I was talking with a friend of mine about memory, and asked him if he ever had those moments where you think, “I’m going to remember this forever.” And as he’s one of those people with a propensity for saying wise things, he answered, “Mostly I think, ‘I hope I never forget this.'”
You know what? He’s right about that.
I’ve sat down to write a 2014 retrospective half a dozen times in the last two weeks, and each time I’ve come up short. Partially it’s because 2014 was a really good year for me, and it just feels weird to go on and on about my personal victories. But partially it’s because the whole tapestry of experiences, friendships, joy, and tears that make up the last year of my life is already blurring at its farthest edges.
I think about a favorite song of mine, “What Sarah Said” by Death Cab for Cutie, whose lyricist is another one of those with a propensity for saying wise things:
“It stung like a violent wind that our memories depend on a faulty camera in our minds.”
You know what? He is right, too.
It’s a tragedy of human existence that this is so, all our memories running out like sand in a sieve, with only a few pebbles remaining to us, and not always the ones we would’ve liked or chosen. It’s also a great blessing: trauma fades with time. So does anger. It makes radical healing possible, and radical forgiveness.
So I think I need to record what I want to remember, if only to stash away a few pebbles that I hope won’t dissolve away with time. My first impulse was to catalogue all the writer-benchmarks I hit this year: first sale, first ten sales, reprints, reviews, Codex and SFWA memberships, seeing strangers discuss my work critically. And these things were all hugely important and exciting experiences, to be sure.
But instead, I can’t stop thinking about my last published story of 2014, “The Mercy of Theseus”. The one that, in so many ways, sums it all up for me. How a year ago, I met this group of guys who liked to write, and how we became friends. How we shared ups and downs, both professionally and personally. How a few of them made it to my living room and had beers with me as we swapped jokes and stories. How months ago, while I was in a pretty low place, they came through for me.
So I wrote this story for them, because their friendship inspired me. And then the zine which brought us together bought it. And one of these guys narrated it. And then they all turned their brilliant minds on the story and discussed it, and told me some things I didn’t even know about it. And I think, What kind of world do I live in, where such things are possible? Where friendship and art can exist as a call-and-answer, and that our purpose can be to inspire each other?
This is to say nothing of the many, many other people whose love and friendship profoundly moved me this year, and who inspire me to do better. I hope some of you are reading this. You’re what made 2014 nothing short of outstanding for me, and I’m grateful to have you in my life.
2013 was a lousy year for running in my life. I kicked off the year with a persistent tendon injury in my foot which forced me off the road for a few months. Then, just as I started to ramp up my training again, things came to a head with my neighborhoodstalker and completely ruined my running routine.
I still ran a lot despite the stalker, but it wasn’t quite the same as before. One major change was losing my favorite route, because it took me past his house.
Today I ran my old route alone for the first time since that day almost 9 months ago. It starts at my doorstep, takes me to a park that’s a couple miles away, and then back to my home. I always know I’m halfway done when I see the pink wooden turrets of the playground’s castle in the distance.
Today I ran that route, only in reverse. I drove to the park and ran the opposite way starting from the castle, and when I neared my own neighborhood, I turned away and ran back.
I’ve missed my old route. It has good landmarks to mark the distances, it’s scenic, and most importantly, it has gently rolling hills. I love running hills like these. There’s a rhythm to them that makes running uniquely pleasurable and somehow adventurous. You reach the base of the hill and attack it, quickening your stride, swinging your arms in short, tight arcs, breath accelerating, heart racing, calves aching until you’re at the top. Then instantly the rhythm reverses. You ease off and let gravity do the work as you float downhill, and I swear it feels like flying: easier and more natural than walking. Sometimes you feel like you could run forever.
Flats are the worst, though. I hate running long stretches of flat ground. It’s one of the reasons that I hate and despise treadmills and tracks–while they’re better than nothing, they take much of the joy out of running, the rhythm and flow, the alternating of fight and victory that convinces you to go just a little further than you thought you could.
