It’s Okay Not to Love Books

I love books. I love writing and reading. I feel that books have helped me immensely throughout my life, and I think it’s okay not to read. It’s okay to not feel any particular attachment to books. It’s okay to like reading, but to prefer digital formats to physical books. It is not just okay, but probably wise, to donate or throw away books that don’t make you happy. Your space doesn’t need to look like a library unless that makes you feel good. If it does, that’s also fine.

It’s kinda not fine, though, to pitch a fit over the idea of anyone else not valuing books the way you do. For some people, they’re just objects. That’s fine. They are just objects. The value of any object is personal and subjective, and it may change over time.

The anger over Marie Kondo’s (misquoted and out of context) suggestion that people keep less than thirty books in their homes is worrying for a lot of reasons.

First of all, it’s untrue. She says you should keep whatever makes you happy. If books make you happy, she’d encourage you to proudly display and enjoy them, not convince you to throw them away. Stop bitching at this nice woman who just wants to help people tidy their houses. It’s her thing, just like books are your thing. She isn’t coming to take anything from you, and she doesn’t want to.

It also shows that a lot of avid readers and writers haven’t considered that there are plenty of totally valid reasons why people might not feel the same way they do about books. A number of disabilities, including dyslexia and ADHD, can make it extremely difficult to read, or to sit still long enough to enjoy a book. Some people literally cannot form images in their heads as they read, so pages full of text hold little appeal for them. Some never had access to books growing up and didn’t develop that love. Other people just have dominant interests that don’t lend themselves well to sitting quietly and reading. Not everything is best absorbed in that format, and not everyone learns easily from the written word.

Finally, the actual force of it is driven by classism and ableism, among other things. Yes, a lot of people only share those posts because it’s kinda funny to imagine themselves cutting down on something that obviously means so much to them, but a lot of other people have shown genuine disgust and anger at the idea of not having a library’s worth of knowledge in their living rooms. There’s this deep belief, often instilled when we’re kids, that reading a lot and having as many books as possible makes us smarter, and therefor better, than our peers. This can become part of our identities as readers. It’s been a part of mine, and I didn’t realize how much that was driven by certain social biases until fairly recently. I’m still learning to untangle it.

Sure, it’s fine to sleep on a pile of books every night like a dragon, but that really does not mean you’re better than anyone else. It doesn’t mean you’re smarter than anyone else. More than anything else, it probably means that you may have some common interests with other avid readers. Which is a great thing, but it’s not for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be.

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Some cute brown mushrooms on a mossy log that I found on my last road trip.

Writing days this past week: 0

Kindness Porn

I’ve started watching the Tidying Up show with Marie Kondo, not because I’m actually planning to follow her method at the moment, but just because she’s such a delight to watch and listen to. I also loved her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and would highly recommend it as a very relaxing read. It’s an excellent bedtime book.

In spite of all the totally legitimate criticism of the minimalist movement, Marie is really nonjudgemental and seems to be purely motivated by a desire to help people make their own environments comfortable for themselves, not to make them fit into any particular image. If that box of Star Wars memorabilia makes you happy, she wants to help you display it, not guilt you into throwing it away. She really strikes me, above all else, as a person who has completely leaned into who she is, her own unique view of the world, and what matters to her. I think that’s pretty special.

I have a slowly growing little list of shows that are both positive and relaxing, and Tidying Up is going on it. The Great British Baking show and Queer Eye are also pretty high up there. I never realized how starved I was for just seeing basic kindness on TV until I first found myself watching a baking competition where the contestants would often stop work just to help each other. Even the comedians on GBBS give out hugs and encouragement in equal measure with their kindhearted teasing and jokes.

Queer Eye offers something even more rare, which is a group of men doing emotional labor for other men. Many straight men rely almost entirely on their female partners for that kind of emotional processing and support, and it can be terribly isolating. The men of Queer Eye are gentle and encouraging, and they provide a great image of non-toxic masculinity. Plus, the show offers a lot of body positivity for men, another rarity.

