Put down that book

Put down that book

Wotcher!

So it’s been a while, hasn’t it? How have you been? Recently settled back into my little Canadian dwelling after a long, wonderful and exhausting trip to Europe, it seems to me that this rainy day is perfect for a new blog post.

Shall we talk a bit about writing? I’d like that.

Now, I love a good book. One of my favourite activities is to wander around Waterstones and pluck random novels from the shelves. Every reader has their own little ritual for picking a book. Some will look at the blurb on the back. Some go for prize-winning works. Some get recommendations from friends. Maybe some of you like to judge them by their covers, shame on you.

Here’s my personal method, feel free to test it.

First I look at the blurb. Is it snappy? Is the plot appealing to me? Good. Then I open it at page one and read the first two or three paragraphs. If I find myself reading the whole page and then some, that book is mine!

Finally I open it somewhere in the middle and once again, read a few paragraphs. This is because the opening of a novel is not always reflective of the entirety of the writing. Is the dialogue any good? How does the style hold throughout? This is important because there are quite a few, shall we say, grammatical choices that will make me put down a book and never ever ever ever pick it up again.

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Let us review some of those, because why the hell not?

Bland narration

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There is a stereotype in the writing world that first person is for young adults. There are first person young adult novels, absolutely, of course, sure. But there is also Irvine Welsh. Present tense storytelling suffers from the same stereotype. But once again, give Irvine Welsh a try. His are some pretty fucking brilliant first person, present tense novels.

But.

More often than not you open a first person novel and it feels like the usual third person narrator is for some reason speaking in first person. You cannot, repeat, cannot approach a first person narrative in the same way you would a third person narrative. They are completely different and require two very different states of mind from the author. When you are writing in first person, your narrator isn’t some mystical entity (unless it is). It’s a person. A living, breathing human being (unless it’s not).

You need to be an actor. You are the character. You’re a fifty-year-old working-class lorry driver with a kind heart and simple style. Would you describe your partner like a painter would describe a sunset? Doubtful. You are brushing your teeth after a long day at work. Would you stop and describe your wavy dark hair and piercing green eyes in front of the bathroom mirror? No, you would not.

Besides, it is so much fun to just be a character, act like them, talk like them. Go ahead and enjoy it. If you do, there’s a good chance your readers will too.

 

Over-the-top punctuation

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Ellipsis followed by exclamation mark does not… create surprise! It is not… punchy! Mainly, it’s just… aggravating!

That is not how you create suspense in a scene. Don’t you see how it doesn’t make any sense? Suspense should build through content and emotions. This is a gimmick. Get rid of it.

Please also get rid of this!! And how about leaving this in the trash?! In fact, even a single exclamation point, used by a third person narrator, is cringe-worthy. “Then he discovered that, standing next to her, was his father!” Why are you attracting attention to yourself? You are not a character, you are not part of this story, make yourself scarce, for God’s sakes!!

Here’s a confession. I put down The Catcher in the Rye and never took it up again. Want to know why? Because it kept telling me how to pronounce every single sentence. Italics are acceptable if, and I would argue only if, the sentence could mean two different things, depending on the inflection. Otherwise, keep your italics for titles and foreign language words.

Yes, style is important. Yes, experimenting is fine. But please do make sure it actually improves the immersion. Stories are meant to be captivating, to draw you in. Aggressive punctuation pulls you out. Just do the math.

 

Forced feelings

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Okay so I’m just going to come out and say it. Twilight. The Twilight series is a great example of that, but it is not the only one.

You’ve seen this happen. The main girl and the main guy are madly in love and you can’t for the life of you figure out why. “But Gwen, love just happens, there is no why!” Shut it, stop, don’t. People who don’t have fun together, don’t laugh together, don’t share deep thoughts, don’t allow themselves to be silly in front of each other, people who don’t like each other are not in a strong forever relationship. If they hadn’t tragically and stupidly died, I would have given Romeo and Juliet about a month together. Love at first sight? Please. I think what you mean is lust at first sight. And you can’t write a good romance on lust alone. When I read about a romance, I want to be reading about a friendship.

This also goes for other feelings. Hate. Jealousy. Guilt. Shame. Don’t force your characters to feel things because you want them to. Create the believable circumstances in which they will organically come to feel the feels. They will thank you for it. Or they won’t. Don’t pressure them.

 

So here you have a nice little top three of what will make me put down a book. What are your personal pet peeves? How about sharing with the rest of the group?

Laters!

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Cosmic Dancer

Cosmic Dancer

Sam's Words And Worlds

On Sunday, June 4, 2017, I scattered your ashes. I went to the beach where we had been over five years and a half ago. I will never forget how happy you were that day. More than that, you were ecstatic. In your youth, when you were still a race horse, you used to train on the beach from time to time. There is no doubt in my mind that you loved running as fast as you could on the sand, with the waves roaring and crashing near you, the wind rushing through your mane, free as a bird.

You had galloped fast before. And you galloped fast after that. Faster than any horse I had ever known, and I have met quite a lot of them. But never did you run as fast as you did on that day. You even forgot I was there, on your back, holding…

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The Angel Amongst Us

The Angel Amongst Us

Yet another wonderful tribute. Sam, my friend, you didn’t deserve to have to grieve twice at the same time. But sometimes we don’t get what we deserve. And sometimes we don’t deserve what we get. You are handling it gracefully and selflessly, and I hope writing – so beautifully – about your departed friends brings you some level of comfort.

