Using Narrative Anachronism to Heal the Past

I’ve been wondering lately how much of an anachronism some of the events in my new book Like Two Opposite Things actually are.

The story, about a teen girl figuring out how love and sex and relationships work, takes place in the mid-90s just a few years after the Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas which, as a teen in the 90s my own self, had an profound effect on my psyche. Among other things (*cough* unapologetically sexist children’s media *cough*), it made some pretty solid implications about the value of my body and my voice in the world at large, how I could expect to be treated by men in general and those in power specifically, and what my word was worth when speaking out against mistreatment. Moreover, it made me question whether perceived mistreatment actually was mistreatment or if it was just the result of some negative or inappropriate behavior on my part or the part of the women I might try to identify with.

Hill being publicly dragged through the mud for suggesting that her boss was less than respectable towards her, in my young mind, meant that either homegirl was lying to get attention (which she was accused of) or she was telling the truth and no one was ever going to believe her.

And there’s a little of that in my book. There’s a boy who makes some unwelcome advances toward my protagonist. It’s not his first time doing so but no one believed it the first time around because the behavior was directed toward a younger girl, of color, and reported by her cousin who had a reputation for being something of a trouble-maker. But my protag–who is a white girl–makes the accusation while recruiting a respectable family to legitimize her and that’s when things start to change for the better.

But is that just wishful thinking on my part?

I hate that trope of the white man stepping in to defeat the forces of evil and save a population of people he doesn’t resemble because they can’t do it for themselves. But I do want to believe that whatever privilege I have can be used to redirect attention to anyone whose voice has been silenced, either by racism, sexism, ageism or homophobia (however naive that may be). It’s why I’m so interested in the She Should Run Incubator and the movement to get more women into politics. Because I want us all to have a voice. Because I want those of us who won’t let our voices be silenced speak for those who have no choice. I desperately want to believe that there is hope for us all!

While my novel is not a true story, I have seen accusations of sexual assault and rape go unexamined because of whatever prejudice existed about the accuser. And most of my experiences happened as a teen in the 90s, long before there was a rape culture hashtag or a public conversation to uncover the previously justified treatment of women as sex objects and pleasure bots for men.

It’s becoming clear to me that my novel is a fantasy. It’s what I wanted to be able to do for all the girls I knew who were mistreated not only by men but by the institutions that claimed to protect them. It’s a fairy tale.

It’s also a lot fluffier and sweeter than this post makes it out to be. A teen in love for the first time, trying to figure out what exactly love is and how it measures up to her expectations? Adorable. The sexual assault scene and aftermath? A nasty little reality check. But I can’t deny that the attitudes of the teens and some of the adults in my book are hardly what I experienced as reality in the 90s.

But maybe that’s why I needed to write it.

I’m telling you, this whole place could fall apart like that,” she says, snapping her fingers.

“Jeez, and it’s all my fault.”

Heather sits up straight and stares down at me. “Um, no. Not at all. That perv attacked you. How is any of this your fault?”

“Because I wasn’t… like, polite about it. I could have made the situation less like, antagonistic if I had just been more understanding and compassionate.”

“Chica, no. No, no, no. This has nothing at all to do with you not being nice about some jerk trying to touch you after you said no. You’re allowed to say no however you want, whenever you want and nothing that person does afterward is your responsibility. Not at all. Think about it for a second. Do you honestly think Todd would have acted much differently if you had been nice to him? Do you know how often I am super nice to him and he continues to be super rude and awful to me? Would it have changed anything if you did things differently?”

“I don’t know. Maybe?” I’m starting to think back to the timeline of events. What would have happened if I had just said something like I’m sorry, but I’m not interested. Or told him I understand how disappointing it is to like someone who doesn’t like you back. I imagine him laughing at me, telling me I was wrong, insisting that if I just kissed him I’d see how much I really did like him. Maybe I wouldn’t have fallen down. Maybe I wouldn’t have scraped up my hands and face, but there was no way he was just gonna say OK and let me walk away. He already proved that. Twice.

“Maybe not,” I say.

“Definitely not. Now get your butt up and let’s go have some breakfast. Or brunch, actually, because that’s about what time it is, lazy bum.”

