Of course you can change a man

I am, for good or ill, often ridiculously literal. And this tendency makes me kind of irritated by expressions that get thrown around a lot. Sometimes I have to sit and pick at them like burrs until they stop bothering me.

There seems to be a lot of debate about change in the world of cliche. “People change,” but “you can’t change a man,” but “everything changes,” but “people don’t really change who they are,” and “a leopard can’t change its spots,” though no one actually gives a rip about leopards anyway.

The draw of many a romance is grounded in our desire to change men. Whether or not the old bodice-rippers appealed to you personally, the appeal of many of those books was in seeing a brutish man brought to his knees (or maybe to one knee) by the grace of the one woman who could get through to him. Beauty and the Beast, classic for good reason.

One of literature’s most sigh-making moments, when Darcy admits his faults to Lizzie, and tells her how she affected change on him…

“I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child, I was taught what was right; but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. (…) Such I was, from eight to eight-and-twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous.”

At some point recently I was made to read the definition of “catalyst.”

noun 1. Chemistry . a substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected. (Dictionary.com)

For some reason, that got me thinking about people, well, characters, and this whole change thing again, because that’s so much like the heroines I read as a kid. (I submit to you that I was probably more warped by reading constant example of man’s inhumanity to man in “classics” than I was by reading romance novels.) The ones who only had to be what they already were to change a man from someone who wanted to use them to someone compelled to care for them, and to save his soul in the process.

To this day I find that idea of “be who you are” very compelling.

I guess the point of these musings was that sometimes I think the “fix a man” concept is seen as a bad way to go now. You can’t change a man. We’ve got to stop encouraging women to delude themselves into thinking they can change men. It’s irresponsible!

Sometimes responsibility is such a drag. Sometimes I just want to read a swoon-worthy escapist fantasy. I ADORE characters who are changed by love. Slap a warning label on it if you must.

CAUTION: Professional shero on fictional course. 
Do Not Attempt.

But I digress. While big change is difficult and has to come from within, the fact is that we change each other all the time. We are in a constant state of becoming, and our relationships shape that because the people we encounter inspire feelings and thoughts that lead to new decisions and patterns. We are catalysts for changes in others, big and small, in countless interactions, intimate, casual, intellectual, memorable and completely forgettable.

Remember that in your attitude when you’re out and about, because that’s what that whole “be the change” deal is about, yeah?

Anyway, don’t get bogged down on that “you can’t change a man” tripe. Don’t be afraid to show characters inspiring each other to be more than what they are, because it’s one of the great beauties stories have to offer us.

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Just Say Bullsh– I mean “No”

I’m feelin’ a little ranty over here.

We women are all the time hearing that we take on too much, and we need to learn to say “no” a bit more, to only take on what we can handle and what we actually want to handle. And when that’s said, it’s said so simply that it seems to ignore the people-pleasing, anti-no training that’s gone into generations of women.

This morning I’m throwing up my hands because one of the most practical and self-assured women I am privileged to know finds herself in a social/family situation in which she’s been asked to do something she’d rather not–for a number of good reasons. From my outside perspective, it seems perfectly reasonable for her to say, hey, thanks for asking, but I’d rather not, and this is why. And on the bright side, not doing that will leave me free to do this for you instead (something she wants to do which will actually be of more benefit to this person).

But instead of saying that, my friend is telling me she’s sent off an email, giving this person this alternative my friend would prefer, and “just hopes” the family member sees it in the same light.

What? Why should that be left in the other person’s court to decide if you really don’t want to do this?

Because, to do otherwise would have required saying “no.”

I was hanging out with a mom a know a bit ago, and she was telling me this story from her past in which she and several other vulnerable and inexperienced young women did not follow the rules laid out for them, and got themselves in an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation. Now, the story turns out fine, but at the end of it, this very aggressive man who had intimidated these young women, asked if they wouldn’t give him hugs as they left. And my friend says, “I didn’t, I wasn’t going anywhere near him. But the other girls did. I don’t know why they would do that.”

Oh, I do.

In his book, THE GIFT OF FEAR, Gavin DeBecker relates a story about a young woman carrying groceries to her apartment, and being offered help by a young man. The woman politely refuses, the man pushes her, the woman acquiesces because it’s rude to keep saying no to someone who is offering to help you.  The fact that he’s telling the story, and the way that he’s telling it, the reader knows where this is going, and readily sees the escalation of events as the man pushes her boundaries, and eventually gains entry to her apartment.