Sam's Words And Worlds

“He was an angel”.

This is what my father said upon learning that our beloved dog had died. And I sincerely do believe that truer words have never been spoken. Our faithful companion of fourteen years, Ullan de Royal Belgravia, died on May 15, 2017, at around 11:30pm. We took him urgently to the vet after he suffered a stroke, but we decided to let him go, for his own sake. He died in my arms, knowing that he was loved, and that he had fulfilled his purpose as a dog; that is to love with all the might of his heart, that was, quite literally, too big for his own chest.

You found your way to us by accident. When my parents went back to the kennel we had previously visited, a lovely place where the dogs were loved, they had never planned on coming home with a dog…

View original post 1,496 more words

7am together

7am together

The fog rolls in at 7am. At first it’s far away, vague, “what is this?” You become wary, uneasy, because it is coming towards you rather fast and from all sides. Oh dear. Before you know it, it’s all around you and you can’t see two feet in front of you. You’re not sure where you are and if you take a step in the wrong direction, you might fall off a cliff.

7am and my heart is pounding. It pulls me awake, like someone poking me and very politely reminding me that I have to be on stage in front of thousands of people in five minutes to give a speech about the socializing habits of penguins — something I’m sure I am extremely unqualified to discuss. I’m sweating and icky and uncomfortable. My chest is tight and I’m shaking inside.

It’s not the first time, of course. The first time was much scarier. By now it’s more of a bother than anything else. Not this again, I’m tired, I was hoping to sleep well tonight.

When I come back from the restroom and stumble into bed, my partner stirs. “Are you having trouble sleeping again?” In his gentlest, most caring, slightly sleepy voice. So I tell him all about the fog. I tell him it’s okay and it’ll pass eventually, but that’s not good enough for him.

“I want to help,” he says. “I want to help.”

He strokes my stomach and even though I am barely aware of the touch, even though I can’t see through the fog, it makes me happy. How about that? I didn’t use to think panic attacks and joy could occur at the same time. But they can. They can and at 7am that day, they do.

7am is very early for us night owls. We may have gone to bed at 3 or 4.

He offers to make me some tea. My partner. And that’s what he does. We both get up and I sit on the couch while he goes into the kitchen and brews me a peppermint.

“Do you think you’ll be able to go back to sleep? You seem pretty awake.”

No, I won’t be able to go back to sleep. It’s too late and too early at the same time.

And then to my surprise, well, no, not surprise. It’s more like an emotional realization. And then to my emotional realization, he pours himself some cereal, turns on the PS4, and sits with me.

At 7am, both exhausted, we play games and have tea and cereal together. He could go back to sleep. It’s obvious. But he doesn’t. Willingly, he lets himself feel a bit worse so that I can feel a bit better.

That.

That is love.

The Village on the Hill

The Village on the Hill

There once was a village, and the village was built on the eastern side of a hill. The people of the village had never been to the western side, for the hill was cut from north to south by a huge chain of rock, like the protruding spine of a bent giant. The village was surrounded by fields of oats and barley and the villagers were mostly farmers. They lived from the fruit of their labour and kept to themselves as much as possible. They did not care for the world beyond the fields and the farms.

There was a girl, who lived in the village. The girl had never known her mother and father for they both had died when she was just an infant. From the beginning of her young memory, she had been living at her grandmother’s house. The girl’s grandmother was the oldest person in the village, so that she was considered the wisest one, one whose speech was always truth.

One day, the grandmother was sitting on the rocking chair in front of the fireplace, sewing a skirt for her granddaughter, and the girl came and sat next to her.

“Grandmother,” asked the girl, “what is there on the other side of the hill?”

The grandmother let out a long wheezing sigh. She had known the day would come when her little girl would grow and start wondering. She had watched the questions form on the child’s face for several days now and she had known that, soon, the questions would find their way to her lips. But curiosity is never a permanent trait. It comes with adolescence and goes with adulthood. If only the grandmother could stall long enough, the questions would vanish from the girl’s face and their quiet life would go on quietly as it always had.

“Grandmother,” asked the girl, “what is there on the other side of the hill?”

“My child, there is nothing on the other side,” said the grandmother.

The questions on the girl’s face grew stronger. Her young eyes sparkled brighter.

“But there must be something! Please, grandmother, tell me what is on the other side of the hill.”

“My child, on the other side there is a dark and deep forest.”

“Grandmother,” asked the child, “what is there in the forest?”

“My child, in the forest there are poisonous creeping weeds and savage beasts with claws and fangs, and their eyes gleaming red in the darkness.”

The girl’s eyes grew wider, but nonetheless she kept asking.

“Grandmother,” the girl asked, “what is there beyond the forest?”

“My child, beyond the forest there is a swamp that sucks all living things into its depths.”

The girl’s face turned pale, but still she asked again.

“Grandmother,” the girl asked, “what is there beyond the swamp?”

The grandmother was very old and getting weary of the questioning.

“My child,” said the grandmother, “the swamp spreads out forever. There is nothing beyond the swamp.”

“Grandmother,” said the child, “how do you know all this about the other side of the hill?”

“My mother told me about it, my child,” said the grandmother. “Just as I am now telling you.”

