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Some rambling thoughts on representation

I was kind of looking forward to the new Riverdale show. It looks completely bonkers, but it seemed fun. But the main reason I found it interesting was that there was (at least, I expected) a canonical asexual character.

Yeah, guess not.

I didn’t grow up with the Archie comics, but I’ve caught some of the newer graphic novels and really enjoyed them, and a big part of that is seeing asexuality written in an open and thoughtful way.

It’s just one stupid show, so what’s the big deal? Well, it’s not just one show. It’s everywhere.

I’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek for the first time lately, and, without fail, every character that I think is obviously ace ends up having some sort of heteronormative romantic arc. Voyager’s Doctor chases and makes out with a holographic Viking lady (I quit Voyager soon after that for other reasons, so I don’t know what else they put him through). Odo, a mass of sentient shapeshifting goo, is apparently in love with Kira (I’ve only started season 4, but spoil away.) Data…I’m not even going to talk about Data. Of course, Star Trek is not particularly good at any sort of queer inclusion, or in talking about gender identity (fuck you, “The Outcast”). But it makes me sad that a series so ostensibly about the full range of human experience cannot possibly think of what to do with characters other than “male-coded + female-coded = sexytimes.” And then it makes me angry.

I don’t particularly like labels, nor do I really use them for myself. I find them limiting and pigeonholing. But I also don’t use them because, when I was a teenager and I needed them, we didn’t have the labels, or at least, I didn’t know them. I didn’t have the words. I’d never heard them.

I never saw anyone remotely like me, in any media, anywhere. The only characters who were ever coded asexual were the crazy cat-lady maiden aunts or swishy gay-male best friends who could act ~sassy~ but never actually express sexual desire, or god-forbid have sex. There was never anyone, ever, who just didn’t want to have sex, for whatever reason.

I spent so much time when I was younger worrying about what was wrong with me, trying to figure out how exactly I was so awful and undesirable that no-one ever wanted me, that it took years for me to realize that, maybe, just maybe, it was that I didn’t desire, not that I was completely undesirable. Because I never saw myself reflected anywhere. Not once.

I saw the crazy cat-ladies as my warning from the future (“if you don’t subscribe to these cultural norms, look what you risk becoming!”) I saw characters thinking about sex, and talking about sex, and having sex, all the damn time. I saw characters who were never, ever single for a second, and those that were desperately looking for the next link on the chain. I saw only a reflection of things I wasn’t, and I thought that I was broken. For a really, really long time. Sometimes still.

So I jump at every crumb of representation, every “possible, maybe, are they?”

I remember that I once read a novel where I was certain that a side-character was asexual, and it actually gave me chills. The next book in the series came with the reveal….that she was a closet lesbian. Oh. And I mean, lesbians are great. Queer rep, yay! But there it was again, this feeling that something so obvious to me was apparently completely invisible. Again.

I didn’t expect Riverdale to “solve” representation in any way. I didn’t even expect Jughead’s experiences to be like mine. (People are not all asexual in the same way, just as people are not all sexual in the same way). But it would have been really nice to have a character who doesn’t have romantic or sexual relationships, and doesn’t want or need to, and isn’t broken or desperate or mocked. It would have been really nice to have one character, somewhere, who wasn’t shoved into the heteronormative mold (different rant for a different day, but I actually think most queer relationships on TV are forced to “pass” by fitting into heteronormative standards too).

I’m tired of having to read between the lines to find characters who feel (or don’t feel, as the case may be) like me. I’m tired of jumping at every crumb. I’m tired of sex being the center of every motivation, every character development. I’m tired of being forced to try to see myself in the robots and holograms and alien puddles of goo, and then even those robots and holograms and alien puddles of goo letting me down. I’m tired of it.

And I’m pissed.

And I’m skipping Riverdale.

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2016 in review

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2016…ugh

It’s become a cliche that 2016 has been a horrible wasteland for basically everyone on planet Earth. When you really get down to it, who can say for sure that 2016 had any more loss or terror or heartbreak than any other year, but things seemed to coalesce towards some sort of breaking point through the vortex of inescapable social media.

