Change is the constant

Change is the constant, the signal for rebirth, the egg of the phoenix

[Warning: What follows is a heavy, introspective post broken up with humorous gifs, because that’s how I roll. I’ve been writing this post over the past few weeks, as I am wont to do, but it got harder to resolve myself to its spirit yesterday, when I lost the feline companion who has been my best friend since I was thirteen years old. But then I remember her royal sassiness looking at me, those beautiful yellow-green eyes seeming to say, “I love you, but get it together, woman.” And so I think I must do even better than I promised myself, for her.]

In the summer of 2012, I launched something that I called the Bold New Me Initiative. It was two years after the end of an abusive relationship, though it had taken me most of those two years to stop mourning for it and instead to realize that what had happened had been abuse. And, having realized it, I was mad as hell and determined to refashion myself into someone who could never have “let herself” be treated that way. I had finished drafting and doing initial edits on what would become From Unseen Fire. I was going to go to a convention and pitch it, and then I was going to query, and by the gods I was going to be the novelist I’d always said I would be, come hell or high water. I was going to glitter and glow as I knew I was meant to. I was going to recreate myself as something astonishing.

It almost worked.

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My intentions were certainly good, but there were still things in my life I was blind to. Those things held me back from managing to evolve entirely into the sort of person I wanted to be.

It’s rough to look at yourself and know you have been susceptible to toxic people. To know that you still have that susceptibility, that that weakness will always be in you, however strong and independent-minded you want to think yourself. To know you will have to learn to vigilantly guard against it.

It’s only a little mollifying to know you’re not alone, but the internet does occasionally help in that regard. I don’t know what reasons other people have that give birth to that vulnerability, but for me, it’s entirely because of how badly I want to be liked. Gods, I wish I didn’t. Life would be so much better if I gave as few fucks as I sometimes pretend I have to spare. But that’s just not who I am.

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I want to be liked, to be loved, to belong. And it makes me horrifyingly susceptible to the love-bombing that toxic people open and often sustain damaging relationships with. In 2012, I had freed myself from one poison but didn’t realize I was drinking another on a daily basis. And that would lead to… a whole lot of bad. It would keep me from living up to the image I have of myself. It would trap me and encourage me to make myself small in ways I wouldn’t be able to see clearly for years. It would cause me to isolate myself more than I realized, ignoring opportunities for fulfilling friendships and letting slip some of those I already had. It would dial my anxiety disorder up to 11 on an almost-constant basis.

Living like that… the center cannot hold.

Last year, I tried again. I left the city I’d lived in for close to a decade, the stable job I’d gotten right out of grad school. It all felt right, at the time — cleansing. So many things happened all at the same time — the car I’d had since I was 16, for example, finally gave up the ghost. It seemed like a sign. Yes, move out and move on. Let go of everything that has so ill-defined you these past few years. Start over, entirely fresh.

I still think the time was right for it. I very clearly needed to make some changes, or I was going to lose my grip on sanity entirely.

But I didn’t stick the landing.

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In a few weeks, I’m going to be going back to my high school to talk about careers and adulting. I’m likely to be a bit too honest about it. One of the things I’m going to stress? Don’t make decisions in crisis mode. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

Because that’s really what I can trace this past Lost Year to. I had let myself get so knotted up that the only way I saw to get out was hacking through everything with a sword. And, I mean, that works… but then you’re left with a bunch of frayed ends that don’t do anyone any good.

I spent the dark of the year in a very dark place (literally as much as figuratively). I started my self-imposed exile a few weeks before the autumn equinox; I returned to a familiar home a few weeks before the vernal. The symbolism is too much for a pagan to ignore. A cold, lonely hibernation. Everything folding in on itself, unfed by the sun, blasted by icy winds. A journey to the Underworld, bleak and grey.

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But spring always comes. Snows always melt.

As miserable as it was, I’m starting to think this year nonetheless had Purpose. Perhaps I had to go through this year in order to really and truly strip away all those things I don’t want to be. I think I had to die a little in order to figure out how I want to live.

The phoenix, after all, has to reduce herself entirely to ash before she can blaze again.

So from here on out, I blaze. (And if I say it to all of you, perhaps that will force me to be accountable to myself and actually land on my feet this time.) No more excuses. No more ducking my head. No more making myself small. From Unseen Fire comes out in a few weeks, and I think I have a few lessons to learn from my own heroine. Starting now, I walk with my head up and my core tight and my hips under me, rather than slouching my way through the world. (You know, like this). I’m going to go back to wearing clothes that say “pay attention to me” rather than “please ignore me”. I’m going to start wearing high heels again. I will be the lioness, not the mouse. I will take what is mine — with fire and blood, should that prove necessary.

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I will live up to the image I want to have of myself — and I will live up to the image that those who love me have of me, because bless them, that my friends can still think me worthy of affection seems a miracle, some days. I don’t want to let them down any longer. I will spend more time nurturing those friendships. I will remember that I am an extrovert, that avoiding people makes me unhappy, and so I will engage with the world rather than shutting it out.

And wherever I land next, I am going to summon every ounce of regality in me, and I will own that place.

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Bold New Me Initiative, v2.0.

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And, as is appropriate, an accompanying 2.0 playlist:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/1270613493/playlist/4Kk5oVSgDDLaIl9qf6KIho

The Turning of the Year

Y’all. 2017 has been rough.