“But how did your mother know all this about the other side?”

“Well, my child, her mother had told her about it. Just as my mother told me about it. Just as I am now telling you.”

As another question was about to escape the girl’s lips, the old woman raised a warning finger.

“I told you all there is to know about the other side, my child. You must never try to cross the chain of rock, do you understand? There is nothing for you but danger on the other side.”

The girl fell silent and stared into the fire for a very long time, so long in fact, that when she finally tore her eyes from its fading glow, she found that it was night, and that her grandmother was sleeping in the rocking chair.

Presently the girl got up and went to the shed, and she came back with a log large enough to keep the house warm until morning, which she put in the fire. She tiptoed to the front door. There she paused with her small hand upon the handle and looked over her shoulder at the sleeping shape of her grandmother. For a moment, something caught in her throat and she thought that she would not leave. But then she was outside, closing the door behind her and looking out at the village quiet and dark.

She passed the baker’s shop, and the butcher’s, and the barber’s, and she walked in the fields for what felt like days although the sun did not come up until she was reaching the foot of the big rock chain, on the very top of the hill. There she stopped and looked up at the massive obstacle before her. She looked up until her frail neck hurt. The rocks stood tall and impenetrable, stretching a long shadow over the girl. Beyond, the sky was yellow and pink with morning light.

I have been a fool, thought the girl. I will never be able to climb over the rocks. I am neither big nor strong enough. Maybe a grownup could do it, but I certainly can’t. I have been a fool. So the girl leant against the rock and cried, for it was a long way back to the village and she missed her grandmother very much. As she wept, clouds covered the sky above the hill and it started to rain. It was one of the cold rains of wintertime and soon the girl was drenched to the bone and shivering. I must find shelter somewhere, the girl thought, or I will freeze to death. With that thought, she forgot to cry and looked for a place to hide from the rain. She noticed a tear in the rock, like the entrance of a cave, some small distance away. It was almost hidden behind a curtain of thick weeds, but there it was, and the girl walked up to it. She pushed the weeds aside. They were heavy and pushed back against the girl, as if warning her to stay away. But the girl was cold and determined, so that eventually, the weeds gave way. The crack behind the weeds was quite narrow, and the ceiling low, so that a child could just fit in.

Walking through the girl stopped and marvelled, for what she had first thought to be a cave was in fact a tunnel, digging deep into the rock. This could lead to the other side, thought the girl. So she advanced with her arms outstretched towards the obscurity in front of her. Five minutes passed, and still the girl walked on. The tunnel was pitch black and nothing seemed to indicate that it would end. Five more minutes passed. More than once, the girl thought she should turn back, but every time the thought entered her mind, it was pushed right back by another. What if the other side was close? What a shame it would be to give up just before success. So the girl walked on. Five more minutes passed, and suddenly, the girl saw the tiniest hint of light, far away in the darkness. The girl laughed with relief and the pride of having come all this way on her own. She pressed on with a smile on her face. But soon, the smile faded, for as the light was getting closer, it seemed that the tunnel was shrinking and narrowing. I will suffocate before I can get to the other side, thought the girl. With every step she took, the light grew stronger, yet more inaccessible. From the other side, a breeze brushed the girl’s face and whispered in her ears. Go back, the breeze whispered. Go back. But it’s close, thought the girl. I can’t go back now. I’m almost there. I won’t go back.

And all at once, the breeze and the tunnel were gone as the girl emerged into a forest deep and so dark that she wondered for a while if night had come back already. One could barely see two feet ahead and the air between the trees was still and quiet, so that every little sound rang out like a bell toll in the silence.

In the strangeness of the forest, fear came over the girl. She thought about her grandmother’s words, about the poisonous creeping weeds and the savage beasts with claws and fangs, and their eyes glowing red in the darkness. She daren’t pick up a branch to defend herself, for fear that it would sting her and spit venom into her body.

The stillness soon became oppressing, and the little sounds of the forest shaped themselves into unseen dangers. It was a long way back to the village, and the girl missed her grandmother very much, and wished that she had never left home. So she sat down in the fallen leaves and covered her face with both her hands, for children’s monsters become less real once the eyes are shielded from them. Some time elapsed like this. Five minutes. Ten, maybe. Then a voice rang out in the silence of the forest.

“Good morning,” said the voice.

The girl looked up and standing in front of her was a boy. The boy was peering down at her with his head slightly tilted sideways and his eyes round and quizzical, much like an owl’s. At first, she was afraid of the boy, for she remembered her grandmother’s warning. But as she studied the boy, she could see neither claws nor fangs, and his eyes were bright blue, and round and quizzical like an owl’s.

“Good morning,” said the boy again, and the girl thought that he had nice manners.

“Good morning,” said the girl.

The boy grinned a toothy grin, but his teeth were normal as far as the girl could see, and his grin was friendly.

“Where do you come from?” asked the boy.

“I come from the other side of the hill,” said the girl.

The questions on the boy’s face grew stronger. He stared at the girl with suspicion in his bright blue eyes.

“That is not possible,” he said. “There is nothing on the other side of the hill.”

“But there is,” said the girl. “My village is on the other side.”

The boy was silent for a while. Then he took the girl by the hand and pulled so she would follow him.

“Come to my house,” he said.

She pulled the other way.

