that church. His wife also had connections to the church. Everyone there was either someone who his wife and mother-in-law cared for, or had provided mental and spiritual support to the wife and mother-in-law, or they were happy people when he (the abuser) was unhappy. It’s been reported he took his kids to a social event at the church just five days before the shooting. He may have already been planning the shooting. He may not have gotten that specific. The issue is that he was a violent, angry man who had many times before used violence to try to make people in his life do what he wanted, or to punish them for not being what he wanted. Going to the festival was a way to find out more about the mother-in-law who was, in his mind, interfering with his happiness. The more he knew, the more likely he’d be able to force a change.
And even in the case where specific people don’t have a connection to anyone he is angry at right now, remember, the abuser thinks that all of his problems are other people’s fault. He likely had a wide variety of definitions of the kinds of people he blamed for specific things in the world that he didn’t like. Seemingly random people at an event like that are “those kind” of people in his mind.
The motives are easy to fathom, if you take just a few minutes to learn about how abusers think.
Edited to Add:
A couple of things came across my feed after I wrote this. Well worth your time:
I don’t want to spend a lot of time writing anything that isn’t NaNoWriMo right now, but sometimes there are stories in the news that I can’t let go by without some comment. The recent revelations of prominent men actually facing some consequences for their years of sexual harassment is (if these kinds of consequences stick around and we start believing women when they say they’ve been subjected to this treatment) a great thing. Some people are trying to make hay out of the fact that the most recent cases have been people in the entertainment industry, but please don’t be fooled. Every industry has this problem. This is a systemic societal manifestation of male privilege/rape culture.
A lot of other people have written about the general topic over the last few weeks, and there isn’t much point in me weighing in further, but one particular aspect does require some commentary: A Pattern Of Abuse: How Kevin Spacey Used The Closet To Silence His Victims. It’s not just straight men that behave abominably in this way. Gay Actors Open Up About Sexual Harassment In Hollywood: “I’m No Stranger To It”.
The first article I linked above looks at an aspect of this problem that doesn’t get talked about a lot: how the closet makes the problem especially bad for queer people: 1) a lot of straight people who either experience the harassment or witness is feel that they can’t say anything because doing so would out the people involved, and involuntarily outing another person is wrong; 2) if the victim of the harassment isn’t out, they feel that they can’t defend themselves because doing so would expose their secret. The article, unfortunately, focuses primarily on that first bit: how Spacey counted on people’s reluctance in order to continue his behavior with impunity. But I really wish the article had spent some more time on the second one, because I don’t think enough people understand just how bad it can be.
Particularly for young people, such as the second of Spacey’s accusers, who started a sexual relationship with Spacey when the victim was 14, and willingly went along with it for quite some time, until the incident when Spacey tried to force him to do a new sex act he wasn’t ready for (at the much more mature age of 15). This is another way that the closet plays into this kind of abuse, especially for queer teens. See, the kid has spent his whole life being scared to death that people will find out they are gay. They are convinced their families will reject them (and given how many do kick their gay kids out on the street, that isn’t an unreasonable fear), they fear all their friends will abandon them, and so on. At the same time, they are teen-agers, with hormones raging through their body, they have crushes on people that they can’t pursue, and so forth. There’s no socially acceptable way to explore those feelings, to take someone they like to the school dance, et cetera.
But then someone comes along and offers them part of what they crave: someone who desires them, someone who claims to have feelings for them, someone who will let them experience these things they’ve fantasized about. Never mind that the person is older (sometimes a lot older)–and what kid didn’t have at least one crush on an older person at some point–this is someone who is finally giving them something they thought they would never have. So they may go along with it. They may enjoy it, at least for a while. They may believe the other person actually cares about them. So, once they have gone that far, then they believe anything unpleasant that happens is their fault. They agreed, originally, right? They assume any of the bad feelings they have are because something is wrong with them, not recognizing that it’s the toxicity of the closet and the exploitive behavior of the other person that is at fault.