Life’s like that, I think. We suffer on the climbs, and we exhilarate in the floating, flying descents, but somehow the flats are the worst. The stagnation, the parts of your life when you feel like you’re running parallel with your dearest goals which never seem to come any closer.
Did I mention 2013 was a terrible year for running in my life? I spent most of it running flats. After I ceded my neighborhood route to my stalker, most of my runs took place at the track in a nearby park. It had a lot to offer safety-wise: set back off the main road, there was no way the creep could follow me in his car or even know I was running there. And I got to know the little community of people who frequent the track everyday, elderly retired folks and athletes and children, mostly. But running a flat 1k loop is torturous. It’s got nothing on the hills.
I realized something else today: how much my experience with the stalker has shaped my life. These days when I run, I watch passing cars reflexively, and if I see one that looks remotely like that gray Nissan Sentra that I’m oh-so-familiar with, the panic starts in the back of my brain. Suddenly I’m arguing with myself. “You’re okay,” I say, “you’ve got your cell–here, in your pocket–and besides, look, it’s a Honda, see?” Meanwhile the other voice jibbers about pain and death and panic and running away to hide, NOW, before it’s too late.
I mean, I get it. My brain’s trying to be helpful. All those months ago, in an instant my fear ran right up the scale until it hit with certainty: “I am about to die.” And when I didn’t, my brain made a few extra connections, turned up the volume on certain warnings, hoping to prevent a reoccurrence.
It used to be worse. There was a time shortly after that day when I was afraid to check my mail. That got better with time. And I was terrified of my old running route. Even today, I never fully forgot the panic.
I used to think this sort of fear was pathological, but I’ve discovered something: almost every woman has a story like this.
It happens at parties, when in a corner, we start sharing these tales. And instead of shock, the other women nod, eyes wide, and they understand. And I hear over and over again how many of us are afraid. Perhaps most of us, to some degree. We swap “safety” tips and compare notes and exchange sympathetic hugs before we go back into the world to run uphill against the fear.
In fact, I think that we consider it pathological for a woman not to be afraid.
This occurred to me while reading James Tiptree Jr.’s short story, “Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled Of Light!” The story revolves around a woman undergoing a psychotic break. She believes she lives in a future where for unexplained reasons, men no longer exist, and everyone in the world is friendly. This means she’s wandering around a big city alone at night, in high spirits, rejoicing in the health of her body and the beauty of the world. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to her, a group of men stalks her. At the end, they violently attack her.
The story is told in retrospect through interviews of people who saw her the night of the attack. These people fault her for her optimism, happiness, and lack of fear, and they universally perceive her demeanor as pathological. As a result they blame her for what is done to her, even though they all have the opportunity to intervene along the way.
This resonated with me: that we live in a world where women are supposed to be afraid, and for some reason we consider the fear a healthy thing, to the point where failure to be afraid all the time is held against us. And so we blame ourselves and obsess over how we “provoked” our harassers and attackers into targeting us, accepting without question that it is wrong to assume we can live without fear.
Every woman has a story like this, after all.
But I don’t want to run on the flats for the rest of my life. I love people. I love talking with strangers, finding shared interests and common ground, the blossoming of new friendships and deepening the roots of old ones. My life would be much less rich if I lived in fear all the time.
I don’t want to be afraid of people. I don’t want to be afraid of you.
But how do I balance that against the fear? How do I fight back against the constant, exhausting barrage of threats masked as concern, the idea that it’s my job to hide myself, lest bad people choose to inflict harm upon me?
I don’t really know, honestly. But I’m going to keep running the hills. I hope you’ll run with me.
Here’s something fun for your Monday: I recorded my first podcast for the Dribblecast, the fan podcast of the Drabblecast. That means if you go to this link, you can hear me read “Funeral on the Ocean Floor,” a short story written by my husband Jason. You can also download it for free on iTunes on the Dribblecast’s podcast channel.
I had a blast producing this one, as I have zero experience doing any sort of recording or audio editing. Through a huge coincidence, I got to use professional-grade equipment to record and edit the track. I’m especially proud of the background music, as I pieced it together myself from audio loops – look at me get technologically advanced, hey! Special thanks to the random guy who quite cheerfully spent an hour of his time teaching me how to use the software and hardware, and to Tom Baker for uploading the episode for me (twice).
