Thursday, January 31, 2013

Jerk pastors, wing shortages & homophobes, oh my!

I don't know about you, but I've had a draining week. I don't want to discuss anything of importance or think; I just want to make it through the day and then go to bed early. Thus, my reading today hasn't been very high-end.

First, did you see this article about the jerk pastor who was so incensed by a restaurant's policy to add an 18% tip to large parties that he scratched out the tip, left nothing, and wrote in the following:

He's filled with the love of Christ.
If you can't see it, he wrote in: "I give God 10%, why do you get 18". Then he scratched out any tip and left the server nothing. Really. It seems to me that it's a bad idea to invoke God as your excuse for being an ass. It's just doesn't help in winning converts.

Then there were articles about the "Super Bowl Chicken Wing Apocalypse." Apparently two men stole 26,000 pounds of chicken wings and the National Chicken Council reported a 1% drop in chicken production. Oh lawd, it's the perfect storm! Super Bowl wing prices will spike which will lead to unhappy sports fans which will lead to...the end of the world?

Crap. I'll never get out of them.

Calm down and put down the paper bag you're breathing into. Apparently the news was blown out of proportion and there will be enough wings for everyone. I'm still confused about one thing, though. How the heck do you steal 26,000 pounds of wings?

Oh, that explains it.

In more upsetting (although not unpredictable) news, San Francisco 49ers back-up cornerback Chris Culliver came out of the closet as a homophobe yesterday, stating that openly gay NFL players are not welcome. Here are his full remarks:
"I don't do the guys.  I don't do that.  We don't have any gays on the team.  They gotta get up outta here if they do.  Can't be with that sweet stuff."
In an angle uncovered by traditional media outlets, is it just me, or does that quote seem to suggest that Culliver is a closeted homosexual? I mean, there's no way to prove it, but who says "I don't do the guys" and that he "can't be with that sweet stuff"? That sounds like someone who'd really like to get with that sweet stuff but is forced to live a life of shame because of the bigotry that infests professional sports. Just a thought.

He got into football just so he could openly wear pink in October.
Well, if that story brought you down, I'll leave you with something fun: cats posed to recreate classic album covers. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

But if there are girls in our unit we'll have to spend all our time and energy *not* raping them...

When I first heard that SecDef Panetta signed a bill allowing women to serve in ground combat units in the U.S. military, I wasn't all that surprised.  I didn't even feel the need to post about it on Facebook, which we all know is the generally accepted litmus test for whether a piece of news is "noteworthy".  After all, women have essentially been serving in combat for the better part of ten years, given how blurry the "front lines" have become in modern war, and they've served with non-ground combat units since 1994.  In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, around 800 women have been wounded in action across all branches of the military, and 139 have been killed.

While I wasn't surprised, I was a little ambivalent.  My husband served with combat and transportation units in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we've discussed the issue even before this news was announced. He's expressed some concerns over what effects women in ground combat units might have, and, although I generally think I'm right in most cases, I tend to defer to him on all things military.  So, when the subject was broached during a get-together with friends last Saturday, everyone mostly agreed with what he had to say.

First, I should explain that my husband is known for his ability to give you his point of view in a way that sounds completely rational and well-reasoned.  You listen and find yourself totally agreeing with what he's saying until you have a chance to really think about it later.  Then you're kind of like:

This is exactly what happened when the subject of women in combat came up.  Points were made about the physical capabilities of women, particularly in regard to the ability to carry a wounded member of your unit to safety if they outweigh you by a lot.  Makes sense, right?

And then there's the issue of sexual assault.  Unfortunately, it's something that happens in the military all the time (a friend of Katherine's and mine works for the VA and deals with just these cases).  It's entirely possible that allowing women to serve in combat units may increase the number of cases the military sees each year.  Of course we don't want to blame the victim, but that doesn't mean we want to make something like that more likely to happen, right?  Sounds reasonable enough.

Except that it doesn't (Steeeeeeve!).  If a women who wants to serve in combat can pass the physical fitness requirements that others in the same unit have had to pass, then she has every right to serve in that unit regardless of what's under her uniform.  She's proved she's physically capable, and any hemming and hawing over whether she's "strong enough" is sexist bullsh*t, plain and simple.

I'm pretty sure they could all kick your ass. Or carry it to safety.