“But what about the swamp that sucks all living things into its depths?”

“What swamp?” said the boy.

“My grandmother told me about the swamp.”

“There is no swamp,” said the boy.

He seems to be telling the truth, thought the girl. So she followed the boy out of the forest and onto a moor that stretched all the way to the horizon. There was no sign of a swamp anywhere.

“Where is your house?” asked the girl as they walked through the moor.

“It is in a village, by the sea,” said the boy.

“The sea?” asked the girl.

“Yes,” said the boy.

The girl smiled. She had read about the sea in books, but had never seen it for real. The sea was a place of exciting adventures and she found herself walking faster, and pulling the boy behind her.

There was a village by the sea, and the village was built on the western side of a hill. The people of the village had never been to the eastern side, for the hill was cut from north to south by a huge chain of rock, like the protruding spine of a bent giant. The villagers were mostly fishermen, and they lived from the fish they caught, keeping to themselves as much as possible. They had no care for the world beyond the moor or over the sea. But now a girl was running towards the village, hand in hand with a boy, who lived in the village, and the boy was growing curious about the world on the other side of the hill.

The boy had never known his mother and father, for they had died both during his early childhood. From the beginning of his young memory, he had been raised by his older brother. The boy’s brother was not much older than the boy, but already the questions were starting to fade from his face. Now the boy and his brother lived and worked in a lighthouse on the coast, some little distance from the centre of the village, and that is where the boy was taking the girl. He wanted the girl to tell his older brother about the other side of the hill, for he valued his brother’s opinion above all else and was curious to know what he would think of all this.

The brother was preparing lunch when the boy knocked on the door of the lighthouse.

“My brother, I found a girl in the forest, and she comes from the other side of the hill,” said the boy.

“That is impossible,” said the brother. “There is nothing on the other side of the hill.”

“But there is! Come, she is waiting for us on the beach.”

So the brother followed the boy to the beach. And the girl was there, looking out at the sea, for she had never seen it, and it was huge and beautiful under the winter sun. Seagulls were crying over the waves, sometimes diving for fish, and then coming back up, shaking beads of water from their feathers.

“Good morning,” said the brother.

The girl turned towards the pathway that led to the lighthouse.

“Good morning,” said the girl.

“My brother says that you come from the other side of the hill,” said the brother. “Is that the truth?”

“It is,” said the girl. “I live in a village with my grandmother, beyond the chain of rock.”

And she pointed a finger in the direction of the hilltop. The brother considered this for a while, and then spoke very slowly, for he still was not sure whether it was wise to believe the girl’s words.

“How did you cross the chain of rock?” he asked.

“I went through a tunnel in the rock,” said the girl.

Questions flickered back into life on the brother’s face, and he smiled.

“Come have lunch with us,” said he. “Tell us more about the other side.”

So the girl followed the boy and his brother up the pathway that led to the lighthouse. The brother laid one more plate on the table and they ate together. The girl tasted fish for the first time. She had read about fish in the same books that told stories of the sea, but she had never seen them, for there was no sea on the other side of the hill. The boy and his brother listened as she spoke of her village, of the fields and the farms, and her grandmother’s house.

In the afternoon, the boy took the girl to the town centre, and the girl thought that this was not so different from her village on the other side. There was a baker and a barber, and the villagers looked almost the same. But the air was different. It was damper and there was salt in it. Instead of meat, people sold fish on the marketplace, and the houses were of grey stones instead of red bricks and wood. The boy and the girl roamed the village and the coast until the sun was setting over the western side of the hill. With night, a shadow descended on the girl and she stopped laughing.

On the way back to the lighthouse, the boy tried to make her laugh again, or to make her speak, but she was lost in a pensive mood. The boy did not understand, and he asked his brother about it when they got back.

“Well,” said the brother. “It is quite simple. She is homesick.”

“Homesick?” asked the boy.

“She misses her village on the other side of the hill,” said the brother.

So it was decided that, the next day, the boy and his brother would accompany the girl back to the fissure in the chain of rock. With this decision, the shadow lifted from the girl and she laughed and spoke again. The boy and the girl exchanged stories of their villages for a good part of the night, and when the sun came up over the eastern side of the hill, the boy, the girl and the boy’s brother left the lighthouse.

They walked through the town centre. They passed the baker’s shop, and the fisherman’s, and the barber’s. They crossed the moor and entered the forest. The boy noticed that another shadow seemed to weigh on the girl, for she was silent again, and her face was set.

“I thought she was homesick,” said the boy to his brother. “I thought she wanted to go home.”

“She does,” said the brother. “But in order to go home, she has to leave here. That is what makes her sad.”

The boy thought about this for a while, and he was still thinking when they reached the fissure in the rock. Then the boy and his brother, and the girl, bade each other farewell. And just as the girl was about to disappear in the darkness of the tunnel, the boy had an idea.

“Wait,” said he. “What if my brother and I came to the eastern side with you? Then we could see your village and meet your grandmother.”

The girl’s face lit up, not with questions this time, but with joy. But the brother shook his head.

“I cannot get through the fissure,” said he. “I am too big. But you, little brother, you go with her. Go and see the other side of the hill before it is too late.”

The boy felt sad, for he loved his brother very much and did not want to leave him behind. But he did want to go and see the other side of the hill. The girl watched as the boy wrapped his arms around the brother’s neck, and she thought of her grandmother.

