Throwing props to the elders

Greetings, friends!

I’ve been thinking about age and the different social and political contexts different generations grow up in and I’m now of an age that usually requires younger people to mistrust me, view me with suspicion and/or frustration. Get the hell out of the way, old. It’s our time, now.

I remember being that age. But I also remember going into the activism trenches with a lot of people 10, 20, 30, 40 years older than I am. Some even older. They’d been around a while, and had seen a lot of shit, and they continued fighting, not only for themselves, but for youngs like me, and they shared their time, energy, resources, experience, and wisdom to do that.

I hadn’t gained the luxury of hindsight yet, but watching those older activists work, and their patience and fortitude in the midst of hell — I was lucky to have worked with them and to have learned from them.

It is possible to age in such a way that you remember who you are and who you were. I hope I’m doing this right, because I’m drawing a lot of strength and inspiration from younger people (and okay, maybe I’m proud that my generation is raising these young people I see as kindred spirits…ha!).

I’m reminded of a queer conference I attended soon after the 2016 elections. I went to an intergenerational panel, designed to foster discussion between olds and youngs. I came of age in the 80s, and I know the weight of political and social boots on your neck. I know the lack of resources and the lack of policies to support those of us who were marginalized then and who are marginalized now. I know that people have died in this fight, and they will continue to do so.

Some of what I fought for was the right to marry even though I figured I’d never see it and so it was never part of my personal world view.

But fuck, I wanted people growing up behind me to be able to have that right, to be able to make that choice if they wanted it. And I wanted younger people maybe never to experience the fear of expressing affection for their partners/spouses/baes in public. To just BE in public, in all the glorious, multitudinous ways queerdom expresses.

We’re not there, yet. We’ve made gains, but we’re not there yet, and all we’ve gained can be taken away. So my work’s not done.

My work also means that I’ve expanded my worldview, and educated myself, and my fight now is for all marginalized people caught in systems of oppression, to hopefully use the privileges I have to do whatever the hell I can.

The work is never done, and I see that now, at this age.

I listened to all those young people in that discussion expressing their fears about that 2016 election, and their uncertainties about what would happen, and what it meant.

I said that we’d been here before. We’d been facing opposition for decades, and we will continue to face it going forward, but, I said, a lot of us olds have organized, created space, fought shitty policies, and changed hearts and minds. We can do it again. I also said that I wasn’t going to sugarcoat things, because it’s bad, and it’s going to get worse, but they all had backup. I said this is, sadly, your time. You’re first string, now, but the cool thing is, people like me are on the bench and we have your backs. I’ll offer whatever wisdom I’ve acquired, whatever tips I can share that might be adapted to these times, whatever support I can. We’ll do this together.

And I will go into the trenches again with these new generations. I don’t know how not to do that, and I wonder if those older people who continued their activism when I was so much younger had that same realization.

They said the work is never done, but there was so much life in their eyes, and so many stories, and such strength in their smiles. There is beauty in a life lived in service to the work and to others, whether those others are alive, gone, or not yet among us. There is beauty in finding joy, love, and comradeship even in the worst of times. Working alongside those older people taught me that.

And I hope I can be as cool an old as they were, and that I know some of them still are.

Author McCrankyPants strikes again over newfangled tech things

Hello, peeps! I thought I’d burden you today with author insecurity #72: tech inadequacy.

I was chatting with a colleague the other day who asked me if I used a social media management tool and I about flew right off the handle.

BECAUSE LOAD ME DOWN WITH YET ANOTHER @%$&^%^*%&^@%*&$ THING I HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION TO ONLINE! WTF????

I already feel freaking inadequate when it comes to every new &^A&*#^%A(*&#@^*A&@()% iGadget that comes down the pike. And every time I turn around, there’s something else. AUTHORS! USE THIS! DOWNLOAD THIS TOOL! CONSOLIDATE! DIVERSIFY! ARE YOU ON INSTAGRAM? PINTEREST? IT’S THE LATEST THING! HURRY! DO YOU WANT TO SELL BOOKS OR NOT? GET THIS, FOOL!

YOU’RE BEING LEFT BEHIND LIKE A PILE OF CLOTHING IN A WAYWARD RAPTURE!

Oh, NOES! Andi didn't jump on every tech toy bandwagon out there! THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS, PEOPLE!
Oh, NOES! Andi didn’t jump on every tech toy bandwagon out there! THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS, PEOPLE!