And the sexual assault thing?  If you think about it for half a second, that's probably the worst argument in a long list of bad arguments.  I'm ashamed to admit that I'm only now starting to realize we live in a society that tells women, "don't get raped," instead of telling men, "don't rape."  And sure, women should take precautions to protect themselves, but if there's a ground combat unit out there with members that just can't keep from raping women simply because they're available for raping, then those *men* don't belong in the unit.  Or in the military.  It's absolutely ridiculous to say that a woman should be kept out of positions that could potentially advance her career because the men around her might not be able to control themselves.  And, frankly, I think that attitude is just as insulting to men as it is to women. 

She's definitely "asking for it." If by "it" you mean the right to be treated equally.

I could go on for awhile about this, and will likely mention it again in blog posts yet to come, but I really don't think I could do a better job than was done on Monday's episode of the Daily Show. Thus, I leave you with the sage wisdom of Mr. Stewart.   ~C

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Women are not lesser than men, no matter what Harvard Business Review says

Recently a friend of mine posted the article "Women Need to Realize Work Isn't School" from the Harvard Business Review.  Chelle & I are both interested in women's rights (which is why we included those themes in our novel VEILED), so the article's title had me intrigued. However, from its opening paragraph, I was irate.

Feel free to read the article for yourself, but if you have high blood pressure, I recommend you let me sum it up for you:

Women make up 51.4% of middle managers, but only 4.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs.  This is all women's fault because they don't know how to navigate the business world properly. If they only followed these five steps, there would be equality right away (but silly women, they just don't seem to want to!).

The five steps are:

1. Figure out how to challenge and influence authority.
2. Prepare, but also learn to improvise.
3. Find effective forms of self-promotion.
4. Welcome a less prescribed, full of surprise, career path.
5. Go for being respected, not just liked.

Now, I proudly call myself a feminist (because I'm for equal rights of women--I hope you'd proudly consider yourself a feminist too), but you don't have to run out and buy a shirt declaring "This is what a Feminist looks like" to see that there are horrible--and absolutely damaging--assumptions built into this article.  In fact, it's these very same sexist assumptions that are the real root of why women lag way behind men in positions of power.

Let's go through just the ones that jumped out at me first.

First, the entire premise of the article is that the reason women lag behind men in positions of power is because women are in some way doing something wrong. There is absolutely no consideration that the disparity between women at the top (4.2%) versus men (95.8%) might be at least partly due to, I don't know, the actions of men.  I know people don't like to discuss it,  but there is still very real overt sexism out there--especially in the business world. I ran across it all the time when I was still a practicing attorney, and every single female attorney I've spoken to has encountered it too.

When we were both starting out as young attorneys, my husband was never: (1) asked in a job interview if he thought he would be able to "keep up with the men," (2) asked to do clearly secretarial tasks, or (3) confused with the court reporter (at a deposition, the deponent came up to me and said, "And I know who you are--you must be the court reporter!" because I was the only female in the room.  This was even though I was wearing a nice suit and the actual court reporter was in front of his keyboard. I shook the man's hand, smiled, and informed him that, in fact, I'd be the attorney deposing him.)  I could go on, but I'll spare you.

So the fact that this article doesn't even consider that a good portion of the disparity could be due to the hiring decisions made by the old men handing out promotions should, right there, tell you to disregard the article.

But wait, it gets worse.  The article goes on to basically argue that the reason women can't get ahead is because they focus too much on being competent at their jobs rather than jockeying for attention and respect from their peers.  They're not assertive or risk-taking enough.

To this I have two responses:

First, it has been proven in social psychological experiments over and over that when women act with the same amount of assertiveness as men, they are judged far more harshly for their behavior.  Without even realizing it, people will see men as acting "assertively" while women doing the precise same thing are more often described as "bitchy."  On the other hand, if women are more friendly, then they are judged as being pushovers--the precise judgment being levied against them by the Harvard Business Review.  Women *cannot* win.  However, rather than acknowledging this, the Harvard Business Review does the precise thing that perpetuates this sort of inequality: blaming the victim.

[BTW, if you'd like to read a discussion of gender differences in business from a publication that actually sites data or sources, I highly recommend the European Business Review's discussion on the topic.]