Side note: There was a great discussion I saw a while ago about how this heavy reliance on their female partners can encourage men to believe in the mythical Friend Zone. Men tend to view any kind of emotional labor as something you only exchange with a romantic partner, whereas women usually also give and receive that kind of support from friends. Thus, basic supportive friendship for a woman looks, to a straight man, like a relationship. This is not a good thing. It wears women out, trying to keep up with the needs of a person who isn’t getting emotional support from anyone else in their life, and is part of why older men tend to die soon after losing their partners. They have no emotional support networks to take up the strain, unlike most older women. Plus, it encourages men to ruin perfectly good friendships by putting their female friends in The Girlfriend Zone. Knock this off, dudes. Being friends isn’t a consolation prize, y’all just need to learn how to do it right.

Here are some of the shows on my kindness porn list:

  • Great British Baking show
  • Queer Eye This is the remake, not the original. I’ve just never watched the original show, so I can’t comment on its tone.
  • Tidying up
  • This one is not a TV show, but Jessica Kellgren-Fozard has a youtube channel, Jessica Out of the Closet, that is pretty much like distilled sunshine. She’s a disability activist, vintage beauty vlogger, and she shares stories about her life with her wife and their two dogs. Sometimes she also talks about her beliefs as a quaker, and about queer and disabled historical figures. She’s one of the most positive and intentionally kind people I’ve ever seen in my life.
  • Big Dreams, Small Spaces is a British show about renovating small gardens so that they’re more functional and beautiful for the families who need them. They often feature disabled people, with a focus on accessibility and tailoring those spaces really well to the people who will use them.
  • Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is a short one, but very fun to watch. The host, Samin Nosrat, is incredibly passionate about good food, with none of the usual quibbling about calories or creepy talk about guilty pleasures. She enjoys herself, teaches about the important basic elements of flavor, and she goes out and talks to people who make amazing food around the world. She also has a book.

If anyone has any suggestions for more shows I should add to this list, I’d love to hear them.

I had to rescue this orchid from Safeway, because they had sprayed all the other orchids with glitter paint and it was sad.
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This is my weird hairless dog in pajamas giving me a hug. Granted, she was doing this to stop me from working so I’d pay attention to her instead, but still.

Writing days this past week: 2

Good Job, 2018 You

I don’t really love the whole resolution thing. A lot of the time, we’re encouraged to be way too all-or-nothing in our goals, and frustration naturally follows. There’s also a whole culture of guilt built up around it that kinda sucks, where we look back at the past year only to find things to fix with our new resolutions, and to feel ashamed of the ones we abandoned last January.

That said, this is still a perfectly good time to look back at the past year and do some self-reflection. I think it’d be nice, though, if we were all encouraged to be proud of the growth we did achieve, instead of looking at our failings. Everyone has probably done at least a few things in the past year that they can be proud of. They might have learned something important about themselves, built a new routine that made them more productive, changed an old pattern of behavior that didn’t work well, or started eating vegetables a little more often. I did all of those things, and I’m making a conscious effort to give myself credit for all of it. It was hard, but I grew a lot.

I also wrote a blog post every single week in 2018. It’s not a perfect record – a number of the posts came out late – but it’s still a big deal for me to be able to be that consistent about anything. I want to thank everyone who has read any of those posts, because knowing that people might notice if I didn’t put them out helped keep me on track.

I really appreciate you all, and I hope you can find things to congratulate yourselves for when you look back at 2018. I hope you can be kind to yourselves in 2019, too. Your specific resolutions may or may not be manageable, but you’re still going to grow and change this year. We all will.

Round moss clumps on bare tree branches on a sunny winter day.

Writing days this past week: 3

National Coming Out Day – I’m Still Gettin’ Bi

I got pretty much nothing done last week, but I’m feeling much better now, so I’m looking forward to getting back in the swing of things. I tried to write this post yesterday, but it just turned into a jumbled mess, so here’s the short and sweet version:

Yesterday (Thursday) was national coming out day, and in that spirit I’ma remind y’all that I’m bisexual. Coming out and being visible is a privilege, and one that I don’t take for granted. It’s also important, because queer folks (who can do so safely) being visible is part of moving toward a culture where we don’t just assume that everyone is straight and cis. It’s a way of pushing back against our current culture where people can be fired and endangered because of who they are, and where people risk losing friends and family members because of who and how they love.

Anyone who thinks it’s unnecessary to share this information publicly should probably keep in mind that every time a straight cis person mentions their spouse in casual conversation, they’re doing something that many queer people cannot do without mentally calculating the very real risk of rejection or anger. Every time you go into a public bathroom and don’t worry about your safety, you’re doing something that many trans folks, including children, can’t do. Coming out isn’t a bid for attention. It’s just the constant act of swimming against the currents of a culture that fundamentally assumes we don’t exist, and often asserts that we shouldn’t exist. We’re essentially forced to do it, or allow ourselves to be erased. If you want it to not be a big deal, then fight homophobia and transphobia and all the other bigotry that makes the world unsafe for your queer neighbors, friends, and family members.