Because, for those heavily schooled in people pleasing, it’s easier to ignore apprehension, disregard what are surely overreactive concerns for personal welfare, and even dismiss the squick of making bodily contact with a loud-mouthed, obnoxious, skeezy asshole than it is to be rude and possibly cause discomfort to someone else.

Objectively, it’s a seething cauldron of Whatthefuck, and yet, it is what it is, and how it is for so many women.

I don’t think we can keep teaching our girls to say “no” solely “when it’s important.” I don’t know, maybe that part of your brain that allows you to respond in those situations doesn’t know how to tell the difference. Maybe, in that part of your mind, there’s no difference between refusing a favor you don’t have time for, a responsibility you don’t want, or to continue a conversation with a man who invades your personal space.

If you don’t have the money, and you really don’t want to parade around pregnant, in uncomfortable shoes, in some mockery of a bridesmaids dress, if all of that discomfort isn’t worthy of your polite “thanks but no thanks,” where, exactly, is your line in the sand?

Well, for all of you reading, you’re thinking clearly the line in the sand would be here, or here, or here.

Except for those of you who have been there, defaulted to training, and then are left asking yourselves why you were so stupid?

Ever get in your car to go somewhere and turned left, even though where you’re going was to the right? And you’re like, well, that was brilliant, but you know that you turned left because you turn left there to go to work every day and, with your mind on other things, you turned left. Out of habit.

Yeah, when I’m totally uncomfortable, nervous, maybe scared, and completely out of my depth, that’s when my brain really kicks in to see things clearly and make the best decisions. Not.

The stupidity, I submit to you, is to fail to call bullshit. Just like your brain doesn’t see the real difference between a lifetime of putting up with discomfort to avoid saying “no,” and saying “no” in the “when it matters” moment, neither will your daughter readily understand why it’s okay for you put yourself last over and over and over again, but she’s supposed to put herself first, you know, “when it’s important.”

Can we just, like, stop? Can we, maybe, help each other out of our conditioning? Remind each other that “being polite” and “never causing a moment’s displeasure to anyone” are not the same thing?

I mean…damn.

And for chrissakes, next time someone goes on all long-winded and you really have to pee, call a time-out and go. OMG, who would mind that? Next time someone calls when you’re up to your elbows in bread dough, tell them (not “hey, would you mind if I,” but “hey, I gotta”) call you back in 10.

Teach your own brain that you matter.

/rant. Now go write me some books about strong women who reject bullshit.

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Fandom Love Lessons

If you’ll just indulge me for a moment, I promise I’ll have recs at the end.

Lately, Kait and I have been back and forth a bit on this thing called fun.

Kait tends to be all work. That’s…something of an understatement. But she has ever been the sort who has goals, plans to reach the goals, gets ticked at stuff that gets in the way of the plans and the goals, and thinks a lot about goal-related efficiency. If you got tired thinking through that sentence, welcome to my world. But lately she had a little bit of a freakout minipiphay that she was turning into a bit of a machine rather than an artist.

So we’ve been on that topic a bit lately. For me, I am so buried under the massive guilt of what I haven’t done, that I can’t get out of the rubble to reach the keyboard. And I’ve been here before. It’s not a pleasant place to be. Lots of stuff going on and reasons for this, but it’s not what the post is about.

What the post is about is that I need fun. And the problem with me is that I engage in things that interest me, but I’m so consumed with guilt about it that it doesn’t do what it should for me, and I can’t really throw myself into the fun or my work or anything because you can’t wholeheartedly approach anything when you’re buried in rubble. You follow?

And I need to find the fun in writing again. I need the drive and excitement back. I need that feeling that I can’t wait to tell you what happens next, that I can’t wait to see how it unfolds myself, when I can’t stand that I have to go buy groceries because it takes me away from my story for a whole hour.

You know where I’ve found that, lately? Fanfiction. Reading this or that at FanFiction.net lately has reminded what it was like to just sit down and write stuff. To just tell a story for the love of the characters and the love of just telling a story. I don’t know if I could ever write it myself. I think I’m so bound up in perfectionism that getting someone else’s character and world detail right would just be another layer of crazy for me.

