The Unapologetic Bigness of Lady Sybil Ramkin

I just re-read Snuff, by Terry Pratchett, and I was struck again and again by the fact that Vimes’s wife, Sybil, is one of the best examples I can think of of a fat woman just casually existing – in a romantic capacity – in a story. She’s not fetishized, but she’s not desexualized, either. No one is especially sexualized in Pratchett’s books, but she’s in a healthy romantic relationship, and it’s implied that there’s plenty of mutual physical attraction there. There are a few humorous references to the impressive effect of her expansive bosom on impressionable men. She’s attractive, and she takes up a lot of physical space, and it really feels like there was no conflict there for the author. That shouldn’t be so rare, but it is.

There’s a sweet scene where she and Sam are in bed together that paints a great little picture of realistic intimacy. She rolls over to talk to him, and this shift in her weight causes the already very fluffy bed to bury Vimes. Her bigness is never depicted as something wrong – It’s just part of her presence. It’s a part of her charm, but not all of it.

She also takes up a lot of social space. She was already the richest person in Ankh-Morpork when she married Sam, and she has a massive social network. She’s extremely generous, opinionated, and confident. She breeds incredibly dangerous dragons as a hobby. She’s fierce as hell when she needs to be, and doesn’t apologize for knowing more than others, whether that’s about dragons, etiquette, or history. She calls Lord Vetinari, the tyrant of Ankh-Morpork, by his first name. She proposed to Sam, not the other way around. Sam may not always be the most attentive or responsible of husbands, but he loves Sybil and never seems to resent her for being so powerful. He maybe resents her a bit for taking away his bacon sandwiches, but he still worships the ground she walks on.

She’s just an awesome character, constantly popping into the narrative to say something insightful or hilarious, and she once again makes me wish that I had read these books when I was a teen, because I desperately needed more examples of women who take up space and don’t say they’re sorry for it. Too often, we teach young women to shrink themselves into as small a space as possible, and then are shocked that they don’t thrive. Women are almost exclusively rewarded for smallness and delicacy, and our largeness is rarely celebrated, even though it can be an absolutely glorious and powerful thing.

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My dragons aren’t quite as explosive as hers, but I think they’re pretty cute.

Writing days this past week: 2

The Savior’s Champion

I really enjoyed Jenna Moreci’s The Savior’s Champion. It sets a very satisfying pace, has lots of action interspersed with some real sweetness, and it kept surprising me all the way through (in good ways.)

First off, if you have an issue with words like “fuck” and “cock,” don’t even bother with this book, because you won’t have fun. Or, do give it a read, and maybe it’ll help desensitize you.* That said, if you find (contextually appropriate) dick humor entertaining, this is the book for you.

Tobias, our main dude, gets drawn into a massive tournament to win the heart and hand of his country’s ruler, the Savior. She’s the magically ordained leader of Thessen, but hasn’t been seen by anyone outside the palace for most of her life. Tobias is a former artist’s apprentice who has been forced to become a laborer in order to support his mother and sister. He doesn’t have any personal interest in the Savior, or in the power of being her consort, but enters the competition for his own reasons. The tournament consists of a series of inescapable challenges, many of which are life-threatening and violent. He struggles to survive and protect the people that he loves, but also to hang on to his sense of who he is.

The narrative style was sarcastic and fun, and a nice break from the overly stilted language you sometimes find in fantasy. Her world-building was creative and also really broke out of the typical fantasy mold. Overall, the story just frequently didn’t go the way I expected, and that includes the romance, which turned out to be my favorite part.

Tobias goes through some very understandable emotional struggles because of the disturbing situation he’s been forced into, and that was very skillfully and responsibly portrayed. Jenna did the same with consent and communication in the romantic situations, which was awesome. I really liked the diverse cast, too. There are several non-straight characters, and the women in particular have a good range of appearances and personalities. One has a physical disability and another is developmentally delayed, and neither felt like a stereotype to me, although I’m not disabled, so please take that with a grain of salt.

I’m really excited to read the next book in this series.

