Hiatus

Hello there!

I’ve been thinking, recently, about how best to ensure my own creative output. I produce the most work (which eventually becomes the best work) when I have a little breathing room and a little structure. That’s why I originally scheduled these blog updates for Tuesdays and Thursdays–it’s enough of a schedule to keep me motivated, enough free time in between to allow for some time to think.

I began this blog as a reason to write something, anything, twice a week. At first I thought I was going to tell true stories from my life in a funny way, but the blog has turned into a place where I can unspool my thoughts before winding them up neatly. That kind of reaction to real-life events has been invaluable for me. It’s helped me clarify my own feelings about a whole lot of things and has made clear for me how much I care about justice and equality. I’ll go as far as to say that it’s made me an activist.

However, it’s time for me to get back to fiction. I have the rhythms of a typical blog post down, and now I want to work on short stories, plays, songs, maybe even a third attempt at a novel. Unfortunately, the way I live my life, there isn’t enough schedule and breathing room for me to do that and to also update this blog twice a week with rants about feminism.

So for now, I’m taking a hiatus. What that means isn’t that the blog is going dark–not necessarily. I’m just taking time off from the weekly schedule that I’ve struggled to hit the last couple of weeks. I may update intermittently and might even post some of my fiction (reminder, everything on here is Copyright Laura Stratford 2013 and I reserve all rights to it), but I’m just going to take some time off from guarantees.

As a little holiday gift, in case I don’t post again til after the holidays, I’ve got a little–very little–present for you. I’ll post the story below the cut.

Happy Everything, folks.

-Laura

Short Story:

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Not Crazy, Just a Little Unhappy

Dear Blog Readers,

It’s time to talk about labeling people as “crazy” or “irrational” for having emotions again.

What brought this up? A couple of things. First, I was watching one of Anita Sarkeesian’s excellent Tropes vs. Women videos about the Damsel in Distress trope in video games.┬áThat got me thinking. Then I read this piece in HuffPo, which retreads some ground I’ve read before, but which sparked my thinking more.

In the video, Sarkeesian shows some narrative clips from games that have the “Ms. Male Character” trope–like Ms. Pacman, women are included in the game but a) have some kind of accessory added to make sure we *know* they’re female (as in, default is a dude, default plus pink bow is a lady) and b) their femininity is their personality–at least, the highly stereotyped performance of femininity is their personality.

One particularly egregious example was a game in which, for once, Princess Peach gets to save Mario and Luigi. She even gets super powers! Except–wait–her “super powers” are actually just consequences of her extreme mood swings. So she can wash away obstacles with tears, cause destruction with her anger, and so on. You could go so far to say that her powers were the powers of PMS* (which, by the way, is a whole other blog post).

The idea was that any real force these female characters had were the result of extreme and irrational emotionality.

Maybe it was seeing the clips, but this really got me thinking about my childhood. I tried so hard to define myself against these characteristics–the shallow, unthinking, unreasonably clingy and extremely temperamental “girly girls” in shows from Pokemon to oh-God-what’s-another-example-just insert-yours-here. I fell in love with tomboy characters because they weren’t like that. They didn’t get all mushy or weepy around boys, they went out and did the things the boys liked to do and beat them at their own games. They didn’t scream and run and tell when things didn’t go their way; they dealt with problems themselves. I wanted to be strong and self-reliant like that.

What I didn’t realize is that it’s a false dichotomy. There were never only two ways to be a girl, “girly” (implying overly emotional which would lead to the designation of “crazy”) and “tomboy” (implying cool and strong). I never had to feel ashamed that in first grade I only wore dresses when in fourth I never willingly put on a skirt. I really didn’t need to try to train myself not to have feelings about boys or about something hurtful someone had said or done. Feelings aren’t weakness; femininity isn’t insanity; holding things in isn’t the answer to all emotional problems.