Excerpt from Like Two Opposite Things, available for pre-order on Amazon.com

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The Path of Moderate Resistance

I believe that taking the path of least resistance–while very Tao, maaan, VERY Tao–is usually the lazy path, the indecisive path, the path of fear and trepidation and the path least likely to lead to change or measurable results.

I also believe that taking the path of most resistance–of choosing to do something difficult for the sake of doing it or because it’s the accepted thing to do, or somebody bullied you into it–is pointlessly messing with the natural flow of life and will probably lead to failure, pain, fear, and loss.

By the way, this is not a political post. I feel like I always have to clarify that these days.

My son had a doctor’s appointment recently and when his snarky condescending doctor asked about his sleep habits, I told her (some of) the truth: he still wakes up at night but less often. Sometimes he goes back to sleep on his own, sometimes he calls for me and I have to lie down with him to get him back to sleep.

She didn’t say anything, but she did give me the wicked side eye. She’s a proponent of sleep training, you see. She has three children and she’s a doctor so she knows everything there is to know about children and sleep habits. Except for children who hate sleeping, of course, which is my child.

I know that if I had asked (and belieeeeeve me, I learned not to ask for her advice or opinion a long time ago), she would have chided me for not reading the 6 books she recommended to me forever ago and told me that I’m a horrible mother for helping my child fall asleep. She also once told me that if I rock my infant son, he’ll still be 13 years old and expecting me to rock him. I’m absolutely positive that’s true. All 13-year-old boys who were rocked to sleep demand their mothers rock them every night. That’s common knowledge, right?

But my son’s like me: busy minded. And it’s hard for us to fall asleep. So I lie down with him. We watch a couple of videos on my phone (also a no-no according to everyone who can sleep without help). We talk about what we did that day or about his toys or about the video we just watched. And I let him snuggle up to me and pull my head toward his for kisses until he falls asleep.

I don’t think I’m taking the path of least resistance. I don’t co-sleep (unless I fall asleep there which… happens but it’s not a parenting philosophy so much as a pitfall). I don’t succumb to every pre-bed time request (more water, more videos, more play time).

But I refuse to take the path of most resistance because of the damage I know it’ll do. He’s still a young toddler and I don’t see anything wrong with helping him get to sleep. I do all the things with him that I do on my own to help me fall asleep. When he gets a little older, I’ll teach him that he can do all of those things by himself. But I’m not going to leave him crying or screaming or helpless to get his body to rest when I know what the problem is and how to solve it. That’s just cruel.

I get the feeling that a lot of the “training” activities the “experts” are so fond of are just excuses for adults to be selfish and force their children to be more convenient. Potty training at 16 months? It’s because you don’t want to change diapers anymore. Cry It Out? It’s because you want to get more sleep. I like convenience too but I also enjoy not screwing up my kid for the sake of my ME time.

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A Self-Published Gal Self-Promotin’

How about some quick, fun, and free entertainment this week?

 A Flash of Effect is free this week on Amazon!

From January 23 to January 27, I’m using my KDP promotion option to give my little nugget of a story away for free. Grab yours, give it a read and then, be a dear and leave a little review? I’ll take however many stars you’re willing to give, good folk. Because THAT is how Amazon works, ain’t it?

 

51aubuobgylA Flash of Effect: Inside the world of The Homecoming Effect in four short-short stories

From the author’s notes and character studies, these four flash fiction stories take you inside the world of the novel The Homecoming Effect and the character of Bunny whose motivations and backstory aren’t always as they appear. Each short story expands on the character’s inner workings, from her fierce–albeit sometimes misguided–Mama Bear instinct to her complicated relationship with “the truth”.

 

 

 

P.S. The Homecoming Effect is on sale starting next week. You could have both books for less than a cup o’ joe.

 

Teen Love is Adorable and Insane

I didn’t date as a young teen so I never got caught up in that tragic, melodramatic, misinterpreting Romeo and Juliet kind of affair. Actually, I was a straight up dork for the majority of my adolescence and while I hated it at the time, I can tell you now as an adult I am grateful for the lack of opportunity to have been so very dumb. 1502383-980xI’m also grateful for the lack of social media. And for cameras that only got pulled out on special occasions. Because there are things… oh, there are some fashion choices and hairstyles I am very happy not to have recorded for posterity.

