Happy 14th anniversary to this journal (a day late, almost to the minute if one goes by the timestamp on my first entry). That's the longest I've consistently kept up with anything other than, like, breathing.My first day on LJ
, I made five posts: one meta plus daily diary, one about staying up until 4:30 making art, one with a to-do list, one about interpersonal difficulties and trying to understand myself better, and one about body shape and weight and physical self-image. That's pretty much what I've used it for ever since. I've changed a great deal over the past 14 years, but I still feel strongly drawn to examine and muse about my inner and outer selves, my inner and outer lives, and this is still the best medium I've ever found for it.
LJ/DW aren't as conversational and social as they were, but I have Twitter for that now (as I had IRC and Usenet then), and I think I also need the commentary and discussion less than I did. How funny that I started out keeping this journal as a way of interacting with other people, and along the way it also taught me how to do the thing most journals are for: write for myself. I certainly don't mind if someone reads it, but I also don't mind if no one does. I think I'd still find it extremely hard to keep a purely reflective journal in a paper book or a file on my personal computer--there's something important about doing this as a public exercise, and about being part of our increasingly tangled digital web--but I'm no longer constantly refreshing my inbox waiting for the next comment email to land. In fact, I'm always vaguely surprised when someone does comment. :)
I keep fumbling around theatrical metaphors, but "performance" implies a degree of artifice that I've always tried to avoid in this space (and, over time, in all spaces). I'm not onstage, you're not the audience, and there's no row of footlights between us. I'm not even sure why I'm looking at metaphors when it's so easy to state it plainly:
This is where I talk about myself and my life. Sometimes other people come by and we talk together. Sometimes I talk to myself. That's what the space is designed for, and it works very well. It's comfortable. I like it. I think I'll stay around a while longer.
Just briefly making links between my recent post on the joys of not being necessary
and a 2012 post about falling asleep at parties
and in 2004 about "the lovely shock of being reminded that there are tremendous parts of the world that do exactly as they please without depending on me in the least"
and also in 2004 about singing in choruses (literally and metaphorically)
. I assume there are others between 2004 and 2012 on the same topic, in one way or another, but those are the links that came to hand today.
Moments of glorious unnecessity are so essential to balance out the dreadful weight of feeling responsible for making the sun rise
, and to teach me alternatives to submerging my self in another person's need for me
. I know I've written a lot about those feelings too.
I have always been me, apparently.
I keep looking for a way to link in my "being useful"
tag, but I think that's actually orthogonal to concepts of necessity, because it's all about making the choice to offer assistance. Utility is a surface thing, a satisfaction that doesn't dig too deeply into the psyche. Need is... deeper.
because I can't put the entire song in a subject line.)
I used to get a huge ego thrill out of giving people useful, wanted advice or help. And I still do, occasionally... but I like it even better when someone else gets there first so I don't have to. I mean, I never have
to, at least in the sense of outside obligation, but in the past I've been in situations where I felt like I was the only one who could help--because I had unique knowledge or insights or there was no one else around--and it's just so incredibly refreshing when someone else steps up with their own unique knowledge or insights, or in any way at all that relieves me from being on point. I was going to say "refreshing when I can delegate" but that implies authority I don't have. I get the same sense of relief when I delegate a task to someone who I have faith in, though, or when a partner seeks support from one of their other partners. It's a thing that's off my plate, off my mind. I feel freed to deal with other things where I am actually the only person who can do it.
Sometimes I open up the recent posts list on FOCA
, pick some threads where I think I might be able to help, read them, nod along with the other advice people have given and admire the things they thought of that I didn't, and then close the tab with a sense of pure contentment. I rarely even feel the urge to chime in, and I never feel an obligation. It's not because everyone else there thinks the way I do; I have apparently moved past the notion that My Way Is the Right Way and Other Ways Are Wrong. It's because everyone else there offers advice and support in ways that strike me as entirely sufficient. I have apparently also moved past the notion that sufficiency lies only in perfection--meaning My Right Way, of course. Hooray, evidence of gradual maturity.
I keep using and deleting "have to" phrases. The obligation is so clearly internal, coming from the same place as the OCD feeling that I am the only one who can do a thing correctly and no one else can be trusted. It feels so good to prove that feeling wrong
. I really dislike its desperate urgency. The further I can get from that, the better.
I recently reread this very emotionally raw post from May 2001
where I pondered the perils of being necessary. At the time I wanted to be needed but was pretty sure it was bad for me. Now I have a slightly more nuanced view: I like being valued and important in situations I choose, like my job or being someone's partner, but I don't like being valued and important in ways that I didn't choose, and I really don't like being necessary in the sense of there being no backup plan or safety net if I want or need to step away. The OCD positioning of my obsessive self as the guardian of perfection quickly transmutes into pure stress and anxiety as I try to do everything while regarding everyone else with suspicion. I can't really turn off the part of me that's constantly checking whether I need to be doing or fixing something, but how lovely it is to look around and be reasonably confident that everyone else is doing a perfectly fine job and I don't actually need to do anything at all.
X, on IM: Ugh, bad dream.
R: Want hugs?
X: Yes pls.
I go across the apartment into X's room. They relate the details of the dream. I give them lots of hugs.
X: It was awful and gross.
R: You poor thing. I'm sorry.
X: I know it sounds innocuous but it felt terrible.
R: I understand completely.
X: And the worst--
Sam, in the distance: *begins making a horrifying, indescribable noise*
X: --what the fuck.
Sam: *gets louder*
X: Okay, checking on your cat gets priority.
R: No, I'm pretty sure that's the "I killed it" song.
Sam: *sounds like a yodeler using a jackhammer*
R: Hang on.
I go across the apartment and into my room. Sam looks up proudly from a crumpled piece of paper. I go back.
R: Yep, it was the "I killed it" song. She killed a bit of paper.
X: Holy shit. She sounded like a pig on a treadmill.
R: I thought she sounded like she was being attacked by an octopus.
Sam: *begins yodeling again*
X: YOUR CAT.
R: I should have taken the paper away.
I go back into my room and take the paper away. Alex has come to see what all the fuss is, so I toss it to him. I pick Sam up, carry her into X's room, and put her down in her usual spot at the foot of the bed.
R: I took it away and gave it to Alex.
X: Good plan. That noise!
R: She used to do that all the time when we lived in Inwood. She'd kill packets of cough drops, or tubes of lip balm, and sing the "I killed it" song outside my door at 2 a.m.
X: I had never heard it before. It is not like anything of this earth.
Alex, in the distance: *bats the crumpled paper*
Sam: *jumps down from the bed and goes out to see what the noise is*
R: If they start fighting over the ball of paper I'm... just going to let it happen.
X and R: *hysterics*
I go out and find that Alex has cornered Sam under a bookcase. I chase him away. Alex glares at me like I ruin all his fun, which I do. I leave Sam under the bookcase and go back into X's room.
R: So anyway! Uh, pat pat, there there, I'm sorry you had a bad dream.
X: I think the moment is past. ...That's not a bad thing.
R: THANKS FOR KILLING THE MOOD, SAM.
X: I've never sincerely thanked someone for killing the mood before!
R: If nothing else, she is extremely effective at providing comic relief.
X: She sounded like a pig on a treadmill, I swear.
R: I'm sticking with the octopus attack.
X: It was totally fucking bizarre, whatever it was.
R: You realize this whole thing desperately needs to be blogged.
X: You go ahead and do that. I'm going to go to the bathroom, stare at pictures of cute things until my eyes bleed, and go back to sleep.
And now Sam is washing herself on the foot of my bed as though none of this ever happened.
"I can't work on the novel," I said. "My arms hurt too much to do any focused intense writing," I said.
And then I made the mistake of asking "Where are all the trans Cinderella stories?" and of course Twitter's response was "You should write one" and well. 1000 words later, my arm does hurt a bit, but not as much as I thought it would. And I have a chunk of a story.
Every morning and every evening, she looked in the mirror. Sometimes she saw herself as she truly was, and her face shone with joy. Other times she saw what she had been trained and taught to see by the people around her--ordinariness, or ugliness, or filthiness, or nothing at all--and she wept. But every morning and every evening, whether she truly believed it that day or not, she stared at the mirror and repeated, "My name is Daniela and I am beautiful."
Daniela had a fondness for sweepstakes; they cost no more to enter than a stamp and a few minutes of filling out a form, and they gave her happy things to dream about. They also gave her a reason to open her mail, which she otherwise might have avoided, for it was only ever bills that she struggled mightily to pay. She never really believed she would win, so the day that an envelope showed up that was not a bill, and the letter inside told her she'd won a free makeover at the local Sassy Sally Beauty Salon franchise (sponsored by a makeup company she'd never even heard of), she stared and stared and sat down hard on her only chair.
Of all the things to win, she thought. She'd seen makeover shows on television, the ones that spent an hour on vitriolic scorn for "before" and a mere handful of minutes on the improbable "after". She didn't want to set herself up for that. And she knew that no salon would ever make her look like the beautiful Daniela she still sometimes managed to see in the mirror. She'd be lucky if they saw her well enough to laugh at her and send her away.
But she went anyway. She was Daniela, and she was beautiful. And beautiful Daniela deserved the makeover that was the only thing the world had ever given her for free.
1000 words seems to be about as far as I go before I fall out of trance and suddenly have no idea what to write next, which is good for my arms and also generally useful for me to know. Not sure when I'll pick this up again--I really do want to work on the novel first, and I also really do want to rest my arm and not fall prey to the lure of "it feels mostly better, a little work won't hurt it". But I'm happy with what I have of it.
Terry Pratchett has died.
A lot of people are talking about which books of his they're turning to for comfort. I turned to Reaper Man
.IF WE DO NOT CARE, WE DO NOT EXIST. IF WE DO NOT EXIST, THEN THERE IS NOTHING BUT BLIND OBLIVION. AND EVEN OBLIVION MUST END SOMEDAY.
Was that what it was really like to be alive? The feeling of darkness dragging you forward? How could they live with it? And yet they did, and even seemed to find enjoyment in it, when surely the only sensible course would be to despair. Amazing. To feel you were a tiny living thing, sandwiched between two cliffs of darkness. How could they stand to be alive?
YOU FEAR TO DIE?
"It's not that I don't want... I mean, I've always... it's just that life is a habit that's hard to break..."
No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away.
He wrote what amounts to scripture, for those of us who constantly struggle with the concept of death. It's so easy to forget that when he was writing about Death, the anthropomorphic personification, he was also writing about actual death. Over and over again. From every angle. Religious, irreligious, spiritual, uncertain. Death and afterlife and undeath. Memory and grief.