Secondly, let's assume for a moment that it's true that women aren't as assertive as men. Let's assume that there's some sort of biological imperative that causes women to focus more on doing good work rather than jockeying for attention and respect from their peers. Why is the conclusion, then, that *women* should change to gain equality? It seems to me that we might have, say, avoided that whole financial crash in 2008 if business leaders were more focused on the quality of their work rather than looking for a new angle to get ahead.  Maybe it's the patriarchal system that should change to include the values of women rather than women who should be forced to cram their interpersonal style into the mold men have made for us.

There are a lot of systematic changes that need to be made in both our business culture and our society at large to get us to a point of equality between men and women.  But do you know what would be a good first step?  No longer blaming the victim and assuming that to the extent women aren't getting ahead, it's all their fault.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Top 5 Most Influential Books of my Childhood

Every author hopes her book will have a major impact. When you’ve poured your heart and soul into your work you want it to resonate with someone--anyone--and maybe even change the way they see the world a little.  More than anything (movies, songs, historical events) books have shaped the way I view the world around me and the people in it, and I wanted to share a few titles I read as a kid that have stuck with me even into adulthood.      

5. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi—I read this in sixth grade at the urging of my reading teacher, and it’s been one of my favorites ever since.  It’s a historical fiction about a 13-year-old girl who finds herself crossing the Atlantic on a ship with a cruel and vindictive captain, and a crew bent on mutiny.  Charlotte begins the story as a na├»ve, sheltered girl who places a high value on propriety and social position, and ends up being "adopted" by the crew and playing an integral part in the aforementioned mutiny.  I found the diary format of the story really intriguing, especially since I was just about Charlotte’s age and big into journaling myself, and the ending was completely satisfying (if a bit unrealistic).  I’ve never met anyone else who’s read this book, but I definitely plan to share it with my own daughters.
Lowry took this photo herself

4. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry—This one was a Christmas gift when I was about 10 or 11 years old, and I remember it as equal parts exciting, inspiring, and heartbreaking.  Most people site Lowry’s The Giver as an influential book from their childhood, but I’ll confess I didn't read that one until just last year (I know, I know).  Number the stars, another historical fiction (I was drawn to those then as well as now), is the story of a Jewish family in Copenhagen during the Nazi occupation.  It’s beautifully written, and won the Newbery Medal in 1990 as “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”  I agree wholeheartedly.

3. The Terrorist by Caroline B. Cooney—This one was a title I found at the local library when I was about 14. It’s one of those books that I can’t say I remember fondly, exactly, but I definitely remember it.  It’s about an American ex-pat in London whose brother is killed in the London Underground when he’s handed a strange package that turns out to be a bomb.  It’s actually been challenged pretty frequently for it’s portrayal of Muslims, but it piqued an interest in world politics and the Middle East that I still have to this day. While I can’t say that Cooney handled the Iranian and Palestinian cultures represented in the book very delicately, I can tell you that the book hinted at the kind of oppression Muslim women face, even when living abroad, and I think that’s what really resonated with me.  
Mine no longer has a cover...

2. Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger—This was recommended by a friend when I was about 16.  He gave me his (very battered and dog-eared) copy, that I still have somewhere.  It’s a miracle it hasn’t fallen apart yet, to be honest.  This, along with To Kill A Mockingbird (which I read later, so it couldn't be on this list), is truly my favorite book in the world.  I know almost every story by heart, but none are as dear to me as “A Perfect Day for Banana Fish,” which served as inspiration for the first short story I ever had accepted for publication.  Really, Nine Stories was the reason I decided to start writing at all. 

1. The Handmaid’s Tale & Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood—I combined these into one because they’re both by Margaret Atwood and because I couldn’t imagine leaving either one off the list.  Atwood is an incredible storyteller, a dynamic writer, and just pretty damn cool.  The Handmaid’s Tale was my first experience with Atwood when I came across it on a ninth grade Honors English reading list.  Despite my teacher discouraging the choice (or maybe because of it?), I decided to read it and, boy, am I glad I did.  I’ve yet to find a book that has had quite the same impact on me as The Handmaid’s Tale, except for maybe Alias Grace.

When people think of Margaret Atwood, THT is probably what comes to mind, but Alias Grace was recommended to me by a very hip World Cultures teacher the same year, and will always be my favorite in Atwood's oeuvre.  It’s the first book that ever kept me reading all through the night, and I’m pretty sure my face looked like this the whole time: 

except, you know, less furry...
To this day, more than a dozen years later, I still haven't decided if I think Grace committed the crime for which she was in prison.  My opinion changes each time I read it.