This struck me like a miniature bomb today. I had no idea about all of this as a kid. Honestly. I was a feminist from out the gate and I still bought into this false dichotomy because I thought those were the options. Or, if we were being generous, there was “pretty, kind, generous, modest, perfect” (the princess model of femininity) versus “real, hopefully-pretty-despite-tomboyishness, sometimes loud or brash, but smart, creative, and again, cool” (the tomboy model again). I knew I wasn’t the first type so I figured I’d better be the second.

This is the stuff that leads to adults calling each other crazy for getting attached to each other, for having expectations about a relationship that don’t align with the other person’s (especially when there’s been no communication, which is often the fault of both sides), for asking for people to do things differently, or even just for bringing up that their feelings are hurt about something even if it’s small. Denial of our own and others’ right to have emotions means that we get really uncomfortable when we or other people demonstrate the emotions that, guess what, it’s pretty hard to get rid of.

I may have mentioned that I have never shouted at a significant other–that I’ve barely ever fought with one. My breakups have all been conducted in soft tones and although sometimes with tears, never with outbursts from either side. I’ve never flown off the handle, screamed accusations, thrown things, anything like that. Is it because I’m a model of restraint? Well, partly I’m not really the throwing type. Mostly, though, no matter how much it hurt, I didn’t want to give the other person fodder to think I was crazy. Maybe I wanted to break down but only let a tear or two escape. Maybe I wanted to slam the door but instead said that I understood. And maybe, in the time before the breakup, I tried to hide the depths of how I felt about this person or that person so as not to “scare them off” and ended up more hurt because the realization that we wanted different things came once I was further down the rabbit hole.

I’m tired of it. I’m tired of apologizing for sometimes getting really frustrated when someone takes the conference room I booked at work (a thing that happened today) or getting really sad because of a passage in a book. It is an amazing fact of human beings, and this human being in particular, that we can keep our lives going while having all different kinds of feelings. A sad afternoon at work doesn’t signify weakness–in fact, maybe I’ll get more done on that afternoon than on one in which I feel super energized and joyful (and distractable). The way I feel is not always going to be convenient for other people, but it’s my right to feel the way I feel, and I refuse to be ashamed of it.

Oh, and also? I never need to be told that I’m “being emotional,” thanks. I can figure that out on my own, and I can tell when you’re using that as a way of not engaging with the actual argument I’m making.

Kisses,

Laura

 

*Someday I’ll write about the ridiculous idea that women become uncontrollable monsters once a month, like werewolves in high heels

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Alien-nation

Yesterday I was at my family home in Massachusetts, and so instead of getting my headlines from the internet, I got them from the Boston Globe. Above the fold, there were stories about the recent mayoral election, a feel-good piece with a nice picture of a young girl with cancer kissing a sea lion at the Aquarium. Below the fold, in the left-hand corner: “10,000 Dead in Philippines, Number Rising.”

I went to church with my parents and the new minister talked about Veteran’s Day. His children’s message was about the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first all-African-American regiment and a coalition of free black men who volunteered to fight in the Civil War despite the US Army’s not recognizing them as soldiers until the Emancipation Proclamation was passed, and not compensating them fairly until they announced that none of them would accept a wage until they were all paid the same as white men.

Today is Veteran’s Day, and my gratitude and wishes for safety go out to everyone who is currently serving in the armed forces or who has ever served. It’s got me thinking, though. I’m thinking about how, a hundred and fifty years ago, people living in this country were not considered enough of a part of this country to be allowed to officially fight for a cause they believed in. I’m thinking about how, in the age of globalization, when we know very well that people on the other side of the world are human beings just like us, trying to live a decent life and to provide the same for their families, we still manage to break things down into “us” and “them.” What else, at its root, is nation-building?

I understand that it is difficult to govern large populations, and that we are not yet anywhere near being able to sustain one global civilization, but sometimes I’m really struck by how myopic individual governments–not to mention the media–can be. It makes me wonder if no one else remembers that “national boundaries” are imaginary lines in the sand, drawn where they are through a combination of military force and compromise, and that real live human beings live beyond them just like they do within them.

Can you imagine what attention and help we would be demanding from the world if ten thousand people had just died in a natural disaster? For some context, Hurricane Katrina killed 1,833. Almost 3,000 died on 9/11.