“Go, little brother,” said the boy’s brother.

The girl saw that he was crying. She wondered if her grandmother had cried when she had noticed that she was gone. She wanted to go back and hug her grandmother and tell her of all the wonderful things she had seen on the other side of the hill.

The boy bid his brother farewell and followed the girl into the tunnel. They walked with their hands extended towards the darkness in front of them. Long minutes passed, and finally, a dot of light appeared far away. Then the tunnel seemed to shrink and narrow once more around them. The boy was scared. He thought he would run back to his brother, but the girl said not to be afraid. Then the breeze whispered into the boy’s ears. Go back, the breeze whispered. Go back. But the girl said not to listen to the breeze. So the boy did not listen.

And all at once, the breeze and the tunnel were gone. And the boy saw the farms and the fields. The girl led him through the country and, soon, he saw the village. They passed the barber’s shop, and the butcher’s, and the baker’s, and walked all the way to the grandmother’s house. The girl wrapped her arms around her grandmother’s neck. She told her about the tunnel and the other side and the boy and his brother.

“Come and have dinner with us,” said the grandmother to the boy. “Tell me all about your village on the other side.”

So the boy stayed, and he tasted meat, which he had read about in books but never seen in reality. Then, the next day, the girl took him around the village and showed him everything.

And when he went back home, he told the villagers on the western side stories of the eastern side. And the girl told the villagers on the eastern side stories of the western side. And soon, it became tradition that young people should cross the chain of rock to see the world on the other side of the hill before they grew.

Flatland

Flatland

Wotcher!

So I’ve done something recently that I never thought I’d be doing. To be honest, the back of my mind had timidely been flirting with the idea for a while, but for some not good enough reason, it had felt like too big of a thing to actually go ahead and do. It had felt like I wasn’t allowed.

I bought a chest binder.

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A chest binder is an article of clothing that often looks like a tank top or a crop top, specifically designed to flatten your chest. Like so.

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For reference, I am naturally a 32F size. That’s right. I just posted my bra size online. That’s probably a smart thing to do.

Now, why would it take me so long to get myself one of these things? Mainly because binders are traditionally used by the FTM (female to male) trans* community.

All my life I have tiptoed around the edges of transgender, never quite daring to step in. Internalized transphobia, maybe, or simply confusion. If I were completely, definitely, transgender, from one binary to the other, then maybe it wouldn’t have taken me so long, and it wouldn’t have been as daunting.

As it was, though, some part of my brain had to be told I was doing it for practical reasons. Bras my size aren’t cheap, and oftentimes don’t work as well as one would hope. A heavy chest pulls on the skin and causes pains when badly supported. With a binder, the weight would be spread out.

The other part of my brain, the one that knew there were other reasons, was scared. This was a dive head first into my trans-ness, a step off the cliff. What if I couldn’t swim? What if I couldn’t fly?

I was shaking when I clicked “confirm order”.

The binder arrived a few days ago and I was rather excited about trying it out. It’s tight, obviously, but not uncomfortable. Certainly more comfortable than high heels and mini-skirts. It’s a bit tricky to put on, a bit tricky to take off, but I seem to be managing better than some other people out there so… sorry guys. Guess I’m lucky. It also led me to notice things I had never paid attention to before. Like my left breast being just a tad bigger than the right. Ah, fun times!

The day went fine. I felt like myself. I felt comfortable. I could look down and see my feet – I have big feet!

When I took the thing off in the evening though, I experienced a slight gender shift, feeling more like the girl me, and I had a pinch of vulnerability. It felt a bit like I’d betrayed or abandoned that feminine part of me. Which is silly but I suppose it’s the lot of genderfluid people.

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I think this moment of distress came from the huge importance I had placed on the binder. Building it up in my mind, like it was something that had the power to change me. It’s not, and I don’t think it’s quite healthy – for me at least – to think of it that way. It’s just cloth. It’s comfortable and it allows me to wear shirts that were designed for male bodies. I genuinely like it. But it does nothing to impact my gender identity. You are not your clothes, surprisingly enough.

Now I’m getting used to thinking of this as just another addition to my wardrobe. Some days I’ll wear a bra, some days I’ll wear a binder. It will depend on the clothes I’ve decided to wear that day, and on my mood. It means I can now feel right and comfortable in clothes from both sides of the shop.

The most important thing is that wearing a binder does not make me any more transgender. Just like wearing a bra does not make me any less transgender. And that is quite a freeing thought, don’t you think?

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The rain has gone

The rain has gone

Wotcher, friends!

So I have a confession to make.

I am on antidepressants. Escitalopram, 10mg a day. Have been for nearly three years now.


TRIGGER WARNING.

I am about to engage in a discussion that could inadvertently hurt some people. However important the topic at hand – and I do believe it is important – nothing is more important than your own health. If you tend to be triggered by talk of depression, please read at your own discretion.


The first psychiatrist I ever went to told me I had a bad case of the blues.

“You’re still young, you shouldn’t disengage from your life like that.”

I was shaking and unable to talk properly so I just nodded, but deep down I was angry at her. I felt dismissed. I blamed her for not just understanding, for not seeing through my slightly-less-stiff-than-usual upper lip. After all, it was her job to read my mind, wasn’t it?