If you haven’t read either of these, I suggest you get yourself to a library or bookstore post haste, because you’re seriously missing out.         

Honorable Mentions: There are (quite) a few titles I had to leave off the list for the sake of not making this an epic-length post that no one wants to read.  That being said, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Alexander Solzhenitsyn) and Notes From the Underground (Fyodor Dostoevsky), both of which taught me that sometimes life is irrational, uncooperative and uncontrollable, but you just have to keep living it anyway.

What books (or authors) have had the biggest impact on your life, whether you discovered them as a child or as an adult? 

Having trouble remembering a title?  Check out this handy website that can help you find “half-remembered” books from your childhood:     


Thursday, January 17, 2013

In which I scientifically prove Facebook makes us all jerks

Hear ye!  Hear ye!  I've invented a new scientific law.

So it's not the best graphic you've ever seen?  Get over it.
I'm a science genius, not a graphics genius.

Ernst's Law of Facebook:  for every positive comment to any Facebook post, there are at least five times as many negative comments (excluding posts about babies, engagements, and other cutesy things).  

Even if you think that's a slight exaggeration, it does seem like people are significantly more negative on Facebook than they would be in real life.

Negative Nelly in all her glory.

I think part of the problem is that if someone posts something you agree with and you want to show it, what do you do?  You click "like."  But if someone posts something you don't agree with, there'e no corresponding button.  Instead, people feel the need to tell you in long form why everything you said was wrong.

Let's take an example from my Facebook post about a blog I had written a few weeks ago.  Out of 9 comments to the post (not written by me), 6 could be considered critical, 1 was positive, and 2 were neutral.

When you look at the number of words in the critical versus positive comments, however, the data are even more startling.  [Note: scientists treat the word data as a plural.] There were 11 words in the positive post, 26 words in the neutral posts, and and whopping 492 words in the critical posts.  To be fair, some of the words I just counted were responses back to my replies to their initial critical post, but even if I restrict the number to only the initial critical comments it still comes out to 353 words.  That's a full 32x more critical words than positive words.

It's scientific.  I've made a graph.

Now first of all, let me say that I'm not suggesting people should stop criticizing me on Facebook.  In fact, please do, because the blog got twice as many hits that day, and I think it was mostly due to the debate about it in the comments.  Thinking about this phenomenon, however, is what prompted my New Year's resolution to be less argumentative on Facebook.  (It goes along with the 'Be less of a jerk' resolution).  As much as I'm absolutely obsessed with Facebook and love how it's drawn me closer to so many people, sometimes after reading my newsfeed, the negativity actually gets me down which then makes me feel even worse for getting upset by something as stupid as Facebook, which then only sends me into a massive shame spiral.

This cat fights a constant battle to stay out of his own shame spiral.
To combat this, I've decided to (1) argue with people significantly less and always only in a friendly, productive manner, (2) not post anything on Facebook when my only motivation would be to persuade (it doesn't work anyway), and (3) say more positive things to people. I've been a "like" whore for a long time, but I'm actually trying to comment with positive responses.

So what do you think about this?  Did you like me better on Facebook when I used to post more politically-minded or otherwise argumentative posts?  Or do you like me better now?  Personally, I can say that I've been enjoying my time on Facebook significantly more since I've stopped being argumentative, although sometimes it's hard to keep myself from posting status updates responding to the nonsense I've seen recently in the gun-control debate.

Let's just say that if your arguments include tenuous comparisons between the President
and the Nazis, then you clearly have some more thinking to do.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I Can See You're Busy, But Who Would Win in a Zombie vs. Pirate Fight?

"I want a bike, and a monkey, and a friend for the monkey..."

Kids are dumb.

I don't say that to be mean, it's just true.  If you put a young child in a room with everything she needs to survive (canned food, a can opener, a bottle of water, etc) then closed the door for a few days, you'd come back to a dirty, hungry, dehydrated little mess.

As a parent, you have to teach them almost everything (save for breathing, and maybe chewing and swallowing).  Even something as simple and automatic as moving your feet out of the way when someone is vacuuming is beyond a young child.  Even the cat can figure that one out without being told seven million times!