In any case, it’s been a hard year for me personally in a lot of respects. I don’t want to dwell on it too heavily, especially with 2017 right around the corner (though 2017 doesn’t look to be shaping up to be much better…), but I will admit to this much. If 2014 and 2015 were years I focused on recovering my health and working hard to stay alive in the face of some pretty bad odds, 2016 often made me wonder why I had bothered.

I got low, but it wasn’t all lows. So, in the interest of faking it til you make it, here are the things that made this year worth it to me.

The Good Bits of 2016

My nephew.

The greatest thing to happen this year was the birth of my first nephew, Jude, the best baby in the history of all babies. (Plus, he’s a great excuse to play the Beatles.)

Hamilton.

To be fair, Hamilton happened in 2015. But it’s not at all like I let it go in 2016. I listened to it more than is probably healthy. I bought the vinyl. I watched the documentary and LMM’s Drunk History. I got my mom obsessed. And then the mixtape happened. And then I got the Hamiltome for Christmas. So yeah, it just keeps on going.

My Favorite Murder

I’ve been a true crime addict ever since I was a bitty baby watching Unsolved Mysteries in the 80s (and suffering many subsequent nightmares.) I’ve never been a big fan of podcasts, but when I heard about My Favorite Murder, hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, it seemed right up my alley. And oh, how it is.

One of the best things about MFM is that it opened up a community so that suddenly I realized there are so many people out there just like me. I’ve had a couple of problems with the way Karen and Georgia sometimes express their thoughts (particularly regarding body shaming and mental health in a few episodes), but they are honest about being human and making mistakes and always striving to be better. Plus, they are able to take truly awful things and find humor in them.

My motto throughout 2016 has definitely been Stay sexy, and don’t get murdered.

Yuri!!! on Ice.

Yuri!!! on Ice almost single-handedly saved this year for me. I watched the entire series twice in the space of just a few days, and it makes me so damned happy. An anime about figure skating, anxiety, and true love, YOI is so sweet and funny. And the animation, particularly the skating sequences, is breathtaking. YOI has it all. Puppies. Sexy men lounging around hotsprings. A Canadian jackass. Excellent music (or at least- music that starts out corny but somehow becomes progressively more excellent each time you hear it). Pork cutlet bowls. Drunk pole dancing. A surly Russian teen with impeccable fashion sense. It is, basically, perfection, and I don’t yet know how I’m going to survive the wait for more.

Live music.

Something I really miss about my twenties is all the concerts I used to go to. I only managed to make it to two live shows this year, but they were really amazing ones.

In February, I splurged on myself and drove all the way to Nashville to see the tenth anniversary tour for Jenny Lewis’s Rabbit Fur Coat. It was a really special celebration of one of my favorite albums [And Jimmy Buffett showed up!!!].

In October, I saw Kaleo with Bishop Briggs. I already liked Bishop Briggs’ single, but live she was so much more dynamic and incredible than I was prepared for. And Kaleo just blew me away. (Their album, A/B, was one of my favorites of the year, and one day they’re going to be superstars.) It’s been a really, really long time since I stood in the front row of a tiny club to hear rock and roll. It was a feeling I’d thought I’d forgotten.

Here’s one of Kaleo’s songs that I absolutely adore:

Books with my name in them. 

When I was in first grade, my school published a “book” of stories written by the students, including two of mine. But whoever typed up those books made one crucial mistake….they spelled my name wrong.

I have been trying to correct that injustice for twenty five years. It may seem silly, but that typo in my name has been one of my biggest motivators to seeing my real name in print. I’ve had stories in online journals before, but this year, for the first time ever, I got to see my name. In. A. Real. Book. Look!

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It was so fucking cool.

Now I just need to get my name on the cover of a book.

Books without my name in them*. 

This is still a book review blog, if only in name, because I haven’t figured out what to do with it yet. So let’s make some space to call out the books that kept me sane in 2016. I read significantly less than I have in years past (as of this writing, it looks like I will top out the year at 97 books), but as always they were what I turned to whenever the world went pear-shaped.