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Unfortunately, it isn’t easy for someone who hasn’t experienced depression to imagine what it actually does. And that’s totally normal. You shouldn’t be expected to just know. On the flip side, it isn’t easy either for someone currently suffering through it to explain how they feel.

So this is me attempting to communicate some thoughts and feelings, from the easier standpoint of “two and a half years later”. Cue cheesy flashback transition.

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It started very suddenly, a little after my landlord passed away. I didn’t know him all that well. He wasn’t a close friend or a family member, and it’s not like I thought about him every day. Yet when he tragically, abruptly, died, something was triggered inside of me.

I started thinking about death every day. Mine. Depression is narcissistic like that. Then I started thinking about death every hour. Then every minute. I had had “the blues” before, but this wasn’t it. This was different. It felt permanent. It felt like I was broken. It involved an endless circle of downs (numb apathy) and even-further-downs (locking myself in the bathroom and crying my eyes out in panic).

Now, you have to understand that my life didn’t suck. Actually, it was quite amazing. But depression isn’t really about all the bad stuff that is going on in your life. It’s more twisted than that. No matter how incredibly fantastic my life might be, depression constantly reminded me that it would still have to end and that all the incredible fantasticness would be lost forever.

In my ill mind, this progression of events:

  1. be born
  2. follow your dreams
  3. get your novels published
  4. find love
  5. be happy
  6. die

… was exactly the same as this one:

  1. be born
  2. die

This is not how a human brain is supposed to work. If it were, then there is a decent chance life would have died out years and years ago.

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No.

This is a glitch.

 

 

Yet there is a stigma in our society. When I started this post with a “confession”, I wasn’t using the word lightly. For some reason, admitting to being depressed, especially to the point of needing medication to function properly, has become – or maybe it has always been – a confession.

You whisper it, mumble it, beat around the bush. You rationalize it away. “Oh, I’m taking meds for now but I’m going to stop soon.” It has somehow become shameful to take antidepressants.

Don’t get me wrong, if you don’t feel that medication is the right way for you to go about fighting your depression, then I’m certainly not here to tell you you’re wrong. I don’t pretend to know everyone’s experiences, nor do I pretend to be a doctor.

But it seems to me that nobody goes around telling diabetic people to stop shooting themselves full of drugs. When you have a headache, it’s fairly rare for your friends to suggest maybe you shouldn’t take painkillers because then you wouldn’t be yourself anymore.

This is something I have actually been told. I have been told I’m just drugging myself up and that it keeps me from seeing the world as it is.

This is bullshit. Dangerous, radioactive bullshit – go on, take a moment to picture that, I’ll be waiting.

Done?

Okay, seriously though. When you say something like that to a depressed person, you are effectively telling a very vulnerable, sick human being that they will never be happy ever again. Even if you believe that to be true, how sadistic do you have to be to think it’s a good thing to say? It’s not funny or helpful. In fact, it can cause very severe harm.

I wasn’t feeling like myself, and I was deeply unhappy, and now that I take “the drugs”, I’m more able to connect with other people, I feel like myself more often, more easily, and I’m happier. This isn’t to say that the world isn’t absurd and weird and that it’s abnormal to feel alienated by that. But it doesn’t take a genius to see that if you used to be happy and now you’re not, then there’s probably something wrong.

 

It is not cool or edgy or deep to be miserable.

 

I take antidepressants for the same reason I take anti-allergy medication. Because otherwise I would be a wheezy, teary-eyed, non-functional mess, unable to accomplish any of the simple tasks of everyday life. Because otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to be myself.

And you know what? Two and a half years later, I am myself again.

3 tips for writing a good sex scene

3 tips for writing a good sex scene

Wotcher!

Here I am, back in writer mode with a writing-themed post for you guys. As the title probably suggests, there is going to be mature talk going on around here, so there. Ye be warned.

As an asexual writer, I get asked – okay, so I don’t get asked personally, but I see a lot of asexual writers getting asked and I’m right there reading the conversation and feeling way involved and all – how one approaches sex scenes when one doesn’t have that instinctive pull towards sexual activity in the first place.
So I thought I’d try to clarify some stuff for you guys and give you a glimpse into my own relationship to sex scenes in the media, as an asexual person and as a fiction writer.

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I think there is an assumption out there that sex scenes exist solely for sexual people to get off on them. Surely asexual people are excluded from the intended audience. We must be repulsed, or at the very least bored, the second clothes start flying off. That’s just not true. There is no universal taste, in anything, for any group of people. Really. Just like not all gay men are obsessed with Judy Garland, not all asexual people crinkle up their noses at sexual content. I know I don’t.

I write sex scenes. In fact I’ve written quite a few of them. It’s not a chore and it doesn’t make me cringe or blush or want the earth to open up and swallow me.

There are many reasons why I might enjoy a particular sex scene.

It’s well-written.
It fits the story.
It makes me feel close to the characters involved.
It’s exciting.

Oh don’t give me that look.
Sexual content can be exciting even for asexual readers/viewers. Here’s how I like to explain that one to bewildered, shocked friends. The reason erotic content can turn me on is because I’m able to tap into the characters’ feelings and sensations. It doesn’t mean I’m attracted to either/any of them. In the same way, I have never wanted to go bungee jumping. But if a character in a movie or book has always wanted to go bungee jumping and finally gets to experience it, I will feel their joy and elation as they jump and I will be very enthusiastic about this whole bungee jumping experience.

