My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Vagaries of Experience (The Renown Margin)

Reminder: I'm not famous. But because of having such a big Facebook page, and several viral articles, my life is starting to bend towards some level of kinda, sorta Internet fame, and (as this blog exists in part to share in real time my experiences of writing with the very deliberate attempt to find an audience and make a living) one of the experiences I will share with you is my foray into the liminal space between complete unknown and some Q-list celebrity status. 

One of the most interesting experiences, as I push against this membrane of quasi-fame, is having a dawning realization of why actually famous people do (or don't do) certain things. ("OH. THAT'S WHY!") I realize why they don't open themselves up to random criticism from strangers (there's way too much of it), why they accept a revolving door of their fans (too many to try to please), and why they compartmentalize their private lives (some people's obsession can be harmful).

I've stumbled on another one: the reason people in a spotlight so rarely mention products by name unless they are getting paid endorsement. They often speak in vague terms of A store or A restaurant or AN online company run by the richest human on Earth, even when they're being quite specific about some level of criticism or some level of enjoyment. It's not that they never name names, but it's much more calculated. Usually they describe their experiences with carefully curated vagaries.

I started noticing it innocuously enough, but even at my not-quite-Q-list status, it's gotten to the point where I want to back off on the casual. If I'm going to drop a name, it needs to be worth it. I'm ticking off too many people just by telling them how my day was at that level of specificity.

See, the good words are basically low-key commercials. Point at something and gush, it's basically unpaid advertising, and folks who have begun to understand what their social capital can command may not wish to do this over something trivial or to essentially use that social capital to lift up capitalism and be a commercial.

But where it really gets hairy is the less than stellar thoughts. That's where the shit really goes down. I have enough friends, followers, fans, and people generally watching "The Show™" that if I talk even casually about my experience with some company or product that has let me down, I'm going to make SOMEONE's head itch. Maybe they work for that company, have a lot of brand loyalty, or just generally have some vested interest in not letting it stand, and suddenly you feel like you're arguing over whether how and why you're not really having a good customer experiences with someone.

And I get it. I do. Personally I find memes about how teachers never teach anything important annoying because I'm a teacher. And it's just not that simple. We are teaching you that the blue curtains represent sadness for a reason (often several reasons). So if I've eaten my Wheaties and I see someone post about how teachers never teach anything useful, I try to add some informative nuance about being pinioned between district curriculum and rising class sizes and so sorry that you were personally reading two years beyond the rest of the class and this wasn't a useful lesson.....blah blah blah (you get the idea). So when you realize that someone in your audience probably works for or loves to bits the company or thing you are about to share a not-so-hot story of (and may have had THEIR Wheaties), you begin to question whether you need to actually include the product name. Is it really that important that it be Cold Stone™ and not just "we went out for ice cream...." Is it vital in the story you want to share, that you name the phone you are frustrated with (and thereby invoking the Apple vs. Android battle royale in the comments of your post.

I've even had people who MADE something grief me before. Who knew?

You can kind of see how this would telescope out as fame levels rise. Chances go way up something's going to get back to someone who cares about what you've said. Add in the perception of an attack to a peripheral issue (like say an indictment of the focus of US education on white men) and you get all kinds of pushback ("My school wasn't like that!" to "Teachers have no choice!" to "What about the whitemenz??") Quickly you wonder if it's even worth it. Particularly the more specificity the story has.

It's not that I won't still say these things or call out some shitty company for a bad decision, but I've come to understand that it is a trade off. This is directly launching a bee into SOME bonnet and the more bonnets are out there, the bigger the chance of it happening. You have to weigh your interest in having that caliber of encounter, and if you just weren't that happy but whatever, it's not worth it.

I'm just a little guy with a little following, but suddenly I understand why so many celebrities speak in such vague terms and often feel a little "above it all." It's because of what happens if they're not.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Broken Mirror (by Shadow)

shadow2 copy
Every public conversation I've ever seen or engaged in around representation of minority populations in literature and other media has drawn at least one (if not many) dissenters with arguments that range from, "It doesn't matter. It's not that big of a deal," to rabid defense of the status quo.

Well, it does matter.  It is a big deal.  And new voices and perspectives aren't erasing the ones that already exist.  Diversity doesn't devalue the majority, it adds to the richness of our collective fabric.

I have been writing stories since I was five years old. I grew up reading "classic" science fiction. My imaginary friends were Asimov's robots. My dream was to become an astronaut and discover Rama. I wrote stories about Star Wars characters and Heinlein's Puppet Masters and undiscovered aspects of the Ringworld.