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When words are all we have

About two weeks ago, my co-admin at Women and Words and I got an email from one of our writing colleagues who blogs at the site with us. It was the kind of email that leaves you reeling. Our colleague let us know that the back pain she’d been experiencing — which she thought might be a pulled muscle or some such — was because of a tumor on her spine. She also let us know that the cancer is metastatic and tumors are on her liver, lungs, and in other parts of her. The cancer is aggressive, she told us.

We got that email 2 days after she’d posted a blog for us.

We were stunned. Our colleague told some others about what was happening, but didn’t make the announcement public until October 20, five days after she let me and my co-admin know. Metastatic stage IV, she said that day.

What kinds of words can convey what you’re feeling when you receive news like that?

At that point, the amazing outpouring of love for her on Facebook and no doubt in emails and phone calls created an astonishing and beautiful synergy between her and so many of us, who are still grappling with this horrible news and trying to figure out how best to help and support her and her friends and family as she remains in the hospital. Late last week, her medical team was trying to get her pain under control so they could begin chemotherapy. Her pain, those close to her said, is excruciating.

And then the news got worse.

She announced this past Monday that tests over the weekend revealed that the number of tumors on her liver has doubled in a week and the cancer is moving through her bones at a speed the medical team didn’t anticipate. Chemo and radiation, her medical team said, wouldn’t do anything. Three months, they told her. That’s how much time she might have left. They’re down to pain management and hospice.

We — her community — are devastated for her, her wife, her friends and family. And we struggle, still, for words to help us somehow. We post them on social media. We email her. We PM her. Offering love, support, whatever we think will help, forgetting, perhaps, that as much as we think words can’t convey our feelings, they nevertheless have weight and take up space in days that are someone’s last.

We consider, thus, the efficacy of words. Their timing, their message, the places we put them, even as we look for answers when a loved/respected one is blindsided like this.

Our colleague, who is in her 40s, has been doing everything right. She’s a runner, pays careful attention to her diet, and she is a beautiful and positive person, who gives of herself every day through teaching, writing, volunteering, and just being. She is one of those rare people who not only walks in light, but carries it and shares it with everyone she comes into contact with. No one is untouched in some remarkable way when they meet her or read her books or follow her posts on social media.

That’s the kind of person she is. She reaches people, no matter the method of communication, and regardless of whether she actually meets them in person. She creates and instills goodness, brings laughter, warmth, and joy. She revels in life, and makes others want to do that, too.

And because we are all human, we demand to know why, in light of all this goodness, this is happening to her. As if we all strike a bargain with the tides and rhythms of life itself. We sit, too stunned to process. We cry. We rage at the cosmos. We ache for her and those closest to her.

Because ultimately, there are no answers to our question.

There is only the reality that this is happening, that we are losing her, that her friends, family, and beloved are losing her. That the world is losing her, too.

We dream of miracles, of something — anything — that will stop the cancer and restore her. Perhaps we think of our own mortality, and realize that if this could happen to her, why not us? We forget that ultimately, we are all human and no matter the bargains we think we make, there are no guarantees.

We realize that we will all have our goodbyes, whether those of others or, eventually, our own. And we wonder what words can best convey that, or whether we should even engage words at all.

Sometimes, words may not be the best goodbye. But use them. Use them to tell the stories of your loved ones who are no longer with you, and of those who will soon join them. Use them to tell your own stories, to express yourself at the best and worst times. Use them to build and sustain community and to help give voice to those who cannot speak.

Because sometimes, words are all we have, and as poor as they may seem when we must say goodbye, they can still serve us well in shoring up memories, sharing stories, and honoring those who have gone.

And live well, my friends. Live to the best of your abilities and circumstances. Love deeply, laugh often, and revel in the time you have. It’s precious.

Clothes-minded

Well, HI, peeps!

It’s been a crazy busy couple of weeks. I’ve started writing again. That is, I started back to work on some novels I’ve had lying around on my hard drive. I did write a short story that got picked up last month for an anthology that’ll be published in the next few months. So my hiatus was kind of spotty. Heh.

ANYWAY. I’m currently getting some things ready for the upcoming GCLS conference in July in New Orleans. That involves a lot of thought about swag and what to bring and what not to bring in terms of my books.

I’m also getting ready to attend the 27th Lambda Awards. My co-edited volume All You Can Eat: A Buffet of Lesbian Romance and Erotica, with fellow author and editor R.G. Emanuelle, made the finalists’ list in lesbian erotica. I’ve not ever attended the Lambdas (or “Lammies,” as you might here), so this is a new and cool experience.

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about clothes.

Why? Well…

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10 signs that you have a case of writing burnout

Hi, peeps! Well, I’m currently working my way through a major case of writing burnout.

