Invisible Fences

I want to talk a little bit about going to SFF conventions and workshops. The first workshop I ever went to, my dear friend Camille told me, “There are a lot of people here who’ve known each other for a long time. They are excited to see each other and hang out. They aren’t exclusive, but it doesn’t occur to them to actively include or invite new people in. But if you go up to people and introduce yourself, they will welcome you.”

That is some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten.

autumn leaves swirly fence

When I first started exploring the SFF communities, I knew no one. I felt like no one. I thought everyone knew each other and didn’t want to know me. It turned out I was wrong. I started by going to small, one-day writing workshops, where I connected with one or two people. Over time, they introduced me to more people. I got braver. I started to feel like MAYBE I belonged. I listened to the advice not to self-reject. I kept working on my writing, I kept applying to workshops, and then last year I got accepted to Viable Paradise.

Last weekend I was at a small convention in Minneapolis. The main draw for me was to reconnect with the friends I’d made last fall. Suddenly I had switched sides of the invisible fence. I didn’t realize it, until it was pointed out. There were people who were new to the community, new to going to conventions, and they were feeling like I used to feel.

I try to remember Camille’s advice, especially since I’m on the other side. I look for people hanging on the edges and try to invite them in. If you are new to cons, most people are there because they want to connect. If they don’t want to connect, they won’t be in public spaces.

Now that I’m further inside/know more people, I try to remember what it felt like to be new. I don’t feel like I have more wisdom or knowledge, even though on some level I do. I understand that the more visible a person is, the more they attract new people who are hungry to know how they got there.

So here’s my advice:

  • Feel free to approach people in public spaces
  • Listen and get a feel for the people or person
  • Do not chase them if they get up to leave. They probably have a reason. I know an editor who had a writer pass her a manuscript under a bathroom stall.
  • If you know people, and there are new folks, try to invite them to join you. Or introduce one new person to someone you know. Or introduce yourself to a new person.
  • I am an extrovert. I don’t have social anxiety. Even for me, it can be scary and intimidating to talk to someone new. I often feel awkward and am certain everyone can see my tentacles quivering. I think most people feel this way. Or at least, I tell myself that.
  • If you don’t have anything to say, THAT IS OKAY. Don’t feel like you have to talk if you aren’t ready.
  • The first workshop I went to, I made a goal to talk to ONE PERSON. Over a three-day period. I did it. Courage is rewarded.
  • If you don’t find the people you are looking for in one place, KEEP TRYING. It took me years to build the community I have now. I didn’t find them all in one place. I had to look in many places, and not the places I expected to.
  • You will get many chances. It’s not a one-and-done. If you are feeling discouraged, try again.
  • One thing that has helped me is finding other writers on Twitter. When I know someone I’ve met on Twitter is going to be somewhere in real life, I like to ask if I can say hi and chat with them in person.
  • There are lots of ways to do something, and you ultimately have to figure out the way that is best for you. If it’s a buddy system, do that! There are people you will find something in common with, and there are people who you won’t connect with.
  • If you are an old hat, or know more than three people at a con, try to remember what it felt like when you first started going.

What strategies have worked for you? What would you wish there was more of?

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Coming out: in your own time

A couple months ago I wrote about coming out as a lifelong experience. Since June is Pride month, I went on a little thing about coming out on Twitter. I thought I would put it all in one place, so I could refer back to it and folks could share it more easily if they wanted.

Try a free week

I think everyone should come out WHEN THEY ARE READY.

There is no requirement that once you figure things out, you need to tell anyone at a particular pace. If you are in that place, now, where you know and maybe you have told one person or two people or no one, just know that you are loved, just as you are. You only owe YOURSELF right now.

It might be hard to figure out who is safe to talk to. It is OKAY to take your time. There is NO RUSH. No one has it all figured out. I try to allow for space for my friends, because I know they are wise about themselves.

It can be tempting to rush, to fill that void because we as a culture are uncomfortable with things being undefined, the in between spaces. Let it be okay. YOU ARE OKAY.

Also, once you figure one thing out, it may shift your understanding of other things. You need not commit to any one thing. I’m talking about sexuality and gender, but there may be other aspects of yourself, too. These things don’t need to define you, but they do inform you, and how others will and do relate to you. Understanding this took me years.

YOU ARE LOVED. You are enough, wherever you are in your journey.

If someone doesn’t accept you, move on. There are people who will accept you. Take your time. Trust yourself. Find your people.

Fin!

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Bobbleheads and Giveaways

A year and a half ago I wrote about why I loved baseball.