You know.

Bungee jumping.

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On the flip side, it is also quite frequent for me to roll my eyes loudly – that’s right – at sex scenes. That is because sometimes, and by sometimes I mean often, it ends up being tasteless, boring, useless or all three.
So I thought I’d conjure up a little list for you, because who doesn’t like a little list?

These are my top three tips for writing sex scenes.

1. It’s not a sex scene. It’s a scene.

If one lazy Sunday afternoon, you find yourself writing a sex scene into your story because well you have to have a sex scene in there somewhere, right, then please… pretty please… can you not?

It is perfectly okay to fast forward to the next day, or the next morning, or the next shower. Not in a “it’s icky and taboo and we shouldn’t show it” way. I trust you know that’s not what I’m saying at all. No, just in the same way that you wouldn’t show your character going to the restroom unless something important or relevant was going to happen in the bathroom stall.

When you’re writing a sex scene, you’re not just writing about the sex. You’re writing a scene that adds something to your book. Maybe your character is going to call out the wrong name and it’s going to trigger a whole lot of awkwardness. Maybe it’s your hero’s first time and that’s what the story is all about. It doesn’t even need to be that big – hahaha, shut up. Maybe your character is a little bit lost in life right now and they’re trying to find something reassuring to cling to. Maybe your couple is in love and you want to express their connection through sex, among other things.

The point is, unlike in real life, sex in a story is always about more than just sex. You want to make sure it is, and you want to know what’s really going on there. Being in control of that will also allow you to figure out the tone and conflict of the scene. Because yes, even a sex scene deserves tone and conflict and all that good stuff that makes stories great.

In conclusion: there is nothing more annoying than two or more characters having sex just because the writer wants them to have sex.

2. Leave euphemisms in the trash where they belong.

Repeat after me, class.
Vaginas are for sex. Dark caves are for speleology.
Penises are for sex. And peeing. Love sticks are for… hell I don’t know.

You get my drift. Euphemisms belong in crappy romance novels and I’m not even going to put an “unless” here. Oh wait! Unless your goal is to make the reader laugh out loud in the middle of the train station. Then go right ahead. Knock yourself out.

Otherwise, please use your words. You actual words. If your characters are fucking, why not say fuck? It’s a good word. It’s short and to the point. And it’s rude, which is always fun. Go on then, don’t be scared. Fuck.

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3. Don’t slip out of character.

If you are telling a story, you have most likely spent a lot of time figuring out the perfect point of view to tell it from. If you haven’t, then you possibly have more urgent stuff to deal with than how to write a sex scene.

Don’t throw all that hard work away as soon as the clothes come off. If, say, Tania is your main character, let her tell the story. She’s in there, she’s living it. She probably has very personal, funny, sad, interesting stuff to say about it. It feels a certain way because it’s her and, say, Chloe.

Sex is between specific people and it’s different every time. Make it special. Make it specific. Make it personal.

 


 
Those are my top three tips to you, and myself, for writing interesting, well-rounded, useful sex scenes. Of course I’m always interested to know what you think, so please leave a comment if you have any thoughts. How about sharing your favourite sex scene? Or giving me some of your top tips?

A Boy Named Me

A Boy Named Me

Wotcher!

Yup, definitely like this “wotcher” thing. I think I’ll keep it for now. For anyone interested, this is a British colloquial greeting, originating from the South of England – London, mainly – and derived from the phrase “What are you up to?”.
What are you up to?
What ya up to?
Watcha up to?
Wotcher up to?
Wotcher!
And since I am genuinely interested in hearing from you and wotcher up to, it’s quite fitting.
Another reason I now officially love this is that when you type “wotcher” into Google, this blog comes up fourth in line! Ain’t that great, guv’?

Anyhoo – quite like “anyhoo” as well, but we are not getting into that right now or we’ll be here all day.
Today, class, we are going to talk about gender identity. Mine. Yeah, I know, narcissistic much. Hopefully, though, some of my experiences might resonate with some of yours, and that’s just how we create bonds and validation and awareness and all that good stuff.

Now it is not as easy for me to confidently speak up about gender as it is to speak up about, say asexuality. That’s because to some extent, I am still a bit confused about my own gender identity. And I do not wish to convey the misconception that genderqueer people are confused. Just as I don’t want to convey the misconception that asexual people are depressed. It just so happens that I am a mildly confused genderqueer person and an asexual on antidepressants. Coincidental.

Actually, you know what? Scratch that. It’s probably not that coincidental. After all it can be pretty confusing to be genderqueer in a boys v girls, blue v pink, penis v vagina world. After all it can be pretty depressing to be asexual in a half-naked-models-on-every-poster, sex-is-what-makes-us-human world.
Notice how people can flip it around on you? “You’re depressed because of this asexuality nonsense.” “You’re confused because of this genderqueer nonsense.” Well no, actually I’m confused and depressed because of you. You, person who dismisses my experiences as nonsense.

All this raises barriers, both internal and external, that make it harder, but also more important, to talk about these things. I have wanted to discuss gender identity for a long time, so… deep breath… here we go.

