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On Writing Fiction

23 Mar

Let’s begin with the assumption that I am a fairly talented wordsmith.

Before I say anything especially important, I have a few small digressions to make:

Digression the first – why wordsmith? Why not wordwright, like playwright or shipwright? Wordsmith makes me think of blacksmiths hammering out cold, dead things like horseshoes and nails and old-fashioned hinges. Shipwrights make boats, the best of which have delicate wooden ribs, can slice through the cold saltwater like knives, and creak and groan like living things.

Maybe bookwright is the word I want. Think we could get that into the OED?

Digression the second – I say “assumption” because, of course, talent is subjective. For instance, reading Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone made me want to claw my own eyes out, but I know a lot of smart, well-read people who sincerely enjoyed it.

No, but seriously, that book is terrible. It was so bad that it went past good and then all the way back to bad again.

Digression the third – I also say “assumption” because even after all the positive attention, all the accolades and kind words, I still don’t really know that it’s fact. And yes, I Am Not Your Wife was reposted to the The Believer‘s tumblr, Thought Catalog, The Frisky, and Huffington Post, and yes, those things are huge, but I still don’t feel especially talented. Maybe the problem is that those things are too huge, and it’s overwhelming.

Like, fuck. The Believer. Are you fucking kidding me right now? Their contributor’s list is basically a list of ALL OF MY FAVOURITE LIVING AUTHORS EVER. Being published in The Believer is a writer’s wet dream. And I somehow managed to get on their tumblr without even trying?

And for sure there’s a part of me that thinks that all this recognition is fantastic, and it’s only going to lead to better things, and blah blah optimism blah, but there’s another part of me, and admittedly much larger part of me, that thinks that this is all a fluke. That I’ll never write anything as smart or interesting or touching as I Am Not Your Wife, and now, at the age of 30, I’ve reached my peak of greatness, and now I’ll begin my slow decline.

In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes, etc.

But enough digressing. What I really want to talk about is my love-hate relationship with writing fiction.

So.

Let’s begin with the assumption that I am a fairly talented wordsmith.

I am also someone who likes to write fiction.

And I guess that for a long time I thought that talent was all it took to write a good short story, or poem, or novel. I didn’t really think about writing being something that you would have to study or practice or learn. I thought that you were either talented, or you weren’t, and that determined whether or not you were going to succeed.

Then, in the summer of 2007, I took a creative writing class at the Humber School for Writers with Miriam Toews and she was fucking amazing. She had so many nice things to say about my writing, and even recommended me to the Humber School for Writers’ in-house literary agent, and I left that program feeling like a fucking rockstar.

Anyway, on one of the last days of the program, Miriam and I were having a serious writer-to-writer talk (because I was sure that I was a serious, for-real, grown-up writer) and she told me to forget taking classes and workshops, forget trying to learn the craft of writing, and to just go home and write. And this seemed like excellent advice, because she’d never taken a creative writing class in her life and she’d won the Governor General’s Award for English Fiction. So clearly, she knew what she was talking about.

I took her advice, and I went home, and I wrote. I wrote like a motherfucker (digression the fourth: how does a motherfucker write?) and ended up producing a folder full of short stories and a novel.

And I couldn’t get a damn thing published. I mean, I came pretty close, but still. No cigar.

(Digression the fifth: when I was a kid my mother would always say “close, but no cigar.” This made me think that cigars were fantastic and wonderful and  possibly delicious, which, in turn, made me believe that if I could just get something right for a damn change, she would give me one and my life would be perfect)

After querying and re-querying every damn agent and publisher and literary magazine on the continent, I quit. I was done. I just couldn’t take the heartbreak anymore.

Now, when I say heartbreak, a lot of people think that I mean the pain of rejection – and that’s fair, because that’s part of what breaks my heart.

But the truth is that the bulk of my heartbreak comes from the thought that I’ve somehow failed my stories. Because it’s not the stories themselves that are the problem – in theory, they’re sound enough – it’s the wording, the structure, the believable setting and the fleshed out characters. In the hands of a better writer, these stories would have lived. But mine didn’t.