Anyway, give it a listen if you have a few minutes, and let me know what you think! Happy Monday, friends!
The night’s broken by frenzied clack-clack-clacking. French Couture Barbie leads the charge, flanked by her lieutenants, Lifeguard Barbie and Olympic Skater Barbie.
And they’re all clutching little pink assault rifles in perfectly manicured hands.
They cover ground on painfully long legs, running on heels and tippy-toes. Long hair snaps like flags. Those eyes never blink, those smiles harden at the corners.
Schoolteacher Barbie floors the Dream Car. Riding shotgun, Astronaut Barbie operates the turret. Wheelchair Barbie lobs grenade after grenade from the periphery.
Stewardess Barbie, old and worn, hops along one-legged with a flamethrower and dares anyone to disrespect her.
Last week, the Barbies descended on the Jones household.
It started when a friend of mine asked to leave something at our house for a mutual friend to pick up later. Much to my amusement, she carried in a couple large boxes full of Barbie dolls, still in their packaging.
So tell me, what would YOU do in a situation like this?
Jason’s approach was to build a tower of sparkly princess goodness out of them, which you can see on his blog here.
Me? I chose to write a commemorative drabble, of course!
While I find Barbies inherently funny as an adult (French Couture Barbie – LOL!), I wanted to capture a sense of dignity for the poor things in today’s story. They’re condemned to a frozen existence, always poised and smiling no matter what may really be going on beneath the surface.
I can’t believe I’ve waited this long to mention it on my blog, but last Friday, the Drabblecast featured one of my stories on Episode# 299 – “The Revelations of Morgan Stern”. For those of you who are regular readers, it was my story Dear John, a little tale framed around themes of loss and hospitality. The production of my story absolutely blew me away, and I was especially moved to have this one picked because of the story behind it, which you can read about in the original post.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve been blown away by a series of loosely connected events that have left me moved and humbled by the kindness, thoughtfulness, and love of people I’ve only ever met online. It took me by surprise; to a degree I’ve always carried the unspoken assumption that there’s a clear and obvious distinction between the people you deal with face-to-face and those you deal with on the internet. As if the one is more “real” or counts for more than the other.
And while nothing will ever replace my friends and family, I think I’m wrong to undervalue the extended network of friendships made possible through the power of technology. We’re something like pen pals, many of us separated by half the world, and yet brought together by common interests. We celebrate each other’s triumphs. We feel one another’s pain. And sometimes we push each other to levels of courage that would be impossible normally.
After all, hospitality is coffee. Sometimes you invite people into your home and share a cup together. But other times, you invite them in from afar. You – yes, you – have joined me in my living room on many an evening to swap stories and jokes over a beer. Other times, we’ve sat at the kitchen table while I poured out my frustrations, fears, and sadness. Right now, we’re sitting in the student lounge together at my college as I finally recognize what a good friend you’ve been to me all along.
I’ve been lucky enough to go for a run with those of you involved in the production of the podcasts I listen to. Together we braved the heat, rain, and cold, set records, jumped over snakes, waved to neighbors, high-fived children, and snarked at catcallers and other rude folks.
All of this was in my head when I listened to a recent metacast from the folks at Escape Artists (behind the podcast magazines Escape Pod, Podcastle, and Pseudopod). The gist is that these podcasts are endangered species because of high readership but low support. You can read a partial transcript here and a summary here.
Coffee is hospitality. We mark our friendships through such rituals, through a mutual give-and-take where we loan support when the other needs it most. Sometimes this support is emotional. You’re both broke, and the best you can do is commiserate. Other times, you have the luxury of being able to extend a hand when needed.
I think the biggest difference between internet friends my face-to-face friends is that I’ve always found it easy and natural to practice hospitality towards people who are physically there. Online, there’s just enough distance that you forget to offer the coffee. You forget that you can. I mean, I can’t pour caffeine into my keyboard and expect it to come out on your end, but there are other ways of extending hospitality all the same.