All that said, here’s my favorite song about coming out as bisexual, because it’s hilarious and cute.

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This is the bi pride flag! I drew it. No, the layers aren’t even. I’m trying really hard not to let that bug me, because it is late and perfection is a deep pit where madness lurks.

Writing days this past week: 0

Racists are a Bummer

So, I sat down to write this post yesterday (Thursday,) but I checked my Facebook page first. I’ve been trying to help boost a friend’s gofundme page, but increasing the visibility of that post means that a very mixed bag of people see it, and some of them feel the need to leave incredibly rude and heartless comments. They’re completely normal people who could easily be your friends, family members, or fellow church-goers, but they basically revel in the pain of another person as long as that person is someone they feel free to target.

To be clear: If you go out of your way to make an immigrant feel unwelcome and unsafe in this country, you’re an asshole. The saddest part is that only one person has felt moved to leave a purely supportive comment, but I’ve deleted quite a few cruel and confrontational ones. This is all too normal.

I wasn’t feeling awesome, after reading those comments, and I wasn’t really sure what to say about it. These aren’t people who care to change. They’re generally extremely confident in their right to hurt others. They rarely face any consequences, social or otherwise, for their cruelty. Rida, on the other hand, is made unsafe by these attitudes. She lives with the consequences of this casual racism and xenophobia, and she’s still someone who devotes her time and energy to helping others. If you are able to offer her any support, either financially, by sharing her gofundme page, or just with some kind words to balance out the harsh ones, that would be greatly appreciated.

In other news, I’m finally going to do an actual sleep study, so maybe I’ll eventually start feeling rested in the morning. That’d be nice.

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I was at a party last Friday and this thing was there. It was pretty cool.

Writing days this past week: 4

People Tell Us Who They Are, but We Don’t Listen

Abusers broadcast their cruelty, but their friends, family, and even people who have no reason to feel loyalty towards them, will still deny having seen any signs of it until the evidence is lying bloody at their feet.

This is because we are all trained not to listen to the truth even when it is shouted from the rooftops. We search for ignorance, or stupidity, or coincidence, when a racist is literally wearing their message – plainly visible – for anyone to see.

There’s a line in Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett that stuck in my mind: “The good are innocent and create justice. The bad are guilty, which is why they invent mercy.”

Yeah, it sounds self-righteous and a little bit like “the innocent have nothing to hide,” but that’s not at all what it’s saying. He’s rightly pointing out that guilty people tend to be big fans of letting other guilty people off the hook. There’s an awful lot of unearned, unasked-for mercy being offered to some pretty goddamn terrible people, and it really needs to stop.

You know what the bad have invented in this country? The idea that beliefs are separate from your inherent worthiness as a person. That is wrong – both logically incorrect, and morally wrong. Nothing you do is separate from your humanity. There is no free pass to believe something and not have it reflect on who you are.

If you support a god who denies the humanity of someone else, you have done your fellow human wrong, and that is the end of it. It doesn’t even matter if they’re real, because power doesn’t make anyone right, not even a god, and believing in them is still your choice.

There’s also the lovely idea that if you do something for money, it doesn’t reflect on who you are, because capitalism exists. If a company or candidate supports inequality for money, none of the individuals who contributed to that are guilty, because any evil can be waved away by saying that you only did it for profit. Sorry, but companies as separate entities don’t actually exist. It’s just a whole bunch of people, all of whom worked together to do something wrong. The fact that they profited is not an excuse, it’s just evidence. They were willing to sell out other people for that amount of money. Congratulations. Capitalism thanks them, and so do abusers everywhere.

Ordinary people will still look around today and say things like: “Trump isn’t actually a white supremacist, he’s just supporting white supremacy because his followers are racist and that makes it profitable for him to act like a racist.” I’ll let you in on a little secret, though: Racism is always ultimately about profit or power, usually both. Individuals might be seething balls of mindless hatred, but that hatred is always fed by people who profit off of it, and that changes nothing about the situation.

Stop making excuses for people who plainly tell you that they choose to prey on others.

 

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