Obviously, that hasn’t extended to my blog. Let us all rejoice for small miracles.

Burnout, friends, is sadly normal in our fast-paced high-stress lives. What exactly is it? Think of the flame on a match. It burns bright and sizzly and all happy and then it slowly diminishes until it’s no more. Matches are designed to do that. People, not so much.

Burnout means you run out of gas. You become physically and emotionally tired after doing a difficult job for a long time and it affects your job performance. It can be debilitating because it can lead to some depression, though depression can also help cause burnout, so if you’re prone to depression anyway (like I am), you need to pay attention to yourself so you can do some self-care things. with me, burnout is linked to depression and they feed each other, so I have to figure out whether my issue is true burnout or whether I’m burning out because of the depression. If it’s true burnout, then depression could follow, even if depression isn’t something you have to deal with on a daily basis.

So let’s meander further.

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En(title)ment

Hi, all! Hope everyone is having an awesome holiday season. The new year is fast upon us, and I sure hope everyone finds some joy in the upcoming seasons and that you’re able to accomplish your goals.

I’m waxing a bit pensive on a Saturday.

I was having a conversation with some of my female academic colleagues last week and one of them (I’ll call her X) brought up something that I’m sure may resonate with some of you, though perhaps you hadn’t really considered it or unpacked it.

X does a lot of research in her fields, and she sometimes gets requests from grad students who are working in the same fields. That’s standard academic networking. It’s perfectly reasonable for grad students to contact professors and/or researchers with questions about their work, regardless of where in the world said professor/researcher is.

At any rate, X responded to this graduate student, who is male (let’s call him Y). He had said that he was a doctoral candidate, which means he’s not a full Ph.D. yet and in academese, that means he’s not yet earned the title of “Doctor of Philosophy,” which gets shortened to “Dr.” No, it doesn’t mean you’re an actual medical doctor. But in the hidebound halls of academia, it’s a title that carries weight, because it means you’ve completed the rigors of graduate school and written your dissertation and successfully defended it. A dissertation, for those not in the know, is a book-length manuscript based on your own research and hypothesis.

This is no small feat. It’s often a lot of years of hard work, often balanced with your other life or lives. Grad school is sort of like academic boot camp, and it tears you down in many different ways. It re-shapes you, it forces you to think in different ways, but it ironically also enforces certain stereotypes. For those of you who assume that academia is some bastion of liberal and progressive thought, sorry. It’s not. It is often inflexible, hierarchical, and full of the -isms that you assume don’t exist there. It’s hard work, especially if you’re LGBT, a woman, if you’re not white. But those, my friends, are conversations for another day.

Back to the story.

So, because Y is not yet a full doctorate with title rights, if you will, X responded to him in her professional way by calling him “Mr.” + [last name] since an M.A. degree doesn’t grant the title “Master.” Fortunately. Cuz that sounds creepy.

With me so far? Okay. Carry on.

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(Dis)organization

Heya, peeps—

Well, I’m going through a major organizational thingie up in here. No biggie. Every so often, I get rid of bunches of stuff and find better, sleeker strategies for keeping things in order. I have this issue whereby if I have too much stuff, I start freaking out and I feel trapped, so I go through a purge of sorts. It helps clear my mind and calm me down. Heh.

Generally, my office is a study in relatively controlled chaos. I have bookshelves and other shelving that I decided no longer serves me as well as I’d like. So I’m looking at options. I’ve gotten kind of into cubby storage lately, some of which are designed for those cloth containers you can then slide in. Like so.

I’m into no-frills, (relatively) inexpensive stuff and if it’s something I can fix up myself, that’s cool, too, though I don’t have a lot of extra time (found objects–cool!). I’m also trying to figure out some ideas for bathroom storage. I have a tall linen closet in my bathroom with really deep shelves. I’m not very tall myself, so I can’t really access the top shelf (that’s my apocalypse shelf–lots of toilet paper!) all the time. I’m trying to pare down my bathroom stuff and figure out, again, sleeker organizational strategies for that, too. I tend to be a bit minimalist (kind of Ikea-ish/Swedish design mixed with Japanese zen space), I guess, and if my furniture is big and clunky, it kind of stresses me out.

Unless it’s some kind of cool historic-looking thing. I have some shelves I bought from a Mexican import store that I really like. Rough around the edges, kind of crooked, but super sturdy. Kinda like this.

These are some of my ideal spaces:

Japanese Zen style. Source: Now-Zen blog

New Mexico style! Source: Offgridworld
From the cave houses in Spain. Source: cavehealing retreat

How about you? Got any good storage ideas? And what’s YOUR ideal space?