I don't worry about my own death--as I told my therapist recently, I expect to be alive for my entire life--but one of my OCD manifestations is constant inner narration about bracing for the deaths of those I love. I call it Death Radio. I can't turn it off and it's very hard to turn down. It makes death feel like this enormous ever-present horror that could swoop in and steal someone from me at any moment. But Terry Pratchett put death on an equal footing with humans. We could look it in the glowing blue eye. Talk to it. Make sense of it. I can't overstate the value of that to someone like me.
I can't really grieve; he gave us so much that it's hard for me to feel a sense of loss. (I gave a little bit back, too--I knitted a square for the Pratchghan
. It's the blue and cream pyramids square on the right-hand edge. Pyramids
remains my favorite of his books, though there are a great many close runners-up.) He provided warning of his eventual demise, and promised to make it as easy on himself as possible so that we wouldn't have to fear or be sad for him. To the very end, he made death feel smaller, kinder, a thing to nod respectfully to rather than cower from. So today I feel as calm in the face of death as I have ever been able to manage.
If I weep, it's because I'm grateful.
I did everything on my list today. Everything! A little later than planned, at first, but by 13:00 I was caught up. (I skipped my hoped-for manicure and filed my own nails instead. I'm trying so hard to keep from biting them, even if that means filing 2x/week.) The day ticked along exactly as planned. I ran my errands and did my work and met my deadlines. Then I had a really splendid date with J and a relaxing post-date evening, unencumbered by deadline anxiety.
When I meet my deadlines I try to really inhabit the feeling of joy and relief and accomplishment, as positive incentive for next time. Once I start checking in with how I feel, I always find a nugget of anxiety, too--fear that I've forgotten something, that I'm not actually on top of things the way I think I am. Right now I'm on Celebrex 2x/day and that makes me more anx-prone, so that worry feels bigger than usual. But I really am caught up. I'm no longer a freelancer juggling lots of projects. I have one set of deadlines, and it's in a to-do list, and the to-do list is clear.
Must stop typing now. Ice. Meds. Sleep. More awesomeness tomorrow.
Last-minute Hugo recs:Here is awards eligibility info for all 2014 titles from Crossed Genres, including Long Hidden.
I would especially love to see nominations for Sofia Samatar's "Ogres of East Africa" (short story) and Meg Jayanth's "Each Part Without Mercy" (novelette). I don't pick favorites among stories I edited :) but I think those two LH stories are the most widely lauded in their respective categories and stand the best chance of making it onto the ballot. I also personally loved them both a whole lot.Long Hidden
cover artist Julie Dillon absolutely deserves to be on the ballot for Best Professional Artist from now until time immemorial. P.S. buy her book
Also in the novelette category, I am in awe of Kai Ashanté Wilson's "The Devil in America"
. A tremendous gut-punch of a story.
I co-sign all of Bogi Takács's Campbell Award nominations
, most especially and heartily the phenomenal Sabrina Vourvoulias.Daily Science Fiction
is the only SF/F magazine I read, and not just because they make it so easy by emailing me a story every day instead of making me *ugh* GO TO A WEBSITE or OPEN A PDF. I mean, that's a real chore
. I joke and yet... I do not actually go to websites or open PDFs, because I never feel like I have the time. But I always have the time to read Daily SF
's one tiny little story. They aren't all brilliant stories, but many are (such as Eugie Foster's "When It Ends, He Catches Her"
). Also, they are quietly publishing some of the most diverse SF/F stories in the current field, which I think gets overlooked because they're almost never "issue stories"--they just happen to have protagonists with a wide variety of identities and presentations. The stories with non-marginalized characters are still remarkably free of sneaky microagressions and assumptions and -isms. I feel safe when I open up a Daily SF
story, and that means a lot to me. Please consider nominating them in the Best Semiprozine category (I thiiiiiink that's the right one, and will update this post if I get different info).
Finally, two very different recommendations for Best Fan Writer:
1) Bogi Takács, who has been quietly doing phenomenal work collecting and promoting speculative works by trans, non-binary, and otherwise diverse authors. You can see eir recommendations at the diversepoems
tags on eir website. This curation means the world to marginalized folks looking for works that speak directly to their experiences, and for role models and community in writing. E also has really good taste in stories and poems. :)
2) Deirdre Saoirse Moen
, whose MZB/Breendoggle reporting really deserves recognition. She put a great deal of effort into collecting information and getting it out where people could learn from it. Also, I think that the community of Worldcon attendees and Hugo voters--which is not all of fandom by any means, but is a significant portion of it--needs to demonstrate a willingness to admit that this same corner of fandom enabled and supported Walter Breen and Marion Zimmer Bradley when they were known to be abusing children. That admission, however belated it may be, is a vital part of building safer spaces and committing to the protection of the most vulnerable members of our communities, even (especially) when the people who target them are famous and popular and powerful.
I met with my fabulous teen mentees on Friday and told them I was doing research for a novel. They were very excited. One said, "I remember when you were all 'Oh I'm an EDITOR, I don't write!' " and I blushed a bit and said, well, that was before I got bit by the story bug, and also the idea of writing is still really scary! But the story bug has bit me hard, so I want to keep going.
They asked for advice on making time for writing and I said that you have to remind yourself of all the things you love about it. The passion, the excitement, the love is what will drive you to prioritize it over everything else. I sent them Kahlil Gibran's "On Work"
, which is basically the anthem for my life.
March is when I said I'd start writing. Well, it's March. The thought of writing an entire novel
is daunting, but I'm more eager than terrified. I really do want to get going on it, even as I'm absolutely certain that I have done insufficient research. And... my arm is hurting a lot. It's been hurting for two weeks. It got better and then got worse again.* It certainly is not in any state where I can tap into my excitement about the book and sit down to knock out a couple thousand words. It's not even in a state where I can revise the outline. It's in a state where I probably shouldn't be writing a multi-paragraph LJ entry. This is really, really frustrating.* I think the getting worse again was probably because Mention turned up a website where people were talking about me with transphobic slurs and malicious misgendering, and that gave me two days of constant low-grade panic attacks and poor sleep--please do not ask me for more details on this or offer sympathy for it or discuss it with me in any way at all, I do not want to think about it, I'm just noting it here because it is relevant and because I want to have some record of it--and emotional tension leads to physical tension leads to pain. Plus Celebrex makes me more anxiety-prone and I sure wasn't about to take any while I was already taking multiple grams of taurine a day to stay functional.
But I guess that means more time to research. Except that arm pain means I'm working slowly, which also stresses me out. I basically have 60 weekday hours of work + research/writing + personal time. When I'm physically and emotionally healthy, I can do all my work in 30 hours and probably get in about 10 hours of research plus a healthy 20 hours of faffing off. When I'm hurting and anxious... 50 + 0 + a vastly insufficient 10 + probably doing more work on the weekend.
I really need to get better.
So, now to March 21: Only left-handed housework (carrying out trash, loading washing machine). Minimal social media, ideally via dictation rather than typing. When reading for research, if I need to take notes, type lefty; no writing. Gaming left-handed only. Celebrex 2x/day until I wake up not in pain, then 1x/day for a week to be sure. Lots and lots of ice. Take long walks (keeps me entertained and relaxed without arm use, encourages blood flow as I swing my arms). Gym: legs and core only, nothing that requires me to hold weights (which means annoying narrow-focus machines instead of lovely core-building weighted squats/toe raises *sob*). As much sleep as I can manage.
And then, I hope, writing at last.
I got work done.
I got research done.
I apologized to a friend for being a dick (as in, I literally said "I was a dick to you and I apologize"--two hours of rehearsing the apology helped me refine it down to its core); he was very nice about it and things appear to be entirely patched up, but it was a bit nervewracking.
I told J when a thing he did annoyed me, and then processed it all out with him (kind of clumsily because we were both hungry and he was underslept, but we got through it) and still managed to have a nice evening out.
I helped X suss out whether a medical problem requires doctor-going.
I started a load of laundry even though I don't usually do laundry on Wednesdays, to make up for having skipped Monday when I was ill.
I dealt calmly with an entirely unexpected overdue notice from the gas company, and with realizing that I haven't seen a bill from them in two months and didn't notice (oops); it's paid now, all's well, and tomorrow I will call and let them know the payment has been sent and also that their incredibly arcane website won't let me sign up for e-bills and can we fix that right now please.
Now I'm going to go do more work and then more research and then fold the laundry and take out the trash. Maybe I should take out the trash now while I still have all my warm clothes on. (WINTER. WE ARE DONE WITH YOU. GO AWAY.) And pill the cat.
Alex is purring at me and I am all YES I DESERVE PURRS. I EARNED THEM TODAY.
Note to self: "my arm is only slightly sore" is not a good reason to go work out with a personal trainer and then knit for three solid hours. Whooooof. It's back up to about 90% health but there were a few two-Celebrex days in there.
I also ate something yesterday that gave me 36 hours of some of the most intense intestinal discomfort I've ever experienced. Fortunately we had some probiotics in the medicine cabinet, and that plus a lot of ginger and fennel and very plain food seems to have mostly fixed it up.
So between those two things and the last of the winter blahs (WINTER. GO AWAY. IT'S MARCH. YOUR TIME HERE IS DONE.), I have not been very productive over the last two weeks. But today I buckled down--even though I wasn't feeling well enough to go to the library--and got completely caught up. Personal inbox zero, work inbox zero, work to-do list clear. My rejiggered to-do list definitely helps me to catch up quickly when I'm behind, and the work I was dreading the most turned out to be the easiest and fastest to do. I even did the last tiny thing that I could technically have left until tomorrow. All the rationales for "why not do it tomorrow?" are the same rationales for "why not do it now?" (it's small, it's quick, it's not urgent, there's no stress) so I did it now. I feel very good about this. :)
In theory March is when I start actually writing Valour Advances the Man
. I'm frankly terrified. My outline isn't ready yet! I'm still figuring out important plot points! Can't I just research forever? But really the problem is that I haven't been doing research any more than I've been doing work, so the magic has lost its hold a bit. I hope that some intensive reading over the next two days will get me fired up enough to push through the fear and start work on what I tell myself very firmly will be a rough
first draft. And having some research left to do means I can still be productive on days when I can't bear the thought of writing.
We're apparently in for another two days of utterly miserable weather. Then, I hope, we will start to have something like spring. I've taken to putting on this eight-hour video
of a sunny forest full of birdsong as a sort of low-grade constant therapy for SAD. It genuinely does help. It's also generally relaxing to listen to, even when I don't have it foregrounded. I'm going to leave it up now while I read about the history of homosexuality, to soothe me through the parts that make me angry and sad. And then I will get to write a book where queer people get to be happy and live long satisfied lives and never see the inside of a courtroom, and it will be grand.