Which leads me to a related note: Hmm…I really enjoyed that, I didn’t actually care when the wording got a little clumsy, or when the characters got swept away in the moment and their voices got a bit off, or if this or that detail wasn’t precisely the way I remembered it.

Some of that going on lately, times when I realize that my standards for everyone else on the planet are quite fair, while those for me are just hatefully, impossibly unreachable.

So, I don’t know, maybe I could take a baby step here. Give myself something I’m allowed to love obsessively and without guilt and see if owning a little actual joy would help lift some of the rubble rather than add to it.

Well, there was another bit of rabid self-involvement for you. To thank you for sticking with me, I have two recommendations for you to check out:

Fandom in Stitches is pretty awesome. Even if you’re not a quilter, it’s fun to look at. I mean, I get a kick just out of seeing how much people LOVE stuff.  You should bum around there until you find the Harry Potter and HP Project of Doom stuff. On this page you’ll even find a Serenity logo.

Which brings me to my second rec: Voices and Visions, a Firefly/Serenity fanfic. Post-Miranda, dealing with the Washlessness, some Simon x Kaylee, some nice Mal x Inara, but this one’s mostly Jayne x River, and oh, is it over 100k words of Rayne emo porn that I could not put down. *swoons*

I think I have to call my Reforming Rogues Anonymous sponsor and get to a meeting.

 

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Star Wars Day Rec

Happy Star Wars Day!

I’m reading a surprisingly delightful bit of Han x Leia fanfic told in snippets of journal entries and various communications. You’ll find it here.

Enjoy the day, and may the Force be with you.

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The Demonization of “Try”

There is no try.
Go do the dishes.

I blame Yoda.

I was just having a little minipiphany (yeah, I just made that up because I have lots of these tiny epiphanies and they deserve a name).

I’m winning the war over the dishes. I was just finishing up and thinking about coming back to my laptop and my always-open chat window to Kait to tell her that I’ve really made a shift with this most-hated chore. I mean, I think I’m just about at the point where I appreciate having done them more than I dread doing them.

That’s huge for me. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t mind mess, and I can let a lot of things pile up before it bothers me. And dishes! I hate doing the dishes so much that I could dirty every dish in the house and would rather see them piled on the counters than wash them. Of course, I’m friends with enough normal people–and also crazy neat freaks like Kait– to know that a lot of you are cringing right now, just from that description. But I really hate doing the dishes.

It’s taken a long time to get to the point of appreciating an empty sink. I’ve been able to keep my sink empty before, establish good habits for weeks, and, very rarely, months at a time. But I always backslide because I always hate doing the dishes more than I like having them done.

So today I was thinking that I need to tell Kait that I feel like I’m turning a corner. It’s getting easier to do them right after dinner every night, and when they’re done, I really feel better now, and that’s new. And I thought:

It probably helps that I’ve changed my definition of “every.”

I have a feeling that the exactness thing I have with language causes me more problems than I realize.

It’s part of the all-or-nothing thinking plan I’ve bought into. “Every” means every. Each one. It doesn’t mean you get a night off when you’re really tired, have something else that has to be done, or even when you just really don’t wanna. “Every” night means that skipping a night is FAIL and fail is always an excuse to give up doing what’s hard.

In an attempt to work on the perfectionism that’s kicking my ass, I decided to redefine “every” for myself as “most of the time,” and even “more often than not” if necessary. With much better results.

If there is no try, there’s only do and fail.

I know that some people feel like other people need the Jedi Master Kick in the Pants. Maybe they do. What I know is that, over and over, I have tried to do my dishes every night, and then I failed to do them every night, and blowing them off felt hella better than actively failing all the time.

I actually think I need to tell Yoda to go piss up a rope (respectfully) and redefine “do” in my life as something a lot closer to try than the way I think about it now.  

 

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About how there should be even more words in the English language

This morning I find myself thinking about the words we’re missing in English and really need. If you think about it, this is ridiculous.

Last week I started reading Holly Lisle’s How To Create A Language Clinic. Not that I even wanted to create a language, it was just that once I got it in my head that it would be interesting to see how someone went about it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And it is interesting, and probably really useful, especially to those are writing fantasy and not getting great results from a name generator. But that’s besides the point.

One interesting bit that I read in the book was a whole bunch of numbers. She lists approximate counts for the number of words in a handful of languages to kind of illustrate points about how language shapes thinking–having more words for a thing allows you to think about more shades of meaning of the thing. She brings up the classic example of all the Eskimo words for snow. Anyway, I think she said that English had, like, a million words. And then she goes through other languages and no one else even comes close to this.