CW: There is some discussion and portrayal of sexual assault throughout the story, but it is strictly shown in a negative light, not tolerated or perpetrated by people we’re supposed to like. The storytelling is also fairly gory and visceral, so if violence is a trigger for you, you might want to approach with caution – though again, the violence is not glorified. Some ableist language, always used by the uncool people.

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* Regarding all the damn swearing: The thing is, limiting one’s vocabulary to avoid curse words doesn’t mean a person is better, cleverer, or even nicer. You can swear up a storm while uplifting others, and you can easily tear them down without ever stepping outside the bounds of “polite” language. In fact, one constant refrain I hear to protest swearing: “It’s just low class!” Is… You know, classist. That’s not a good thing; it’s actually an insidious form of prejudice. It’d be wise to examine your personal shit around language, whether you pick this book up or not.

Writing days this past week: 2

Entertaining Sea Lions

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that Sea Lions suck. Or at least, it should be.

No, not the graceful marine mammals, but the guys (and some non-guys) who gleefully waste the time and energy of people who respond to their willful ignorance in good faith. The more a person honestly cares about educating and helping others, the more vulnerable they become to these unmitigated trashbags. That’s the worst part, to me, at least. They specifically prey on caring people in order to drive them to completely legitimate frustration and exhaustion, at which point they turn to gaslighting. They were just asking questions. They just want to understand. This kind of behavior is why activists never get anywhere.

Ironically, they’re sort of right about that last part. Working our asses off to educate these malicious garbage cans is not productive. It’s more like cooperating with emotional vampires while they suck our lives away, but we’re required to do it because people who lack privilege are always required to assume good faith on the part of privileged assholes long past the point where it becomes painfully obvious that they’re just dicking with us.

Their tone is always disgustingly condescending to start with, and it only gets more ridiculous as conversations go on. They love to incorrectly accuse others of logical fallacies, while actually using them freely themselves. Their questions are repetitive and can be easily Googled, their super clever arguments are all exactly the same offensive and illogical nonsense, and they blatantly refuse to learn, no matter how clearly anything is put to them. Their protestations of innocence when they’re called on this are similarly cookie-cutter and blatantly insincere.

It’s infuriating that even here, in my own space, I feel obligated to explain what they’re doing and to make my case as to why they don’t deserve our time, when all that should need to be said to this behavior is “No.”

“Intriguing post about your boss hitting on you in the workplace, could you please provide several scientific studies to back up your personal experience and also a psychic to prove that he meant to be sexist in the first place?”

“No.”

“Well then, prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wasn’t asking in earnest.”

“No.”

They lose their shit, I gotta tell you. Sea-lioning jerks absolutely unravel at the seams when someone won’t play their rigged game. They melt down, and desperately try to force reengagement. Their supporters flock to wail about the unfairness of such a harsh response to an innocent question and to bemoan the future of the civilized world when a random person won’t accept their challenge to a word-duel literally anytime they demand one. Truly, human intellect is dead because a woman won’t drop everything to explain feminism 101 for a completely uncooperative and demanding audience. How can her personal experiences with sexism be legitimate if she doesn’t submit to random interrogations at the drop of a hat?

I still personally feel deeply insecure about just saying “no,” because that’s how I have been conditioned to feel. I want to explain what it feels like, as a woman, to have grown up absorbing the inescapable fact that my opinions and knowledge are all subject to challenge and judgment by men. Any man, no matter his qualifications on a topic or mine, can challenge me freely, and if I don’t play, he can declare me ignorant and hysterical and automatically wrong. He can do this, and he will receive support from pretty much any bystanders, because this is totally normalized.

The thing is, though, I shouldn’t have to defend my experience of this. Other women already know the helpless rage this induces, and men just need to stop perpetuating it. Y’all dudes can just take my word for it, that this experience is infuriating and invalidating, and you really should just take my damn word. This same principle also applies to racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and more.

What if that fine inquisitive fellow was actually in earnest, though, you ask? What if he didn’t deserve this cruel treatment? What if he wasn’t literally Hitler?

So what?