But I also wrote other stories. Stories I understood from a very young age that I had to keep secret. I wrote about power and punishment. I wrote about spanking and obedience. I wrote about love and surrender.

I didn't understand at the time exactly why these things had to stay hidden, but I knew that they did. Those kinds of stories weren't on TV or in movies. There weren't characters like me in the books I read... not any of them. Not even in the most distant speculative worlds did I see characters who had the feelings I had, had relationships like I had dreamed about and written about since childhood. So, I kept my stories secret. I burned each piece of my writing as soon as I finished it. I lived constantly under a shadow of fear of being discovered. But still I was compelled to write.

As I got older, I began to understand that there was an "underworld" of people who were, ostensibly, similar to me. I saw it in police procedurals, in medical dramas, in horror stories - sadism, torture, perversion. I saw myself but as if in a broken mirror, distorted and grimy. I saw myself through a haze of shame and perversion. I saw myself in characters written as outcasts, as criminals, as psychopaths without empathy or morality. I saw myself in characters slanted to "loose" values, and questionable morals, at best, outsiders, at worst, killers.

I got even older and began to understand the politics of sexuality. I saw Matthew Shepard tortured and strung on a fence post for being different. My own father sneered at two men holding hands (just holding hands!) on the street. "Disgusting!" he would say. I watched the way the world treated people who were gay and I recoiled. But despite the hate, there were gay and lesbian authors telling their stories. There were movies and TV shows that were changing the narratives around what it meant to be gay. They were in places where I could see them, see the reflections they offered.  The narratives grew slowly, painfully, imperfectly, but they were there… trying...emerging through the hate.

Hopeful, I waited for stories about me. I searched for them. I snatched at false hopes only to be disappointed by stereotypes, false equivalencies, and clich├ęs. There were no authors I saw who shared my identity. No TV shows changing the narrative of what it meant to be like me. I feared what it meant for me, about me, a person whose public stories still centered entirely around caricatures of sexuality, and none of them positive. I feared what would happen to me if anyone, fed steadily on these false representations, discovered who I was. To save myself, I tried to exorcise the part of me that was different. I tried to bury it and forget it existed. I tried to be normal, to be vanilla, to pass.

I failed. I kept coming back to writing, compelled to spit out the secrets inside of me. Compelled to see myself clearly even if only in my own words. I turned thousands of pages to ash and berated myself for my weakness and cloaked myself in shame.

Then I came upon a piece of advice about writing. It was from an author whose name I can't remember, but it resonated so deeply I cried. She said, "Write the stories you want to read. Especially the ones no one else has told."

I realized that, while the rest of the world didn't see me, didn't understand me, discriminated against, pathologized, and even criminalized people like me, I could write the stories no one else had written. I could write the stories of people like me. If I had never seen myself in the stories of others, maybe others could see themselves in mine.

I stopped burning my writing.

I was young. My writing was horrible (dear God, so horrible), poorly crafted and full of immature  angst and drama. But it was the first writing anywhere that I'd ever seen that told a true story of people like me. It was the only mirror that didn't show me broken and dirty in its reflection.

I kept writing.  I kept refining my craft and my mirror. Eventually, it wasn’t enough for me to write only for myself.  Eventually, I began a blog and started sharing my stories with the world.

Now, I write about my Sir and my Sub Brother and our life together. I write about our relationship and our dynamics. I write about power and punishment. I write about spanking and obedience. I write about love and surrender.

I also write about cooking dinner, and living with depression and PTSD, and navigating a triad, and buying groceries, and staggering under crippling anxiety. I write about being a human being who was born out of the mainstream.

I write about being more than a caricature of who or how I fuck.

I write the stories I wish someone had written for me. I create the mirror I wish I could have looked into growing up.

Because I have to keep this part of myself compartmentalized, very few people who know me in real life can know I write these stories. I lie to my family, my coworkers, and my friends. I censor everything I say on social media. It gets lonely. It gets depressing. It feels thankless and pointless at times to keep going. To keep forging this path through untamed land, without guides, or even footsteps to follow in. Sometimes it feels like too much and I want to give it all up.

Then, every so often I go into my analytics and I look at my visitors and I see the visits... sometimes one person in one night reads 30 or 40 or 50 of my posts. I see people visiting again and again from India, from Saudi Arabia, from Singapore, from Egypt, from Brazil, from all over Europe and North America. I never hear from these people, they don't leave comments or any mark of their presence. But they visit. And they visit again. And many of them will revisit certain posts again and again. And I realize that, even never knowing who they are, what their stories are, mine have resonated with them. The stories I write, about people like me. The stories that didn't exist for me. The stories that largely still don't exist for me. I'm making them exist for other people.