I’m a gamer.
This means I go online and play with other people who don’t know my gender or my sex or my hair colour. But while people online would never think of asking “hey, by the way, what’s your hair colour”, the other day, my questing partner – a real nice dude, don’t get me wrong – said this:
“So hey, not to be rude or anything… You’re playing a girl, but are you a girl in real life?”
“There it is,” I said, turning to my partner.
And there it was. Your sex/gender is, for many people, a very important part of how they will think about you. They feel like they need to know this in order to comprehend you as a person. Never would my questing dude have asked me “so you play a Khajiit, but are you a big-ass talking cat in real life?”

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Unlikely.

Here’s another example. Discussing Pink Floyd with a family member, I happen to mention my friend Sam, who loves the Floyd. Sam has an ambivalent name by design. They are agender. Sample dialogue:
“My friend Sam is a huge Pink Floyd fan.”
“Who’s Sam?”
“An online friend, from the forums.”
“Is it Sam-boy or Sam-girl?”
“Uhh,” I say. “Neither. Both. They’re somewhat transgender.”
They’re not transgender, though, that’s not the word Sam would use. But I decide to use it because there is no way in all hell that my interlocutor will have any kind of clue what agender means.
“But do they look like a boy or a girl?”

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This is how important gender is to people. So when you don’t fit into one of these two categories, or when people keep putting you in the wrong one, it can hurt. And when you’re not sure where you fit in all of this, or if indeed you fit at all, it can be confusing.

There are a few things you might want to consider if you’re wondering whether or not you are transgender, genderqueer, or otherwise not cis. Some of which, tested by yours truly…

1. If you’re even asking the question, the answer is probably yes.

It is rather uncommon for cis people to obsess about their gender identity. It happens. Anything can happen. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if your instinct is all like “dude, what’s up with my gender?” then there’s likely to be something up with your gender, dude.

2. Gender dysphoria.

There are two major kinds of dysphoria – that I know of – and I’d like to share my personal experiences with both of them, if you have time to kill before the next train or are looking for a procrastinating opportunity.

Body dysphoria is the negative feeling that comes from a dissonance between your outwardly appearance and your inner self.
As a teenager, I was dysphoric about my breasts, which developed annoyingly early and were annoyingly prominent. And so I would stand in front of my bedroom mirror, with my back half turned to it and my breasts tucked away, hidden. I would wear baggy t-shirts and thick sweaters over flattening bras. I would walk with my shoulders in and my back slightly bent. I did this to forget for a few minutes that these things were there, making me a girl, categorizing me.

Social dysphoria is the negative feeling that comes from a dissonance between how the world perceives you and your inner self.
It’s the little double-take I have every time a vendor calls me. “Ma’am, can I help you with anything?” Who, me?
It’s the boiling anger when a family member refers to me as a “female Keith Richards” or “Keith Richardette”. Why female? Why can’t I just be Keith Richards, damn it! No, I’m not dressed as a girl version of Oliver Twist. I’m dressed as Oliver Twist!

It might seem trivial, but some people will feel like shit for a month after one of these things happens to them. Thankfully, for me, those are only little things. I can brush them off fairly easily.
On the flip side, my lack of severe dysphoria has made me question the validity of my genderqueerness. It has caused me to ask myself the stupid question that plagues a whole lot of queer people out there: am I queer enough?
After all, any strong dysphoric feelings I had as a teen have receded. Maybe it was just a phase. After all, I don’t really feel like a man either. Maybe I’m just a woman by default. After all, I don’t want to transition. Maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel special. After all, after all, after all, maybe not, maybe not, maybe not.

3. Gender euphoria.

dscn1228Then there is the less known, less talked about opposite of gender dysphoria. Which is a shame, because it’s so much nicer. It is a feeling of rightness in the relation between your mind, your body and the way the world perceives you.
I get it when my friend Anna calls me “dude!”
I get it when my clothes reflect the way I feel inside particularly well.
I get it when my brother tells me that he never really thinks of me as a girl. I’m just “Gwen”.
I get it when my partner looks at me and says “Huh. You look kinda androgynous with your hair like that.”
You get it.

These are small things but each of them is a tiny hint, a fuzzy, heart-warming little reminder that yes, this is who I am, this is what I’m comfortable with.

4. There is no wrong age to know.

Even as a kid I knew something was amiss. It started early on and became noticeable in junior high, when a girl becomes a miss and a guy becomes a mister. Then one sunny Spring weekend, my thirteen-year-old self tentatively voiced it.
“Ugh, I wish my breasts would just go away,” I said, or something in French to that effect.
And the grownup, the authority figure in the room, replied:
“Well that’s because you’re still thinking you could have been a boy. It’ll pass.”
I remember being deeply upset by that response. Even then. Even when I didn’t understand exactly why I was upset. All I knew was that I felt angry and offended, sad and dismissed, and for some reason I still can’t quite put my finger on, ashamed.

There is no shame to be had. This is who you are and it’s not a joke unless you want it to be. It’s not unimportant unless you want it to be.

This is who I am.

I am gender ambivalent. Genderfluid. Androgynous. My body is a girl but my mind is kind of a dude. And a girl. And both. You can call me “he” or “she”, and if you enjoy a bit of grammatical fun, why not try a mixture of both?

I am genderqueer. Hear me roar.

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In keeping with the great Internet tradition of offering starchy vegetables in compensation for reading through a very long post, here.

Have a potato.