As a reasonable adult there are just certain things that you expect people to know.  Don't put macaroni noodles up your nose.  Don't push your little sister out of a seat simply because you want to sit there.  Yes, you do have to bathe at least once a week.  No, you definitely can't try the dog food even if Koda really seems to be enjoying it.

And then there's the fear.  The fear that every, single parenting decision you make is somehow wrong and paving the road to future therapy sessions in which your offspring rail against you and how you've ruined any chance they have at happiness in their career/relationships/life.  Even writing about it now makes my stomach churn a little.  Are we too strict, or too permissive?  Do we feed them well (lord knows what constitutes a nutritious diet these days), or are they poster children for malnutrition?  Do we pay too little attention to their education, or do we get so involved that they aren't even making their own model solar systems anymore (for what it's worth, my Saturn is pretty lifelike)? 

But, sometimes the thing I fear most is making time for myself.  Am I a bad mother because I leave them with their dad while I go to the gym for an hour when I could be at home reading a book or coloring a picture?  Am I neglectful because I ask them to hold on to their questions about who would win in a zombie vs. pirate battle royale until after I finish the chapter I’m working on?

Ugh, no organic, eco-friendly, locally sourced toys?  I bet these aren't even BPA free...
To add to the fun, while I’m stressing about all that, I also have to worry about the people—parents and non-parents alike—who are probably judging my every action (or nonaction), and thinking about how they’d “do it better” in my situation.  Because, let me tell you, everyone has an opinion.  I've been warned against being too distant lest I create an attention-starved adult who craves the love and approval of everyone (and will make bad choices in order to get that attention).  I've been advised to avoid being a "helicopter parent" who fosters a sense of intense dependency and ends up with adult children who have no ability to care for themselves.  Truth is, though, there's no right answer.  I’m going to screw my kids up in one way or another, at least a little, so I might as well stop worrying about it.  That's not to say I plan to stop trying to be the best parent I can be, but rather that I’ll stop trying to be a perfect parent.  It’s not going to happen, so why not relax, enjoy my kids, and hope they're still speaking to me when the smoke finally clears?

Also, once in awhile I’m going to read a book without pictures....if my kids will let me. 


Thursday, January 10, 2013

I'm not crazy, I'm diagnosable

The last thing I feel like doing today is writing a blog post because I feel like this...
At least today I have the energy to dramatically flop down on the bed.
...and I have a million things to do.  (Editing, tutoring, cleaning [ha!])

See, I've had weird symptoms on and off since college.  I'll go for a couple of years where I'm fine, but then I'll have months where I feel like crap most days, with some days that I can barely get out of bed, among other symptoms I won't bore you with.  It's honestly terrible, but do you know what's worse than feeling like crap for up to six months at a time?

I can't decide whether this picture is cute or not.
Feeling like crap and then being treated by other people like you're making up your symptoms.  Being treated like you're lazy and you just don't feel like getting out of bed.  Even worse than that?  Being told by doctors that your symptoms are all in your head or that you're depressed.  I can definitively say that to the extent I'm depressed, it's only because it blows to not be able to do anything fun.

I'm not depressed.  That's just the way my face looks.
I eventually gave up on going to doctors since they never seemed to find the cause of my symptoms and I don't enjoy paying someone to belittle me.

Seriously.  I've been officially pronounced sane.
A few months ago, however, my husband urged to me to see a doctor one more time since my symptoms were flaring up again.  (He's never once doubted that my condition is real since when I'm at my worst, I don't even have enough energy to speak, and if you've ever met me, you'd realize that I could *never* *ever* fake that.)

So I saw a new doctor.  She actually listened to my complaints, took me seriously, and ordered a whole bunch of tests (some I've had before and some not).
In fact, I'm wearing a heart monitor right now and sort of look like a Borg because she wanted to actually see what my heart's doing rather than pronouncing me crazy before she tests her hypothesis!

I am Katie of Borg.
This new (awesome) doctor called me two night ago and informed me that the blood results are in and they seem to suggest I have lupus!  Why the exclamation point do you ask when lupus obviously sucks balls?