And maybe, just maybe, someone who grew up like me, seeing themselves reflected in that broken mirror through a film of shame and discrimination will find my writing and realize they are not alone, that their stories matter, their lives matter, the way they love matters, is seen, and is real.

When authors write the stories of the people who have been made invisible, when the people themselves who have been made invisible write their own stories, when the stories of the invisible people become visible, we take another step toward visibility ourselves.

It matters that we can see ourselves in the stories of our world. It matters that we can see ourselves in the authors of those stories. We have a long way to go as collective humanity to bring us all into the light. As of today, the laws of my state still make my partner legally vulnerable to prosecution for spanking me. Race and gender and all of the axes of identity and intersection still push people deep into the shadows, press people down into the darkness, make people invisible, even to themselves.

So I write my stories and send them out from the shadows. I leave my footprints for others like me to follow. I reach out for the ones forging their own paths, creating their own mirrors, and I reach down to lift up the voices rising from deeper than me in the darkness.

It matters that we tell our stories. It matters that we lift up each others' voices. It matters that we support each other, particularly those reaching out from the deepest shadows.

Representation matters. Visibility matters. We matter. Our stories are the mirrors, unbroken and untarnished, that we all so very much need to be able to see ourselves in.

- Shadow

Shadow is a writer and blogger at https://sanctumia.com/.  She maintains a “vanilla” blog as well which must remain nameless for purposes of mystery and intrigue and because discrimination is still a thing.  She has been writing fiction for 35 years and discovered the power of narrative nonfiction writing 10 years ago.  She writes in the intersections between mental illness, power exchange relationships, and social justice.  

If you would like to guest blog for Writing About Writing we would love to have an excuse to take a day off a wonderful diaspora of voices. Take a look at our guest post guidelines, and drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Buy-Me-Lunch Answer About My Gender

Image description:
Writer looking just ridonkulously cute.
I wasn't going to write this post. Honestly. I had a totally different plan for today. But then it was National Coming Out Day and I sat down and before I knew it I had used up three hours of my writing time and written a post about gender. So rather than just beat myself up about how shlub I'd been on the writing front today, I took one of those deep cleansing breaths, and Upper Forebrain Supervisor me reminded my inner taskmaster, "Hey, Chris just spent about 3 hours on a 750 word post about gender and some political thoughts over on Facebook, so Leave Artist Chris alone! LEAVE HIM ALONE!"
If you're wondering why I'm POSTING the "buy-me-lunch" answer, it is simply because so many people who touch my life are far away and will never get the chance to buy me lunch. And then it fit so well when I shaped it into language that I went more public with it. And then I realized I had spent all day writing it, so instead of what I planned I will add this as an addendum to my bio page. And we'll do the guest post I was thinking of tomorrow.

This first part is easy:

Imagine you live in a world with a gender binary that is rather rigidly defined. (I know. Tough to do, right?) And imagine that there are lists of what men are like and what women are like. And some people cleave to the list, but everyone knows them. And even people who think the lists are crap still work off of them for a lot of things.

(So far you don't really have to "imagine" this so much as simply NOTICE it.)

Now imagine that without dysphoria or major identity crisis you've spent your entire life noticing that your list of traits and attributes is the WRONG LIST. You are compassionate, kind, nurturing, good with kids, introspective, emotional, accommodating, passive in matters of courtship––flirty so they come to you but rarely making the first move, easily connected with people, loyal, pliant, enjoy cleaning (and what little cooking you can do), like jobs such as teaching, and love doing emotional labor for loved ones. You kind of like jewelry and feeling "cute."

You eschew much of list that you are supposed to take on. Tough, powerful, "rational," competitive, unemotional, afraid of committment, unattached, aggressive (or "assertive"). Blech. Get that bullshit away from you.

You even find your own quiet, inward-focused way to be ambitious.

Yes these are stereotypes, particularly at their extremes, but enough people buy into them directly, and those that don't do so directly ("You're a house husband? When are you going to man up?") do it unconsciously. ("Women would like you if you got yourself a real job*, and were more assertive.") It's literally inescapable no matter how many "Very Open Minded People™" you surround yourself with.

[A "real job*." Cleaning and chasing diapers all day is not real--and certainly not for a man.]