I’m reminded again of the movie “The Impossible,” whose subtext seemed to be that true devastation was something that happens to white people who happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I understand the appeal of the narrative–it’s pure horror story, the idyllic vacation gone terribly wrong, and a way to get self-obsessed Westerners into the head-space of someone experiencing the tsunami without asking them to do something tricky like identify with someone from South-East Asia–but I was, and I still am, disappointed that the first major motion picture about such a disaster had to be the one from an outsider’s perspective for us to get invested.

What does all of this have to do with Veteran’s Day? I want to believe that the wars that our veterans have fought in have, in the final tally, brought the world closer to the understanding that despite our differences in culture, in religious belief, in ideology, we are all human beings, worthy of respect and of opportunity and deserving of recognition for our suffering and our strength. I want to think that it wouldn’t have to take an Independence-Day type alien attack scenario–the imposition of a bigger, badder “other”–to see unity and understanding between people. I just want to see that information about vitally important world events gets recognition, and isn’t relegated to the margins.

I’m still sorting out the ways in which this all ties together in my mind, but I know the link is there. In the meantime, my heart is with the people suffering in the Philippines, who may not be from my nation, but who are all the same part of my family.

Here’s a link to the Red Cross for anyone looking to donate to disaster relief in the Philippines: Red Cross.

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To Foster Creativity

When I was little, as I’ve mentioned in the blog before, my daydreams were of the romantic variety. If I had a chance to zone out, it was to imagine Cary Elwes charging up to me in full “Dread Pirate Roberts” black.

Lately, it’s been another scenario popping into my head. The stories that are resonating with me at the moment are those in which someone takes in a young person or a child who needs them. I find myself rehearsing the “Welcome to your new home” speech instead of, say, Kat’s sonnet from “10 Things I Hate About You.” I play out scenes of struggle and fighting and ultimately acceptance, trust, and moments of joy. I think about how lucky I am to have a safe place to live and can’t help but think about all the kids out there who don’t have anywhere to go.

I made the mistake of watching a video-essay about child abuse in America the other day–mistake because I was out in the world in the middle of my day and and it pretty much wrecked me. I thought about all the kids who have grown out of the adorable infant or toddler stage who have a diminishing likelihood of ever being adopted. I thought about the heartbreaking story of the 12-year-old who went to church to beg someone, anyone, to adopt him. I almost cried on the train.

Here’s the thing: I’m 26 and single. I don’t have a car and I live in a one-bedroom, although I do have a nice futon and a wooden privacy screen. While my salary is more than adequate for the one of me, I know how quickly feeding and clothing someone else can add up. Most of all, at this stage in my life I’m still out and about all the time, working 9-5, dashing to coffee with this director and to that production meeting and hoping to steal some time to write something myself or even just fall into bed with a Stephen King novel. I’d be able to offer someone a safe crash pad, but at this point in my life, that’s about it.

The thing about helping people, though, is that it’s not a zero-sum game like I sometimes think it is. I don’t have to adopt every orphaned adolescent in Chicago to help someone out more than I would by just going home and watching “American Horror Story.” In fact, with a little research, I’m realizing that there are lots of options. There are mentorship programs like “Big Brother/Big Sister,” volunteer opportunities in the short and long term at shelters and daycares, even seemingly random organizations like the City Lights urban farm, which might focus on farming but which does so while teaching a cohort of student workers from high schools around what used to be Cabrini Green. There are non-profits like CureViolence (previously Ceasefire) and LIFT and the Heartland Alliance that work to help people live better, and they’d welcome any kind of help.

In fact, there are so many opportunities that it can be overwhelming. I went looking for one organization that sounded promising and came up with a whole list. Another lesson that I remember from the aftermath of natural disasters was that sometimes the help you need most is of the most unglamorous nature–administrative work, facility cleaning, even just a financial contribution. Everyone wants to lead arts and crafts. Few people are dedicated enough to clean the toilets. Realizing the mundane nature of the actual needs can be discouraging. It can make you feel guilty for not being a “good enough person” to want to do the thing no one wants to do.