All my poor, innocent stories were all stillborn. I’d tried my damnedest to get them to live, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know how.

I fell in love with each one, and each time I had my stupid heart broken and my foolish hopes dashed.

And I get that it’s about practice. I get that you have to hone your craft, and that suffering for your art doesn’t mean starving somewhere in a cold garrett but instead the grim misery of grinding away at your craft day after day after day. I get that no one is successful right away.

But what happens to all of those stories that I wrote and loved? Are they just collateral damage in the fight to become a good writer? Do I forget about them? Pretend that they never existed? Delete from from my hard drive?

How can I keep giving my heart away, over and over again, to stories that will never see the light of day?

But I want to write fiction. And (perhaps more importantly) I feel happier when I’m writing fiction. So I’ve started that up again, and sometimes it feels amazing, and sometimes it feels terrifying, and mostly it feels like both things at once.

But the thought of trying to get my stuff published again, the thought of going through all that rejection again, scares me shitless.

It doesn’t help that I feel like I’m running out of time. Most of the people my age have Serious Grownup Careers that they’ve been building since their mid-20s, and meanwhile here I am without a single published (fictional) word to my name. How do I ever catch up?

And, I mean, never mind catching up, how on earth do I ever compete with everyone else, all the amazing writers and wannabe writers on the internet? What sets me apart from them? Most of the time, I think that the answer is “nothing” – I’m just another faceless, nameless word-o-phile floating in a sea of fellow literary junkies.

These past few years have been rough. I’ve had a few friends and acquaintances, all people my age, die within the last year or two. There was Artem, of course, who was only 27 when he died of cancer. Then, a few months ago, there was Ryan, who I’d gone to university with; he died in his sleep of unknown causes. Most recently there was a friend-of-a-friend who died of a massive heart attack at the age of 32.

I think I might be running out of time.

So with that in mind, I’m going to try to find a good writing class. I’m going to find someone who can help me iron out the plot and pacing issues that plague all of my writing. I’m going to grind away at this like I should’ve been doing all along. I’m going to do this. Because as much as I love Miriam and think that what she said was right for her, I’m not sure that it was right for me.

In light of that, if anyone has any recommendations for good creative writing programs, preferably in the GTA, but I’m willing to travel, I would love to hear about them.

And to anyone who writes fiction – I would love to hear about your experiences, be they failures, successes, or something in between. I would love your commiseration. I would love to hear how you keep yourself going.

Most of all, though, I want someone to tell me to keep going, that this is worth it, and that I’ll get somewhere eventually. Because right now it feels like I’m driving round and round in circles, and I’m in danger of running out of gas.

Anne Sexton, at her typewriter

Anne Sexton, at her typewriter

High School Reunions, Or The Time I Farted Publicly

15 Mar

My high school career started off, quite literally, with a bang.

A few weeks into ninth grade, I was lounging around in drama class, leaning nonchalantly on something or other, when (sorry, there’s no way to be delicate about this) I farted. Loudly.

To make matters even worse, I immediately sat up and said in the most prim-old-lady way possible,

“Oh my goodness, excuse me.”

To say that I was mortified would be like saying … actually, I don’t even know what it would be like saying. I can’t even think of anything clever enough to explain how I wanted to stab myself in the eyes every time I had to go to school.

Up until then, I suspect that I’d already been teetering on the edge of “uncool”, but that one little (actually not so little) fart sealed the deal. I was banished to High School Loser Hell forever. Although there had only been about fifteen people in the class, within a few hours the whole school seemed to know. For weeks afterwards, people would come up behind me in the hallway and make farting noises. My face turned a permanent shade of red.

Imagine being a fourteen year old girl and having to live your life as the girl who farted in class.

My dreams of ever being prom queen or joining student council or even of ever having a boyfriend were all dashed in that moment.

I mean, comedic hyperbole, etc., and I actually did have one or two high school boyfriends, but still. It felt like the end of the world.