Happy Monday!

I swear.

No, really.

It’s true. I curse. And, like many people who do, I generally use swearage in contexts in which there is precedent for it (i.e. friends and yes, family).

source

For those of you who know me personally, you’re not shocked by this revelation. For those of you who don’t, sorry. I’ve blown your image of me as a pristine, untainted virginal woman with an entire closet full of white dresses who coyly smiles and demurely defers.

I bring this up today because I was recently answering some questions for a book group and one of the questions I got asked was why there was so much swearing in the book.

Context of question: The book was one of my mysteries, whose main characters identify as lesbian. The book group was predominantly (if not all) women and, I presume, lesbian.

Someone else then said that she hadn’t even noticed the swearing. I responded that there was far more swearing in one of the other mysteries I’d written, and that some people swear. Ergo, some of my characters swear. It’s unrealistic, I think, for characters not to swear. I did wonder what the person considered “swearing.” There were a few F-bombs in the book, but for the most part, it’s “hell” and “damn” in my books, which, on my swearage scale, ranks a bit above “crap” and much below “fuck.”

But the deeper issue here is this:

If I were a man writing mysteries and thrillers (regardless of sexual orientation), would that question even have come up?

I doubt it.

Language conveys many things, including where in the social hierarchy someone is. The way you use language and the way you express yourself linguistically signals certain things to listeners. Language can convey power, and the way you say things (your intonations) as well as what you say provides clues about how you think of yourself, where you’re from, and what your background might be. did-you-mean-damn-with-an-n-or-without--13cea

Swear words (which are found in pretty much every human language) are typically considered “power” words (maybe “scary” words), and have historically been most associated with men. Women who curse have historically (and still) been viewed as “unladylike,” “dangerous,” “uncouth,” “ugly,” “trashy,” “harlots,” and [fill in epithets here; the list does go on]. Buzzfeed has a nice GIF-ridden list that addresses the double standard that women face when they curse.

Professor of linguistics Robin Lakoff opened a whole new field in linguistics — language and gender as an object of study — in 1975. She identified “women’s language,” i.e. the characteristics and kinds of language women were expected to use and often were socialized to use. Here’s a chapter she did, “Talking Like a Lady” (Language and a Woman’s Place, 1975). Below, a relevant quote from said chapter.

Allowing men stronger means of expression than are open to women further reinforces men’s position of strength in the real world: for surely we listen with more attention the more strongly and forcefully someone expresses opinions, and a speaker — unable for whatever reason — to be forceful in stating his views is much less likely to be taken seriously. Ability to use strong particles like “shit” and “hell” is, of course, only incidental to the inequity that exists rather than its cause. But once again, apparently accidental linguistic usage suggests that women are denied equality partially for linguistic reasons, and that an examination of language points up precisely an area in which inequity exists. Further, if someone is allowed to show emotions, and consequently does, others may well be able to view him as a real individual in his own right, as they could not if he never showed emotions. Here again, then, the behavior a woman learns as “correct” prevents her from being taken seriously as an individual, and further considered “correct” and necessary for a woman precisely because society does not consider her seriously as an individual.

And if a woman “appropriates” what’s considered male language, she also runs the risk of being ridiculed and dismissed for “stepping out of line.” Damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t (see what I did there?).

This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked that question. And each time (around 7 or 8 times, now) it gets asked, it’s a woman who identifies as lesbian wanting to know why there’s “so much cursing” in my books. Have you read John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers books, I ask. And usually, the answer is “no.” Well, I say, there’s your point of comparison.

And, yes, swearage can also be a function of one’s background. I grew up in a household that used swearage in appropriate contexts. I also grew up around a lot of public defenders and other attorney-types and I’ll tell you right now, the swearage was strong with that group. Both men AND women. I grew up in a rural western town, where we snuck swearage into our conversations during high school lunch breaks and after school, and learned how to wield it with our friends. Furthermore, I’m not religious, so any kind of religious moratorium on swearage has no context in my life. And, let’s be honest, here. I grew up with strong women. Who swear.

I come by my swearage honestly.

But again, the deeper issue here is the fact that if I were a man writing, I doubt I would ever get asked why there’s “so much swearing” in (some of) my books.

And what, exactly, is “so much”? How much is that? I’m only granted one F-bomb per 100 pages? I have a finite number of “hells” and “damns” I can use? Do dudes writing have a finite number of swear words they can apply to their work? Again, I doubt it.