“No” is still a completely reasonable answer, and one that should be respected. So is “Look it up yourself, person who clearly has access to the internet and its vast stores of recorded knowledge.”

If I say something true, and won’t explain it to you, it’s still true. Mind-blowing, I know.

If you say something ridiculously wrong, and I point it out, I am not honored bound to become your indentured teacher until you admit your mistake or defeat me.

Refusal to argue has nothing to do with the correctness of a person’s beliefs.

This doesn’t mean that many beliefs are not inherently harmful. Many are. This doesn’t mean that many beliefs should not be challenged whenever they’re expressed. Many should be. Sometimes, this shit gets complicated, but I swear that nobody owes a damn sea lion the satisfaction of a fruitless argument.

You can just say “no.” You can say it at any point in the process, too. That’s kinda how consent works, and those principles extend far beyond just sexual interactions.

Just say “no” to sea lions.

Writing days this week: 1

What You Don’t Know You Know

English has a lot of rules that most native speakers know on an instinctive level, but could not explain to a non-English speaker. Order of adjectives is one of those rules, and it’s pretty neat to see how it works. If the order of descriptive words in a sentence is jumbled, it will just sound weird and confusing. The average person could correct the order so that it sounded right, but they likely couldn’t tell you why it was wrong in the first place. Sometimes the order matters, and can change the meaning of the sentence, but often it’s just a particular flow that we’ve all learned through exposure.

The key thing is, most people were not aware that they were learning it, and don’t know they know it until it is pointed out to them. Obviously, not everyone speaks the same way, and I’m not making any argument for the virtue of these types of grammatical rules. I’m just saying that this is an extremely pervasive thing in the English language. It is part of us, and most of us aren’t aware of it.

That’s why it makes such a great example of how prejudice works. If you can know how to order your words according to rules you never knew you learned, you can learn a whole lot of other things without ever being aware of them on a conscious level. Not all of these things are harmless, and many are not based in fact, but they are taught to us all the same, in a million subtle ways.

It’s easy to get angry and say you’d never choose to be racist, but the thing is that you never chose to order your adjectives the way you do, either. It is simply the way speaking is done. In fact, there’s no possibility of choice being involved if you aren’t consciously aware of learning something. You do not need to be a grammar snob to follow the basic rules of English every time, and you don’t need to be a hateful person to experience the instinctive fears and prejudices that are a part of our collective culture. Choice isn’t involved until someone makes you aware of what you believe, and the consequences of what you believe, and that’s not a pleasant experience.

It’s tempting to rely on your conscience to alert you to these sorts of issues, but that’s no good. Consciences aren’t magic. They’re actually pretty terrible judges of what is wrong and what is right. They’re much better judges of what is familiar and what is foreign. They’re formed on the same instinctive level as language, at around the same time. It happens when we’re children, and what we learn is generally reinforced for the rest of our lives by our environments. A person can be loving and generous, and also harbor terribly harmful beliefs about others. The only way to change that is to be willing to handle the shock of having those beliefs challenged. It will often feel, not just uncomfortable, but wrong. Incorrect. Against the proper order of things.

Hooray for Black Panther! (No Spoilers)

Black panther rocked! Not going to go into detail about it yet, because this is one of the few movies I’d really care about spoiling, but it was absolutely beautiful and had an excellent soundtrack. It also had more dynamic and empowered female characters than Wonder Woman, and I mean that both in number and quality. Anyone who disagrees can fight me, because I’ll take four amazing black women with differing motivations and strengths over Wonder Woman’s blatant reliance on the born-sexy-yesterday trope, gross portrayal of the female villain, and weirdly male-saturated cast any day of the week. I was also super thrilled with having a male main character who was so free of toxic masculinity.

Basically, Black Panther was everything I’ve ever wanted from a superhero movie, or any other kind of movie, and all future dude characters will now be measured against T’Challa’s awesomeness.

