Said Often

So Odd Trundles had a nightmare last night, and peed his bed. This doesn’t happen as frequently as you’d think, but it does mean I’m up early, his bedding is in the wash, and I have soaped a dog’s ass and undercarriage before 8am. It’s a good thing all my commitments for the day were suddenly changed to afternoon during the span of a half-hour yesterday.

If I can just get through this week without combusting from sheer tension, I’ll call it a win.

So. My office is full of the reek of just-washed Trundles, but at least the window is open. A plumber is coming by this afternoon to fix the shutoff valve and maybe, if he got authorization from the home warranty folks, to install the new dishwasher and take the old one away. I have each scenario planned for–just the valve fixed, the valve fixed but the dishwasher electrical somehow borked, the valve fixed and the new dishwasher installed but the old one not carted off, and the best of all possible worlds, the valve fixed, new dishwasher installed AND old one carted away. Anything will represent a step forward, so I’m pretty Zen about the whole deal. It’s arrived at the point of absurd hilarity, so I can relax now.

The other commitment this afternoon is offering moral support during a friend’s doctor visit. I can’t plan for any of the scenarios on that one. For one thing, nothing is inside my control there except showing up on time and being supportive. For another, there’s just too much we don’t know yet. Today should at least give us more information. Aggressive treatment options are already scheduled for the next few weeks, so we’ll see how it turns out.

I say that a lot. Just this past weekend, I was in the car with the Little Prince. I have this habit of prepping the kids when we’re in the car. When they were younger, everything went easier if they knew what to expect, and the car was the last-minute place for answering questions and taking them through processes. I guess I haven’t gotten out of the habit, because I started telling the Prince what we were looking for and as a bonus, answering his questions about the then-latest bits of the dishwasher saga.

“…we’ll see what happens,” I finished.

He laughed. “You say that every time we’re in the car.”

I said it again at dinner, and since then, I’ve noticed whenever it leaves my mouth. The kids are sixteen and twenty now; I suppose decades of parenting have left me with a few habits they might find a little annoying. Both of them tell me the prep sessions are comforting no matter how old they get. Plus, they’ve absorbed “plan for what we can and relax about the rest” as a Life Maxim, which is hardly the worst way to look at situations.

It’s busy, but so far I’m coping. Especially since work is going relatively smoothly, though I had to take some time off yesterday to think about ceremonial leather armor, mercury poisoning, and different diseases I can give this particular Emperor that will have the effects I want on him and the story. I need his decline to be fairly rapid since we’re in the last third of the book, and the coronation is the next-to-last thing that happens before number one of the trilogy reaches a natural resting place.

But…yeah. We’ll see what happens.

*winks, vanishes in a cloud of smoke*

Literature

“Marquez: May have slept with Llosa’s wife. Llosa: Definitely punched Marquez’s face.”

Writers can be an unruly bunch.

Cloaked

Lock, Rain Drop, After Rain, Drops
© | Dreamstime Stock Photos
Miss B is beside herself, since I’m in running clothes and she suspects, hopes, dares to believe I’ll be taking her with me. I will, but not until my coffee settles. It’s a goddamn Monday, and I need caffeine.

There’s a thing going around on Twitter–“describe yourself the way a male author would.” I’ll bypass the explanation of how we got there–it’s here if you want it–and also bypass a description of the most hilarious responses.

My own description? “Invisible.”

As soon as I typed it, I began thinking. Yeah, I’m over 40, and I’m carrying weight despite the running. I am by and large invisible to men now, except for when they want to cut in line and I hiss you know better like a venomous creature with exhausted patience. I’ve survived longer than I ever thought possible, which is part of why I have no plans for retirement.1 Food is a friend that does not judge, and I ate in self-defense for a long, long time. I hated–and still hate–predatory stares, men throwing things out their car windows at me whenever I lost a few pounds, the interruptions while reading or even just minding my own damn business on public transit, the need to be constantly alert because some asshole will assume I exist just to listen to his patter.

I am no longer a frightened child hoping my abuser won’t slither into my bedroom at night, no longer a teenager desperate for any affection at all, no longer a young woman struggling to keep her head above water. I’m past the sell-by date put on female beauty, and each line on my face is a lesson I’ve worked for. Now, instead of eating to pad myself against voracious male gazes, I’m actually losing that protective cushion. There’s a freedom to being a bitchy older broad, a release from the hunter’s gaze, that means I no longer need to keep a weapon within arm’s reach.

Of course, I still do. Relaxation is one thing, foolishness is quite another.