What I’m trying to remind myself, as I look for a volunteer opportunity that will work for me, is that, as I said above, any help is help. As long as I’m not wildly inappropriate or irresponsible (“Here kids! I got you all puppies! Gotta go!”), I can find a way to offer the things I have to offer, beyond physical labor and monetary remuneration, and that’s a lot better than sitting back and feeling defeated. Maybe I won’t be funding a new shelter or adopting homeless LGBT youth in the next couple of years, but maybe I can talk to some people who have a lot of things they want to express and don’t know how about writing songs. Maybe I can just make them laugh, or sit and listen, or even just hang out in the same room as them when they don’t want to be alone. Maybe it’s okay if I can’t do it every week. Maybe–probably–one single person, without creating a movement, can’t save the world.

Anyway, my real takeaway is that I want to get out there and not to let this pass like some of my past one-day-only obsessions. Let me know if you want in. It sounds like something that would be worthwhile to do.

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Day of the Dad

Yesterday was my dad’s [redacted]th birthday. Let’s just say it was a milestone. Heck, let’s say 35th and not think too much about the math.

As a kid, I thought it was awesome that my dad’s birthday was so close to Halloween. This synchronicity supplied us with a story that was, as I thought, proof of his utter invincibility: One time, as a kid, he was having a Halloween birthday party in his hometown of Billings, Montana. It was dark and he was eager to get more candy so he ran across the street to the next house without looking both ways. He got hit by a car…and survived. Heck, he wasn’t even badly hurt.

My five-year-old (heck, my fifteen-year-old) mind was amazed by this. Every “hit by a car” story I’d ever heard ended in disaster–a pet being run over, a bicyclist’s life cut short. That my dad, as a child no less, had come out on the other side of a car-swipe was evidence that he was not someone to mess with.

There have been some pretty clear wins in my father’s life. A scholarship to Stanford, rising to the top of the salesman heap at a textbook editing company, successive elections to Town Meeting and the School Committee and a twelve-year career in town politics. There have also been some clear wins in my brother’s and my life because of him. Getting to receive my high school diploma from my own father. Our house being the place to call on the eve of a potential snow day, because our friends knew the superintendent would let us know first. Rides anywhere in the state (or several states over) when we needed them–for plays, to buy our first cars, for headshots in NYC or sailing camp out of Gloucester. Terrible shaggy-dog jokes that made our friends groan but also grin.

We “get” each other, he and I, in a way that can be spooky. I’ve mentioned before that we’re not allowed to play Charades in the same game, whether or not we’re on the same team–we’ll set the same obscure clues or will guess what the other person is acting out within seconds. I’ve been known to think, “Dad, I need something from you,” only to have him come downstairs and ask if I need anything. We raced each other for NaNoWriMo once–his word count vastly outnumbered mine that year.

Daddy, thank you for reading every one of these blog posts and sending me emails after each of them. Thanks for hugs and nonsensical nicknames (“Fred” for Todd, something I won’t mention for me) and insisting on honking the horn to the full rhythm to “Shave and a haircut…two bits” when picking us up, even when we were already getting into the car. Thanks for always being so gracious in welcoming friends and guests to our home and the “Stratford Hotel.” Thanks for the years in which you mystified carpoolers by claiming that the radio was voice-activated only by your voice while secretly controlling dials from your steering wheel.

Thanks for being my Dad, and here’s to [redacted] more years, or more.

Love you,

[Nickname also redacted]

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On Secret Identities

I’m sure it will stun and amaze you to hear that I am veeeery used to confessing to the entire world what’s on my mind, even when it’s something personal. If we’re being fully honest, change that to “especially when it’s something personal.” I’ve learned from experience that being honest and vulnerable helps you connect to other people and it often provides them with what they need to hear for stuff they’re going through. I like doing that. I also happen to be a member of several demographics (feminist, bisexual, living with an anxiety disorder) that I feel could use more representation, and that will only come from speaking up and out. So I try to do that, too.