Most of what I read was pretty good, tbh. But here were my absolute favorites, vaguely in order of when I read them:

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Sarah Vowell- Lafayette in the Somewhat United States , Jhumpa Lahiri- The Lowland, Lily King- Euphoria

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Roan Parrish- In the Middle of Somewhere, KJ Charles- Think of England, Marissa Meyer- Winter

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Marie Brennan- In the Labyrinth of Drakes , Naomi Novik- Uprooted, N.K. Jemisin- The Fifth Season

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Lyndsay Faye- Jane Steele, Tana French- The Trespasser, Cat Sebastian- The Soldier’s Scoundrel, Celeste Ng- Everything I Never Told You

*I give up on trying to format this correctly . WordPress what the fuck are you doing? 

Well my lovely friends, that’s all. Have as happy a New Year as you can. My dearest hope is that all of my crippling fears will turn out to be unfounded. Only time will tell, but in the meantime keep enjoying books and all the other things that make you happy.

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I guess this an eligibility post?

Hi! I am super uncomfortable doing this, but here we go. It’s awards time, and in 2016 I had the good fortune to publish a couple of stories, some of which I even still like. If you are a person who nominates things for stuff (eloquence: I am all about it), here’s the rundown of the short fiction I put out this year, three of which are available in full text online:

You’re Doing The Best You Can” – Daily Science Fiction (February 2016)

“Bone Man and the Sleeping Kings” – The Great Tome of Darkest Horrors and Unspeakable Evils (June 2016)

Ship of Fools” – Unlikely Story- The Journal of Unlikely Observances (June 2016)

Wayfarers“- Luna Station Quarterly (issue 027)

I’m in the process of putting together a list of my favorite fiction of the year, which may end up being a series of Twitter links. What are the best things you’ve read in 2016?

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2015 Mix Tape

Getting off the subject of books for a moment, I thought I’d post about my favorite music of 2015.

I spent a lot of the year going back to things I missed in to 2004-2009 era for some reason. When it comes to albums that actually came out in 2015, my most played were probably (definitely) Lana Del Rey’s Honeymoon and Florence + the Machine’s How Big How Blue How Beautiful. And I recently discovered Marina and the Diamonds (I don’t usually listen to so many ladies! 2015 has been a change of pace.) But mostly I listen to singles and random songs because that’s just the way I roll.

So, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite songs of 2015:

Lana Del Rey- “Music to Watch Boys To”

the whole album is amaaaaazing, but I think this is absolutely my favorite song.

Deerhunter- “Snakeskin”

So funky.

Death Cab For Cutie- “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive”

I’m a pretty casual fan of Death Cab, but I really love this song. For some reason it reminds me of my dad.

The Decemberists- “A Beginning Song”

I am waiting, should I be waiting?

Night Terrors of 1927 ft. Tegan and Sara-“When You Were Mine”

These guys put out a fantastic debut (and I’m not just saying that because I’m eternally in love with Blake Sennett). I’m a bit surprised it hasn’t hit bigger than it did.

Disclosure ft. Lorde- “Magnets”

I mean, like I’m not going to love anything to do with Lorde. You crazy?

Beirut- “Gibraltar” 

That little clap beat thing. Yeah. All about that.

Belle and Sebastian- “The Party Line”

Surprisingly good song for the gym. (I guess my gym playlist is kind of weird.)

Florence + the Machine- “Third Eye”

I could have picked like 5 Florence + the Machine songs for this spot. Love her, always. But Third Eye hit me in a really hard, personal way.

Marina and the Diamonds- “Froot”

La la la la la la.

Of Monsters and Men- “Organs”

Of Monsters and Men sounds to me what my depression feels like. Which sounds like a weird sort of endorsement, but it totally is. They have just the most beautiful, vulnerable music.

Also they sound like fantasy novels.

Brick + Mortar- “Train”

So I finally got a new car with a working radio, and I literally know nothing about this band but this song is on all the time. This is the first time I’ve looked up the video; it’s super cute.

Declan McKenna- “Brazil”

Same with this kid, honestly. Radio, all the damn time. I had no idea he was so young until I looked for the video. But he seems like a promising songwriter. And good to see that my inner 13-year-old will always love floppy-haired boys, I guess.

Coast Modern- “Hollow Life”

This has been on repeat for a while in my apartment and at work. If their debut is this good, I can’t wait to hear what else this band has in store.