When I enter a baseball stadium, it’s a form of time travel. The air holds all of the space-time continuum, and I sit there with the crowds and my family, connected throughout history to the present. And that is why I love baseball.

Baseball

My team at work has gone to a baseball game the last two summers, and I was talking to my girlfriend about it on Monday, wondering when we would go again. On Tuesday I learned that we were going to a game the NEXT DAY. When I got home, my girlfriend mentioned that there would be a bobblehead giveaway. I thought there was no way I would get a bobblehead.

So imagine my surprise when we got to the ballpark and they were still giving them away! I didn’t realize at the time, but it turned out there were two figures, or twin figures if you will. I think of all the baseball giveaways I’ve received (this brings the grand total to two as far as I can recall), twin Ichiros beats out the Minnesota Twins rain ponchos.

Double Ichiro!

Ichiro played for Seattle for 12 years, and Seattle fans STILL love him. He plays right field, and we got to sit behind him. Just like the days when Edgar Martinez played, the fans call out his name, the three syllables stretched out in a haunting chant.

I love to watch him at bat, when he extends his bat and swings it in a circle, then points it directly at the pitcher before shouldering it. Unfortunately I have no pictures of him at bat, because I only had my phone. So have this horrible picture of him in right field instead.

Baseball

My brother reports that he keeps his bobbleheads on the dash of his car. I have no car, so I’m trying to find a place in my apartment. And just like the no-hitter game I attended, I shared my bobblehead joy with my dad and brother.

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Coming out: or mountains beyond mountains

Last week Barry Manilow publicly acknowledged that he was gay. I saw a lot of responses along the lines of “oh, that’s last weeks news” to “what is the big deal?”. There was a nice piece on the Boston Globe that addressed some of the issues around this response. And then I went on a twitter rant, and then I posted it on Facebook. But I wanted to put this some place that would be easier to find – and share – because this is part of a larger and ongoing conversation, just like coming out.

Door to education

This piece addresses coming out as a lifelong process. Often when people ask “when did you come out?” they are referring to the moment when a person acknowledged or affirmed their identity to themselves. Because once we admit it to ourselves, telling other people happens for the rest of our lives – particularly if we do not visually fit into a stereotype. If you aren’t familiar with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s work The Epistemology of the Closet I highly recommend learning more. She challenges the notion of the binary, especially the idea of in and out when it comes to the “closet” (there’s also the phenomenon of bringing people IN to your closet …).

There are various calculations we make every time we reveal that we are LGBTQIA. Here are the questions I ask myself, before I decide whether I will say something: Is my personal safety at stake? Is my reputation? What about my livelihood, my housing, my access to health care? How much power does this person have? Now imagine doing that times 325 million. If you are fairly well known, there is the added onus of the pressure to be a spokesperson or representative once you come out. I consider these things every time I meet someone new. Do you?

I’m lucky I live in a state with protections against discrimination for LGBTQIA people. I’m white (or white-passing), cisgendered, femme, female and educated. I have a lot of advantages. I don’t worry about losing my job or housing. Even with protections, like any form of discrimination, it’s easy to cover homophobia/bigotry if an employer wants to. I live in a big city with a lot of openly LGBTQIA people. I have access to resources. My family accepts and loves me – and my partner. I have a huge buffer and safety net. That’s not the case for many people.

I’ve said this before: my sexuality doesn’t DEFINE me, but it informs me, my experiences, and how people respond/interact. So does yours. I was watching a silly movie and one of the characters comes out to his friend. The friend’s response, “How do you know you are gay?” It’s stuff like this – the microagressions, that wear a person down. Constantly being questioned, having to defend, or be prepared to defend, that exhausts someone. Trust that we know. Coming out to strangers also opens you up to all kinds of personally invasive questions. I’ve had at least two men ask me how I have sex. WTF? Why do people think that kind of question is acceptable? If I didn’t share that information with you, you can trust that you don’t need to know.

I could talk about erasure, absence of representation, and bystander effect, all of which contribute to isolation and confusion. And people wonder why mental health and substance abuse issues are higher in LGBTQIA populations. So the next time a celebrity comes out, look around and see what you can do to make the world safer – not just for the celebrity, but for everyone, including the people in your life, because we are there. And we are here.

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Why I March

I’ve seen people asking with true curiosity why people were marching yesterday. I marched in Seattle.

Here are a few reasons why I marched: Because my feminism is intersectional. Because Black Lives Matter. Because police need to be accountable to the communities they serve. Because too many people are still disenfranchised from voting. Because treaties between sovereign nations need to be respected. Because women should have control over our bodies. Because access to healthcare saves lives. Because ADA and DARE and DACA. Because I’m mad as hell. Because I voted with the majority.