Worry not, I've never had any sores in my mouth or nose.
The thing is, I've had these symptoms since college.  Having a name for them doesn't suddenly make me sicker.  The only thing worse than having lupus is having lupus but not having a name for it so everyone thinks you're some lazy ne'er-do-well who doesn't want to work a full-time job.  And really, it's not just other people's judgments.  It's my own.  After being told by doctors for so many years that it's probably all in my head, it's hard to not start to internalize that sentiment.  Now at least I don't have to feel guilty for feeling sick on top of actually, you know, being sick.

I can't stop watching this.
Oh, God, I am crazy.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

I Swear, My Dog Ate My Blog Post...

I had this great blog post planned all about using your dominant sense to strengthen your writing.  It had everything—a quiz, interesting descriptions of what it means to have a dominant sense of taste or smell, or whatever, pictures, Anderson Cooper (yes) and even a Nietzsche quote or two.  That post, however, has sadly taken a back seat to the myriad other things life keeps throwing at me including (but  in no way limited to) a four-year-old with a sudden case of separation anxiety, a new gym membership and a somewhat nebulous New Years resolution to “get into shape,” and (drum roll please) our first ever round of line-edits.  And to think, those were something I was actually excited about just a week ago. 

To be fair, I’m still a little bit excited.  After all, receiving your first line edits from your agent does seem like something of a milestone, but when it feels like you’ve already agonized over every word choice at least three times, it’s sort of painful to have someone point out to you all the places you got it wrong (and boy did we get it wrong in some places).  We started going through all the notes yesterday afternoon and, after nearly two hours, were only half-way through chapter two.  Lest you think our dear agent hated every word on every page, let me just say that honestly the edits themselves aren’t so bad or so numerous.  That being said, we really want to get this right, and that means thinking very carefully about every (well, almost every) word.  Again.  This evening Katherine informed me that, by her calculations, if we continue at this same pace it could take almost four full weeks to get through the entire manuscript.  Hopefully we can cut that down a bit as we get back into the groove, but until then I should warn you that my blog posts, at least, may be a bit lacking.  Kate's will still be awesome because she's unstoppable and not nearly as whiny as me. 

On the other hand (and because I don’t want you to think it’s ok to skip the next four weeks of blog posts), I might surprise you.  I mean, Anderson Cooper could happen at any time.



Thursday, January 3, 2013

If you say it's about your health, you're lying

With this being the first week of the New Year, we're all still clinging desperately to the idea that we'll keep our New Year's resolutions.

(I'm the crying kid)

I don't usually make resolutions, but this year I seem to be overflowing with them (which is actually a bad strategy since we only have a limited amount of willpower to allot each day, but I'm throwing caution to the wind).  In 2013 I'd like to: (1) quit smoking completely [I've majorly cut down since my college days, only smoking sporadically, but I'd like to cut it out completely, sigh], (2) read a lot more [I've already read 2 1/2 books this year, thank you very much], and (3) lose weight [Chelle & I are looking into joining a gym and I limited myself to 3 starbursts after lunch today].

Let's take a look at this last one.  Over the past year I've gained about 12 or so pounds.  I had been comfortably in the "normal weight" category, but now my BMI has entered the lower echelon of "overweight."  Here are some pictures for you to compare:

My husband & I in front of the Great Rift Valley

Chelle & I and some of the fam this Christmas

Now sure, I've put on weight, but really BMI scale?  "Overweight"? That's a bit harsh.

In any event, studies have shown and keep showing that being in the "overweight" category or even the lower level "obese" category is actually healthier than the "normal weight" category (healthy being defined as you're less likely to die--a sensible measure).  Thus, if I wanted to be at my healthiest, I should stay at this weight but start exercising more since exercise is good for you notwithstanding your weight.

However, I can't imagine going to the gym 3+ times a week and not wanting to lose some weight.  I know a lot of people who've started exercising and eating better over the last couple of years and they all say they're doing it for their health, but let's be honest: we lose weight because we think it makes us look better.   Before all these studies started coming out (and the last one was a meta-analysis involving nearly three million subjects from more than a dozen countries, so we're not talking about preliminary data here) I had no way of proving it, but I don't see any of my "health-conscious" friends running out to put on a few more pounds now that studies show it's healthier.  

So I'm torn.  Should I go out and buy some larger jeans and embrace the new me (which is what the feminist inside me tells me I should do) or should I just accept that in our culture thin is beautiful, even if it does make me slightly more likely to die?