Anyway, I’m changing that. Since I’m not completely broke, I’ve decided to repay both Escape Artists and the Drabblecast for their gift of friendship by becoming one of their paid subscribers. It’s the financial equivalent of getting together and buying them coffee once a month. I can most certainly do that.
If you’re also a fan of these shows, I’d encourage you to do the same if you’re able. If you’re not one of their fans, why not give them a listen? You might find something worthwhile, as I did.
How about you guys? How do you view your internet friends versus the ones you meet face-to-face? Who do you like to support around the blogosphere and interwebs?
“No, try this: we duck into the Break Room for coffee.” Everyone grunts their agreement.
“Coffee maker’s busted.”
“We’re so screwed.”
Today’s story is an homage to the changing faces of heroism. I love RPGs, both in video game and tabletop game form. It cracks me up about medieval RPGS in particular how we indulge in escapism by imagining life in what was, objectively, a very hard time period to live in. While the life of a medieval warrior may have been pretty good compared to his peasant and serf counterparts, I’d wager he’d trade it all for the chance to be an accountant living now. Coffee breaks, dental insurance… what’s not to like about an extended life span?
And so today, I’ve given them a chance to live out their wildest fantasies in my story.
An insightful reader who previewed this story pointed out that in some ways, this reversal is also about growing up. We used to be the warriors, but then we became adults, got jobs, and are now the accountants. But we are more like warriors playing at being an accountant. Underneath we’re still the over-muscled heroes we were all along.
Do you enjoy RPGs? How do you feel about the change from weekend to weekday warriors in our old age?
Today, friends, marks a transition point for me and this little blog: next week, I resume my schedule of full-time classes as a new semester begins. It’s one of those bad news/good news deals. The bad news: depending on my work load, I might not be able to keep up my current posting schedule of a story per day. The good news: my new science classes are sure to be a source of inspiration to draw upon as I craft new tales.
I’m amazed how far my blog has come since it began in May. In that time I’ve made 81 posts, most of them short stories. I’ve gained several hundred followers and had the pleasure of discovering many of your blogs in return. I’m humbled by the kindness, thoughtfulness, and care you have shown me by taking the time to stop by, read, and comment.
After he published his first book, my father mentioned that it’s important to celebrate the small victories. Time passes day by day, but rarely do we stop and recognize how far we’ve come. I realized this week that the last two months have been filled with such small victories. I hope you’ll indulge me as I take a moment to look back.
Here’s to the small victories!
I wrote every single day. Sometimes it was pages. Sometimes 100 words. Sometimes only 10. But I produced something creative every day, proving to myself once and for all that creativity is like a river, and that the water will always be there if I reach for it.
I edited every day, both my own stories and the stories of my beta readers who also write. I identified some personal weaknesses in my own writing and have begun to push past them.
In my quest for paid publication, I racked up a small pile of rejection letters, a huge spreadsheet of market research, and a ton of good advice. I’ll be pressing onward with this goal in the fall, and will keep you posted!
I ran every other day throughout this Georgian summer, a goal I’ve never met in Georgia because of the heat. The unusually rainy weather helped enormously. Thanks to kicking off the summer with Creeper Guy’s pestering, I also discovered some great new running routes.
I made new friends, both offline and online. I also spent lots of wonderful time visiting with beloved old friends.
I volunteered several times!
I joined the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry.
Jason and I made several gallons of homemade jam in four flavors and gave most of it away. A new summer tradition.
I listened to a ton of podcasts. I read some good books. I lost count of how many a long time ago.
Jason and I put on a “Summer of Sci-Fi” movie lineup to watch all those movies we’ve been meaning to see for years. After seeing everything Stanley Kubrick ever made, I feel educated. And mildly disturbed.
We took a road trip to Mammoth Caves National Park. Note to self: take more road trips.
A toast to the small victories, my friends, both mine and yours! Today I invite you to celebrate with me: share your small victories down in the comments, or if you blog, make up your own list.