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My friend Brigid made this hat for me. She wasn’t able to march, but she was with us! I have so many friends who weren’t able to march, for a variety of reasons – from health to access to family obligations to work. I marched for them, too.

Pussy hat

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Over 130K people marched in Seattle. I heard an estimate as high as 175K. They were expecting 30-50K. This was true of every march around the country. The turnout was phenomenal. The day was peaceful and friendly. Saw a lot of signs, but these lined up so beautifully. The future is female.

The future is female

As we waited to leave the park, a pair of bald eagles soared overhead in a benediction. I thought how the bald eagle is the symbol of America, how it was brought to the brink of extinction, of the legacy of grassroots movements and the formation of the EPA (which I will note, was under Nixon who was hostile to environmental protections).

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Because I know that when people get together and push for change, change happens. Because I want to control my story, not live a script someone else has written for me. Because in the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, love is love is love.

Women's march collage

The puppet at the bottom is Wangari Maathai, who won a Nobel peace prize for teaching women how to plant trees in Kenya.

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There are many ways to make our voices heard. Marching is one, but if you didn’t march yesterday, there are other ways to participate. I encourage you to contact your elected officials. Calling is the most effective, but if that’s too scary, email or write letters. If you can, donate money to local organizations. Yesterday was just the beginning. I will leave you with some resources. Find a way to engage. Here is a list I’ve compiled. I encourage you to find at least one weekly action you can do. Several of the resources have suggestions for concrete actions you can take. Collectively, we will make a difference.

And as a final reminder, always take care.

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Iterate

I don’t make resolutions anymore. They are too resolute for me. And like 99% of people, they end up in the rear view mirror by the end of January. The last several years I’ve started making intentions, and one of the ways to do that is by picking a theme word for the year.

My first year was return. Second was try. Last year was submit. I am having a lot of feelings about that entry, because a component of submit was about letting go of resistance. For 2017 (and the foreseeable future), I see resistance being a strong theme, for me as well as many others. As I carry myself into 2017, I can continue to submit to my own desires while resisting fascism and authoritarianism.

This year, my word is iterate.

luminous snail

I initially thought the word would be revise, but that was too specific. I wanted something I could apply not just to writing, given the current state of the world.

It still encompasses the themes of previous years, but this year I’m injecting more feedback! Also, as with previous years, the idea behind iterate is to cut down the amount of time I spend between projects and increase output. My internal experience is that I’m slooooow. I mean, there’s a reason I named my site slowbloom.

If you haven’t read the book The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashely Spires, I HIGHLY recommend it. This book encompasses what I want to do. It’s about a young girl who wants to make the most magnificent thing. She has an idea of what it looks like, but her first attempt falls short. As does her second, third, and fourth and so on. But she persists and holds to her vision and ultimately succeeds.

That is my desire, for all of us. Because all creative endeavors are built on previous attempts. And we learn something from each successive pass, as long as we are thoughtful.

Do you have a word or theme for 2017? If so, what is it?

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Me and the Octopus

Octopus mural by Henry

I posted the above image on Instagram and a friend asked me why I love 🐙. I have a feeling she isn’t the only one who is curious.

I started using the emoji as a stand-in for every emoji, because I didn’t understand what most of them meant. I felt the most affinity for the octopus emoji of all the animals. I often feel awkward, like I have too many limbs and I don’t have full control over them.

Octopi are incredibly smart, but most people overlook them. They are judged as alien, foreign, weird, strange and slimy. In other words, gross. They are also incredibly clever and graceful animals. I just read an article in the New York Times that talked about how they are a type of mollusk, but since they don’t have a hard shell to protect them, they had to get clever to outwit predators.

I aspire to be as clever as those octopi.

I’ll leave you with this little story. I was talking to someone at work who is more technical than I am. He was making fun of cosplayers – people who dress up in costume like characters from different media – tv, movies, comic books, etc. I said to him, “I might look normal, but I keep my tentacles tucked up under my skirt.”

I’m learning to let them out more these days, and if I thwack you with a tentacle, I’ll try to be gentle.

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If I Can’t Dance

“Attach your oxygen mask first before anyone else’s.”

Last Tuesday felt like the ultimate gut punch. Against my better judgment and what I thought was human decency, the majority* of people who voted elected a narcissistic, bigoted, misogynist who was endorsed by the KKK.