Not the point, Eda. Stop making that “bear claw as bangs” gesture.

Admittedly, my first love–which happened in my sophomore year of college when I was 18 and a very serious student who couldn’t afford a hit to the GPA–got a little forevery. There was mention of marriage… some day. Of futures and houses and children… some day. But that was never our focus so it never got out of control.

Then again, in the 90s, it was all Beverly Hills 90210 and Friends and Titanic and Baz Lurhman’s Romeo and Juliet so our media role models weren’t forevering it either. They were gettin’ busy and movin’ on or… you know, dying.

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That’s what makes me feel for all those Twilight kids. All those late 2000s teens with their vampire romance and their various shades of gray, the Teen Moms and The Notebookers thinking love is this magical thing that just happens and lasts forever, like the rest of your life is just a footnote in your love affair and everything after “I do” or “Bite me” is a continuing loop of the last dramatic kiss before the credits role.

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I’ve been married less than a handful of years and I can’t remember the last dramatic kiss. I’m stuck in the day-to-day, “How many times do I have to ask you to close the goddamn blinds so our neighbors can’t see us drinking out of the milk carton at midnight” kind of crap. The “I changed the last poopy diaper; it’s your turn” stuff. The “yeah, I want another baby but I literally don’t have the energy to take off my own pants right now” kind of romance reserved for family life post-movie credits. It’s not the kind of thing fanfic gets written about. Not accurately anyway.

ltot-book-coverWhen I wrote Like Two Opposite Things, I was very conscious of the FOREVER teen romance mindset, most especially as I witnessed the very public breakup of my teenage cousin and her 4-EVA boyfriend (of 5 months) and subsequent profession of 4-EVA and undying love of her NEW boyfriend… live on Facebook. (For real, I hate Facebook.)

Of the many “opposite things” in my book is a comparison of that kind of relationship, full of promises and passion, with a more realistic, “I like you but we’re 15 so… let’s see how things go,” perspective of a kid who’d been through the ringer already and isn’t interested in a second go. She’s a 15-going-on-40 year old and maybe the character who most represents the author’s (old lady) voice but I would never put it above an intelligent teenager to see through media portrayals and cultural falsehoods and act as the voice of reason in an otherwise ridiculous situation. And if there were more media portraying realistic teen relationships to consume, maybe more teens would have more reasonable expectations of how relationships work.

Because I took vows, man. I really did say Forever and For Better or Worse and while our worst has been pretty tame so far, forever gets harder to visualize when those goddamn blinds are open again and I can actually SEE our neighbor trying to peek in here. You know what? The next TWO poopy diapers are YOURS now as punishment.

 

End Your Frustration in One Click

f7d71936a691a14865a6371e78d46a68I am so very frustrated with the world at large, as many of those of us in possession of a soul are, but I have also learned that there’s only so much one person can do and it’s best to focus on the things you have some control over so as not get totally overwhelmed. Despair is not useful. “Anger is more useful than despair.”

Of the handful of things I can control: my social media. Of the things that make me the most frustrated: a friend list full of people who are most certainly NOT my friends, who I would not chose to socialize with given the option, and who are either bigots or idiots I cannot stand in real life so WHY would I continue to “follow” them online? Because they post good recipes? So does Buzzfeed. Because they have cute kids? So do I. To maintain good relations for networking reasons? Not a good enough reason.

Let me tell you about the woman who used to be a coworker–who could still be considered a colleague–who posted some nonsense about protesters being “babies” and how they need to grow up. This woman of color is the daughter of immigrants from a country that does not value women and she spent her whole life–she’s told me on many occasions, often with tears in her eyes–being denigrated by her parents and extended family members. She works in a male-dominated industry full of macho airheads who still use phrases like, “even good for girls” in their advertising. And she is very… very susceptible to peer pressure.