I’m not as good at keeping private what really should remain private.

Confessing feels good. There’s a rush when you say something that wouldn’t normally get mentioned in polite conversation and someone says “ME TOO!” Or even just, “Oh, that’s interesting.” I talk to my friends and family a lot. They know basically everything that goes on in my life. Probably more than they want or need to. I like the feeling, of multiplying a joy or halving a burden, that you get when you tell someone what’s really going on with you.

I’m starting to realize, though, that there are healthy boundaries that you can and really should establish in your life. For example: Most of the details of your romantic relationships should probably remain between you and your partner. People talk about relationships being like houses that can have some windows but also need doors that can be closed and walls that can’t be walked through (unless you’re dating or are friends with a ghost). That’s not to say that if there’s a serious problem you shouldn’t seek outside help, but just that you need to build a certain trust with your partner.

I’m decent at keeping secrets…

…if I know you don’t want them passed on.

I have to know that, though. I’m not always great at gauging whether or not a given fact or occurrence should be shared and with whom. I’m outspoken enough about my sexual orientation, political leanings, relationship status, and health that I have a hard time sometimes realizing that other people wouldn’t want me to be as outspoken about theirs. My first instinct is to share–not to gossip, not to say anything malicious or untrue, but just to share true stories in case the information is helpful or interesting to other people.

I’m working on that. More than that, though, I’m working on setting up some boundaries in my own life. I still believe that there are aspects of my life that are personal that I can and should talk about in an unfiltered forum on the internet. I think the benefits of being a proud feminist, advocate for the understanding of mental health issues, bisexual woman, and believer in the rights of all people to live with the same basic rights and privileges far outweigh any costs.

All that being said, there are some areas of my life for which I am going to claim a secret identity.

Superheroes have them, why not me?

One of the areas of my life that, at least in terms of the blog, has always been established as firmly behind the velvet curtain (pay no attention to that woman!) is my romantic relationships when/if I have them. See above. No airing of dirty laundry, no naming names, no talking in anything other than broad generalities or about specifics of feeling how I feel and how people in diverse situations might feel the same way.

I’m consciously adding other aspects of my life to the list. Some of them are so secret that I won’t even say what those aspects are! Let me tell you, after two years of stream-of-consciousness logorrhea in a weblog, this is not second nature to me, but it’s something I need to do right now. It’s not that I’m shutting these parts of my life away from all other people; rather, it’s that I have appropriate venues for discussion and I am going to avail myself of them.

I’m used to confession being liberating, and I didn’t expect that privacy could be the same, but I’m starting to realize that the ability to say “no” is one of the most freeing things there is.

I don’t have to give lengthy explanations or excuses when a person asks me about something in my life.

I don’t have to get into debates I don’t want to have or to put myself in uncomfortable situations because I can’t think of a way to talk myself out.

I don’t have to engage with every person who wants to engage with me.

All that stuff can be so exhausting. It’s really cool to realize that I have a choice. And it’s hard to argue with “No, thanks.”

It’s possible that at some time in the future I will want to talk about some of the things I am not going to talk about right now, and that’s cool. Nothing is set in stone. It’s cool, too, to know that I’m fully in control of that choice, and that I can wait until I’ve established trust with someone (or with the internet, or with myself) to share.

I’m building my secret identity, an identity so secret that she doesn’t even have a name yet, although like Clark Kent, people in the know will probably think she’s pretty obviously me in a pair of glasses with no frames. She doesn’t even try to disguise her voice or wear a wig or anything. It’s pretty ridiculous.

Have a great weekend, everybody–heroes, villains, and incognito mutants alike.

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I Want To Believe

I was just thinking about what I wanted to write about today. I was thinking about this weekend, which I spent out in the woods leading groups of audience members through the scenes of “Dracula,” children nipping at my heels like puppies. I thought about the marked contrast between the children present on Sunday and on Monday–the former insisted that vampires do not exist and spent the entire hike trying to get me to admit that it was the year 2013 and we were not on the grounds of a mental asylum, while the latter were willing to concede the possible existence of vampires and agreed wholeheartedly that whatever the status of the blood-suckers, werewolves certainly do exist.