Other than that, I’ve had a pretty quiet week. I baked yummy banana muffins and enjoyed a cozy soak in the spa with my boyfriend and awesome metamour. Unfortunately, I also managed to catch a cold, so I’m pretty tired. It’s been snowing all day, so I’ve been watching the fluffy flakes blow past the window and enjoying not having to go outside in it. (Except briefly, to prevent a puppy rebellion.)

My 29th birthday is on Tuesday, which is exciting, and my sister sent me this cute sparkly dress. I had to wear it when we got some sun even through my legs froze a bit.

Writing days this past week: 0
Yeah, the panic block is strong right now. I ended up working on a whole bunch of other things, but not Somnolence. I’m going to force myself into it as soon as I post this.

Filling the Unforgiving Minute

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If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew 

to serve your turn long after they are gone,

and so hold on when there is nothing in you

except the will which says to them: “hold on!”

If by Rudyard Kipling

This is my favorite poem, and it has gotten me through a lot. It’s the second poem I memorized when I needed to cope with repetitive negative thoughts, and now there’s a whole list of them that I know by heart. They’re all pretty much just chosen because they appealed to me at the time I was ready for a new one, with no particular theme or genre. I started doing this because I desperately needed to be distracted, and turning my brain around once it gets into a pattern is really hard.

Distractions like TV and books and other activities are handy for this, but they tend to leave me way too distracted. I already don’t enjoy the way ADHD makes my head buzz, and it is extremely easy for me to get sucked into stuff in a way that isn’t enjoyable. Playing a game or watching TV is great, but less so when I’ve been doing it mindlessly for hours because I literally can’t stop. That just winds up with me feeling guilty and mad at myself, which totally defeats the purpose of finding distractions in the first place. Even so, I’ve relied pretty heavily on stuff like this.

Being social might seem like a healthier alternative, but I really value my alone time. I don’t get lonely, really. I definitely miss specific people and crave their company, but there aren’t a lot of them, and I still need a lot of space to feel comfortable and be able to work. Being around people takes up a lot of my attention, even when we’re not directly interacting, so it’s kind of difficult for me to get anything done when I’m not alone.

It’d be cool if I didn’t need the distractions at all, and now I’m hoping to change it, but it was really necessary for a few years. See, there’s this delightful thing called rejection sensitive dysphoria. It’s a very common symptom of ADHD that, for some reason, I had never once heard mentioned until about a year ago when I stumbled across a little tumblr note about it. Lots of people with ADHD experience overwhelming anger as part of their response to perceived rejection, but I just deflate like a sad balloon. My chest and all my limbs suddenly feel way too heavy to move, and I just want to lie down and let life go on without me because it’s too hard, and I’ll just mess up even more if I keep doing anything. It becomes extremely hard for me to even muster the energy required to speak.

RSD is fairly debilitating, regardless of the specific form it takes, because it happens so quickly and immediately swamps the brain in intense emotion before any logic or coping mechanisms can kick in. Once it gets going, it’s also extremely hard to defuse, and there was a period in my life when it seemed like everything in my life and all of my thoughts triggered it. Fortunately, that’s over now, but I’m left with a reflexive habit of staying distracted all the time. That’s not really the best for creativity, or for general peace of mind. It’s definitely not good for my tendency to get locked into activities in a way that isn’t actually enjoyable and, ironically, it makes all my ADHD symptoms worse.

So, now I get to unlearn the constant distraction habit. I need to be able to just be in my own head again without constant stimulation, if for no other reason than that it’s important for creative work. Memorizing poetry is still a really helpful tool, because unlike a TV show, it has clear limits and isn’t overstimulating. Reciting the ones I’ve learned, either aloud or in my head, gives me a little sense of satisfaction that boosts my mood, but not too much. It’s a very intentional and specific way to stop my thought process in its tracks and take it in another direction. When the feelings do hit, I’m usually able to recognize what’s happening and weather it out.

Mindfulness meditation also helped a lot with that, even before I knew anything about RSD. I recently discovered that Terry Pratchett actually described mindfulness practice in his Tiffany Aching stories, and he called it second thoughts. They’re the second thoughts that watch your first thoughts. They give you distance from the automatic ideas and feelings that run through your head. It’s not that any of the initial reactions stop happening, it’s just that there’s a part of you that is observing instead of participating. It doesn’t stop the feelings, but it can allow me to shift them a little away from my identity, and then just wait out the storm.