Yesterday it was so warm that when I stepped outside to go for my walk, I went back in, changed into my gym clothes, took my walk, and then went to the gym and worked out for the first time in months. And then I made an appointment with a personal trainer for today, and kept it even though I was sore, and he was VERY helpful and totally supportive of me being a read-as-female person who wants to build upper-body muscle bulk. (I didn't want to have to explain non-binary-ness etc. so I said "Just treat me like a really small dude" and he did!) He's had the same type of arm injury that I have, so he knows just how to strengthen around it without aggravating it, which is vital. My arm's a little sore post-workout (even after I iced it) but not in a dire way, which is pretty impressive given how much I was pushing myself.
I upgraded my gym membership so that I can go to other branches, and I'm going to try to figure out how to fit workouts into my work schedule when I'm working from the library or the office, even if it means making myself use a locker room (ugh, why is everything SO GENDERED). I also booked more training sessions; that gives me incentive to work out during the rest of the week so that I have progress to report. :)
Bodyweight resistance exercises are just the best thing. I kind of fell in love with back extensions
today--they're even better than leg raises
! The trainer said, "I usually suggest back extension sets of 15 to 20, but for you it should be 20 to 30." Oh yes, sign me right
up. There's just something about that kind of controlled refutation of gravity that gets all my endorphins flowing.
Not getting to the gym has been one of the hardest things about endless winter, and I'm really proud of myself for managing to do it today in windchill of 5F/-15C. (Yesterday's warm weather was, sadly, a fluke.) I've proved to myself that it can be done, and that will make it a lot easier to go in the future. Yay for fleece-lined sweatpants!
Fourteen years ago, I married myself.
Ten years ago, J and I moved back to NYC.
Three years ago, X and J and I moved to Brooklyn.
I tend to think of late winter as a bad time for making major life decisions, because everyone feels utterly miserable and irritable and inclined to do foolish things. But all of those decisions were pretty great for me, and I'm very glad to have made them.
In a recent therapy session, I brought up my self-marriage, and my therapist was astonished that in seven months of treatment I hadn't mentioned it at all. I thought about it and realized that I've internalized all those things that I used to have to phrase as dialogue between myself and my wife--essentially, I told him, I've automated those processes. For example, tonight my arm's hurting a bit, so I didn't fold laundry. I didn't angst or fret over it; I just checked in, evaluated my abilities, and decided not to do it. I commit these little acts of self-care a dozen times a day without even noticing.
In February 2001 it was absolutely radical (to my mind) to pull out my dream journal and write, in large firm letters:
All these things I will be to myself:
Looking back, it's stunning to me how strongly I felt the deep urgent necessity of treating myself well. I needed my own love so desperately. At the time, one of my most defining behaviors was giving and giving and giving to my romantic partners (and, to a lesser but still significant extent, my friends and communities) until I suddenly began to thrash about like a drowning swimmer, having run out of emotional oxygen. Other people loved me deeply and treated me kindly, but there's no amount of external love that will fill a vacuum like the one I created in myself. When I turned my attention inward, I was harsh, despairing, and terrified; I only really took care of myself when I hit rock-bottom misery or someone who loved me encouraged me, and even then it was a struggle. (On 11/23/00, I recorded a dream where I was having dinner with my partner Harry and said "See? I do eat" and he was thrilled. Most of the time I was so anxious that I had no appetite.) So giving myself to myself, loving myself the way I loved others but without the element of self-negation, was an extraordinary notion. But once I'd had the idea, I had no clue how to envision it, let alone to implement it. The only way I could think of to get there was to make the commitment and then do my best to live up to it.
And now, 14 years later, I am kind, respectful, courteous, honest, gentle, patient, loving, and generous toward myself, comfortably and pretty consistently, with very little effort (except when very old baggage gets triggered and I slide toward those ancient habits of self-negation, and even then I do so much better than I used to). I'm not perfect, but no spouse is. And I'm tremendously proud of how far I've come, with my hand in mine.
It is easy to see that Shakespeare, in making use of this device [of crossdressing], does not merely disguise his characters; he transfigures them. The influence of the costume penetrates to the very soul of the wearer. The mind changes its sex, or to speak more accurately, plays its part in a region where the idea of sex has no place.... Numerous examples might be quoted in which the English text has no difficulty in avoiding anything calculated to remind the spectator that he is contemplating either a young man or a young woman. But these being[s] of indefinite sex—how are we to regard them save as angels or fairies? To what world could they belong, save to the world of spirits?
—Gustave Fréjaville, quoted in the introduction to Women in Men's Guise by O.P. Gilbert (and translated, along with the rest of the book, by J. Lewis May), 1932
Gilbert appears to have been quite the forward-thinker. Elsewhere the introduction states plainly, "Some men are really women and some women, men. That is a commonplace." There's also an anecdote about a psychiatrist who treated cases of "confused personality" by encouraging patients to live in accordance with identity rather than anatomy: "It is an essential part of Doctor Magnus-Hirschfeld's treatment to make his patients happy... he doubtless humours the disease, but he notably alleviates the condition of the unhappy people committed to his charge."
I've had to limit how much research I can do on the historical crossdressing front, because so much of it, including in very recent academic works, consists of outright trans-erasure, and I get very upset if I read too much of it at once. It's incredibly refreshing to read any book, let alone one from 1932, that readily acknowledges both that there is such a thing as being trans (something that literally is not mentioned in most of the books on crossdressing that I've read so far) and that trans people deserve to be happy. And to see any mention of non-binary anything
The introduction concludes:
Man and woman striving to resemble one another; does it not still live on, that graceful legend of Hermaphrodite and the nymph Salmacis irrevocably intermingled in a single bod?
Need we recall Leonardo da Vinci and his angels, his fauns and his virgins, and the strange and adorable yearnings they engender?
"O pale Androgyne," cries Peladan, "vampire supreme of civilisations that have grown aged and effete, O monstrous precursor of the fire from heaven,
"Man, (shall we say?). Woman? Androgyne?
"Or simply, Perfect Being?"
I'm sure the rest of the book will be full of erroneous pronouns, as they all are, but it's certainly off to a good start.
I've been trying this flexible schedule thing for a couple of weeks now. ( Preliminary results )
I need to get up early tomorrow for an appointment before work, so I'd better wrap this up, set up my overnight oats, and get to bed.
- thinking about:
behavior.planning, body.appetite, body.body clock, body.exercise, body.sleep, experiences.meditation, experiences.work, food, food.breakfast, mind.wiring, mind.wiring.anxiety, words.language, words.language.nihongo
CN: misgendering, cis people being weird about transness.( A weird and discomfiting dream )
So basically my subconscious decided to pull out every uncomfortable thing that cis people do around my transness: othering me to the max, or seeing me as just another dyke with a strap-on, or treating me like a resource when they're
supposed to be helping me
. THANKS BRAIN.
I suspect some of this stems from reading about historical crossdressers. In all the literature I've encountered, even people who literally lived as men their entire lives are called "she". Sometimes their chosen names are put in scare quotes, which I really dislike. And there's all this scandalous emphasis on their fake penises (one devised a very clever stand-to-pee device, others used dildos to deflower their ostensibly unsuspecting but probably fully aware wives) and how the very fakeness of them PROVES that these "women" were never, and could never be, "real" men. I can cope with it for a while, but eventually it gets into my head and stresses me out. :( I might switch to reading about gay men for a bit. Or platonic friendship. Or clothing.
...ugh, everything's fraught. Maybe I'll just renew all my books and take a couple of days off from thinking about it.
Anne Lister is, at present, the most famous lesbian of the Regency era, having handily eclipsed the Ladies of Llangollen. A friend of a friend described the recent passion for all things Lister as "an industry" and that's not far off the mark. Two books of her journals, two movies, countless academic works of various lengths... there's a lot of Lister-mania out there. (I always have to resist the urge to call it "Listeria".)
I tried to read the first volume of her journals and couldn't get through it. I'm not going to bother with the second volume, and will probably skip most of the critical analyses. But before I realized I'd over-Lister'd myself, I requested an interlibrary loan of Miss Lister of Shibden Hall: Selected Letters (1800–1840)
. I didn't realize until I received it that it predates the decoding of Lister's journals, so there's not the slightest whiff of queerness in it unless you read between the lines of her impassioned yet curiously gender-free letter about wanting to find a romantic partner with whom to share her life.
Anne Lister was a hell of a letter-writer. Where her journals are terse, her letters are verbose in the most splendid Regency style. Even when she was 12, in 1803, she was writing things like this:
As my Letter draws to a conclusion, I must now make my request to you, which is, that when an opportunity offers and you have leisure time, you will have the goodness to purchase for me a Dictionary I mean one of the very best (pub)lications, one that will not only instruct me in Spelling but in the (proper?) and fashionable way of pronunciation.
A woman after my own heart! Metaphorically, I mean. I'm much too butch for her--she wanted a demure and biddable wife.
As a young adult, she wrote to her brother, "Ah! let the well-ascended blood that trickles in your veins stimulate the generous enthusiasm of your soul, and prove it is not degenerated from the spirit of yr ancestors." What a masterful little bit of guilt-tripping.
Her reminiscences of 1819 Paris are lyrical, even over the most mundane things:
To us, also, who had been accustomed to see charcoal as a sort of rarity, used only for special purposes, the countless barges full of it, were an object of novelty, and, together with the large and beautifully piled fire-wood stacks, instantly reminded us why the atmosphere incumbent over Paris was almost perfectly clear, while that over our own capital might have served Homer to represent the smoke of Vulcan's forge.
LOOK AT THOSE COMMAS. What a truly 19th-century sentence that is. And note how capitalization has changed in 16 years--the last of the Germanic noun-caps are entirely gone.
I wish everyone who ever wrote Regency-era dialogue would take the time to read letters from the period and grasp the nuances and pragmatic beauty of the language. In a stuffy theater, "we were almost dissolved with heat." Stories of Parisian decadence may "shock decorum... but a thick veil covers the exterior of deformity--it does not meet you barefaced as in the streets and theatres of London." Of the weather: "a very nice, mild, morning after a rainy boisterous night." In an overheated closed carriage, "the atmosphere, before we had done with it, was pretty well elaborated
." Of an ivy-covered building: "not a particle of brick is to be seen. Not so the tiled roof which has a shameless conspicuousness that spoils the whole."
All of these examples are from the first quarter of the book. It's tremendously sad that Lister died relatively young, though she traveled far in her 50 years--if she'd had another few decades to roam the world, how many more keen observations might she have gifted to both her contemporaries and later historians?