When Chelle & I were plotting our sci-fi/steampunk novel VEILED, I insisted on making "husky" the feminine ideal in that world (luckily Chelle was down).  For years I've been complaining that in every fantasy or science fiction book I read, thin is beautiful.  It holds true even in worlds where the people are starving and therefore fat should be a desired trait.  Is it that writers think readers can suspend disbelief enough to buy the presence of magic or aliens, but not enough to believe that another culture might find buxom babes hotter than bean poles?

A hot lady in Eskifalia (the world in VEILED) 

So, considering all of this, does it make me a hypocrite to want to lose weight myself?  Probably.  But it also means that I'm a human woman living in America and I know that when I'm thinner people smile at me more and bartenders bring me drinks faster.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

It’s Not You it’s Me…But Also Maybe a Little Bit You.

Back in 2001 a Canadian Newspaper, the National Post, published an article on “the stress of being a reader.”  I’d like to link to it here, but unfortunately haven’t been able to find a working link.  At any rate, they introduced a term to describe the thing I have to confront every time I sign onto my goodreads page: my “reading mortality.”

Ok, so if I start now and live a really healthy lifestyle, I could probably live to at least 100, right?  That's plenty of time!  Now, where's that book on "super foods"...?

For those of you who don’t read Canadian newspapers (or listen to the awesome radio show “A Way With Words,” which, really, you should be doing) your “reading mortality” is the idea that you’ll never be able to read all the books you’d like to in a single lifetime.  There are so many amazing books out there--more are being published every year--and there’s simply no way to read them all if you plan to do anything else with your time.  You know, like, say, eating or sleeping. 

Better get a move on, kid

Going back to my goodreads page for a moment, I recently calculated that if I stopped adding books to my to-read shelf today and then proceeded to read through those already on my list, it would take me between 6 and 7 years to finish if I read about a book a week.  I’m sure I could read some faster than others, but I have a job, my own books to write, and four kids to keep alive throughout the week as well, so I’m trying to be conservative.  Anyway, 6ish years may not be all the time I’ve got left, but I certainly don’t intend to stop adding books to my to-read shelf anytime soon, either.  One of my favorite authors, Maria V. Snyder, just announced that she’ll be releasing three new installments of the series that made me fall in love with her writing in the first place.  Do you think I’m going to just let those slip by so I can make a dent in my list?  Heck no! 

So, what do you do when there are so many books and so little time?  You break up with the ones you don't like!  If a relationship isn’t working, is almost painful to be in, and is definitely making you miss out on things you really might enjoy, you don’t stay in it, right?  The same should be true for books! Now, I completely understand that icky feeling you get from not finishing something you start—and this seems to be particularly intense where books are concerned—but bear with me, because I honestly think your literary lives will be better. 

As writers, we’re often told to start where the story starts.  Backstory is super important for the writer to know and understand, but that doesn’t mean readers wants to spend time plodding through a hundred pages about the main characters formative years before they watch her rebel against societal limitations and kick some ass, right?  A few flashbacks here and there will tell readers what they need to know about that time the MC overheard her parents talking about the evils of the Prime Directorate before they mysteriously vanished, or when she had a lesson on “obedience” in her indoctrination pod that just didn’t sit well with her.  Anything more would be overkill, and, simply put, really boring to read.  Similarly, the action may be top-notch, but the characters may just be plain unlikable, or unrelatable (at least to you), so why waste your time?  If you’re not compatible with one book, move on to the next—there are plenty of fish in the sea, after all.

I think I can get through the rest of this if I physically hold my brains inside my head...

Walking away from a book without finishing it may be especially hard if you’re a writer as well as a reader.  When you know the agony of pouring your heart and soul into your own work, it’s a little more difficult to give up on someone else’s.  But honestly, if a reader were to pick up something I’ve written and finds it's not right for them, I’d much rather they put it down and forget about it then slog through it, hating every minute, and then resent me and my work for all the time and effort they had to put into reading it. 

So, this is my challenge to you (and to myself):  face your reading mortality, and give every book 100 pages.  If, after 100 pages, the book just isn’t doing it for you, walk away.  But (and this is the tricky part) walk away guilt free.  Enjoyment is the key to productivity, and reading a book that makes you wish you were having a root canal instead, slows you down.  The time you waste on a book you’re not enjoying is time you could have spent on a book you’ll love forever. 

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