I’ve written before about how high school wasn’t exactly great for me. Which, whatever, it’s over and I’m a grown up and I don’t care anymore because my life is awesome now. Right? I mean, right?

Except for how I apparently do care and ended up throwing a little tantrum on Facebook about how I don’t want to go to the upcoming 25th anniversary/reunion of the arts program that I was in.

(Incidentally, this is a really good example of why I shouldn’t be on Facebook, because I just use it to vomit my feelings all over the internet)

Look. It’s not like I didn’t have any friends in high school. It’s not like there were never any good times, ever. It’s just that a lot of factors combined to make me feel like an unlovable weirdo social pariah and I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to get over that.

It wasn’t just the farting (oh God, I cringe every time I type that word, STILL, EVEN NOW, 16 YEARS LATER). It was everything. It was the fact that I was already socially awkward to begin with, and I had no idea how to dress, use makeup or make myself attractive in any way shape or form. It was the fact that I was depressed, and none of the adults around me seemed to have any fucking clue how to handle that. It was the fact that we were poor and I couldn’t afford to do half the things my classmates could.

I wish I didn’t have to use the word poor, because that sounds so, I don’t know, dramatic or self-pitying or something. And the truth is that compared to a lot of people, I had it pretty easy. But it still sucked. Part of it was that I didn’t really have a lot of experience being poor; up until midway through grade eight, we’d lived in a nice area of town, I’d had decently nice clothes, and I’d never had to miss out on anything due to lack of funds.

Then, when I was thirteen, my dad suddenly left, and my mother, sisters and I moved into low-income housing where things were, well, interesting to say the least. Our next-door neighbours (who, by the way, had a ten year old son) spent Christmas day drinking God-knows-what and then taking turns going outside to vomit on their front lawn. We regularly heard gunshots going off in other parts of our complex. Once, when I was in grade thirteen, I saw a man naked and stoned out of his mind lying on the front doorstep of the townhouse across from ours. He was begging his brother to let him in. Instead, the brother called the police, who came and beat the naked man while he screamed, Oh God, please stop.

And honestly, I swear, I’m not telling any of this to you to make you feel sorry for me. It’s just that I felt like my friends, with their intact families living in their mid-century bungalows in their nice, tree-filled neighbourhoods, maybe didn’t really get where I was coming from. Or maybe they did. What the hell do I know?

Anyway, we didn’t have any money, which sucked for a variety of reasons. My clothes were ugly and didn’t fit properly. I couldn’t afford to go on a lot of the field trips my classmates did. I had to miss out on a bunch of stuff because I always had to babysit.

Oh, and I was awkward, which has nothing to do with money, but I just want to mention it again, in case you forgot. And ugly. I had acne like it was going out of style (hint: it was never in style).

All of this was somehow manageable, though, until grade eleven, when I was hit, hard, with my first major depressive episode. I cried all the time. I started cutting (which is another fact that makes me wince with embarrassment, but I figure that since I’ve already told you about the farting I may as well go whole-hog with the unflinching honesty). My grades plummeted. I tried antidepressant after antidepressant, but none of them really worked. I couldn’t sleep at night, so I started napping during class. I lost the ability to concentrate.

And you know what? Almost none* of my teachers seemed to give a shit, or even seemed to have any kind of clue what to do with me. None of them offered me any kind of help or sympathy. One of them, in fact, tried to have me kicked out of the arts package because I wasn’t putting enough effort into school and extracurricular activities. She even scheduled a big meeting with the administration and made my mother attend, which was pretty much the opposite of what I needed right then.

And like, I get it, you know? These teachers were all tired and overworked, and here I was, yet another teenager who wouldn’t do her homework and just wanted to mope around all the time. And they were so used to seeing their students fucked up on pot or acid or heroin (NO BUT FOR REALS, I AM NOT KIDDING, THERE WERE KIDS AT MY SCHOOL WHO DID HEROIN), that maybe seeing me strung out on Paxil and Prozac didn’t seem that different. I wasn’t especially close to most of my teachers, and probably I didn’t really make it worth their time to care.