Imagine that your entire life, even your most intimate partners have said things like "He's the woman in this relationship." or "Oh you're pretty much a chick." They said it in jest, but they said it in jest a LOT. It didn't bother you....but it did make you wonder about that list. And they're not wrong. That was ALWAYS you. You wanted an easy bake oven so you could have food ready for mommy when she got home from work. You were the househusband for the two families you were a part of in your adult life.

Imagine your step-dad hated that about you and constantly told you to stop being prissy and stop being girly and quit talking about your feelings and quit being a momma's boy. And he made fun of those parts of you––mocked them ruthlessly–– in favor of cultivating, within you, his own version of stoicism and masculinity.

Now imagine that you're about 38ish and you've had it up to your eyebrows with basically every assumption of the society you live in and are cheerfully blazing your own trail with everything from abandoning "proper" work to write to non-monogamy. Fuck everything they told you about what would make you happy––"they" haven't been right yet even once. (And frankly some of that shit is built on millenia of oppression.) About this time when you're throwing out every single assumption you ever had, the community around you starts to confront the social constructs of gender.

A lot.

Not just its performative nature in general, but many of them reject the binary outright and begin embracing genders that are no gender or all genders or different genders on different days or different genders than they were assigned at birth. They make you think long and hard (I mean REALLY long and REALLY hard about this list and what it means to you...and about what it means at ALL.)

Imagine that your long hair gets you misgendered four or five times a week and this not only doesn't bother you, but kind of connects you to the list you DID get. You find yourself quietly pleased that there's an outward expression of this ambiguity.

And somewhere in your early forties you realize "SOD the list." "Fuck what "men" are supposed to be!" You're not feeling that shit anyway, and you never have. So you just GO with it. You just go with all that "wrong list" energy you've been doubting and fighting all your life and suddenly you feel like coming home after a long and frustrating vacation.

THIS is who you are. THIS is who you've always been. What is it? I don't know but that list sure is wrong. And the other one is way more accurate.

So I don't have a label, and I'm not shopping for one (so feel free to share your experiences, but you don't have to suggest anything). You can still use he/him or any other pronouns if you wish and really it's all good. And I will NEVER fail to acknowledge the privilege I carry when I pass as a man or even the tremendous privilege of not experiencing gender dysphoria, but I'm really becoming more and more aware that unless this whole society upends ITS concepts of gender, that "man" thing really doesn't quite fit, does it? It just doesn't quite FIT.

So there's the buy-me-lunch answer...lunch optional.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Poll: Best Classic YA Book (or series) Not by a Cis Het White Guy

What is the very best young adult book (or series) written by a woman or POC or member of the LGBTQ+ community before 2000? 

Our latest poll is live!  Come vote!

This poll is from our Year of Diverse Polls. If you have any questions about the limitations of the poll, just follow the link.

We finally got enough nominations to fire up this poll and boy does it have some tough choices on it!

The actual poll is on the left hand side at the bottom, beneath the "About The Author" section. Mobile viewers will have to go aaaaaaall to the very bottom of their page and switch to "Webview" in order to access the poll.

Everyone will get three (3) votes.

There is no way to rank votes, so please consider that every vote beyond the first "dilutes" the power of your initial vote and use as few as you can stand to use.

This poll will be up for a couple of weeks. You can vote once a week. Since I can't stop shenanigans, I encourage as much of it as possible. Vote early, vote often.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Writer Who Would Not Be Mugged (Personal Update)

I may be smol and unbearably cute,
but I bite and kick.
Today is a really personal update. I don't have a way to really make it about writing. The last time I tried to shoehorn a personal update this visceral into a post about narratives and subverting tropes and stuff, the meta ended up being slightly embarrassing as the article went viral as fuck, and being kind of a silly way to tell a pretty basic story that didn't really have a lot to do with writing. So just for today I'm going to put down the "about writing" motif for a moment and just tell you a story about this weekend.    

Saturday night, someone tried to mug me.

I'm down six dollars, but I avoided getting into a fight.

He came from behind me as I was leaving a little mini-mart/liquor store on the corner of MLK and Ashby. He waited until I was a bit away from the store across the street and walking into a less lit area. He was about a foot taller than me (around 6'6"?) and had clearly been drinking. Reeked of it. Bloodshot eyes. He demanded my wallet and phone, or he would kick my ass.

My fight or flight response has never been very...let's say *wise* when it comes to bullies. It's gotten me in trouble. It's gotten me hurt. And it's put me in situations my loved ones were not at all okay with. And I kind of wish I could turn it off because the contents of my wallet are never going to be worth it if someone pulls a weapon or easily follows through with their threats.