Don’t you love English? Seriously, if you’re a word lover, you’ll enjoy that section of the book. (Sidebar: Another interesting bit was something like the average English speaker’s vocab is, like, 20,000 words. Word Dynamo is fun and will estimate how many words you know.)

So the reason we have all these words is that we cheerfully pick up words from all kinds of different languages whenever we feel like it, and we cheerfully invent new terms to talk about all the awesome things we invent.

How on Earth is it, with all this freedom and language addition, that we still have–

“my girlfriend–I mean, my friend, who is a girl”

“do you mean like him? or like him like him?”

“I want you to meet my girlfriend” (who is 53. Does that make anyone else feel middle school?)

And, for the love of all that is holy, can we come up with, and finally agree on, some gender neutral pronouns instead of having to resort to the plural forms?

I don’t mean to be all political or anything. I’m probably only half serious. But it is interesting how freely we’re willing to adopt new vocabulary for technology, but we resist clarifying words that touch on gender and relationships. Just sayin’.

One new one that I love and I’m sticking with is “shero.” In my mind now, when I speak, there’s a difference between a “shero” and a “heroine,” and I think you can all figure out what it is.

Also on my list of stuff that should be made official is College Humor’s New and Necessary Punctuation Marks (via Kait).

***

Wrapping this up with a PS. The campaign to help indie author Lauralynn Elliott is ongoing. If you don’t know about it, Kait, who has done a fabulous job putting this all together, has written it all out for you here. Kait gives great ideas for how to help beyond the easy answer of Send Money. However, do consider the Send Money option as well. If everyone we could reach took the time to drop a dollar, it would make an unbelievable difference in the life of someone who really deserves to have good things happen.

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A mini-rant on the slighting of Android users

I’ve been trying to be more positive lately, but look. This just needs to be said.

Businesses:

Please note that there are a lot of Android users out there, we really like our Android phones. We really like apps.

When you roll out apps for iPhone and blow off Android, it makes some of us mad. Disgusted, even.

No, seriously. Why is this still a thing?

No, you know what? That’s not a real question, so don’t answer it. I flat out do not CARE why it’s a thing. I’m sure you have your reasons. I’m sure you think they’re valid. Those are yours to deal with.

Your customers and your potential customers who are also Android customers neither know nor care about these reasons. What we know and care about is that you have provided services to some of your customers who are not us, and we have been slighted.

Really? Does that seem like a good idea?

Many of us make decisions on what companies to deal with based on mobile access and device support. Please note that some of you have really pissed off some of us.

Please try to do better. And, just so this isn’t all about yelling at you, may I offer a bit of gratitude for the money I have saved by not spending with companies which offer extra benefits to their iOS customers only. (Free digital version of the magazine for iPad! Really? You can’t even through the REST of us a PDF bone? Really??)

And if you’re an Android user, and you find yourself ticked about this on the regular basis, feel free to rant likewise wherever you go.

 

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Lessons from the Universe on the Myth of the Tortured Writer

Kait forwarded me an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert. She sent this to me because it touches on things that Kait and I have talked about, like forgiveness and how it’s really hard. After reading through this, I decided to look up her TED Talk, which is what I wanted to show you.

There’s something I feel like I’m on the brink of really accepting–that I don’t have to be broken to be creative. This has always been a serious fear of mine, that if I manage to achieve better mental stability and a healthier outlook–if I were to let myself be really happy–I wouldn’t be able to find that place I need to be in to write, and I would lose something I value.

If you read along with my blog (thanks!) then you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been tending toward an outlook that there’s something Else giving me direction. That I’ve been choosing to think that I write what I write because the Universe wants me to put this stuff out there, and that’s why I’ve been given the gifts and experiences particular to my life. I recognized that concept in this talk. This talk which deals with Subsequent Book Syndrome, which, OMG, yeah, I have. I’ve also been trying to pay attention to things which seem to pop up over and over from different sources, dots that say “Connect me!” I think some of those dots are in here.

So anyway, here’s the video, and I’m going to write.


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Movie Rec!

So long story short (don’t look so shocked), I was talking with Kait about a story idea and she said, “You should watch The Adjustment Bureau.”

So I did.