 

Writing days this past week: 7

Over-reliance on “The Zone” as an ADHD Creative

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I saw this piece at the Seattle Art Museum and it seemed like a nice little ADHD metaphor.

Once again, the count of my writing days this week sit at a measly two. One and a half, really, if I’m being less of a liar. Only actual work on Somnolence counts toward that goal, so it’s not as if I got nothing done on the other days, but I still find myself wondering if I actually care about my writing every time I look at that number. It’s a frustrating thing to wonder after years spent working on it, but my personal interest and commitment have never been easy to measure. They never seem to directly translate into the willpower to actually do a thing on a regular basis.

The basic formula seems like it should go: Level of interest + Commitment to a result = Productivity.

It feels like you should be able to turn it around and judge that if your productivity is high, you’re either very committed, very interested, or both. If it’s low, your interest and/or commitment must be low. It’s probably not that simple for most people, though, because obviously there are a lot of other potential factors in life. Mental or physical illness can throw everything thoroughly out of whack, because they suck up energy, time, resources, and simply make some tasks impossible. Being neuroatypical also messes with the equation, in part because we’re usually expected to approach goals and planning in a way that’s highly unintuitive and ineffective for some folks. Often, we’re not offered, or even allowed to seek, alternative methods that might allow us to succeed.

It can leave people with ADHD honestly believing that they just don’t care about anything, or that they’re incurably lazy because they can’t seem to muster the will to achieve any goals they set. They generally believe this because they’ve been told something like that after every failure. Many parents and teachers either don’t believe that routine tasks are significantly harder for kids with ADHD, or they figure that tough love will somehow motivate the kid to stop being so darn incapable of succeeding. It doesn’t work that way, but it’s amazing how many people think it does, as if kids routinely go through the emotional hell of failing in school and disappointing their families for fun.

I’ve got depression and ADHD, and it’s certainly been quite a lark. I’ve had both conditions all my life, for as long as I can remember. These days, they’re both being properly managed, which is nice but also kind of weird. As I’ve said before, actually looking forward to stuff with genuine joy is surprising after years of “excited” meaning something closer to “I’m motivated enough to do this theoretically fun thing, and the dread is currently manageable.”

My interest levels were permanently smothered under a huge wet blanket of bleh. Feeling hopeless and terrible about yourself really doesn’t help on the commitment front, either. If nothing makes you feel better and you’re pretty sure none of it matters, there’s very little reason to work hard at anything, even if you’re pretty sure you do care, somewhere deep down under the blanket. I knew I was depressed, growing up, but I didn’t know I had anything else interfering with my ability to function. Depression can act like ADHD anyway, messing up both memory and focus, so it is genuinely hard to tell the difference. Confusing matters further, ADHD also often triggers depression, especially in girls. Girls don’t get diagnosed as often, and face significantly harsher punishments for acting out, so they tend to just shrink into themselves as they continue to struggle.

People with ADHD can’t work as expected because certain types of brain function aren’t optional if you want to get certain results. If you don’t have the right chemicals and energy doing the right things in the right part of the brain, focus simply will not happen. Focus is just the result of those physical processes, and it cannot be faked or powered through. The rest of the brain, with all its willpower and concerns and intentions, can scream all day long about how important something is, but it can’t actually do what the broken bit is supposed to do. It can even become less functional under increased effort, and is significantly worsened by stress, guilt, and all the other feelings that come with pressure and frustration. The effort can be sort of mentally painful. It feels awful.