I don’t think that comes as a surprise to anyone. Almost everyone I know feels a bit beaten about the head by this year, and when you look at our political circumstances… Well.

It’s been rough on a personal level, too. In the spring, I made the difficult decision to leave a job I’d been in for seven years and a town I’d been in for almost a decade. There was a lot that I loved about being there. There was a lot that was increasingly giving me panic attacks. Change of some kind was necessary. It was also hard. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest, after all. Finding the energy to make that change required me to dig deep into reserves I hadn’t tapped for a while.

And at first, that change went well. Spending the summer at the beach was restorative. I love being there, I love working at that bookstore, and just being in that environment is excellent for my spirit. Unfortunately, I then undid all the good effects by making a move that I almost immediately came to regret. The past four months have been almost unrelentingly stressful, for a wide variety of reasons. I think with some frequency of a quote from The Handmaid’s Tale: “I feel like the word ‘shatter’.”

IMG_3698Today is the winter solstice, a time for reflection — and a time for hope. Yule is the holiday where I try to focus on shedding what is no longer needed from the previous year and on bringing in the light that will guide me into the next.

Oddly, the song that comes to mind isn’t a seasonal song at all — it’s from The Lion King musical, “Endless Night”. The refrain of I know that the night must end and that the sun will rise is such an appropriate sentiment for this holiday — and it’s a good thing to keep in mind during trying times.

I don’t know what 2018 is going to hold. My book will come out, but Juno knows that’s no guarantee of success. I have irons in a few fires, but who knows what will catch? I’ll be making another move, but will it be any happier than this one?

This is a year when… it’s hard to have hope. In a year when it’s felt like the very act of hoping for something is a jinx, it feels like a waste of effort.

But the night must end. The sun will rise.

May it do so for all of us.

Surveying Women Writers

Mslexia is currently running a survey about how women writers feel that their partners help and/or hinder their writing. I imagine I’ll have more thoughts once the results are released, but just taking the survey sparked a couple of things in my brain:

First, it made me head-tilt a bit to see that the default assumption is that a woman writer has a partner. Even the Twitter call-for-answers phrases it as a given, not as an “if”. The questions do, occasionally, give options for single women, but even then, some of them assume that the participant is divorced or widowed, not never-married — and it definitely assumes that the participant has had significant relationships in the past, since the alternate questions then ask about your most recent partner. The phrasing of those questions also tilts towards an assumption that you’ve shared a household with a partner at some point.

If, like me, you’re not only never-married, but have never lived with a partner, then the survey isn’t particularly seeking your opinion. Perhaps there are, or will be, other Mslexia surveys seeking information on how friends and family support and/or damage a woman writer’s career. I certainly think it would be worth looking into. I know my family’s had a much larger impact on my existence and development as a writer than any partner has. Partners come and go, but my family has been a constant in my life for twenty-eight years. I also think it would’ve been easy to add a question for single women, or even for “when you were single”, asking how that helps or hinders. For instance – Does it help that you’re more mistress of your own time? Or do you end up filling the time a partner might take up with other things? Is it better not to feel pressured to share your work with a partner, or do you miss having someone to bounce ideas off of? I think it’s an important aspect that the survey will be missing out on — as a control group against the effects of a relationship on a woman’s writing, if nothing else.

Several of the possible responses also played into some of the worst stereotypes about writers — that they are moody, selfish, unpredictable beasts, tormented by Their Art. I’m hoping those were only included so that the results can show that, no, that’s not what we’re actually like, but… I don’t know. There’s a conversation there, somewhere, about where the ugly stereotypes about women and the ugly stereotypes about writers overlap, and how that affects the world’s view of women writers (and, possibly, what has so often excluded us from enjoying equal recognition and acclaim as our male counterparts).

I was also sort of disappointed, as someone who enjoys these things (and as someone who’s taken a lot of online surveys), that the survey didn’t also take any demographic information. There are a lot of potentially fascinating metrics that the survey will be totally overlooking. I’d be interested to know, for instance, if women of my Millennial generation feel that their partners support or hinder their writing careers in different ways than Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. Do we value different contributions towards our writerly lives than our intellectual mothers and grandmothers? Are our partners more likely to give one kind of support, less likely to give another? I’d also be interested to know if there are racial or socioeconomic disparities in those feelings. Does education level matter? Does it make a difference if the partner works out of the home? If the writer still has a “day job” or not? I can guess at what the answers might be, based on anecdotal evidence, observation, and a general awareness of gender politics, but it’d be nice to have numbers to dig into based on actual writers’ lived experiences.

And the survey does nothing to distinguish between heterosexual monogamous relationships and any other kind. It does consistently use the term “partner” rather than “husband/boyfriend”, which is good, but I think it’d be very interested to see if the satisfaction rates were different between heterosexual or homosexual couples, or if women in same-sex couples value different contributions or experience different detractions from women in het couples. The survey ignores entirely the concept of any other relationship structure besides a committed pair. This is not, really, surprising, since most of the world does, too, but — well, it occurred to me. When I see people in polyamorous bonds write about the benefits of their relationships, many of them talk about how it restructures domestic duties, and that does seem relevant to the survey’s purpose.

So, overall, I’m interested to see the results and what conversations they start, but I feel like there were a lot of missed opportunities here, too.