And it was exquisite. I mean, this is the kind of thing that I really enjoy, but I just loved this thing. Half the time lately I find myself going–gee, that could have been really awesome if they had shifted a bit of that special effects budget and hired a WRITER. But this screenplay was excellent. Loved. And the acting was very good. And the directing! Just…I really liked this one.

Recommended for people who like…

  • Everything happens for a reason
  • I’ll fight the world/God/the Devil/etc to be with this person
  • movies where the guy runs at the end
  • Fringe’s September and those other Observer dudes

Doesn’t stream on Netflix–DVD only, but you can rent it for $2.99 on Amazon if you can’t wait. Which, after the seeing the trailer, I could not.

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Ooh, plot device!

Some of you know that I’m a pretty critical reader.

Some of you are chuckling at my gift for understatement.

It’s been many years since I started reading fiction with the intention of learning how to write. The longer this goes on, the more I learn. The more I can see. The more OMFG pickier I become.

To the point where I’m actually a really good editor. Not only can I see snags, but I can see what to do about them and make suggestions.

To the point where I’m so jammed up about doing anything wrong that it’s hard to work.

But that can be for another whiny-ass post. This is about something else, actually.

[insert audible relief sighs here]

I’m reworking some of the first act of Heroes Under Siege this week and it’s getting better, so I wanted to talk about something I learned about Act 1.

Back to me being the super critical reader.

I hate the beginnings of lots of books.

Not the first lines or the first scenes, but the slog-fest that the first few chapters become. And I’m not just talking about self-pub here, there are plenty of trad books that leave me wondering when we’re going to start getting this story started.

But Susan, according to the rules of story architecture to which you claim to ascribe (OMG, whose butt am I talking out of right now?), the story really doesn’t become The Story until the First Plot Point at the end of Act 1. Act 1 is setup and introduction of all the elements we need to know about. What. Do.  You. Expect?

There are a lot of things that can and do go wrong in Act 1– with some regularity, but one of the things I long for when reading is to feel like I’m being led by a competent hand. And that’s something that may be hard to explain.

Sometimes it’s obvious when it’s not happening. Like those books where information just keeps getting dumped on you because it’s important to the author that you know this stuff so she can use it later. But the author hasn’t found a way to make it important and interesting to you now, so you kind of want to claw your eyes out and go all stabbity on the narrator.

Or when you find yourself aimlessly wandering about through descriptions and scenes of actions that don’t seem to connect, and you’re thinking, OMG what the hell does this all mean and is this EVER Going Anywhere??

So a few months ago I was reading Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone. There was a first act that really pulled me right through. I remember enjoying it so much that I actually said to Kait, “This. This is how it’s done.

Wait? How was it done?

So I had to sit back and think about that, and there’s a device which I think worked…

(First there was a prologue. And it was an excellent prologue. Attached me right to those characters as a children. Great job there. But that wasn’t what pulled me through act 1 so easily. That was just a part of what was done right.)

The characters had a goal from Chapter 1.

See, I think this is the thing that I responded to.

But wait! You can’t go introducing the story goal in chapter 1! That doesn’t happen until–

I didn’t say story goal. Did I say story goal? Pipe down.

In chapter one, years after the prologue, the main character, Alina, is on the march with her military unit. They’re going to a place where they can cross the Fold in order to get somewhere else, and this crossing will be fraught with danger. (And, as Tigger says, you just can’t argue with a word like fraught.)

So I knew where we were going! I don’t know why that would be such a relief to me, but it just was.

In terms of structure, I’d say that the crossing of the Fold contained the inciting incident.  What happened there, what Alina did there, started a sequence of events that led to the First Plot Point and dragged her into the next phase of the story.

Despite knowing where we were going (wherever the crossing point was) and why (to cross the Fold because the leaders said we have to), I still had plenty of questions to keep me interested in the story. I was getting a lot of worldbuilding information, but because there was already a story going on, there was something to hang that on, so it wasn’t just floating about in the atmosphere.

A novel is often comprised of stories within a story. This “getting to the Fold” mini-plot was a very small portion of the whole, but it grounded all the introductory material, gave it a purpose in the now of the reader.

So. There’s something I saw and why I think it worked. If your act 1 is like Alice’s slow fall down a rabbit hole filled with floating worldbuilding paraphernalia, there’s an idea for you.

Now get off the Internets and go write something.

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