Clouds over Cal Anderson

I have listened to many, many people expressing their fears about what will happen under his presidency. It’s my fervent hope that none of these things will come to pass, but I’m not waiting to see what will happen, and I’m not keeping an open mind. Oh hell no. I’m preparing for the worst. I’m gonna fight with everything that I can.

In the midst of the swirl and anger, grief and panic, I was reminded about self-care from my own support network. Election night I was so anxious, I never ate dinner. It’s very unlike me to not eat a meal. By 9:00 p.m. I felt awful and I realized it might not just be due to the results. I got some food, something I could stomach, and it helped take the edge off.

So I want to talk about taking action and self-care. I know a lot of you are having a difficult time, and these are basic things you can do that will help as you prepare.

  • Eat real food, if you can.
  • Exercise, move your body in some way to tire yourself out and work off excess energy.
  • Water. Water is transformative and mood-alerting. If you can’t swim (which takes care of the activity piece AND helps regulate your breathing), take a bath, a shower, or even just splash water on your face.
  • If you take medication, take it. If you work with a therapist, keep working with them.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol if you are feeling anxious and/or depressed. Both will just make you feel worse.
  • Meditate.
  • It’s okay to limit your involvement with social media, take breaks, or stop reading it altogether. Social media is fueled by outrage. Your friends are still going to care about you.
  • Get hugs. Humans need physical touch for mental health and resilience. If there aren’t people you feel comfortable asking for hugs from, see if you can get a massage, or even a pedicure or manicure.
  • Get out in nature. If you live in a city, go to a park. Look at the trees. Look at the sky.
  • If you are having trouble falling asleep, here’s a little technique I learned. It gives you just enough to distract you while boring you to sleep. Count from 1 to 5, with each count being on the inhale or exhale. So: one – inhale, two – exhale, 3 inhale, 4 – exhale, 5 – inhale, 4 – exhale, 3 – inhale, 2 – exhale, 1 – inhale. Wash, rinse, repeat until you fall asleep.
  • Do the things that fuel you – whether that is art, writing, music, organized sports … you have something you are passionate. Don’t give that up. That is what makes life worth living.
  • After you’ve done those things, figure out how you want to get involved. Here are a few resources:

Take care of yourselves, find ways to get involved, rest, and reach out to your communities.  You are not alone, not by a long shot, and together we WILL make a difference.

*I’m acknowledging voter suppression, gerrymandering, and the 50% of eligible voters who for whatever reason didn’t vote. So really, less than 25% of eligible voters, which is NOT a majority.

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On Paradise, Viable and Otherwise

Several friends have asked me about my experience at Viable Paradise. I wanted to write up something while the experience was still fresh.

Martha's Vineyard

I first found out about VP from my friend Camille Griep. I had been looking for my writing people for a long time when I finally found Camille. She told me about the workshop, and then over the next few years I met more people who had also attended Viable Paradise. All of them, to a person, were kind and supportive and encouraging. If they had egos, I couldn’t tell. This, more than anything, was a huge selling point for me. I have been working very hard to cultivate people who are focused on their own passions and who support and encourage others to do so. That is the sign of a healthy community in my book.

I sent in my application two days before the deadline and found out I got in two weeks later. I was so used to rejections I made my girlfriend read the email out loud. Maybe something about writing could be easy.

Thanks to the magic that is The Internet, I got to connect with several of my fellow workshop participants before I arrived on Martha’s Vineyard, not to mention meeting two in person, one who also lives in Seattle.

I arrived on Martha’s Vineyard the day before the workshop was scheduled. The weather was delightful and my roommate turned out to be amazing. We got to explore the tiny Victorian houses and get to know one another, learning among other things that despite our two-decade age difference, we both love They Might Be Giants and Queen. Even if everyone at the workshop wasn’t my people, I had at least added another one to my network of support.

Victorian panorama

The structure of the workshop is fairly straightforward. Participants spend the first three days critiquing works they submitted for their application and receiving feedback. There are lectures and other activities to supplement the learning. The students spanned four decades in age and came from as close as Martha’s Vineyard and as far as Hawaii. Other years have seen international students.

And to my relief and gratitude, the experience I had at Viable Paradise exceeded my expectations. Everyone – staff, instructors, and fellow participants – were kind and generous. I was impressed by the level of self-awareness people had, how much work everyone did, and how we all cheered for one another. If someone needed to be alone, they could do so. When I wanted company, likewise, I could easily find someone to hang out with.