Whether they go along with it at all or not, they still can’t tell anyone. They can’t ask for help or advice, because doing so means admitting they’re queer, and then all of the things that they’ve feared will come true. So they suck it up and try to endure. Which continues the whole toxic cycle.
And let’s make something very clear. The reason they were targeted was because the older person suspected that they were gay. The abuser is looking for victims who may let them have their way, or who will give in to the harassment out of fear, or at the very least will stay silent because of that same fear.
This is the reason that Spacey’s attempt to use his coming out as an excuse when the first allegation came forward was so infuriating. By attributing the first assault to a “drunken mistake” and then saying he’s finally chooses to live as an openly gay man, he was trying to make himself the victims. While I’m sure that growing up a closeted queer kid was just as unpleasant for him as to any of the rest of us, he embraced the toxicity of the closet and used it to abuse other, generally younger guys. The truly sad thing is how many of the media initially let the tactic work, the headlines were about him coming out, not about the fact that he’d sexually assaulted a 14-year-old. Enough people called them on it (and more accusers came forward) that it shifted: Media Skewered For Focus On Kevin Spacey Coming Out Rather Than Harassment.
Spacey doesn’t get to hide behind the queer community. He doesn’t get to use booze and being closeted as an excuse to prey on teen-age boys again and again. He is not the victim in any of these cases. He’s a sexual predator.
A while back I posted about why I dislike large expository dumps in fiction (Trust the reader to keep up). I still stand by what I wrote there, but thanks to a great essay by Cecilia Tan, Let Me Tell You, I realize that advice like that feeds into a misperception that all exposition is inherently bad. At best, it ignores the fact that there is a big difference between expository dumps and quality exposition. I’ve linked to Tan’s essay before, and it is well worth the read, but the crux of her argument is here:
Tan is hardly the first person to point out that the cliched advice to ‘show, don’t tell‘ is problematic: Why “Show, Don’t Tell” Is the Great Lie of Writing Workshops or 5 REASONS ‘SHOW DON’T TELL’ IS BAD ADVICE. But the easiest way to see that it is at best an oversimplification is simply to remember that writers are story tellers. You can’t tell a story without, well, telling some things.
These are the do’s and don’ts of MFA programs everywhere. They rely on a shared pool of knowledge and cultural assumptions so that the words left unsaid are powerfully communicated. I am not saying this is not a worthwhile experience as reader or writer, but I am saying anointing it the pinnacle of “craft” leaves out any voice, genre, or experience that falls outside the status quo. The inverse is also true, then: writing about any experience that is “foreign” to that body of shared knowledge is too often deemed less worthy because to make it understandable to the mainstream takes a lot of explanation. Which we’ve been taught is bad writing!
From the point of view of teaching people how to write, ‘show don’t tell’ is part of an entire tool kit which is used for gatekeeping. See, if you do not understand enough of the cultural touchstones being alluded to (but not actually told about) in the so-called literary novels, you can’t understand the novel. In other words, the less that your upbringing resembled a white, male, cis het, upper middle class childbood, the less likely that those novels will be understood by you, and therefore less likely they will appeal to you. And if you admit that you didn’t like them and didn’t understand them, that is used by some people to label you as unsophisticated, unintelligent, and tasteless. You can get past those gatekeepers if you don’t fall into all of those categories (there are a number of works by gay male authors, for instance, that are routinely accepted into the category because those authors understood the culture and learned all the tricks), but the entire toolkit of the literary elite created a situation where you must learn the secret codes in order to understand the stories.
Several science fiction and fantasy authors have pointed out that it is impossible to tell a good sf/f tale following the ‘show don’t tell’ stricture because in order to put the reader into a world that differs from ours, you have to at least occasionally tell the reader some things.
But you don’t have to do that by placing large chunks of your world-building as a lecture or debate about history that goes on for pages and pages. You certainly don’t have to make your viewpoint character an outsider who doesn’t know anything about this world, so has to constantly have things explained to them by others. You can explain things without slowing down the plot. You can tell the reader about the setting in small sips. You can do that in context along the way.
Trust the reader to understand, yes, but trust the story, too. You’re a story teller, so tell your story.