Let’s start with a familiar story. It’s about a hero, a villain, and a damsel. The villain’s of the mustache-twirling variety. Because he has it out for the hero, he’s captured the damsel and tied her to the train tracks. The hero somehow learns of this plan, hops on his horse, and rides to rescue his lady.
In the distance he hears the sounds of the train whistle growing louder and louder. Does he get there in time? Of course! He’s the hero. He jumps off his horse, duels the villain, and unties the damsel just moments before the train whooshes past.
It’s a classic story, and a good one. And the perspective matters. As readers, we see through the eyes of the hero because that’s the perspective I told the story from.
But we reflexively do this all the time. You are always the hero of your own story. When we hear about a dangerous situation, we imagine that in similar circumstances, we’d outsmart the bad guy and save the day.
Take my Creeper Guy story. While I received an enormous outpouring of love and support, I also received well-intentioned comments like this:
“Show me where he lives, and I’ll beat him up if he bothers you.”
“If someone ever came after my family like that, I wouldn’t think twice about shooting him.”
“Shame on you for not calling the police sooner. You should have called a long time ago.”
“I’ve never run into crazy guys because I always run with my dog/with a friend/at the park/etc.”
In all of these statements, the person casts themselves in the role of the hero within my story. They presume that, given the same circumstances, they would have made a different decision that would result in a more victorious outcome. My actions (specifically, the months and months of inaction that preceded my eventual phone call to the police) don’t make sense. That’s not what the hero does. The hero is bold, decisive, and in control of the situation. The hero beats up the villain and saves the girl.
But let’s revisit the story again.
She’s minding her own business, overpowered by a stranger whose intentions are inscrutable. She’s restrained. She’s lying on the train tracks while her kidnapper looks on and laughs. She hears the whistle of the train approaching. All she can think about is that she’s about to die. She would do anything to get away, to hide, to rewind time to that point in her life just hours ago (a lifetime ago) when mustache-twirling strangers only existed in the movies.
You see where I’m going with this.
Being a damsel in distress is inherently disempowering. It’s a role defined by helplessness and limited options. In my experiences with Creeper Guy, it really bothered me that this jerk could singlehandedly terrorize me into not running for weeks at a time. He had all the power. It’s a sick feeling. Whenever I had a run-in with him, I’d be afraid to check my own mail for days afterward, lest he be out there in his car, waiting. It’s the “flight” portion of the “fight-or-flight” response.
Remember: I’m exactly like you. I’ve had fantasies all my life that if anyone messed with me, I’d put them in their place. But when the reality of several tons of metal comes barreling after you, you run. You hide. You don’t want to think about it. You want to go back to that time in your life when your neighbors were harmless, when stalkers only showed up in the movies.
I am dead serious. Here’s the secret, the essential difference between the damsel and the hero: The damsel runs from danger because she doesn’t want to die. The hero runs towards danger because he doesn’t care if he dies. He has someone to fight for.
There’s a world of difference between fear and anger. Fear paralyzes. Anger empowers. As I sat at home staring at my iPod that day, I felt overwhelmed by the injustice, that this jerk would ruin my favorite episode of one of my favorite podcasts… well, you gotta draw a line somewhere. Wanting to defend the honor of Connor Choadsworth provided just enough rage to change my “flight” into “fight”. Having someone to fight for transformed me from damsel to hero in an instant, and heroes have options. Heroes are able to take action. So I did.
As a result, I think I better understand why people behave the way they do under stress. More importantly, I can silence the voice in my head that tells me that given the same situation, I’d do it differently. Just because I want to cast myself as the hero doesn’t mean I’ll have that option. Circumstances dictate so much. Who can know for sure what you’ll do until you’ve lived it?
For example, as the Trayvon Martin case has unfolded over the past few weeks, I found myself profoundly overwhelmed with its parallels to Creeper Guy. A pedestrian in his own neighborhood, being followed by a neighbor in a car whose intentions were unclear. The fear, the sense of danger, the inherent physical imbalance between vehicle and foot traffic. And if Creeper Guy had left his car and come after me, what would I have done? I have a bittersweet admiration for the young man who, being braver or more reckless than I am, rejected the role of the damsel outright. Hero or villain? Let God decide, but I can empathize.