I want to swim in this book and absorb all its words. I fully intend to come back to it (and other collections of letters) when I've finished my draft and I begin revising the dialogue and description. Lister is a bit higher-class than my characters, and of course not everyone will be quite so eloquent. As she writes to a friend who appears to have taken her dry wit the wrong way, "I have sometimes, they tell me, a way of saying things peculiarly my own." But I think that spending some time savoring the rhythm of her language will still help me write in a way that feels appropriate for the period. And it will be delicious. :)
I had to take Sam to the vet for her rabies shot and to check on a little bump under her chin (all's well). The cab driver on the way home had the thickest Lawn Guyland* accent it has ever been my pleasure to hear. I reassured him that Sam would be well-behaved and he immediately began telling me stories about how much he loves animals. He loves them a LOT. When sad animal stories come on the news radio, he has to turn it off because they make him cry. His first dog ate too much human food and died young, and now he's extremely strict about not feeding his dog Rufus from the table at all, because he wants him to live a good long life.* If you're not from around here, the joke is that this is how people from Long Island pronounce "Long Island". You can hear it here. At 0:53 in that video someone actually says "Lawn Guyland" and it's amazing.
We bonded over feeding stray cats and wanting to adopt them all, especially in the winter, and he went on a long rant about heartless people who abandon their pets. I said our cats were rescues and he said warmly, "If deah's someone up deah, dey's lookin out fa youse." (I am not exaggerating his accent in the slightest. When he said he was Italian it took immense effort not to say "Really?!".) I joked about us being two tough New Yorkers getting all soft-hearted over kittens and puppies.
His mother calls him seven days a week asking when he's gonna get married and have a kid. He says "Ma, I've got Rufus!" but she won't accept his dog as a sufficient grandchild substitute. I hope someday he finds the perfect wife (not just some girl in Florida his ma is trying to set him up with), and I hope they have as many pets and kids as they want.
This multi-track schedule thing
has been very good for me. Most weekdays I've been getting up at 11, and generally sticking to the starts-at-11 schedule as planned. Even if I go to bed at 4, that's still a solid seven hours of sleep, which is enough for me. On the weekend I didn't let myself sleep past noon, even the day that I stayed up until 6 a.m. grieving for Borderlands.( Working at the library is the best thing since toast, or would be if you were allowed to eat toast at the library )
I'd already determined that I was going to give 10% of my book proceeds to NYPL and BPL. In addition, thanks to a link that vschanoes
posted on Twitter, I just sent this email to Hizzoner:( TLDR: libraries are awesome and you should give them money )
If you live in NYC, please take a moment to send your own letter
in support of libraries and library funding. BPL gives you a very nice sample letter at that link, so all you really need to do is fill in your address and hit "send your message"--it takes two minutes and can make a big difference. If you're not in NYC, please consider sending a similar letter to whomever funds libraries in your community.
And now, only slightly behind schedule, I sneeps, full of satisfaction and happiness and steak. Mmm, steak.
- thinking about:
behavior.accomplishments, behavior.activism, body.sleep, experiences.books, mind.feelings.nostalgia, people.josh, places.us.ny.new york.bryant park, words.books, words.books.valour advances, words.letters, words.writing
Having meticulously assembled those possible daily schedules, I realized that they were only suitable for days when I work from home. Now that I've got the Wertheim Study space at NYPL, I'd like to use it at least a couple of times a week.
Food and drink are absolutely NOT allowed in the library, so I have to be very disciplined about eating before I go, taking a lunch break, and getting home in time for dinner--no snacking, no eating at my desk (which is what I do on office days). And if I'm eating lunch out in the world, I don't want to spend a lot of additional money on breakfasts. That means eating breakfast at home, or on the train in a pinch.
How do I breakfast? I am not good at breakfast at ALL.
* Dairy-free; dairy substitutes are fine but nothing soured (no yogurt, buttermilk, etc.)
* Something I can eat on the train if I'm late leaving the house
* Eaten cold or nuked in its own container--nothing I have to actually cook in the morning, not even something as simple as blending up a smoothie (because then I have to wash the blender, etc.)
* High protein
* Low sodium (so nothing that relies on sausage or bacon)
* Sufficient to get me through a one-hour commute and three hours of good work before I break for lunch
* It's fine if it contains eggs but it can't just be
eggs or quiche or other things where the egg flavor is central
* No raw fruit or veg other than very ripe bananas; cooked fruit and jam are fine
* Not super sweet
Foods that taste lunch-ish rather than breakfast-ish are fine; I'll probably default to peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate milk, which was my childhood school lunch for years and years and years. (Just peanut butter, no jelly--I didn't like jelly or jam when I was a kid, and I've never really learned to like peanut butter and jelly together.)
I'm also going to try making overnight oats
, probably with peanut butter for extra protein and bananas because bananas.
I'd really appreciate other suggestions.
Borderlands Books is closing.
I don't have words for how heartbroken I am over this. I cried last night and again today, trying to imagine San Francisco without Borderlands. It's one of the very, very few things I miss about the Bay Area. Alan and Jude truly understand how to make a bookstore into the beating heart of a literary community, not just locally but internationally--I first learned about the planned closing on Twitter from Alisa Krasnostein and Jonathan Strahan in Australia, who were talking about what sad news this is.
Seeing a picture of Long Hidden
on the Borderlands front-of-store display was what made it a Real Book for me. Now I'll never get to sign stock for them.
The same issue of Locus
that broke the news also put Long Hidden
and Sofia Samatar's story "Ogres of East Africa" on the 2014 recommended reading list. Any other day I'd be thrilled. Today I can barely bring myself to care.
I am just devastated.
I'm tired and cranky and tired and clumsy and tired. Tonight J and I had one of those tense mutual-misunderstanding mutual-defensiveness conversations that we only get into when we're stressed and exhausted, and I made it worse by telling him he was overreacting (a thing that one should basically just never say unless specifically asked for a reality check). I just opened a bottle of seltzer and doused my bed, and I can barely muster the willpower to get up and change the sheets, which I'd been meaning to do for weeks anyway. I keep thinking I can do two loads of laundry in one night and I keep being wrong, by which I mean I start the second one at 1 a.m. and then I can't go to bed before 4 even when I want to, because I can't leave it in the machine overnight, because it only gets about 95% dry.
I caught up on WaniKani quizzes, but I don't dare even look at new vocabulary. I'm really struggling with some of the ones I learned last level. My brain isn't good with input right now.
As of today, I have a berth at the Wertheim Study, and no idea how to integrate that into my work life. Yesterday I was happily researching female printers and booksellers (there were so many!) and today the project seems impossibly huge and daunting.
I really should go change the sheets, I guess. And then wait for the laundry to be done, and then fold it/hang it up, and then go to bed. Oh, and do the dishes, but the dishwasher is mostly loaded, so there's just a few more things to put in. Not taking the recycling out tonight because fuck it. I am so tired.
I have been struggling to make myself sit down and rework my schedule to integrate gym-going, because reworking my schedule means confronting the reality that I am not going to bed at 2 or 3 and getting up at 10. I'm going to bed at 4 or 5 and getting up at noon. Since my workday starts at noon, this is a problem.
Finally I decided I'd just come up with multiple versions of the schedule, depending on whether I get up at 10, 11, or 12. By making it equally normal/okay to wake up at any of those times, I hope I can avoid some of the miserable judgey thoughts about my sleep schedule being "weird" and "wrong", as well as fixing the stress I've been feeling about the day getting away from me and never having enough time for anything.
I started out doing this in text and quickly realized that a chart made much more sense. Intervals are 30 minutes unless otherwise indicated.
Solo time is self-directed time for research/writing, playing games, hanging out on Twitter, WaniKani, whatever.
One hour of exercise includes 15 minutes of walking (outdoors if possible, otherwise on the treadmill at the gym), 20 minutes of strength training (four exercises), 10 minutes of getting to and from the gym, and a shower.
Thursday isn't included because Thursday is always a 10 a.m. day; I have to be at the office by noon. That's why I go to bed early on Wednesdays (at least in theory).
These all feel like schedules I can live with. That's good. Next to try putting them into practice--starting next week, probably, because this week is very weird due to medical stuff.
Dear January: BE OVER SOONER PLS.
Of course, then we get February. But thanks to global warming, February is the new March, right? Let's all pretend it is.
I can tell I'm struggling emotionally because I've barely touched WaniKani in the last few days. I just hit level 14, so I have 80 new items to learn, and nearly 200 quiz items have piled up. (I'm not touching the new items until I clear the quiz backlog, of course.) I've been trying to tackle at least a few every day, which is why it's 200 and not 300, but that's still at least a couple of hours' worth.
I'm sleeping badly, and not enough. Worse than usual.
I haven't gone to the gym in a month. Most days I do at least get out for a walk, though this week has been very bad for walking during daylight hours. (On the bright side, the main reason I've been stuck at home a lot is because the plumber was here for three days, and now we have our very own washer/dryer
. I love it love it love it and would happily do laundry all day. The clothes come out smelling like nothing at all
I'm at inbox 24. For me this is a lot. The oldest message is from January 6; before that I was at inbox zero pretty consistently. And it's not difficult stuff--a new S.J. Tucker album to download (not a thing I would usually put off!), a couple of LJ comments to reply to, an appointment to put on my calendar. Just now I got it down to 17 in a minute or two. But finding minutes or twos to put toward inbox-clearing feels very hard.
I'm behind on work. I'm behind on research. For a while I was behind on washing dishes, though I caught up tonight. I'm behind on cuddling
, though that's mostly because X and J have both been unwell. But tonight X was well enough to snuggle and I felt like the proverbial starving man at a feast. More affectionate physical contact, please. Please a lot please.
(Sam has been the most cuddly cat ever, which helps. But I need people too.)
Usually when I'm in this sort of frantic overwhelmed state I cope by organizing a thing. I've been meaning to rejigger my schedule to make room for the gym, which would be a perfect sort of organizational coping mechanism. But I have somehow gone right through that stage and out the other side, where I feel too overwhelmed to organize anything. Right now, loading the dishwasher hits my organizational limit. I didn't know that was possible.
I'd say that at least 80% of this is being the person in the household who's closest to being completely healthy and capable, and once J's lingering cough finally fully goes away and he's able to sleep again, things will improve. I'd say "once X feels better", but I don't want to make any assumptions about their level of ability during either IVF or pregnancy, since the IVF has been kicking their ass pretty hard so far. :( But having two and occasionally three fully functional adults in the house will be much better than having one fully functional adult and two others valiantly doing as much as they can before they collapse.
Obligatory "it's not all bad" section of the post:
We're remembering to get out and be social, even when it's hard. Last week regyt
came over for coworking, and I went to Daniel's book launch party. Tonight J and I went to KGB to hear Greg Frost and the incomparable Andy Duncan. (If you ever have the opportunity to hear Andy read his work, TAKE IT. Here's a video to whet your appetite. And another.