Do I believe that in her heart she supports an administration led by a man who does not value women, minorities, or immigrants? Prrrrobably not. See above, re: tears in her eyes. Do I believe that the macho airheads she works with brainwashed her into thinking that agreeing with something that’s BAD for her would be the only thing that would make them respect her? AAAAAAbsolutely because it happened constantly when she was my coworker.

So I could go on from here into some brainwashing, fake news, peer pressure thing and wonder how many of That Man’s voters were not aware that they were not acting in their own interests but were propagandized nice and thorough and blah blah blah. But it doesn’t matter now. He’s got the chair and there’s nothing my pondering can do to get him out of it.
Instead, I’ll focus on the things I can control. I can choose to not be friends with people who denigrate others while literally crying about the very same happening to them. Because that kind of hypocrisy underlies a fundamental lack of empathy. And why the hell should I be friends with someone who cannot empathize with others? How does such a person HAVE friends or any kind of meaningful relationship if they have no insight into the emotions of others? Is that why they value Facebook friendships? Because they’d rather think of their friends as “followers” who have to listen to every word they say?

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You know what? I don’t care. Unfriend. There. I’ve controlled a situation that caused me pain and frustration. What’s next?

The Old Broad’s Got Good Taste, Obvi

My grandmother called yesterday to tell me she finished reading my book, the paperback version of The Homecoming Effect I gave her for Christmas. She said she loved it and read it in two days. She says she’d very proud and impressed.

I know she’s my Gramgram and she has to be proud of me but it’s still nice to hear, you know? Also, she’s an avid trashy romance reader and yet, my book (with a few trashy parts here and there) still kept her attention. I call that a win!

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Actually, Grandma, it’s $2.99 for the ebook version:
The Homecoming Effect

 

 

She’s Still My “kiss-virgin dork baby”

I am pleased as pineapple punch (and watching too much Doc McStuffins) to announce the imminent arrival of my new novel!

Like Two Opposite Things is a LGBTQ (heavy on the B) coming of age romance novel set in the 1990s, that addresses issues of sexuality and consent with an emphasis on positive, realistic teen relationships. A fun nostalgic read for 90s kids and a reinforcement of healthy social dynamics for modern teens, the fluffy romance is still smart and socially conscious. 

As I have already sworn to my mother, it is entirely fictitious (no, Mom, I don’t think you’re a neglectful, overly critical, irresponsible parent. Geez!) but based on some shenanigans that my camp friends back in the day may have gotten up to (like that time they played spin the bottle without me!!!).

It’s a pre-cell phone, not sure where anyone is unless you ask around, old-fashioned fun (I mean, if the 90s are really considered “old” already) figuring out how to have fun in the woods without getting in too much trouble kind of tale.

And it will be available on Amazon.com starting February 10, 2017.

 

ltot-book-coverLike Two Opposite Things
(available 2/10/17 on Amazon)

It all happens here, in the armpit of the jetty on the far end of North Beach. This is where Helia Desiderio–nick-named Hell-yeah by her friends–ends her reign as a kiss-virgin dork baby and finally gets up close to the campground jock, her crush, Patrick. But nothing goes the way she plans: not the kissing, not the crushing, and definitely not the no-big-dealness of kissing both girls and boys. When she has to chose between the surprisingly sweet boy who loves her and the best friend she didn’t know she had, Hell-yeah’s forced to figure out some things about life and love and who she really wants to be.

Define “Man” to me, Child

 

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*”I’m a toxic waste byproduct of God’s creation.”

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of Chuck Palahnuik and Fight Club is one of my favs if not for its magical metaphor*, then for its social commentary. It’s also one of my favorite movies and because I can separate mediums and accept multiple versions of reality, I can appreciate both the analysis of consumer identity (more from the book) and challenge to certain definitions of masculinity (more from the movie). And all of this is just a long-winded, self-congratulatory way of explaining that the rest of this post, in my mind, has absolutely everything to do with the movie quote, “Is that what a man looks like?”

 

It’s that kid again. That white upper-middle class kid chock full of privilege and being raised by the kind of morally ambiguous, somewhat narcissistic, empathy-lacking people who unpack their privilege about as often as the “good China” they registered for because all the old people told them it was expected.

I’ve written about this kid before, too.

