Tag Archives: stories

The People on the Bus

I have never owned a car. When people learn this about me, they are surprised. We live in such a car-centric society. So when I moved to Seattle after I graduated from college, one of the requirements was a decent public transportation system. The town I grew up in had none. Seattle’s was a dream compared to that.

children's school bus

In my twenty-two years of riding the bus in Seattle I’ve accumulated my fair share of experiences. Men who want to talk to me is fairly common. I’ve made friends from riding the bus. One friend I made ended up moving across the country to the same town my sister was living in, and they became neighbors and friends!

I take the bus every Sunday morning to Fremont, where I meet up with friends to write. Last week I decided to change up the route I had been taking. A man I’d talked to before was waiting at the stop. He’s probably in his early sixties. He’s tall, with salt and pepper hair and a mustache. He’s a quiet man, and he seems amused by what he sees, but underneath it there seems to be a sadness. I spoke with him several years ago, when Referendum 74 was going to be on the ballot. This was to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington. He was supportive of it, but he told me his family was conservative and wouldn’t. He couldn’t talk to them about it. I don’t know for certain that he’s gay, but I think he is.

Last week I talked to him again. During the course of our conversation I learned that he’d majored in computer science, and at some point while he was in college, he took a class to learn Braille. He works at the Talking Book and Braille Library, and he can read Braille visually. I didn’t even know that was possible. I thought that was so cool.

This morning I saw a woman I’d talked to before. She is an artist and she sells her work at the Pike Place Market. Last time I talked to her, it was a very wet day, and she was carrying a large piece of artwork covered in plastic. She’s also probably in her late 50s. She has large brown curls and a very open face. She clutches her art close to her body, and always wrapped in plastic. When I talked to her this morning, she said she didn’t recognize me. She has face blindness, so she can’t recognize faces, but she remembered other details that I hadn’t even paid attention to!

Did we talk at the Market?
No, I said, here, at the bus stop.
Oh, you gave me your card. It said bon vivant on it!
Diletantte, I say. Close!
Yes. And you had an amazing raincoat and boots.

We got on the bus and talked more about her art, rising cost of rent on Capitol Hill, carbon monoxide poisoning. I asked her if she knew a friend of mine who worked at the Market. She did, of course. It’s a small world. She invited me to call her to have tea or coffee sometime. I think I will.

My world is richer for knowing the people in my community, and the bus helps facilitate that. Although I have to put up with the stranger interactions, I wouldn’t trade it in for the wonderful friends I’ve made.

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Spoiler Alert!

warning sign

Many people know I grew up without a television in the house. My sister and brother and I got to see plenty of television shows, just not in our house. At friends’ and neighbors’ houses, all bets were off. But it was difficult if not impossible to stay current with television shows. Anything we watched would have been seen and dissected by our classmates long before we ever saw it.

As a result, I didn’t care about spoilers. Everything I watched had been “spoiled” – not by intent or malice, just by circumstance. Perhaps this was a defense strategy on my part, but I became much more interested in what people refer to today as the meta. Even though I might know the spoiler, there were enough details I didn’t know. It was up to me to fill in the holes and connect the dots. When I did finally see a show that had generated a lot of discussion (think “Who Shot J.R.?” on Dallas), I was much more curious to see how the story had been built than the final reveal.

I asked my girlfriend how she felt about spoilers. She doesn’t like to know what’s going to happen. I’m going to go out on a limb and say most people like that element of surprise. Which is why they get super pissed off when they find out something. (Hint: Dumbledore dies.)

I don’t participate in revealing spoilers (at least, not intentionally). Recently I was talking to an acquaintance about the Kate Chopin novel, The Awakening. I mentioned what happened at the end. I figured the statute of limitations was over, but apparently it wasn’t. He hadn’t finished reading it. Oops.

Even though I didn’t grow up with the internet, I was surrounded by humans who liked to chatter with each other about popular things. The internet definitely amplifies that, but I’ve managed to stay spoiler-free for the things I care about. And if I do happen to learn a spoiler before I consume the story? Well, it takes the pressure off racing through the story so I can focus on how the storyteller got to that point.

How do you feel about spoilers? Do you like them? Do you hate them? Do you like bursting someone’s bubble? Would love to hear your thoughts.

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The Heroine’s Journey

strong woman

Last weekend I attended Norwescon, a local convention for fans of science fiction and fantasy. It was the first time I’d been to something like this, and I had an incredible weekend.

One of the best panels I attended was on “The Heroine’s Journey.” I’ve spent the last several years thinking about stories and story structure, specifically women’s stories, so I was curious to hear what the panelists thought about the heroine’s journey.( 1 2 3)

They started with a discussion about the hero’s journey (aka “monomyth”), which has been well documented by Joseph Campbell and others. From there, the discussion went into how the heroine’s journey and experience differed from the hero’s. Here are the primary points I took away:

  • The hero is externally focused.
  • He rises to meet an external challenge or “call to adventure,” through which he proves himself.
  • He returns home at the end of the story, changed and stronger than when he left.

For the heroine, these were the main themes I took away:

  • The heroine is embodied. She has physical experiences that inform who she is (e.g. menstruation, pregnancy). This resonates strongly for me, but what does it mean for people who can’t menstruate/get pregnant (i.e. not limited to but definitely including queer and trans folks)?
  • The heroine knows herself in relation to others. She is often defined bye her relation to others.
  • The heroine is told to hide or suppress her power in order to make others (i.e. men) comfortable and/or to feel powerful (e.g. Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie or Samantha in Bewitched.
  • The heroine’s journey is generally understood to be internal, in opposition to the hero’s. Her challenge, then, is to understand and identify her power, to figure out who she is while in relation to others, and to integrate these concepts into a fully integrated whole.

In addition to these differences, I think the mono myth is problematic. It doesn’t consider that not all people have the same experience. I’m totally curious about finding other stories and structures that represent our diversity and richness as human beings.

Would love to hear your thoughts. How do these concepts resonate with your own experience? What fits? What chafes? What would it mean for a man to take the heroine’s journey? How do trans* and queer people fit with these kinds of narratives? How do socio-economic class, social standing, race, religion, country of origin, etc. challenge and/or support these narratives? What kind of narratives do you think the world is missing and what do we need more of?

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Notes:

  1. I want to make clear that I’m talking about people who are socialized as female in Western culture. I also think there is a need to include queer and trans folks in this discussion.
  2. Panelists: Nisi Shawl (M), Susan DeFreitas, Diana Pharaoh Francis, Karen Kincy, Stina Leicht, Cassandra Clarke
  3. Why I Hate Strong Female Characters