My cloak of invisibility is purely and simply age. Experience. Patriarchy’s toxic insistence that I only have value when I’m attractive to men, too young to fight back, and not possessed of the life experience to know better is exploded daily by the fact that I give zero fucks anymore and I am finally largely free of the roving eyes and catcalls.

I know I’m not safer, of course. I represent a bigger threat to patriarchy than ever, and my lack of perceived attractiveness won’t save me if a male decides he has to reinforce his fragile sense of self-worth with violence against any available female body. The danger isn’t gone, it’s just shifted.

Still…it’s good to heave a sigh of relief and know there’s a smaller chance of being accosted at the grocer’s, a smaller chance of beverage cans flying from car windows while I’m running, a smaller chance of some random guy thinking I want to date him because I’ve been polite, a smaller chance of stalkers fixating on me.

It’s nice to feel free, and I suspect the freedom will only intensify as I age further into invisibility. At the same time, there’s a ramp-up of my privilege–older white women may be invisible when it comes to catcalling, but we can shield others, deploying that cloak of unfuckability and perceived respectability (there’s a song chorus in that phrase, I can sense it) to cover those who protest to provide them with some safety as well as deploy said respectability as a megaphone, boosting those who have a hard time being heard.

If there’s a gift in my survival, it lies there. And also in the liberating feeling of being invisible enough to live my life largely unaccosted.

I can’t wait to get started on that.

A Basket of…

Sometimes, you come around a corner while out with your best friend, and you happen upon a basket of…well, of dicks. There’s no other way to put it, really–a basket of phalli just puts too nice a gloss on it.

And sometimes, you dig for your phone and mutter, “I have got to save this for posterity,” and your best friend responds, “Good God, why?” and you both double up with laughter.

Because really, if you can’t hurt yourself laughing over a basket of dicks with your best friend, well, what is life good for?

Of Course, At Least

Of course Miss B had to wriggle and push until I was out of bed, despite a very interesting dream I kept longing to go back to involving a spy, a giant old refinished Victorian house, and microfiche. Of course Odd Trundles, bumbling around under the dining table, scared himself with a high-pitched noise from his own nether end and knocked over two chairs, wrenching the table almost sideways and almost, almost knocking a hapless African violet off said table. (It lost a leaf and keeps whispering about earthquakes.)

Of course the Mad Tortie had to try leaping into my lap while I was drinking coffee. She’s fine and the cup didn’t break, but I had to make another four shots because the first four hit the floor. And, and, of course, of course the damn squirrels have found the bird feeders and are gorging themselves.

Of course.

I’ve a middling-long run this morning, which means B will not be accompanying me. She will be quite put out by this, but she’s no longer the sprightly pup she used to be. Rest will do her good, and she can go with me tomorrow. Of course she won’t understand, and will supervise me extra hard upon my return.

At least I got some seeds into a mini-greenhouse, protected from squirrel depredations. I’ll be able to plant the starts when they come up and have a chance of them surviving, if the slugs aren’t too bad this year. I also got another hellebore into the ground, a beautiful deep-flowered one. The milky daffodils are coming up and I see evidence of hyacinths, the hop vine survived the winter and is by all appearances ready to make this the year it grows up the stair-rails with a vengeance.

And at least, if I don’t take B today, all the asshats who let their dogs offleash will only be moderately annoying. Small mercies.

I have hung a cheap bird feeder outside the kitchen window. On tiptoe, getting the hook into the holder, I heard the Princess laughing on the deck behind me. “What?” I tried not to sound aggrieved.

“I’m just thinking,” she said, “that maybe we’ll have more raining squirrels.”

I’m under strict orders to keep her posted.

Over and out.

On Wish Fulfillment, and “Art”

Someone made a snotty comment about art and entertainment being mutually exclusive (yes, this was on Twitter, how did you know?) and it irritated me enough to pop off a thread in response. It also got me thinking about wish fulfillment.

Inevitably, whenever someone starts making the case for entertainment being art too, goddamn if someone doesn’t trot out the Schlock Argument. The Schlock Argument is “this very popular thing is also critically panned and will not Stand the Test of Time, therefore your argument about entertainment being worthwhile is invalid.”1

Glossed over by the Schlock Argument are two very important things: who are the “critics” and how much time are we talking about standing the test of? In literature, critics have historically and overwhelmingly been old white men, and coincidentally (or not) it’s those same old, privileged white men who get to decide what gets kept and taught, held up as example and poured into malleable young minds. I’m sure you, my discerning reader, can see the problems inherent in that.

Which brings us to Twilight, and Fifty Shades.

No, I’m not joking.