And buy his books, since reading him is the next best thing to hearing him.) Tomorrow is my mother's birthday. This weekend J and I are going to TMBG's first concert of the year (they're doing monthly shows in Brooklyn through 2015), and I've got tickets for the next three. It helps to leave the house and see people and have new things to think about.
Lots of good things are happening in my industry, and/or to people I know. Daniel's book is great, and doing really well from all reports. Mark and I interviewed him for PW Radio
and had a terrific time. I'm thrilled about Charles Finlay taking over F&SF
and Charlie Jane Anders taking over io9. There are lots of super exciting books coming out this year, and I'm actually doing some reading for pleasure in between bouts of research-reading. I got to read an advance copy of Courtney Milan's first contemporary romance and it's pretty terrific. (And the trans Latina supporting character will star in the next book in the series! Hooray for self-publishing, where such things can happen!)
And the washer/dryer is glorious. And when I work from my bed I get to watch the alley cats chase one another over the garages and trees out back. And even when X and J don't feel well, they still joke around and kiss me and are their lovely selves. And when I do get a chance to do research I learn totally fascinating things and have a legitimate reason to look at pornographic cartoons of the Devil being scared off by a woman's hairy crotch
. And Sam and Alex and Sophie are generally adorable and about as well-behaved as it's possible for cats to be.
So it's not all bad. I just wish it were better.
- thinking about:
behavior.love, behavior.organization, behavior.procrastination, body.body clock, body.exercise, body.sleep, experiences.housework, experiences.love, experiences.reading, experiences.seasons.winter, mind.wiring, mind.wiring.mood, people.cats, people.groups.kgb, stuff, words.books.valour advances, words.language.nihongo
Random ragey day today, probably due to very interrupted sleep at entirely the wrong time of day. Going for a walk tends to help moods like this, but first there was torrential rain (with one long glorious roll of thunder, a brief moment of summer in January) and then the temperature dropped and everything iced over. I was ragey all afternoon and ragey all evening and briefly weepy and then ragey again. Finally I gave up and went out for a walk anyway.
The street was only slightly icy. I walked as quickly as I dared, trying to burn off the anger, and it did help a little. I was glad of the leggings under my jeans, but I didn't need to bother with earmuffs, and I left my coat open. A drunk weaving past me said "Hi gorgeous" and I shot back "Hello handsome" in my best low androgynous voice. I kept having the urge to stop at a deli and get a bagel-with-bacon, because I felt so much like I did when I was in high school and horrendously underslept and desperately needing meat and grease to fuel me through the morning. But it was 2 a.m., not 6 a.m., and now I'm on my way to bed, not grimly facing down another exhausted day.
I still want bacon, though.
My head is cluttered with my work; it tosses about in my head; I can no more read than write; it always gets between the book and my eyes. This is an intolerable mental restlessness. At times I am seized by a mad desire to drop everything, at once, to cancel my lessons, to send everyone packing and ignore the necessity of paying visits, to take refuge in myself "as in a tower" and to develop my vision.... But I can do this only in a new, unknown environment. Unless my senses are disoriented I shall fall back into the familiar ruts, into day-dreams built on recollections. Life must be utterly new, and nothing in the surroundings must remind me that, outside, there are other things. The illusion of working in the absolute.
--André Gide, Journals: 1939-1949
I don't remember the last time I was so consumed by a project. It feels like NRE. It's exhilarating and a little unnerving. I fear that I'm becoming a bore--if someone asks me about the book, I'll talk nonstop for twenty minutes, wind down reluctantly, and entirely forget to say "And what's new with you?". So let this be a warning to all of you not to ask me about the book, for your own sakes. :)
The research is unwieldy and I need to find some way to curtail it. But everything I find is so useful
, genuinely useful, not just nifty (though there's some nifty stuff too). I spent a couple of hours tonight wandering through books and pamphlets from the 1790s and 1800s. A satirical poem that claimed to be "Saphic" was nothing of the sort, but it was a lovely bit of scathing feminism and I may put some of its ideas into the head of one of my characters. A book by Aristotle was not translated but rather "made English". I got more of a sense of how these publications were put together, catching little things like repeating the first word of a page at the bottom corner of the previous page--I'm guessing that was to help ensure that the pages were assembled in order, though it might also have been a cue to the reader in some way. I also started building a timeline of relevant events in and around 1810: Napoléon curtailing publishing in Antwerp, the death of the Chevalière d'Eon, the raid on the White Swan and arrest of the Vere Street Coterie. All these little details are delicious, all useful. But if I'm going to start writing in six weeks, I'm also going to need to... well, not stop researching, but cut back. Right now the list of topics looks like this:
Queer and crossdressing women
Queer and crossdressing men
Printing, publishing, bookselling
London geography and daily life
Hopefully I can get enough of a sense of all of those by the end of February to start putting words together.
I last posted that opening Gide quote in 2008
, when my work life looked very different. I never did sign up for membership in a coworking space. But now I'm two weeks away from having a spot at Wertheim Study, which has become very symbolic. Not quite a tower, but a place where I can take refuge in myself nonetheless.
"One thing is certain," Gide wrote at the end of that journal entry, "and that is that I drop all lessons, all shackles, in twelve days, or fourteen." And then, hesitantly: "My mind is so taut now that I am afraid it may relapse, may relax at the moment when..."
I know how NRE goes and I know that at some point the buzz will wear off. I hope to be well into the writing by that point. But even when I'm feeling muddled about the book itself (as I am right now, quite frustrated with the current state of the outline), every new research discovery fills me with pure delight. So perhaps I'll allow myself to keep doing a little reading as I write, to prolong the buzz a bit. I don't know whether I'm disciplined enough to make wordcount when research is calling me, but I guess I'll find out.
* Orchestrated a lovely little birthday party for J, breaking the long trend of him having terrible birthdays.
* Buckled down and got my damn work done.
* Burned radicals in WaniKani--I will never be tested on them ever again!
* Made a whole lot of phone calls, ordered groceries, answered emails, paid bills, and otherwise took care of minor things that I have been putting off because there's been so much else to do.
* Put my laptop away and went to bed immediately after making this post.
Ugh, I am totally slumped over and fleh today. But I went for a walk and had lunch and showered and dressed, and I got J to take over dinner planning, and I asked X to help me figure out how to be more work-productive, and I have been slowly and painfully getting work done. (This particular task is boring, is the problem. Usually my work is really interesting, so my get-boring-work-done skills have totally atrophied.)
As part of my time management for the day, I decided that I would just have to give up on finishing my interlibrary loan book tonight even though it's due back tomorrow and can't be renewed and the fine is $1/day. Yes, that's a lot compared to regular library late fees, and yes, I was raised to be scrupulous about returning library books on time, but I'm trying to look at it as paying $2 to hang on to it for a couple extra days at the beginning of the semester when it's unlikely that any student will be desperately waiting for it to come back to the university library it calls home. This is so hard! I actually took two dollar bills out of my wallet and stuck them into the book to use as bookmarks, hoping that would help me stop thinking about it, but I still feel terribly guilty. Childhood programming is serious stuff. Anyway, even though it's really amazingly psychologically difficult, I am determined to prioritize my commitments to my job and my clients over avoiding $2 of library fines and feeling singlehandedly responsible for the tragedy of the commons. And I am bemusedly shaking my head at myself. My brain is a really odd place.
I think it might be time to do another couple shots of caffeinated soda and see if that helps me stay focused.
Recent books read for research:The Beacon at Alexandria
by Gillian Bradshaw. WHAT A BOOK. I love this book on so many levels. It feels so good to read a novel I unstintingly adore! Been ages since I got to do that. The day I returned it to the library, I ordered a copy. I'm going to want to reread it, plus it's useful to me in several ways (how self-image is affected by longstanding stealth; honesty and dissembling with close friends; portrayals of Jews who aren't present-day New York Jews or grotesque caricatures). And oh, what an ending. I am inspired to be more audacious in ending my own book--that ending took my breath away.Duchess by Night
by Eloisa James. James is very like Heyer in that she's quite willing to disregard basically anything that doesn't suit her about her chosen time and place, but she makes up for it (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) with humor and wit. Her treatment of the crossdressed heroine is quite novel in several respects. Harriet is remarkably bad at pretending to be a man, and it's interesting to see who twigs and why; her inability to mount a horse is a dead giveaway, but her rounded bottom is not. I was amused by her womanly mannerisms being explained as "he was raised by a single mother, no men around to teach him how to be a man". The "terrible accident" justification for smooth face, high voice, etc. is a guess from another character, though Harriet's happy to run with it. As Harry, Harriet is besieged by interest from women and has to awkwardly fend them off without giving the impression that she's gay. And the hero outright admits that he found her attractive when he thought she was a man, and says that if she had in fact been a man he'd still have fallen in love with her. That's pretty remarkable even for a libertine who hangs around with actors!
The book concludes with the most utterly ridiculous and unbelievable final argument that I have ever seen in a romance novel, and even though the hero does a very good grovel once he comes to his senses, that does not begin to redeem it. Also, all the heroine's concerns about "won't it look odd when your Very Close Friend Harry vanishes and three weeks later you marry some woman named Harriet" are swept away and never resolved. A profoundly annoying ending on the whole.I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister, 1791–1840
, edited by Helena Whitbread. I skimmed these a lot because they're really gloomy. Lister was an id-driven snob and I didn't want to spend a lot of time in her company. Her first and most significant love and lover, M-, marries a man, gets a venereal disease from him, and gives it to Anne during a clandestine encounter. Upon meeting another queer woman, Anne claims very staunchly that she only feels love for other women and never acts on it, mostly to protect M-'s reputation and scotch the persistent rumors about their relationship; the need for stealth makes it impossible for her to form connections even with those she could otherwise safely reveal herself to. Anne lusts after women other than M- but mostly feels they're too déclassé for her. Even the most exciting journals can be tedious, and Anne's unhappiness makes them even harder to go through. There's also not much of use to me, mostly because Anne's more upper-class than any of the women in my book, and she spends most of her time living in a small town. That said, now I'm aware of how much I need to specifically hunt down some primary sources written by tradesmen and -women in London.
One thing that caught my attention is how clearly Anne's desires are delineated. She has no interest in men, but women inspire desperate longing. And specifically, she wants a very feminine wife. When she meets the other queer woman, Miss Pickford, she finds her of little interest; occasionally she wonders whether she might "soften" the other woman, but mostly she resolves to treat her "like a gentleman". And she is extremely envious of Miss Pickford's longtime relationship with a "particular friend". While Anne may not have an identity-concept like "lesbian" to attach herself to, she is quite capable of developing and defining her own sense of who she is, in extremely specific terms, with little apparent agonizing. Pretty impressive for someone in her late 20s.