And. Ok. I have to do one Hamilton song. Forgive me?

It’s impossible to pick a favorite, but the Burr songs are the best and give me complicated feelings about our third Vice President. So. Wait For It.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Stuck on the Series

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Ten Finished Series I Have YET to Finish.

I’m…not sure if all of these are finished, honestly. There are too many series out there for me to keep up with closely. But here are some that have entries I haven’t read, which I’m trying to get through.

188738231. Mary Robinette Kowal- The Glamourist Histories (the unfinished book being Of Noble Family)

I truly love this series, but the fifth installment is just so long that I haven’t been able to make the time for it yet.

2. Terry Pratchett- Discworld (various)

I don’t like to think of Discworld being done. 😦 But in any case, I still need to get through a few Tiffany Aching books and a few of the other books published in the last decade.

3.  Jo Nesbo- The Harry Hole series (Phantom, Police)

I have no clue if the Harry Hole series is finished or not. It sometimes annoys me how each book pretty much plays to the same beats, and with each book I reach a point where I say I’m going to stop reading. But I still find them so catchy. And I only have two more books to catch up!

4. Robin LaFevers- His Fair Assassin (Dark Triumph, Mortal Heart)

This is the umpteenth list I’ve had these books on. I need to get on it already.

5. Ann Leckie- Imperial Radch (Ancillary Sword, the forthcoming Ancillary Mercy)

I’m currently telling myself that I’m waiting for Ancillary Mercy to come out to inspire me to finish Ancillary Sword. We’ll see how much water that holds soon.

6. Tessa Dare- Spindle Cove

I’m pretty sure this series is finished, since she’s working on the Castles series now. I still have two of the four novels to go, and the novellas/short works (I think there’s two?). I really just started this series, but I adored A Week to be Wicked so much yet at the same time was kind of underwhelmed by its sequelbait, so I think I’ll be putting it on hold for a while.

7. Jim C. Hines- Magic Ex Libris

This series definitely isn’t done, but I only just finished book 2. Got to track down book 3 before book 4

8. Mira Grant (Senan McGuire)- Parisitology

Don’t think this one is finished, but I’m only a few hundred pages into the first book, so I’m behind anyway.

8. Marie Brennan- Memoirs of Lady Trent

I’m pretty sure there’s at least one more entry in this series coming, but seeing as I’ve only read book 1, I’m still playing catch up.

And, rounding it out with two finished (I think) series that I’ve been meaning to start but haven’t yet for one reason or another:

9. Deborah Harkness- All Souls Trilogy

Perhaps since there are witches and such this will be one of my Halloween reads this year

10. Megan Shepard- The Madman’s Daughter

Sitting on my ereader as we speak.

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Go Red!

February is American Heart Month, and this Friday, February 6th, is National Wear Red Day. So in an effort to perhaps inspire some of you to wear red to promote heart health, or at least to educate you a bit about it, today I am going to stop talking about books for a minute and tell you some of my experience with heart disease.

It’s the first time I’ve put a lot of this into words, and some things I still have a lot of trouble talking about, so fair warning. Things might get dicey.

Ten months ago I had open heart surgery. I was 28.

If you asked me for a list of things that I wanted to experience before I turned 30, open heart surgery would not show up anywhere on it. First of all, surgery like that is supposed to be for old people, right? Second of all, yeah, OK, maybe I was overweight, but otherwise I was generally healthy. Right?

Apparently not.

What happened was this. When I was born, I had a small defect in a valve of my heart. I’ve known about it since I was very young, but for a few different reasons, I stopped monitoring it when I was sixteen. I didn’t think it was particularly serious, just a heart murmur that I had to live with. What I didn’t understand was that from the minute I was born, every single beat of my heart sent a microscopic drop of blood the wrong way through my arteries–when all my blood was pumping forward, a tiny bit pumped back. Over twenty some years of beating, that wrong-way flow caused my aorta to expand, and expand, and expand. And one day, it was going to burst.