Recently, after a physically grueling activity wherein the participants did much in the way of sweating (preteens. yuck.), we suggested to our students that they take a breath, get a drink, and let their bodies recover before we moved on to the next activity. The kid politely declined. Oh but that wasn’t the end of that. Because as all of his (male) classmates stood around the water cooler, taking adequate care of their meat sacks, this kid tacked on a snarky, “because I’m a man” comment.

Because I’ve decided recently that I’m done letting things go that need to be addressed, I said, “Think about what you just said. Think about why you said it. Is it true?”

“No,” he lowered his head and pouted. You know, like a man.

“Then why say it? Why say that all of your classmates are somehow less than you because they’re being responsible with their health? Because they’re drinking water? That’s ridiculous.”

That’s when the other kids chimed in.

“What did he say?” they wanted to know.

So I told them. And rather than getting all puffed up and insulted–LIKE A MAN–they got all … thoughtful and, “Aaaactually, your body needs to replenish its fluids after a workout.”

Good kids. Good, smart, not stereotypical in thought or action kids. They’re the ones I like to take credit for, even though, obviously, having decent caring parents is how they got to be so good.

That kid shut his mouth after that. Kept his nonsense to himself for once. There’s something to be said for peer pressure that keeps the garbage-minded children from spewing their hatred all over the damn place.

But the thing is, again, I know exactly where that thought can from. To quote myself, “the bigotry that surrounds him at home.” I have, actually, heard one of his family members rant incessantly about how giving kids water breaks turns them into pansies and whiners.

Right. Let me just state, for the record, that of all the kids in attendance that day, there was exactly one who whined or complained or made excuses for his shortcomings instead of owning up to them and vowing to improve. It was the one who didn’t drink water. You know, because he’s a MAN.

Update your definition, child.

Women are Just Taller Girls, Right?

Christmas had me at a loss this year. Money is tight and shopping is hard with a toddler in tow and there was so much going on in the last few months that gifting wasn’t so high on my list of priorities. But I did get a pretty sweet discount offer on my Target Cartwheel app! For a Fitbit! And that’s a gadget, right, so maybe my husband would be into it.

But knowing nothing about Fitbits, I thought I best check it out first. So one day, kidless, I spent some time in the electronics department reading all the Fitbit signage and trying to figure out if this whoosie was even worth my 40% discount. Turns out, no, no it was not. But that’s not the point of this story.

I asked the salesman if he could help me and pointed to the locked Fitbits over yonder. Dude was tall and skinny, probably in his early 20s and definitely thought of himself as smarter than your average bear. He says, “Let me guess, you want the pink one?”

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I’m a small woman. I am often mistaken for being younger than I am. But I’m not seven, and I’m not wearing unicorn barrettes in my pigtails, so WHO do you think you’re talking to? I’m not usually one to engage with idiots, especially those who are strangers–I generally prefer to walk away and spend my energy more wisely–but it was so out of left field. Like, here’s an adult woman customer asking for assistance in electronics and the first thing out of your mouth is an antiquated assumption of preference based on color because women are incapable of judging products on any other factor? Or was it a sexist assertion of dominance over the little lady? Or was it a passive aggressive dig at a stupid customer because retail is just such very hard work?

Either way, no. No, I am not having that. No, that is not appropriate customer service. Just no, sir. No.

So I scrunched up my little eyebrows, cocked my head and said, “Why would you say that? Why would you assume I want pink?” and let him stumble over his tongue for a while trying to apologize or back-peddle or do whatever he needed to do to complete the sale.

After that, we actually had a very productive conversation, comparing models and features until I ultimately decided that my husband would probably prefer to decide on his own features (and that he’d want more than I could pay for). I thanked him for his time and his helpful advice and he actually looked me in the eye and apologized sincerely for the pink remark.

Maybe that dude was a jackass. Maybe he was having a bad day. But I was happy that I didn’t let it go. And I was happy that I didn’t lose my temper and badmouth him. Instead, I forced him to see me as a person and recognize his own mistake. I think it was an important lesson for both of us.

Challenging assumptions is one of those thingies on my list of “things to get better at.”