Also of note is that she's religious enough to feel bad about skipping church or leaving before the sacrament, and she sometimes prays to God for help or forgiveness, but there's no mention anywhere in her journal about religious guilt over same-sex inclinations.
On Twitter, I referred to the journals as "dispiriting", and the editor replied to me telling me I was wrong. Editors and authors: don't do this.
Next on my reading list is Lesbian Dames: Sapphism in the Long Eighteenth Century
, edited by Beynon and Gonda. Of course it opens with a list of other books I should read. *takes notes*
That's the shelf of library books left for me to work through. My spot at the Wertheim Study room at NYPL is booked for February through July (!), so once that goes into effect I'll be able to cut back on ILL (which I've been using as an end run around lots of NYPL books being "onsite use only"). That will ease the deadline pressure.
Scenes from the book continue to write themselves in my head. It's interesting to see what iterations they go through as I think about different ways that a particular interaction could go. At the moment I'm doing a lot of thinking about how Nathaniel would come out to Algernon, and that requires thinking about how Nathaniel understands himself as well as how Algernon understands gender. I let it all percolate in my head, and when a question comes up like "How much does Nathaniel generally value honesty?" it helps me do some character development, which then feeds back into the interaction. Or I read a Twitter conversation about having multiple trans people in a story, and I wonder whether Algernon's encountered anyone trans before and how that would affect his ability to understand what Nathaniel is telling him and to accept Nathaniel for who he is, and that feeds back into the interaction. I imagine this with sound effects not unlike water churning around in the dishwasher, every repetition making things a little bit clearer.
I frequently worry that if I don't write things down I'll forget them, but to my surprise I'm not especially concerned about that happening with the pieces of book that are in my head. As I observe the iterative process, I'm reminded that any draft is going to go through a lot of changes, and in the end it doesn't matter whether I write down version #27 or #37 of a particular scene. Also, writing things down would provide too much concreteness to a process that needs to be very free-form right now so that it can absorb all the information I'm getting from my research and flex along with character developments and so on. I'm keeping an eye on myself to make sure I do start writing at some point, but I think that as various interactions start to feel "cooked" I'll start to feel more of an urge to put them into text.
I'm still planning to research through February and start writing in earnest in March. I continue to be really excited about this project. :)
I'm caught up. I don't know how to be caught up.
I don't... I don't understand why my brain can sometimes do things and other times can't. I don't understand why today I could say "We don't have a radio guest lined up for this week, let me find one" and then "I have a bit of work to finish, so I'll finish it" and then "It's 00:50, if I'm going to read half of The Beacon at Alexandria tonight I had better put Twitter away" and then "I've reached the halfway point that I marked earlier, time to put the book down"--and do those things as soon as I said them. I don't understand why in December it would all have been impossible, both the putting down and the picking up. I don't understand why less than a week ago I stayed up until dawn, for the first time since the end of summer, and tonight it's a mere hour past my nominal bedtime and I'm entirely ready to sleep. Teeth brushed and cat fed and lights out and everything. For weeks I've been setting my alarm later and then snoozing it, struggling to catch some light in the scant time between leaving bed and the sun setting, and then yesterday I got up at 11:30 and today I got up at 11 and if I go to bed now I'll be able to comfortably get up at 10:30.
I was sick for about a day with a cold, and I made myself sleep nine and a half hours to shake it. They were the wrong nine and a half hours, from 4 to 13:30, but it worked well enough. Since then I've had this strange sense of clarity, of ability, and I've been able to just do things. I wonder whether the illness or the sleep rewired something in my brain, disconnecting or routing around the angst-about-it center. J still has the cold, with a nasty cough on top of it, and X's wrist is hurting, and there was the ceiling leak to deal with--turns out it was a pipe, not the roof, but we didn't find that out until the roofers came over, so then the plumber had to come over and so forth--and I've been keeping everyone fed and hydrated and dealing with the landlord and perhaps that's put me in a just-do-things mode. But if this has all happened last week I think work would have fallen entirely by the wayside. Last week work fell by the wayside even when all those things weren't happening. Today when J asked me "How's work going?" I was able to tell him because I'd actually been doing it.
I keep reaching for the tools of procrastination, Twitter and games and dopamine-loop fidgets. I keep thinking that I must not want to sleep, I must want to play a game, I must feel beset and overwhelmed and desperately in need of these self-soothing things that help me cope with the crushing weight of the obligations that I keep avoiding. But actually the obligations don't feel crushing, not least because I haven't been avoiding them. I have a major Wednesday deadline but I feel confident about making it. I think I really will finish reading this book tomorrow night so I can return it on time. (Fortunately it's a smooth, quick read. I almost skipped it because it's entirely the wrong time period, but it's wonderful and I'm so glad I picked it up, plus it's being useful in a completely unexpected direction.) As of this week Fridays are work days, and that's going to take some getting used to, but if I still feel this way on Friday I'm pretty sure I will actually get work done in between a couple of Manhattan appointments.
I don't have habits for this. All my habits are about avoiding obligations and then avoiding feeling guilty about avoiding obligations. Right now the only thing I'd like to do that I'm not really managing to do is going to the gym, and I don't even feel bad about that because January's a terrible time of year to go to the gym. I'll wait a couple of weeks for the resolutioners to trickle away and then see if I can fit it back into my schedule somehow.
So I guess I just... go to bed now, without feeling bad and without doing things intended to make me feel less bad or at least escape from feeling bad. Is that right? Is that how it works?
This is all very new and I'm kind of confused and nervous. My heart is beating pretty hard, actually, but that might be from the chocolate I had a couple of hours ago, not just anxiety over being faced with this unfamiliar situation. I'll take taurine anyway, just in case.
(As soon as I wrote that, I got up and took the taurine. How am I doing this?!)
(And I am confounded to realize how quick I usually am to turn even a small sensible notion into an obligation and then to squirt ink at it and swim hastily away. I don't even see that pattern when I'm engaged in it; it's just that right now I'm suddenly aware of its absence.)
I literally have nothing better to do than go to bed. So... I'll go do that then. Right. Okay. This is super weird. I think I could get to like it, if it lasts, but it's going to take some getting used to.
Juggling two sets of deadlines is getting a little tricky. My week looks something like this:
Monday 1/5: PW Monday deadlines, read non-renewable book due 1/7
Tuesday: PW Wednesday deadlines, read book
Wednesday: PW Wednesday deadlines, return book, read first non-renewable book due 1/12
Thursday: pick up new book at NYPL on my way to work at the PW office, read book
Friday: PW Friday deadlines, meeting at NYPL to arrange a six-month shelf reservation at Wertheim Study, read book
Saturday and Sunday: read second non-renewable book due 1/12
And sometime in there more ILL books might come in for me, and I have more books due 1/20, 1/21, 1/21, and 1/26.
Back in 2005, I would review three books a week for PW while working a full-time job. Time to dust off those skills!
, an old-fashioned LJ/DW meme!When you see this, make a post in your journal or in a community. It can be anything: a crosspost, something you've posted on Tumblr, a few words about the last thing you read/watched, or just a "Hi, how is everyone?" Then go read your f-list and leave at least one comment.
I woke up today to learn that our roof had leaked into the attic, which was leaking into the guest room. Presumably the leak started last night, when it was raining buckets. No one discovered this until 1:30 p.m. today because we keep the door to that room shut, to keep the cats out (we sometimes have guests with cat allergies, and also we don't want the cats to scratch or pee on the couch). Usually J hangs out in there in the mornings, but he's got a cold, so he huddled in bed instead. So fate was against us in that regard.
Fortunately the leak missed the books entirely, and we didn't have anything in the attic, but it soaked the sofabed. We're hoping we can disassemble it (yay IKEA furniture) and dry it out without it getting moldy, since the baseboard heaters keep our house very warm and dry in the winter. It'll probably be stained, but it was ugly to start with, so that's not so much of an issue. (If we really care we can pay $380+ for a slipcover
. O.O I do not think we care that much. We bought it for comfort, not style.)
The rain stopped hours ago but the ceiling is still dripping. We've got three buckets set up to catch the drips. The landlord came over, looked appalled, took a lot of photos, and left to call some workers; but it may be a couple of days before anything gets fixed because he'll be asking the roofers to make a repair under warranty (since the roof was just redone before we moved in, nine months ago) and they are likely to be rather slow about doing that. Hopefully they'll fix it before it starts snowing on Tuesday.
On the principle of "better late than never", I finally harangued Travelers into giving us renters' insurance. We've tried to get it before but they always balk about insuring three unrelated people. By listing X as my fiancé, which is technically accurate as we will probably get legally married at some point to give me more parental rights for FutureKid, we were able to cover the entire contents of the apartment except for what's in J's room, which is good enough for our purposes.
This makes the fourth residence in a row where we've had to deal with a ceiling leak. I am not enthused.
I keep wondering, why have I been sleeping so poorly and biting my nails? I don't feel more stressed than usual. I've actually been feeling pretty good.
Today it occurred to me to flip that around. Oh. Ohhh. These aren't just symptoms of stress--they're my coping mechanisms. And they are helping me cope.
They're just also kind of destructive in the slightly longer term. *sigh* I need to figure out ways to give myself the immediate boost that I get from biting my nails or staying up super-late, without sacrificing the following day's awakeness or damaging my body. But it helps in some ways to acknowledge that I do get value from these things; they aren't purely destructive.
My therp gave me homework this week: 1) look at how things I'm looking forward to become to-do list items that feel oppressive and 2) look at the nail-biting and sleep issues as they pertain to concepts of control. So... I'll add that to my to-do list, I guess.
For now, going for a walk while there's still sun.
Today I had no plans or obligations whatsoever. In the afternoon J was gaming and X was napping, and then they had a date in the evening. I was entirely self-directed.
0) I woke up around noon and got up maybe half an hour later.
1) I caught up on WaniKani quizzes. I introduce new vocabulary when I'm alert, to give myself a fighting chance of remembering it, but I take quizzes first thing when I get up and right before I go to bed, because I won't really have learned
the kanji until I can remember them while groggy.
2) I went for a walk while it was still light out, got plenty of sun, and listened to my latest Headspace meditation. (Replace "attention on the rhythm and sensation of the breath" with "attention on the rhythm and sensation of walking" and nearly any meditation can become a walking meditation.)
3) I ate a good lunch: a boring but hot and filling carrot cashew ginger soup from a box, bolstered with shredded leftover cumin lemon chicken.
4) I finished reading Robin McKinley's The Outlaws of Sherwood
. I quite enjoyed it, though it's not very useful for the novel; there is some cross-dressing and romance, but not in a way that's related to the tropes I'm working with.