One thing that was really impressive to me was the harassment policy. Several times I saw staff say they felt uncomfortable and the person crossing the line reeled it back. I think I’m so used to just feeling uncomfortable at times that it hadn’t even occurred to me I could say something. This created an environment that felt incredibly supportive to me. No one had to guess when they were crossing the line, but at the same time, people did make an attempt to be respectful.

fall color: reflection

Each person I talked to, I found an affinity with – whether it was tea, octopi, librarianship, or a story someone had been looking for for years (hi Val!), we had so many intersections and overlaps I found myself agog. And thanks to the internet, we get to continue our connection as we go forward.

Aside from the community, I got very helpful feedback on my work, and as soon as I figure out how to revise my story to incorporate the feedback, I will be sending it back out for another round before I start sending it out to paying markets.

In conclusion, I crossed over water and spent a week on an island where I simmered in liminal time. When crossed back over, I felt a subtle shift. I have been told there are things I learned in that week that won’t make sense for years. I believe it. In the meantime, I will continue to apply myself to my writing. And if you have been looking for a workshop, I encourage you to apply to Viable Paradise. What do you have to lose?

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Writing Queer Characters

There have been a lot of conversations in the last few years about diversity, inclusion, and representation in fiction. I have followed along with a lot of interest, in part because I want to see pieces of myself reflected in stories – whether queer, Jewish, female, identical twin, femme, tea drinker, you get the idea, etc.

For the purpose of this essay, I’m going to focus on representing sexuality that is non-heteronormative. If nothing is explicitly stated or said in the text, the reader will assume the characters are straight. (And white. And cisgendered.) The question for many writers who want to represent these characters, then, is how to describe or show their characters are queer without it feeling artificial to the reader.

There are two points I want to make here:

1. How to show a character is LGBT
2. How their sexuality relates to the plot

glowing dahlia

Showing the character is LGBT

You might be tempted to just state it directly. A friend allowed me to use this example from their WIP. Your protagonist enters a room and catalogs the people. They see your gay character, who they also know is gay. They say, “Clearly, Juan and Bob are in a relationship,” without giving any additional information. It’s clear to that character, but it’s not clear to the reader. What is it about any couple that indicates they are in a relationship? How do you show that to the reader? What if they were in an opposite-sex relationship? Without having the characters engage in sex, here are a couple of ways I could think off the top of my head: they wear matching wedding bands, they are holding hands, they mention how they met/their first date/their anniversary/their wedding in conversation.

Also, where they stand in relation to one another will tell the reader a lot about their relationship and/or personalities – are they close in private but won’t stand within five feet in public? Are there societal things that make that kind of behavior normal, or is that just the personality of the characters (could be both).

Finally, the attitudes towards the queer characters will tell the reader a lot about the society in your book. Are all forms of sexual orientation equally valued? Are some accepted and others not? This will inform how your characters behave in public versus private, and an individual character’s opinion and judgment about those characters will tell the reader a lot about them.
Last weekend I went to a restaurant for lunch. It had a very long bar. I noticed two women sitting next to each other. The one to the right had her arms stretched out on either side of her, resting on the seatbacks of the chairs. It was a very possessive posture, and it let me know that the two women were a couple.

Here’s an exercise: go to a restaurant in your area. Watch the people and how they interact with each other. See if you can figure out who is in an intimate relationship. What are the cues they are giving? Is it different for same-sex couples than opposite-sex couples? Are there cues that a single person is sending that tells you what their sexuality might be?

Sexuality as a plot point

I have been having this conversation a lot, so I figured I would write it up. It’s very common to read a story or see a movie where the character’s sexuality moves the plot along. The one most people are probably familiar with is the coming out story, where the moment of reveal is the climax, and then the character is punished because of their sexuality.

The movie Carol defies this trope this incredibly well. It’s set in the ‘50s, when American society was less accepting and there were laws against being gay. The titular character, Carol, is married to a man, but has affairs with women. She meets a young woman and tries to run away with her, but her husband sends someone after her. She has a young daughter and is sued for divorce. There are consequences for her due to the cultural context, but the character herself isn’t punished for being queer. She doesn’t feel ashamed or sorry for her sexuality. It is an immutable fact of who she is, just as being blonde or 5’6” tall. This is not to say that everyone’s sexuality is fixed, just that it is for this character.

What I’m trying to get around to is this: your characters will be informed by their sexuality and their social/cultural contexts, but it shouldn’t define them.

I will try to see what resources I can pull together, including a recommended reading list of queer fiction, but that will be in a future post. In the meantime, check out these resources for finding and working with sensitivity readers: Write in the Margins, Writing the Other, and Mary Robinette Kowal’s advice on working with sensitivity readers.

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