Then I sat down and looked at my TV, which has a scene from Season 1 of “The X-Files” frozen upon it, and I sensed a theme.

Halloween-time is the season of the suspension of disbelief as much as Christmas-time (Saint Patrick’s Day and Easter are to be debated). It’s always been one of my favorite times of year. I remember sitting at the kitchen table poring over the catalogue of Halloween decorations and costumes that would come in every fall around back-to-school time. I was able to feel a palpable change to the air, a chill caused by more than the weather that confirmed that soon it would be the night when ghosts and goblins would walk among us, perhaps even answer the door of the peculiar neighbor whose lights are always off. I devoured movies like “Hocus-Pocus” and “Casper.” All year round I would read ghost stories and search the library for more information about Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and psychic phenomena, but October was the month I was practically positive that it was all real–that it had to be real.

I’ve always been fairly credulous when it comes to the fantastic. It’s a chicken-and-egg debate as to whether or not that predisposed me to read fantasy or vice versa. I had no doubt in the existence of Santa Claus until I was probably about nine, at which point I cried myself to sleep finding out (I believe at the same time as my younger brother) that it wasn’t true. I left cookies in the woods for leprechauns and one time came back to find the Oreos cut precisely in half, one part missing–not twisted apart, but cut down the diameter. I was sure that was proof that other beings had come for them, since animals don’t use knives. Human beings or, God forbid, my parents, never occurred to me (Note: M & D, I don’t actually want to know if you’re the ones who did this).

I’ll tell you, of the kids who came to “The Passion of Dracula” this weekend, the ones willing to admit the possibility of vampires among us seemed to have a better time than the ones who didn’t.

(That’s not really fair–for all their cajoling and insisting, the agnostic kids were genuinely sad when I told them that there was only one scene left in the play, except for the one boy who said aloud, “This is stupid,” from the front row as Dracula died.)

I’m in a place in life right now where I’m trying with renewed vigor to figure out what I believe about the world. There’s an inner struggle here between the little girl who wanted to be a scientist and the one who had no trouble believing that a cruise ship could contain to this day the spirits of crew members and guests who had perished aboard (true story, we went on the Haunted Queen Mary(?) with my Girl Scout troop once in high school and I absolutely could not stand not having another person within two feet of me in case something ghastly grabbed me, This was during the day time, although to my credit there are no windows below-decks on a ship).

The thing is that, in order for me to truly reconcile the two, they shouldn’t be incompatible. I have to find it feasible that a belief in Something More can co-exist with the scientific world. This was the genesis of my college-aged inquiry into the physics and psychology of consciousness. This is why I’m currently reading a primer on the works of Carl Jung. The gist of it is that I need to believe in something. I’m working on some personal stuff that essentially won’t be successful if I don’t have something to put my faith in. It would be easiest if I could accept a pre-packaged belief system, but I’ve never really found one I was able to dive into hook, line, and sinker. Instead, I have this hodge-podge, ad hoc exploration, trying things out and seeing if they work for me, then waiting to see if I find them tenable long-term. I worry, or at least I wonder, about never really landing on anything solid. At the same time, I’m not so sure I need to, as long as what I have in the moment helps me live the life I want to live.

There are some things I know for sure exist, no matter what the explanation for our existence here turns out to be. Real, selfless love between people. Friendship. Kindness. Joy. Innocent laughter and the exhilaration of a really good scare. If the worst-case scenario turns out to be that we’ve got that and nothing else, that we make our own meaning in our own brief time, I can live with that. I’d love to become enlightened or to discover some incontrovertible proof of a higher power, but even if I never do, there are some wonderful things in the world, and I can be grateful that somehow, out of all the chaos, they came to be.

And even if I know it’s silly, even if I know I’m imagining things, if every so often I can scare myself enough with a creepy novel to feel like it might be a good idea to sleep with the light on, I’ll count myself lucky.

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