5) I took a bath, intending to read more, but instead J came in and hung out and chatted with me, which was lovely.
6) I snuggled and smooched X and J before their date.
7) I went out to dinner on my own, since I had a pasta craving.
8) I came home and finished reading the book I'd been reading over dinner, Jo Beverley's My Lady Notorious
. The hero AND the heroine crossdress, and he's prettier than she is! While in disguise as a whore, the heroine is open-mouth kissed by a) the hero's brother and b) her own
brother! There's an extremely authentic Georgian nobility orgy! There's even more authentic misogynistic violence! There's a fun new entry for my "teh gay" files! (Even after Chastity is back in women's clothes--which she has greatly missed and really prefers--Cynric affectionately calls her "Charles" as a sort of pet name. I think he even says "Lady Charles" at one point. Which is particularly odd given that after they marry she's properly addressed as Lady Cynric.) The ending is a complete rip-off of Georgette Heyer! It is a really weird book. But at least the violence is never titillating and the women display a believable range of reactions to being raised in a culture predicated on male abuse of women and casual violence in general (there are frequent references to corporal punishment of schoolboys, for example).
Modern writers tend to gloss over the nasty parts of historical eras so as to write cheerful books with happy endings. I admire Beverley's commitment to making it really clear just how shitty things frequently were for women in the Georgian era, and not flinching away from making even the "good guys" manipulative at best and brutal at worst. No ahistorical feminist men here. Unfortunately that means the happy ending has to come from the hero and his family repeatedly exercising their considerable privilege and wealth and physical prowess, but that usually happens in historicals anyway, just not so overtly. The book really could be read as a very sharp critique of all the fluffy historicals out there. There must have been quite a stir when it came out.
9) Did another round of WaniKani. I'm at a fairly intense part of this level, with about 120 quiz items a day.
Now it's midnight, so I'm going to play a bit of Picma
(WARNING: TIMESINK) and then try to actually go to bed around 2 for a change. Last night I went to bed at 6. *wince* But ideally a good day of doing exactly what I wanted will have helped me shake the feeling of "can't sleep, too much that still needs doing". Everything that needs to be done can be done tomorrow. Today, I chill.
This was a very nice start to the year. More days like this, please.
I haven't mentioned kanji study here in a while, but I'm steadily continuing with it, doing my best to take quizzes at least once and ideally twice a day. I'm most of the way through WaniKani level 12 of 50, going up one level every two weeks or so. I recently went to look at the "easy" version of an online Japanese newspaper
and could read... almost none of it. :( But I persevere. WaniKani continues to be basically a fun game that happens to be teaching me how to read Japanese.
Tonight J and I went out for dinner in Chinatown with sarahfrantz
, and I was astonished to realize that I could mostly read a lot of the restaurant names and other signs! Conveniently, many of them had English translations, so I could doublecheck myself and fill in blanks. For example, the Chase Bank sign says 大通銀行. " 'Big, through*, something to do with money**, go.' And I see East West Bank across the street (華美銀行) also ends with the money-related symbol and 'go', so now I know that combination means 'bank', though those first two symbols don't look like 'east' and 'west' to me***..."* I looked up 大通 in Japanese; colloquially it's "main street". There doesn't appear to be an equivalent phrase translation in Chinese, though. For 大通銀行, I'm guessing 通 is used in its sense of "connect" and "communicate" rather than "way through" or "avenue". Extensive Connection Bank. Sure, why not.
** 銀 turned out to be "silver". I'll officially learn it in level 13. I am very pleased that I recognized the radicals for "money" and "good" despite not knowing the word itself. :)
*** 華美 means "magnificent" or "ornate" in Chinese. (I should have recognized the individual characters, "flower" and "beauty", both of which I learned a while back, but unfamiliar fonts still confuse me.) So East West Bank is Magnificent Bank! Hilariously, in Japanese 華美 is "gaudy", which tells you something about what the Japanese think of Chinese decor.
At the restaurant J and Sarah practically had to make me stop trying to read the menu so the waiter could take my order. "魚 means 'fish'!" "Yes, we know, it says 'fish' right there in English and also there is a picture of a fish. WHAT DO YOU WANT TO EAT."
I was confused a while back to encounter the phrase "public corporation" (公社) in WaniKani, at a fairly low level. Why would beginning readers need to specifically learn that term? It's almost never used in everyday English and I couldn't imagine what use it would have in Japanese. But legal business descriptors are all over those Chinatown signs in English--wandering around Baxter Street on Google Maps street view, I spotted Han May Meat Co., Manhattan Florist Inc., and New Beef King Corp. all within a couple of blocks--and I see 公 on a lot of them followed by 司. I don't recognize the second symbol, but some Googling confirms my guess that it means "company". So apparently it is just a cultural thing to have that word on one's business sign, and that means it's a useful thing for a person walking down the street to be able to read.The wonderful tearjerker Bell's whisky ad about adult literacy
condenses the journey from zero comprehension to self-sufficiency into two minutes. I feel like I just made the jump from 0:29 ("K-A-T") to 0:38 ("Ca-la-ma-ri!"). I think about that ad a lot when I'm struggling with kanji. It gives me hope.
I have a very, very vague early childhood memory of seeing a sign (one of those vertical signs that says "RESTAURANT" or "PHARMACY" in big neon letters) and knowing it had a word on it, but not being able to read that word. Whenever I recall that memory, I carefully do not look at the sign, because if I read it now then I'll lose the relived feeling of mystification, of knowing that comprehension lies just beyond my grasp. What I felt tonight was the counterpart, the demystification, the moment when I became able to absorb the meaning that was encoded there the whole time. It's an extraordinary feeling. I don't begin to have good metaphors for it--it's not like anything else I've ever experienced. Suddenly meaning was just there
. Occluded, fragmented, but there.
If you have spare money, your local library's adult literacy program is a good place to send it.
Today in research rabbit holes:
1) I settle down to read the extravagant memoir of the actor Charlotte Charke/Charles Brown
, who played many men's roles, mostly lived as a man, and married two men and a woman in succession. She uses female pronouns for herself in the memoir, so I will do the same, but it seems likely that she was "he" in daily life. The memoir very deliberately portrays Charke as an ultra-masculine person, emphasizing an early predilection for menswear and a lifelong fondness for guns, horses, fistfights, and business ownership, while omitting all but the faintest traces of characteristics that might be seen as feminine or effeminate. It's hard to know how accurately this maps to Charke's actual everyday life and inner identity, so I defer to the text for lack of a better option.
2) Charke describes being dressed "en cavalier" as code for "in men's clothes" (with, apparently, an extremely fabulous hat). I look up the phrase to see whether it was in common use.
3) In the process I find two essays
about Charke and start to read those.
4) One makes reference to her playing the part of Sir Fopling Flutter--made famous by her father, Colley Cibber, who was a well-known actor and theater manager--in a play of the same name. Of course I have to look this up. Unfortunately all the digital versions appear to be thoroughly firewalled; NYPL gives me access to a lot of downloadable epubs through Gale's 18th century collection, but this one can only be accessed from an NYPL research library
. That is absurd.
5) The other essay makes reference to Charke playing the part of Fopling Fribble, a satire
of her father, in The Battle of the Poets
, written by an unknown author and inserted into Henry Fielding's famous Tom Thumb
. Fielding and Cibber were fierce rivals, and when Charke went to work for Fielding's company, Cibber disowned her.
6) I look up Fopling Fribble and end up reading Cibber's Wikipedia page. It includes this magnificent engraving of him playing Lord Foppington, yet a third character, in a play called The Relapse, or, Virtue in Danger
that was a sequel to Cibber's own play Love's Last Shift, or, Virtue Rewarded
Not pictured: the two footmen needed to hold up the ends of his glorious wig.
Cibber reprised the character (originally named Sir Novelty Fashion!) in The Relapse
to great acclaim. He was renowned for portraying ridiculous foppish characters, perhaps because they somewhat resembled him.
7) I follow that to the impressively thorough Wikipedia entry on The Relapse
, which gives a fascinating account of conflicts among London's few licensed theater groups
and their relation to the religious and secular politics of the day. Cibber was a vehement Whig and anti-Catholic, and was named poet laureate in 1730 despite his indifferent poetic skills. This was seen as a slap against Tories like Alexander Pope. Pope promptly made Cibber the lead dunce in Dunciad
. Never offend a bard, etc.
8) Somewhere in there I bookmark Charke's novel The History of Henry Dumont, Esq; and Miss Charlotte Evelyn
, which includes a gay male transvestite character.
9) I realize it's 4:30 a.m.
But the time was hardly wasted. Charke's memoir may not get very deeply into her head, but it's an invaluable demonstration of ways that transmasculinity could be spun and presented to the critical but leering public. The battles among the patent theatres reminds me how much narrative and dramatic potential there is in relatively small-scale conflicts, which is crucial to keep in mind as I structure my own story. Memoirs and biographies generally emphasize the importance of family and community to a person's life, and are having me rethink my original plan to have Nathaniel estranged from his family. I'm learning what the politics of the time looked like to everyday individuals, rather than from large-scale overviews written from the vantage point of the present day. The essays offer a bit of useful analysis, and more importantly, both text and endnotes provide pointers to works and concepts that Nathaniel and his contemporaries might have encountered and drawn on to form their understandings of gender, sexuality, and identity. I'm also immersing myself in the language of the period as much as I can, to get a sense of the rhythm and find useful phrases to slip into dialogue. (Today I learned "take French leave" and, of course, "en cavalier".)
I'm mostly managing to notice when I reach points of diminished utility. I could have kept reading about the theatre world of early 18th-century London, for example, but it's unlikely to be very relevant to the book project. So eventually I emerge from the rabbit hole. :) Also I do occasionally need to sleep.
I decided to livetweet a couple of chapters of In the Company of Men: Cross-dressed Women Around 1800
with the hashtag #cdw1800. Judging by the number of faves, apparently it was entertaining. :) The Storify is here
if anyone's curious.
I'm rather astonished that I spent two and a half hours on those two chapters. It would have been much faster to just read it! But livetweeting is more fun. :) And it helps me organize my thoughts and take notes, which is very useful.
I am taking a moment to be so appreciative of how much easier it is for me to do this kind of research in the age of the internet. I request interlibrary loans online. I just Googled up someone who translated an obscure German poem for her master's thesis and emailed her to ask whether I could buy a copy from her. My phone is full of romance novels downloaded from the library. I can watch relevant movies online. I just downloaded a 1799 novel from Gutenberg. The only thing slowing my research is how quickly I can read and how much time I have for reading. That's amazing.