It’s called an aortic aneurysm. I had no way of knowing whether my aorta would burst in 20 years or 20 minutes, but once I found out about it I knew for sure that without intervention it would burst. And unlike a lot of cardiac events, there’s not really a lot of coming back from that. If your aorta ruptures, you bleed to death internally. Pretty damn fast. It’s not something that gets fixed after the fact. Without intervention, I pretty much knew how I was going to die.

But let’s back up a second. Because it was kind of a long journey to get from my blissful ignorance to being under the knife.

It took me a long time to learn this, but I’m glad I’ve learned it now. You absolutely have to be an advocate for your own health. You have to listen to your body and know what symptoms are. I lived my entire life with heart disease. There were signs of it getting serious for years that I never understood were signs of anything. Basically, I felt like shit for twenty eight years, and I didn’t even know it until after the fact. One of the first things I realized when I woke up from surgery was, underneath all the scary numbness and the pain of having a broken breastbone, how good I felt. Did other people feel like this all the time? How had I never known that?

I was diagnosed with high blood pressure when I was 18. I chalked that up to family history and my weight, and didn’t realize that it signified any underlying trouble. I had shortness of breath. Again: weight. I knew plenty of people of similar body types to me who could walk up stairs without sounding like a wheezing accordion, but I never put that together.

My wake-up call was a month long headache. This was the first sign of something bad that I couldn’t push aside or ignore. It was excruciating. I couldn’t sleep, I could barely drive, I wasn’t functioning at work. And I didn’t have health insurance. (One of the main reasons that I did not monitor my heart for years was that I had no health insurance. Thanks, minimum wage shit jobs.)

Finally, the pain got so bad that I had to go to a walk in clinic. I am thankful to the doctor of that clinic every day, because he listened to my heart and said “I think something is wrong.”

It took a while to get that confirmed. First, I had to find and land a job with benefits. But the minute I had a doctor, I asked for an EKG of my heart. I figured I was being overly cautious, that she would tell me I was concerned for nothing. But then I remembered that headache, and decided to err on the side of caution.

That EKG turned into an ultrasound. The ultrasound turned into a CT scan. The CT scan turned into an MRI. And at every step, people kept saying something is wrong, something is wrong, something is wrong.

So in the course of just about two years I went from thinking I was pretty healthy to undergoing major heart surgery. Once they cracked me open, the damage turned out to be even more severe than initially thought. Instead of a biological valve (aka cow intestine), I got to become a cyborg with a mechanical heart valve.

That’s often not a lot of fun. First of all, it sounds like there’s a watch in my chest. I hear my own heart beating, like a tick of a clock, constantly. Second, because blood could clot around the valve, I have to take a heavy duty blood thinner for the rest of my life. Which, frankly, sucks.

I had a long road back from surgery. An incredibly long road, which I’m still walking today. There were a lot of complications, many of which I couldn’t anticipate or plan for.

But I’m alive. I no longer have a ticking time bomb sitting in my chest. The high blood pressure is gone. I’m starting to lose weight. I can breathe so much better, when I didn’t even know before that my blood was not getting enough oxygen. My skin has changed color. (Really! Before, my circulation was so bad that I was extremely pale and often had blue lips. I’m still pretty pale, but not nearly as much). I almost never get headaches anymore, when before I had two or three a week. The good far outweighs the bad, even though sometimes it takes a while to remember it.

1 in 3 women die of heart disease and stroke. Up to 80 percent of that is preventable.

Now I am not, at all, saying that people should live in fear of heart disease, or jump into surgery. My case was rather extreme, and major surgery is of course a last result.

What I am trying to say is that, even if you don’t think you are at risk for heart disease, you should treat your heart as if you are. Because you are. There are both small and large things that you can do to improve your heart health.  Cook at home as often as you can instead of eating out. Eat less salt and processed foods (it helps to get in the habit of shopping only the outer aisles of the grocery store). Get physical—do something every single day that doesn’t involve sitting on your ass watching Netflix. Take the stairs instead of the elevator at work. Teach your kids healthy habits from the moment they’re born. And be an advocate for your own health. Ask your doctor what sorts of diagnostic tests you should have at certain stages of your life. Learn the symptoms of heart disease and stroke. Listen to your body.

Respect your heart, because it does a lot of work for you. You get about 2.5 billion heartbeats in your lifetime. Make the most of them.

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