Regardless, I don’t believe in quotas on swearing. And I don’t believe that women shouldn’t swear, because I think ultimately, that’s what’s really at the root of that question. Some people swear. Others don’t. Some of my characters swear. Others don’t. It depends on the scene, genre, story, and the characters’ arcs.

Basically, in my world, women swear.

For realz.

To explore this further, see the following links:
Robin Lakoff, The Language War (2001)
Profanity and Gender: A Diachronic Analysis of Men’s and Women’s Use and Perceptions of Swear Words”
An Encyclopedia of Swearing
A Brief History of Swearing
Swearing: A Social History…
Swearing can help with pain
9 things you may not have known about swearing

Happy Monday!

The lull between the storms

Hi, peeps!

Been cray-zee bizzy. You may have noticed. Heh.

I’m currently in that awkward place between projects. Kind of. I’ve published a novel this year, just released an anthology I co-edited (in which I have a story), and had 2 other stories selected for publication in 2 other anthologies. I’m also waiting to hear on whether another story I wrote is selected for a different anthology.

I am working on the fourth installment of my space opera series (I’m about halfway through) and I’m doing a bit of research on the fifth in my mystery series, so I am working on some long-term things, but I’ve just about finished up a whole bunch of things that I wanted to this year. And that feels pretty good.

Having said that, I am trying to hammer out another story this month for yet another anthology, but I’m not sure I’m going to make the deadline. If not, I’m not going to freak out about it because it’s not like I haven’t done any other writing this year.

In terms of my writing life, it generally cycles between completely slammed and these stretches where I’m not pressed to do a whole lot. I like these lulls. I still write during them, but I don’t feel the frantic OMG I HAVE TO GET THIS DONE HOLY SHIT SOMEBODY HOOK ME UP TO A RED BULL IV that can accompany my slammed periods. I also use the lulls to ponder writing projects that aren’t related to what I’m currently working on, and that’s always fun, to think about all different characters. I think that might be why I’ve written a lot more shorter stories this year than in years past. I wanted to hang out with some different characters and see what sorts of things could unspool in the narratives.

I do that, too, if one of my long-term projects is giving me some issues and I haven’t figured out how to write/re-write it to fix it. I’ll write something else — usually a short story or novella-length thing — and that helps loosen the logjam in the other project. There are times, too, that I’ve completely scrapped a project and started over from scratch. I don’t know any author who hasn’t had to do that, so if you’re in the middle of that, don’t freak. It’s normal.

So here. 5 things I do that help with the writing cray-zee.

1. Don’t force it. If a project you’re working on is just not working out, stop working on that one. Work on something else. If even that isn’t working, it’s a sign that you may need to take a couple days off (or more) from writing. In which case…

2. Read. Yeah, you heard me. Go read somebody else’s book. When I’m not feeling it, I read. And I generally read a genre that is different than the one that’s got me hung up. For whatever reasons, that gets me out of my headspace and gets me excited and interested in different kinds of plotlines. That feeds the creative stuff, and helps with logjams. If you don’t want to read…

3. Watch a movie. Or stream something. Some cool series you’ve been wanting to watch. Watch a couple episodes. Or, hell, go ahead and binge-watch. Just be careful with that. You don’t want to get into the habit of binge-watching all the time. But every once in a while, it can help get you out of a writing rut.

4. Get out of your house. Or office. Or wherever you write. Take a walk. Go exercise (which you should be doing regularly anyway, because that, too, helps the creative juices). Go do something in your community like visit a museum that’s having a cool temporary exhibit. Go catch a live music show. Call up some friends (or text or however you do it these days) and meet them for dinner or coffee. Have a barbecue with friends/family. Point being? Remove yourself from writing for a bit. Writers live in their heads. It’s important to get out of your head and, as they say, smell the roses. Besides, if you don’t, you might be missing out on good writing fodder.

5. Take a couple of days and go out of town. No, really. Leave. Even if it’s something goofy like driving a hundred miles to a neighboring town and spending the night at a B&B there. Do it. Go hiking or mountain biking. Rent a canoe and do a day-long tourist-y river float. Being outside in natural surroundings is a cure-all for just about anything that ails you. Don’t believe me? Here. And here. Oh, and definitely here.

source Ahhh...don't you feel better just looking at this?
source Ahhh…don’t you feel better just looking at this?

Find whatever combo works for you. And don’t beat yourself up if you’re in a writing rut or stuck. What that means is you need to recharge the ol’ creative batteries. It’s a normal part of a writing life, to hit ruts. So make it part of your normal writing life to develop healthy strategies to recharge.

Speaking of, what are some of yours? Leave ’em in the comments and happy Wednesday.