1. What did you do in 2014 that you'd never done before?
Marked my 12th anniversary with Josh and my 10th with X. Watched my spouses fall in love. Moved to a gorgeous apartment that the three of us intend to stay in and build a family in for a very long time. Grieved deeply over the death of a pet. Passed 7 years at a company and 12 in an industry. Closed my freelance business. Had a salaried job where I primarily worked from home. Saw my name on the cover of a book. Hosted a family holiday dinner. Supported a partner in actively trying to get pregnant. Got rid of most of my female-coded clothing, and wore male-coded shorts all summer. Started seriously studying kanji with WaniKani. Committed to writing a romance novel, or at least making a good-faith effort to do so, and began to do research for it. Used interlibrary loan for non-academic purposes. Suffered from near-constant, debilitating vertigo for months. Had goop injected into my ear. Participated in a double-blind medical trial. Developed patellofemoral pain syndrome. Took up lifting free weights. Wore male-coded workout gear. Created a Twitter bot. Tweeted something that was RT'd over 1500 times. Bought a tablet. Bought a television. Set up regular Skype dates with friends. Realized I have OCD in the non-colloquial sense, and sought treatment. Hired a lawyer to assist us in making out our wills and other important paperwork. Took up meditation with Headspace and more or less kept it up, though it's not anything like a daily practice. Had a cat who slept in my room every night. Invented a knitting technique. Other things I'm forgetting.( End-of-year memeage )39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014:
First-line treatment for depression, especially seasonal depression: more sun, more fresh air, more moving around. When working from home, I need to take a walk every day before 2:30 p.m., no matter what the weather is. If it's truly awful out, go to the gym and walk on the treadmill. In the winter, do that and
lightbox for at least half an hour, and
work in one of the south-facing rooms.40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
Welcome to the moment.
This is it. This is all you get.
So just receive the info and then flow
But be prepared to hear "no".
Mr. Jones, you look tired.
I believe you'll be all right.
--Talking Heads, "Mr. Jones"
Research for An Unlikely Hero
(I really must find a better title) continues apace. Interlibrary loan is my BEST friend. I am super excited by all the books I get to read! And also I have deadlines by which time I am absolutely required to return them! This encourages me to actually read them, especially since some librarians went to a fair amount of trouble to get them into my hands.
Current read: Elisabeth Krimmer's In the Company of Men: Cross-dressed Women Around 1800
. This focuses on the literature and history of Germany, which isn't all that useful for my purposes, but there are plenty of useful asides about France and England, and it cites lots of primary sources that I'm looking forward to investigating. I skipped the introduction, which was too lugubriously academic for my tastes, and am skimming more than reading, taking lots and lots and lots of notes. For example, she lists well-known cross-dressing female soldiers of the French Revolution; it's possible that my character (who spends a few years in Paris before returning to London for the events of the book) met one of them and had some enlightening conversations, or even just heard of them and was intrigued.
After that: I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister, 1791–1840
. I don't want to rely too much on Lister's diaries when constructing my character's life, since there are significant class and identity differences, but they offer a stunning about of information on transmasculinity (for lack of a more period-appropriate word) and lesbianism in the landowning classes of Georgian and Regency England. The dates in the title are Lister's birth and death dates; this volume covers her diaries from 1817–1824. I have the second volume on order, along with a selection of Lister's letters, and will be watching both The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister
and the BBC documentary about her. Yay for visual aids.
And then: Caroline Gonda and John C. Beynon's Lesbian Dames: Sapphism in the Long Eighteenth Century
. This is a collection of articles by various writers, and the range is broad. I don't know yet how much use it will be, because my character is a gay trans man, not a lesbian. But there's a lot of overlap between lesbianism and transmasculinity, and my present concept of the plot revolves around lesbian communities in various classes, so it is useful to have some sense of the culture there.
I am particularly delighted by a note in Beynon's biography saying that he's working on a project that "examines masculinity, desire, and the culture of tea drinking in 18th-century Britain"! His online CV says it's still in progress, but he's got some other works listed there that sound interesting, so I've written to ask him whether he can share any of the in-progress bits and perhaps provide other pointers. After some thought, I explained my interest as "I'm writing a novel" rather than "I'm writing a romance novel". I dislike dissembling, but it's amazing how much more seriously the former phrasing is generally taken.
In addition to the nonfiction, I've been plowing through romance novels with elements of crossdressing, and will probably be watching some films and TV as well (avoiding the many, many films in which a crossdressed woman comes to a sad end--so grateful for Wikipedia's spoilery plot summaries!). I'm keeping my notes and to-read/to-watch lists here
. As you can see by the notes, I'm mostly looking for tropes to invert.
Anytime you want to see how far feminism has come, read a romance novel written in the 1980s. I did barely manage to finish Playing the Jack
(discussed previously) but could not get through Shield of Three Lions
. The heroine is 11 when the book opens and her eventual love interest is introduced as a nasty, conniving fellow who makes her swear a blood oath to be "brothers" and give him half her land--at which point he decides that as the older "brother" he has claim to the whole thing. SHE IS 11 DID I MENTION. And he's 21. I assume she's at least in her teens by the end of the book but I didn't get nearly that far; I have no sympathy for characters who treat desperate, sheltered children in such a fashion, no matter how historically accurate it's supposed to be. When I returned the book to the library--tossing it rather vehemently through the return slot--I picked up Shannon Drake's The Pirate Bride
(2008), which was shallow and ridiculous but not nausea-inducing; in other words, a considerable improvement.
My plan is to stick with the nonfiction as much as possible; I have three novels out from BPL, all due early January and all quite hefty, but they can be renewed, and the nonfiction can't unless I make some sort of special appeal to the ILL staff. Whenever I need a brain-break I'll read something fluffy or watch a movie.
I'm getting a good sense of what I need to research before I start writing. On the history front, a few errors in the sociocultural aspects could undermine the entire plot, and I want to make sure I'm on firm ground there before I start building lives. On the romance tropes front, I am getting some delightful
ideas for ways to mess with readerly expectations, and that's helping a lot with my general difficulty around plot structure. But at some point the research has to give way to the actual writing, no matter how much fun the research is. Ideally, if I set the story up correctly, the writing will be differently fun. :) And I will very firmly employ Joanna Bourne's bracket method for any historical factual stuff that I can look up during revisions, so I don't get distracted. (Example: "He hastily tugged on his [trousers? breeches?], cursing the [buttons? buckles? ties?].")
I had hoped to start writing in January but at this point it's pretty clear that January will also be a research month. We'll see how I'm doing in February, both research-wise and mood-wise. So far my excitement about this project is overcoming my SAD-induced inertia, but February's always really bad on that front and I don't want to hamstring myself by trying something new and difficult and self-judgment-invoking when my brain is swimming in misery chemicals. March for sure, though. March for sure.
Good news x2!
1) Slate included Long Hidden
on a list of SF books "that can change our future"! Especially nice to have that sort of thing come up during gift-buying season. Also Lee Harris (former editor at Angry Robot, now senior editor for the Tor.com novella imprint) called Long Hidden the best anthology of the year
. So that's pretty excellent. :D
2) I'm closing down my freelance editing practice! Yes, this is good news--the last couple of projects were really hard to get through, and it was clearly time to move on to something else. Part of the "something else" will be making a real attempt to write a book; another part will be something I can't talk about yet but am very excited about. :) If you were hoping to retain my services at some point, my website has a list of editors I trust and respect
, along with other resources for indie authors. It's been a great run and I'm looking forward to what comes next.
The news from the wider world continues to be shitty, so I'm glad for any bright moments that I can cling to.
Content note: this post contains quoted material that describes and excuses partner abuse.
The problem with reading romance novels for research, especially older ones, is that some of them depict and excuse really astonishing abusive behavior in their ostensible heroes. The following quote is from Mary Brown's Playing the Jack
(1984), after anti-hero Jack has bribed Zoe's ostensible fiancé, John, to leave her alone, and explained to Zoe (using affectionate terms like "you gullible little idiot" and "my stupid little dear") that John really just wanted to get in her pants and never planned to marry her at all.
( Seriously, brace yourself )
Emphasis mine, indicating the points at which my jaw dropped. Ellipses are in the original. Brown is very fond of her ellipses.
That half-paragraph is a really impressive example of Campbell's Condensed Cream of Misogyny Soup, with a bonus! dose of "the man who gives me tingly pantsfeelings is the man I'm destined to love and share my life with, regardless of his incredibly shitty behavior" (one of my least favorite romance tropes of all time).
If I weren't reading this for research I would return it to the library tomorrow and then go wash my hands a lot.
The quote is from pp. 270–1. I've read along to 297 and it hasn't gotten any better. (Zoe and Jack talk each other into having sex, and then are incredibly awkward: her yearning and him avoiding and then her saying it was no big deal just as he's about to say that it meant a lot to him and then more awkwardness and UGH.) The book is nearly 600 pages long. I am dreading the second half, which promises to be a whole lot more of the same.
The book was so much better when Zoe was Sprat and everyone--including the author--treated her like a boy. As soon as her gender is revealed, she becomes all emotional and irrational and prone to tears and otherwise a ridiculous caricature of bone-brained womanhood. She's also completely ignorant about human relationships in a way that I find really difficult to believe in given that she's spent a year cooped up in a wagon with a small group of traveling performers. Jack may have been appallingly rude to her, but I can't disagree with his assessment of her gullibility and foolishness--which of course enable her acceptance of Jack even though he repeatedly assaults her and is otherwise a dick. Later on, Brown has her experience a revelation about Jack's (once again despicable) actions as a literal voice whispering in her head, because it's so implausible that Zoe would figure out any such thing in her conscious mind. And yet she's such a good judge of character that she can make money as a fortuneteller? Puhleez.
I will keep going for a bit, but if it doesn't get better, I think I will have to set it aside and move on to something else.
My current crossdressing historical romance research reading list (not all romances and not all historical, but all recommended by romance readers):( long list is long )
Strikethrough = I've read it.
Books with asterisks are not available from NYPL or BPL, so I probably won't get around to reading them, but I include them in case a) someone else wants to read their way through every single crossdressing romance novel ever or b) I decide that the 40 books I can get from the library are somehow not sufficient. That said, if you see something on that list that you think I really MUST read in order to get a complete overview of the subgenre, let me know and I'll hunt down a copy.
Any recommendations for a good production of Twelfth Night
that I can get through Netflix? I've never read it or seen it performed, so I'd like to start with the best.
It's a good thing I read quickly and romance novels are usually quick reads, since I had originally planned to do most of my research in December and start writing in January. I might have to extend that a bit. Playing the Jack
is pretty great (though as soon as the romantic element showed up it became instantly tiresome) and also pretty dense; I'm not yet halfway through it and suspect I'll need another couple of days to finish it.