My Princess, My General

I was always into princesses.

It was natural. I was born in 1985. I was the perfect age during the Disney Renaissance of Belle and Jasmine. So from the start, my heroines were women who read, women who stood up for themselves, women who did what was needed instead of what was expected.

But Princess Leia was a revelation. Long-time readers already know the story of how I found Star Wars and how it changed my life, and Leia was a huge component of that. I was eleven years old, and I wanted to be Princess Leia when I grew up. She wasn’t just outspoken and independent — she was in charge. She was ready to sass her way to her execution, if that’s what it took to protect her people. She grabbed the gun from the idiot boys who weren’t being effective with it, and she made her own escape route. She led a rebellion and she fought in its trenches, so devoted that she had to be dragged out of Echo Base while the ceiling was caving in on her. She saved the man she loved, and when a sexist creep tried to humiliate her and punish her for her daring, she choked him to death with absolutely no mercy or remorse.

She also was the proof that there was space for me in that universe. My middle school friends and I all sensed that, even if we couldn’t put the words of feminist criticism to it at the time. We just knew that the boys couldn’t tell us we weren’t supposed to play Star Wars, because Leia was in it, and not as an accessory or a trophy. She was there and active and wouldn’t have stood for anyone telling her she shouldn’t be.

Because Star Wars was what launched my determination to be a writer, Leia Organa set the mold for my heroines. The first one basically started out as a blonde version of Leia, but as I grew, so did she. For twenty years, I’ve been exploring myself through the leading ladies I write, but there’s a little bit of Leia at the core of all of them — that heart of kyber.

I did grow up — at least, I grew into adulthood. “Up” is debatable, and I certainly never outgrew Princess Leia or Star Wars, but I did discover the woman behind the legend.

Carrie Fisher was not a porcelain perfect princess.

Carrie Fisher helped me realize — continues to help me realize, because it’s a process, not a moment — that I am beautiful and more importantly, worthy, no matter what my weight is, no matter that I am, let’s face it, getting older every year. That I am clever and worth loving, even when depression and anxiety get in my way. That I need not be ashamed of who I am, flaws and all, because I am here and I am trying. That striving to be the best version of myself doesn’t mean I have to flagellate myself when I fall short. That I should be gentler on myself sometimes, and harder sometimes. That I can — and will — produce good things, good work and good art, even in the midst of personal crisis or chaos.

As Leia Organa and as herself, Carrie Fisher was the heroine so many of us needed, as girls and as women. Losing her was never going to not suck. Losing her now, at the end of this gods-forsaken dumpster fire of a year, just seems like insult to injury. Losing her when this world’s equivalent of a Hutt crimelord is taking charge of our erstwhile-democracy, to thunderous applause… I struggle to find words for the unfairness of it.

leiafucktheempire

She was only 60. She should have had so much more time, more years to create and to inspire and to love and be loved. And we should have had her, the hopeful symbol of rebellion from our childhoods, a shining beacon of “no-fucks-given” for our adulthoods. We should have had her to help us through what will be, no doubt, a dark time for the Rebellion.

But the thing is — we still do. We have her work and her words. We have Princess Leia and General Organa and Carrie Fisher, there to inspire us — and now part of the Force surrounding us and binding us together. From her enduring legacy, we can remind ourselves to fight evil wherever we see it, whether it’s a fascist regime with matching hats or the hateful voices in our own heads, trying to tell us we don’t matter.

2016 took our heroes from us.

In 2017, we will be the heroes.

Time to step up, y’all.

And may the Force be with us.

leiastealthing

A Progression of Heroines

Some reflective thoughts today:

When I was a teenager, the heroines I wrote tended to fall into a very certain mold. Lady Rebels and Golden Queens, butt-kicking leaders who defied all expectations and restrictions, who were full of fire and glory. Their lives were tumultuous, with soap-opera-worthy romantic tangles and nefarious villains to challenge them, but they always came out on top in the end. A lot of this, so early in my development as a writer, was imitative of the tropes and the women I adored in other stories — Princess Leia, Xena, Eleanor of Aquitaine. They were also all unrealistically prodigious at various skills, particularly when it came to warfare and to the arts.

Looking back, I can clearly see where all of this came from. I was angry and full of emotions I didn’t have a clue how to control, and so were my heroines. I yearned for approval and admiration, and so my heroines got those things. I feared reprisal and condemnation, so my heroines never suffered such. Writing is, I think, almost always wish fulfillment on a certain level, but when you’re young, even moreso. And I don’t judge myself for that. It was part of a process, not only of becoming a better writer, but of becoming myself.

And, as such things are wont to do, it evolved. By my college years, my heroines were turning a lot darker. Sorceresses who not only dabbled in black magic, but sometimes dove in head-first. Ruthless imperial majesties. The real “all shall love me and despair” types, or else the half-mad exiles brooding away in their dilapidated strongholds. Moral ambiguity was the name of the game. And that made perfect sense, for years when I was trying to figure out who I was, who I wanted to be, and how to get there. I spent a lot of time feeling lost and confused, I had a fair bit of existential dread, and I went to a school where your best hasn’t been good enough since 1693 — so the stress came out in the writing. I scared myself sometimes, so I wrote heroines who scared other people.

And it continues to evolve.

The most recent heroines, the ones I’ve written since getting out of grad school, are women who’ve let cages build around their hearts. They’ve deliberately shrunk themselves and their expectations of life. They haven’t stretched their wings in so long, they’ve forgotten they have them. They strive to live up to the vision of themselves placed upon them by society, by family, by lovers and husbands. They tamp down their emotions and they never lose their tempers… anymore.

But eventually, they snap. They remember what it is to be bright and burning. The path towards reclamation isn’t easy, but they grit their teeth and brave their way through it.

I know damn well where this impulse comes from. I’ve been writing my way through recovery. It wasn’t an intentional thing, but rather a trend I’ve noticed in retrospect. I can see the detritus of an emotionally abusive relationship, and I can see where I’ve been writing my way free of it. Which isn’t to say that I’m done, or that the process is complete — I know full well I’m still sloughing off the chains, and there’s still plenty of authorial juice to be squeezed out of this self-evaluation.

But, with that awareness, I do wonder who my next heroines will be.