The line between these roles is a thin one. We never know what role we’re going to play until we’re playing it. One can transform into another so easily with just a change of motivation. Maybe the best we can do is to be conscious of these roles, and do our best to understand each other accordingly.
Do you usually picture yourself in the role of hero when you hear other people’s stories? What should we do about it, given it’s so reflexive and automatic?
On the cancer ward, no one really sleeps at night. It’s the lights. It’s the click and whir of the machines interfacing with your heartbeat.
On the cancer ward, we’re staging a rescue. We’ve bagged some rats. We’ve named them, tamed them, and taught them to dance. We’ve got beer. We’ve got chocolate cookies with bacon. And we’re coming for you.
The elevator doors will open. The rats will roll out like a carpet. We’ll charge from the rear. There’ll be rioting. There’ll be property damage. We’ll probably wake up in jail.
It all goes down at midnight.
Today’s link roundup is being postponed until tomorrow due to computer problems. Until then, enjoy today’s piece. It’s a fun little bit written for my friend who just got her bone marrow transplant and her daughter TJ (one of my best friends) who is camped out at the hospital with her during the recovery process. Word on the street’s that the doctors are happy with the recovery process so far. Here’s hoping, my friend, that it’s better every day from here on out!
In the meantime, I’ve cooked up this little rescue plan in case there’s a need for emergency chocolate in the future. It’s rats carrying bacon-chocolate cookies! What else do you need?
Hope you guys are having a good weekend. What are you looking forward to in the upcoming week?
Earth called and my dad answered, enlisting himself and my family to search for life in the stars. I was an infant when we boarded the Perseus. I cut my teeth orbiting Saturn. By the time we reached Vega, I’d enlisted too.
I was among the first to contact the aliens of Vega: translator, diplomat, friend.
But retirement comes early for the military woman, and over my protests they shipped me back to the distant planet of my birth. They call it home, but even the stars are strange to me here.
I’m homesick for space. I’m the alien now.
How do you define “home”?
When people ask me where I’m from, I’m never sure how to answer. Do they mean where I was born? Do they mean my nationality? Or do they mean where I’ve lived the longest, or perhaps the place I liked the most? For me, these are all different places.
You see, I’ve moved around quite a bit in my short life, on average every 3 years or so. I grew up a Military Brat. My family followed my father’s assignments, which means that although I’m American, I was born in Germany. I’ve lived on both coasts of the US, as well as the northern and southern ends at various times. For a large chunk of my childhood, I lived in Italy. Eventually I wound up in Georgia, fell in love with a local boy, and have been here ever since, although we’ve lived in several cities around the state.
I have mixed feelings about all the globetrotting. On the positive side, it’s given me some great stories and a sense of adventure toward travel. I’ve also learned what it means to live in a world full of many countries, customs, and languages. No matter where you’re from, there’s probably a lot that you take for granted about what’s standard or appropriate. This could be what you eat, what you wear, how you speak, and what you expect from others. When you begin to travel or to talk with people who live very different lifestyles, you become aware of how small your experience is, in the grand scheme of humanity.
We are all like fish who don’t know we’re wet until the day we’re flopping around outside the water.
The downside of moving so much is that I’m left without a sense of belonging. Like the woman in today’s story, even when I return to what we must call my “home”, I feel like a visitor. People often describe “home” as a place where you’ve been, or as a place where you are right now. I’ve come to think of “home” as a destination. Someday, I tell myself, I’ll arrive somewhere and know I’m finally home.
I hope that day comes.
By way of contrast, my husband lived in the same house his entire life. That boggles my mind! What must it be like, I wonder, to have that sort of attachment to a single place? Is it worth the tradeoffs? I guess we have no way of knowing; you only get one childhood, so the best we can do is swap stories.
So tell me about yourself. Did you live in one place your whole life, or did you move around? What do you think are the upsides and downsides to the way you grew up?