But I hate bullies. I hate them so, so much, and they remind me of every helpless, frustrating conversation I didn't have the emotional power to resist and how when it was someone I couldn't fight back against, I would just pull further and further into myself until it was over. I think half the reason I won't shut up is because social dynamics are just a macro and cultural form of bullying. And when people expect to get exactly what they want just because they're bigger or more powerful...it infuriates me.

I pulled out my wallet, thumbed through the cash so he could see it, and told him I had $126 dollars and whatever he could get for my iPhone 4 (I actually have an iPhone 6), but I was going to make him work for it. And I'd be imagining his face was Brett Kavanaugh the entire time. (I didn't get the impression he knew who that was.)

"Forget it," he said.

Apparently, I was not the roll-over-and-die easy mark he thought I was going to be.

"Here," I said, and handed him the six bucks. "You're going to get killed doing this. Be careful."

I was already dealing with the first of the adrenaline dump, my voice was shaking, I was more yelling than speaking, and I turned and left too fast to see how he reacted.

(No, I didn't call the cops. No, I'm not going to.)

Someone on Facebook asked me why people try to mug me so often. I thought about this a lot on Saturday night as it took me a couple of hours to calm down enough to get to sleep. (Once I fell asleep though, man it was hard and heavy and AWESOME.)

Twice when I was doing my PR-24 and basic training for security, and once in a seminar type martial arts class, I got pulled out of the audience (by three instructors who didn't know each other or me) and told that I was the guy they wouldn't try to mug. Everyone in the audience kind of laughed because I was short and small and even back when I was doing all kinds of martial arts, I was a bit rounded on the edges. Thus, what I suspect is that I was actually the guy who looked most ostensibly muggable at first, while still making their point.

I'm fairly certain some of those six foot eight guys who looked like they had to lift the actual gym equipment itself to get a reasonable work out weren't getting mugged on the regular.

What they said was that I was the guy they couldn't peg. I didn't carry myself like prey. I was the one they were going to misjudge. I'd end up having twenty bucks in my wallet but even if they kicked my ass, I'd cause more than $20 worth of medical bills going down. Not worth it. Move on. Find someone easier.

Which kind of makes me wish the muggers of the world had their insight because, to date, I have lived through seven attempted muggings and I'm getting pretty fucking sick of it. None has ever gone down quite the way the muggers expected. About half have gotten physical in a way that someone got hurt. I remain unscathed and officially unmugged (at least un-successfully-mugged.)

But upon further adrenaline-fueled pre-sleep reflection, seven is not really that high. I've been walking all over since I was six or seven and my parents let me go out of their sight. (And yes, a couple of those mugging attempts were before I was even an adult.) I walk a LOT. Hours a week. If I have time, I walk to the store instead of driving. And I regularly just take off and do a circuit around the neighborhood or take a small hike. I try to get to bigger hikes when my schedule permits. And I'm rarely careful about when and where I walk. I also check my phone constantly if I'm not pushing a stroller or crossing the street. I'm sure being apparently distracted has contributed to an uptick in the last decade or so.

From a pure walk to attempt-mug ratio perspective, I'm doing pretty well. I've also nearly been run over probably 100 times, which might sound like I have the worst luck in the universe until I tell you that it probably happens like 1 in every 200 times I go walking (and those are just close calls––no one's ever actually hit me), or perhaps 1 in every 500 miles of walking or so. In terms of risk vs. reward, I'm doing pretty good. I've been attempt-mugged on average of once every four years. Which, if you consider that each of those four years represents about 2000-2500 hours of walking, is really not that much, given that Oakland and Berkeley are among my stomping grounds.

But also....maybe those guys were on to something. Because usually sober people don't try to mug me. I think the last time they did, it was three youngish people late at night who I really don't think were experienced at what they were doing. They clearly didn't want to upgrade to assault, so I just vise-gripped the phone one of them was trying to yank out of my pocket, kept walking until I was under a streetlight, and they realized we were in a lit, crowded intersection making a lot of noise. That was over a decade ago. Maybe it's drunk people who are usually missing some of the subtler cues that I don't smell like prey. Or maybe those security/martial art teachers just needed someone small but a little squishy to make a point about profiling and it had nothing to do with how I carried myself.

Either way, I like walking, so I'm not going to let this ruin it for me.

Anyway, I'm fine. And life proceeds apace. In these situations I always get a bee in my bonnet and fight back (even when it's not always wise of me to do so), but I survived another. And perhaps that mindset has something to do with with why I haven't let the incredible failures of writing or a life in art beat me down either. Something something something subverts the tropes and changes the narratives. [Insert folksy writing wisdom here.]