But weren’t they supposed to care? I mean, wasn’t that their job?

Or maybe they did. Maybe I misread everything and misunderstood their advances and offers of help because I was just too wrapped up in my own misery. Maybe they wanted to be kind to me but eventually got tired of me pushing everyone away.

I was a fucking treat to be around in those days, let me tell you.

The real kicker came in grade thirteen, when I couldn’t even afford the twenty bucks for a student card. The thing was, without a student card you couldn’t collect participation points. And you needed those points to win a White E, which was the participation award that my school gave out every year. You had to do a ton of extracurricular stuff to get a White E, and I’d been only one of, like, three to win one in grade nine. I’d received one every year since, and I knew that if I got one in grade thirteen I would receive a Silver E which was, like, a Big Deal at my school.

But because the school wouldn’t let me collect those points, I had no hope of winning one. And while in retrospect this seems like an especially stupid thing for me to care about, at the same time it also seems incredibly petty of my school to not be willing to just waive the fee for me or whatever.

So anyway, then high school ended, and if I’d had any bridges to burn I would’ve burned them, but I didn’t, so I couldn’t. I just hightailed it the hell out of Ontario and decided to start a new life in Halifax as an Especially Cool Person Who Does Not Pass Gas In Public. And by and large, I succeeded.

Then I moved back to Ontario and joined Facebook and had to face all of my demons former classmates and mostly it was fine. I mean, actually it was all fine, and everyone is super nice and lovely now and no one has made fart noises within my hearing or anything like that. And some of the people I knew in high school are now my closest friends, and I don’t know what I would do without them. And I no longer dread visiting Kitchener because I’m afraid that I’ll run into someone I used to know only to have them point at me and say, “That was the girl we all laughed at in high school!”

But that still doesn’t mean that I’m able to look back fondly on my high school days, you know? And I definitely have a hard time celebrating the administration of a program that didn’t really want to lift a finger to help me when I was at my nadir. I get that lots of people found the program inspiring and life-changing and blah blah blah, but mostly it just made me feel like I was a talentless hack who was going nowhere in the arts world.

Mostly I’m just super jealous of everyone that had a good time in high school. Mostly I don’t want to go to this reunion because I don’t want to hear everyone else’s largely positive interpretations of events that were miserable and embarrassing for me. Mostly I’m just incredibly embarrassed that I’m fucking thirty and I’m still so insecure.

Fuck, you guys, I don’t know. High school fucking sucked, and the shitty part is that it sucked to a greater or lesser degree for everyone, so it’s not even like I get to be alone and special in my pain. I just happen to be the loudest about it, apparently.

Maybe we can just use this as an opportunity to wallow in our collective former misery together?

Maybe that’s the point of high school reunions, after all.

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*There were a few that cared. My grade ninth and tenth grade English teachers come to mind. In particular, my grade thirteen English teacher, gets my undying thanks for the kindness he showed me then and still shows me today. Apparently I did well, at least, with English teachers, hah.

On Facebook and Validation

27 Feb

I deleted my Facebook account this morning.

Or rather, I deactivated it, because deleting is way more of a hassle and I’ll probably end up reactivating my account eventually. And can I just take a second to tell you how crazy hard it was to get myself off that motherfucker? It took me approximately ten years to find the “deactivate” section, and THEN they make you fill out this thing about why you’re leaving and blah blah blah, like, seriously, Zuckerberg? Everyone and their grandmothers are on Facebook. You can relax about the OCCASIONAL PERSON quitting your site.

But anyway. I digress.

I deactivated my account because I wasn’t really happy about how I was using Facebook. I felt like too often I was using it to seek attention or validation, and that felt really unhealthy. I feel like I have an OK relationship with Facebook when I’m in a good space mentally, but when I’m depressed I tend to make posts that are basically begging my friends to reassure me that they love me, that I’m a good person, that I’m doing a good job. And I don’t want to be that guy, you know?