It also, in my experience, forms a horrible kind of negative feedback loop if the person doesn’t know what’s happening to them. If a kid gets homework and doesn’t enjoy it, but is able to hang in there and finish it, they learn that increased effort produces results and that maybe homework isn’t the literal worst thing in the world. If a kid with ADHD gets boring homework and settles in to give it their best try, they’re gonna learn a much less uplifting – but just as real – lesson. They learn that putting in that effort is significantly uncomfortable, and that they get inexplicably poor results regardless of how hard they work. The more times that happens, the less reason they have to put in the effort at all and the more stressed they’re likely to feel at the thought of it. It looks like stubbornness, and sometimes results in genuine anger and refusal to cooperate, because who wouldn’t be kinda pissed about being expected to keep doing something that feels awful and doesn’t work?

They might also get lectured, as I often was, about how they’re too smart to be failing and aren’t living up to their potential. This is a shitty thing to say to any kid, because when they continue to fail, they’re then faced with two logical conclusions. They can conclude that they really are lazy and that this is just what lazy feels like, or that they’re just not all that smart. I went with lazy, and then I went to the library. Class made my brain feel nauseated, and they wouldn’t let me read in class. I liked reading. Reading didn’t make my brain feel nauseated, so I did a lot of it. The first half of my sophomore year was spent reading through the very weird mix of literature that ends up in high school libraries.

The reason that I could bury myself in a book, even a fairly disturbing one, for hours, but couldn’t stand memorizing Spanish conjugations, was that it did something different to my brain. It got me truly interested, and the extra spark was enough to get that faulty focus engine to work properly. Increased effort won’t jumpstart it, but high levels of interest sometimes can.

So, people with ADHD often learn that if they’re really fascinated by something, they can actually pour all their focus into it and get results. They can soak up information about their particular interests like sponges and lose themselves for hours in a state of hyper-focus, also known as being in the zone. Being in the zone feels awesome, especially when all you have to compare it to is that staticky feeling of utter boredom and frustration. There’s very little middle ground to be had, since it requires so much extra fuel to get that part of the brain to do its job.

Just given that, it seems like if a person with ADHD has an interest that can become a career, they’re actually pretty much set. That hyper-focus becomes a boon, and they should be able to throw their entire heart and soul into the process of building a business, developing a profitable skill, or earning a degree. Some people are really fortunate and their interest is tech-related, but there are lots of other skills and knowledge-sets for people to get lit up about. Most hobbies can kinda fit into an industry niche somewhere. Reading and art are my hobbies, and writing came naturally out of my love for books and my interest in creativity.

Unfortunately, there are major draw-backs to running on this hyper-focus alone. The primary one being that, no matter how fascinating something is, it can become more dull if you do it all the time. It’s inevitable that most long-term commitments require doing boring stuff sometimes, even if other parts are still fun. Once something becomes routine and they don’t really feel like working on it, all the same ADHD issues crop up. A Neurotypical person would be able to push through the dull patches and do it anyway, but the ADHD adult who has years of experience telling them that boredom feels a bit like slowly being smothered in quicksand, is going to panic.

Hell, it’s so ingrained that I get anxious just at the thought of a boring task, and I instinctively shy away from letting the things I’m interested in become routine, because I know the experience is so bad and I don’t want them being tainted by it. That’s pretty much the worst instinct a writer can have if their goal is publication. It’s fine for a hobby, but not for a career. All of my habits, built up over years of trying to skip around the stuff that shuts my brain down, and feeling useless and crappy about myself because that was pretty much everything that I needed to do, are totally counterproductive now. They weren’t productive before, either, but at least they made some sense.

Now that I’m on a medication that brings my mental function in the right area closer to average, I actually can push through boredom and get into a working rhythm, even if that task wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing at the time. And yet, I still put writing off all day in favor of other, more immediately gratifying, things. I’m scared to pick it up if I’m not already feeling lit up about what I’m about to work on. I wait for that highly unreliable muse, even though I consciously know that I can now generate the required motivation myself.

It seems very likely that these old habits will shift over time. I’ve only actually been on the medication for a few months, and it generally takes longer than that to change a whole system of coping mechanisms. Hopefully, being aware of the anxiety that triggers that avoidance will help me stop acting on it without thinking. And, hopefully, I’ll also eventually be able to stop wasting my energy by questioning whether I actually really care every time something gets hard and it makes me want to quit.

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Toci also suffers from boredomphobia.