I have often called the Twilight series “Mormon Housewife Wish Fulfillment”, with varying degrees of insolence, amusement, and sometimes even a touch of disgust. I can’t count the number of times in a private setting I was privy or party to a hashing out of the problems with characterization, narrative structure, plot, believability, or anything else involving Sparkly Vampires. The massive popularity of very weak tea indeed filled plenty of other writers with head-scratching bemusement or fury. “This is just so bad,” they would say to me. “Why, dear God, why?” And I agreed. Twilight is, by any standard, a hot mess lacking any real characterization or craft, and full of questionable things. (Renesmee, anyone?)

It is also art.

Twilight provoked a massive emotional and financial response. The latter has little bearing on this, except to underscore the intensity of the former. Twilight was genuinely, absolutely bonkers–but it was true. It provoked that emotional response because it was the absolute, unfiltered wish fulfillment of a human being in a particular time and place. I wish Livejournal hadn’t gone over to the Russians, because way back when the Sparkly Vampire Fandom was at full throttle, I read a marvelous piece by a former Mormon detailing how Latter-Day Saints theology and peculiarities filled the books to the brim. I remember exactly where I was sitting while reading that piece, because it burst upon me like blinding sunshine. I would love to link it here and give proper credit, because it was a dilly.

Bella as a character is a fabulous nonentity, so vague and dim the reader can project the reader’s own self onto her with little trouble at all, and therein lies an attraction, a powerful (and somewhat guilty, for me) pleasure. We all feel clumsy and at sea, and we all dream of finding out we’re special–not just everyday human special, but freesia-scented special. Stephenie Meyer either got her ego out of the way or sank so deeply into it as to become unself-conscious to the point of enlightenment; the result was a pure, grade-A, unfiltered wish fulfillment fantasy that was so specific to her time and place it became universal.

A paradox of art, that. Everyone alive has wanted to be freesia-scented special. Everyone wants a soulmate, if only to be completely understood. Everyone likes the idea of being protected by supernally beautiful creatures, everyone wants excitement and danger that isn’t really danger because you know you’ll be saved anyway.2 Twilight launched a billion fanfics and a massively profitable phenomenon because it went all-in, and readers could sense and responded to that commitment.3 It reminds me of the craze around Gothic novels, especially the ones wildly popular in their day and all but forgotten now because they were largely written for (and often by) women. Repressed sexuality and wish fulfillment is a powerful combination, and speaking truly about either is magnetic.

I’m sure you can guess why I mention Fifty Shades, as well. Yes, the fanfic (and the eventual book) is problematic as fuck. Issues of consent, authenticity, suppression of women, the poison of patriarchy run through both Fifty Shades and Twilight, which Fifty Shades was written mostly in response too. But both hit it big, because both evoked a huge emotional response–both are fantasies of wish fulfillment, of endless love, of submission becoming a power without the drawbacks normally accompanying real power.

Wish fulfillment isn’t just for women, either. Just look at Tom Clancy novels, or any movie starring Tom Cruise.

“Yes,” I hear you saying, “but, Lili, come on. Art? You’re calling them art?”

Yes. They were true, people responded to them, they are art. The false dichotomy between “art” and “entertainment” exists only to oppress; it’s a fucking classist fairytale. The idea that art has to be Serious, Disturbing, Approved by Professors, or Have Survived The Test of Time Plus Racism, Sexism, and Other Isms is pure bullshit. Art must be true, and the audience will respond to that truth. Whether or not art “survives the test of time” depends on cultural narratives of importance and who’s funding the fucking universities, not on any worth inherent in the art or artist themselves. Which sucks ass–how many beautiful, amazing things have been lost because nobody thought an artist a real human being because of their dangly bits, skin color, or socioeconomic position? The answer, always, is “too many.”

Yes, Twilight and Fifty Shades are badly written. The craft of either is bloody abysmal. They’re messy, farfetched, and often incoherent. But they are true. The artists behind them went right to the wall with gusto, refusing to water down the fantasy, the wish-fulfillment. Both of them were incredibly lucky to hit during a historical era where they could reach wide dissemination and reap financial returns. Both of them were fortuitous in their timing, and in tapping a few deep cultural veins.

None of the luck means they are not art.

Art is made for humans, by humans. It is to evoke an emotional response. I have often told my writing students the flavor of the response doesn’t matter–hate, love, laughter, weeping. It’s the response itself you’re going for, and the only way to get it is by telling the truth, in whatever fashion you can and refusing to look away. Don’t ask, is it art? Ask instead, is it true?

And if it’s not, revise until it is. You may hit it big, you may not, but either way, you’re a fucking artist. End of story, period, amen.

***

Nutrition

Two of my favorite things: a book that I must read with a dictionary handy, and spicy noodles.

Hating school is one thing, but learning is quite another.