But this is where it gets fucking tricky, because by posting this, aren’t I kind of, sort of being that guy? Aren’t I using this as a way of asking you for validation that I’m not constantly looking for validation? Or at least validation that this is just how we do it in the 21st century and everyone else (and their grandmothers) use Facebook for the same thing?

Let me tell you a little story.

One time, my ex-boyfriend and I were at the same Hallowe’en party, and then ended up going out to the same club. I was still in love with him and he knew it, but he went ahead and kissed me on the dance floor anyway. He was dressed as The Incredible Hulk and when he kissed me he got green paint on my face, and my best friend dragged me into the bathroom and yelled, WHAT THE FUCK IS HE DOING KISSING YOU AND GETTING GREEN PAINT ON YOUR FACE? THAT IS FUCKING UNACCEPTABLE.

So I tried to ask him why he’d kissed me, but instead he turned around and walked out of the bar. So I followed him, because I was angry, and hurt, and felt stupid and used. I chased him down the street, yelling his name and telling him to turn around and talk to me RIGHT NOW. And eventually he did, and we ended up sitting together on someone’s stoop in the middle of Halifax’s North End. It was midnight and really fucking cold outside, but I didn’t have a coat because I’d been in such a hurry to catch him and chew him out. So I sat there, trying to explain how hurt I was without actually admitting that I still wanted to be with him, and I was so cold that I started shivering. So he put his arms around me, and pulled me close, and I started crying.

We were both really drunk, and really young, and really serious. So we decided we were having this big adult conversation about ourselves and our relationship and our treatment of each other. Because, you know, that’s what you do when you’re sitting on some random North End stoop dressed as The Incredible Hulk and Jackie O on a freezing cold late-October night. That’s what grownups do. Right?

Anyway, at some point I said, “Tell me something that you know about me. Something true.”

And he looked at me and said, “Anne needs to stop relying on other people’s opinions of her.”

And I was actually shocked by how true and accurate that was. Like, even though he was a dick to me on the regular, he still knew me, somehow. And, weirdly, he still cared about me.

I guess I was also shocked because I’d thought that my need for other people’s validation was something that I’d managed to hide fairly well. But it became clear to me that if even my emotionally-stunted ex-boyfriend could see it, then everyone could see it.

And in that moment I felt exposed for the fraud I was: not the loud, brash, ass-kicking lady that I pretended to be, but a scared, lonely, kid with poor self-esteem.

I’ve worked hard in the year since then to have more faith in myself, to not let other people’s ideas shape who or what I am. I’ve tried to grow a thicker skin, tried not to care about what other people say, tried to learn how to stand my ground. And to some degree, I think I’ve been successful. I’ve at least become better at presenting myself as someone who is all of those things.

But when things get tough, I don’t feel like someone who has a strong core. I feel like someone who has layers and layers of gauze bandages wrapped around her midsection, and when you go to unwind them, it turns out that there’s nothing there, like, literally nothing. Just a giant, gaping hole that goes all the way through me. And then maybe all of my internal organs fall out and I get blood and guts on your nice new shoes and I’m crying for you to love me, please love me, and even though I can tell that you’re disgusted, I can’t stop.

So anyway, that’s what Facebook has been feeling like lately. Like I’m a big old vivisected loser who needs you to tell her over and over that she’s fine, she’s good, she’s lovely. And I don’t want to be that loser anymore. And I don’t want to drive you all away with my nonsense.

Thus: Facebook deactivation.

We can still interact here and on Twitter, and I’m happy to give you my email address so long as you promise that you’re not a creeper who wants to send me pictures of his dick. I’ll still be around. It’ll be fun, I promise!

Now if you excuse me, I have to go talk to my cats and make sure that they still think that I’m a worthy owner who feeds them on time and gives them enough cuddles.

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Shrevolution! Or, I Hate Valentine’s Day

14 Feb

I’m just going to go ahead and put this out there: I’m not exactly the world’s biggest fan of Valentine’s Day.

I mean, it’s fine when you’re a little kid. You make sure to wear something red or pink, tell your parents how much you love them, and draw hearts all over every-fucking-thing. Everyone in your class gives you a card, your gorge yourself on chocolate, then spend the afternoon in a sugar-fuelled frenzy and throw up all over your babysitter’s carpet. End of story.

Then you hit puberty, and Valentine’s Day becomes this huge, looming thing. Like, it’s the only day where you can truly prove just how much you love (or, at least, want to fuck) another person. You can be in a happy committed relationship for every other day of the year, but if you happen to be single on Valentine’s Day, then you, my friend, are the most pathetic person in the world. Or at least you’re made to feel like you are.

My dislike for Valentine’s Day has slowly evolved over the years. In grade school I thought it was fine, maybe even sort of fun, and in high school I endured it, handing out ironic valentines to friends and crushes alike (go ahead, ask me how well that worked in the dating department). By university, though, I was ready to declare open season on V-Day.

I decided that the modern-day, grown-up version of Valentine’s Day was nothing less than a capitalist nightmare, chock-full of obligations to spend money: on flowers, on dinner, on chocolates, on jewellery, on sexy lingerie. There were other, insinuated obligations, too. For example, women were expected to pay for all the attention and money lavished on them by putting out, whether they wanted to or not. I even once had a male friend say to me, “If I buy my girlfriend flowers for Valentine’s Day, she basically has to have sex with me, right?”

Uh, no, dude. She doesn’t.

And, I mean, seriously, out of all the thinly-Christianized pagan celebrations to take hold this side of the Atlantic, how did crappy old Valentine’s Day manage to make it onto that list? Why can’t we celebrate May Day and dance around may poles? How come we don’t do anything for St. John’s Eve, a.k.a. Midsummer? I would way rather build some bad-ass bonfires in June than hand out ugly, mass-produced cards in February.

All of this was part of the reason why my roommates and I decided to throw an Anti-Valentine’s-Day party during second year. My mother had put a package of pink, heart-shaped Post-It notes in my stocking that Christmas, so we used those to decorate our apartment, scrawling things like, “LOVE IS AN ILLUSION” and “FUCK YOU” on them. You know, the usual romantic stuff.

Aside from the fact that a girl that no one liked and no one would admit to inviting ended up vomiting red wine all over our bathroom, the party was a resounding success.

The next year, my friends and I celebrated Valentine’s Day a little differently. Our plans started innocently enough: we were going to go eat greasy, delicious, non-romantic food and then go somewhere for drinks. There were four of us, two of whom had boyfriends, and all we really wanted was a quiet, Galentine’s night out.

Once we got to the pub, things went downhill fast.

A few drinks into the evening, the ranting began. And, naturally, the more we drank, the more belligerent we became.

“Fuck Valentine’s Day!” said one of my friends, “People think it’s all about women, but really it’s all about dicks getting some action.”

“Yeah, fuck dicks,” said another. “I mean, don’t actually fuck them, but also, fuck them.”

“Valentine’s Day should be for clits, not dicks! Dudes should be obligated to prove that they can perform proper oral sex before taking a woman out for V-Day,” said someone else. “Clit not dick! Clit not dick!”

Clit Not Dick ended up becoming our mantra for the evening. We repeated it frequently and loudly. We decided that we were going to start a revolution based on our new slogan, one that would free women everywhere from the oppressive shackles of Valentine’s Day. We began approaching romantic-looking couples at other tables to ask if they’d hear the good news about Clit Not Dick. We harassed the band with demands for songs by Veruca Salt, Hole, and, strangely, Counting Crows (they actually did end up playing Mr. Jones, probably just to make us go away).

This was back in the days when you could still smoke in bars, so we started chain-smoking to go along with our drinking. Soon our ashtray was overflowing, and our table was surrounded by a blue haze. We decided that we should pact that night, the four of us, to continue spreading word of the revolution. We touched the glowing tips of our cigarettes together and called it a cigarette pact because, we said, cigarettes don’t lie.

Later, we spilled out onto the street and, arm in arm, began marching down Spring Garden Road singing We Shall Overcome. Whenever we saw a girl getting into a car with a guy, we would run over and try to convince her that she didn’t need him, she only needed herself! We proselytized about the revolution to everybody, shouting CLIT NOT DICK at random intervals.

We found a phone booth and somehow managed to cram all four of us into it. We dialled the tips line for the local newspaper and left them a long, rambling message about capitalism, the revolution, and how Valentine’s Day oppressed women, and, naturally, clit not dick. We finished up by saying that we expected to see something about this in the next day’s paper.

“GET ON IT,” my friend yelled into the phone before hanging up.

One of my friends was so drunk when she got home that she was slurring her words. She tried to tell her boyfriend It’s the revolution! but apparently it came out sounding like Shrevolution! 

Naturally, once the rest of us heard that word, we adopted it as the new name for our movement.

The next year we held another Shrevolution, but the year after that I met Matt, and everything changed.

I learned to love Valentine’s Day and everything that went with it.

PSYCH. I still hate Valentine’s Day. Matt, who is kind of into it, has had to accept that I’m just not a very romantic person. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we’ve tried to celebrate it, if only because it seemed to mean something to Matt. But I think he realized pretty early on that it wasn’t my thing – the fact that for our first Valentine’s Day together he gave me a red silk pillow with I Love You embroidered on it and I gave him a swiss army knife may have helped tip him off – and now we’re pretty low-key about it.

But tonight, the Shrevolution will ride again. A bunch of my old Halifax friends are now living in Toronto, and three of us are going out to the Drake tonight to eat fancy, romantic food and get trashed on overpriced cocktails. Because as much as I might laugh at my younger self for some of my ridiculous Shrevolution antics, I can’t say that I entirely disagree with her thoughts on V-Day: that it’s too commercial, too capitalist, and there’s too much obligation to spend money that you might not have. Also the fact that you should celebrate your love for someone every day, not just spend one day a year in the back corner of a third-rate restaurant because that was the only place you could get a reservation, exchanging cheesy Hallmark cards and crappy gifts. Because you know what? Love fucking deserves better than that.

So while you are sitting there trying to whisper sweet nothings in your lover’s ear over the din of everyone else trying to do the same, I will be laughing raucously, swearing like a sailor, and yelling rude things.

Happy Shrevolution, you guys!

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Feminism and Abortion

27 Jan

I like to think that there aren’t a lot of hard and fast rules when it comes to feminism. I think you can be married and have kids and be feminist. I think you can be single and childless and be feminist. I think you can be a stay-at-home mom and be feminist. I think you can be a working mother and be feminist. I think you can breastfeed and be feminist. I think you can formula-feed and be feminist. I think you can wear cute dresses and pretty pink lipstick and a giant fucking bow in your hair and be feminist. I think you can wear jeans and combat boots and cut your hair real short and be feminist. I think you can be a woman and be feminist. I think you can be a dude and be feminist.

I don’t, however, think that you can be anti-choice and be feminist.

This week marks the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the landmark decision by the United States Supreme court to legalize abortion (up until then, the only legal abortions in America were those done in cases of rape or incest).

In the 40 years since Roe vs. Wade, the abortion issue has only grown more contentious. There are many people who are still vocal supporters of the pro-choice movement, but there are also many people who don’t support a woman’s right to bodily autonomy.

And you know what? I wish I could say that I understood, but I don’t.

I don’t understand why you would try to enact a ban on abortions when banning abortion does not actually affect the abortion rate.

I don’t understand why you would try to create legislature that is almost certainly going to be dangerous to the health of women, sometimes even leading to their deaths.

I don’t understand why you would spend your time preaching at women about dead babies, telling them at what gestational age they develop fingers and toes and referring to abortion as “murder”, rather than using your time to promote access to things like birth control and sex education.

And I really, really don’t understand how and why Ross Douthat thinks he can convince women that they can be anti-choice and feminist.

I think that part of the problem is that Douthat doesn’t seem to understand what the feminist movement and the abortion debate are all about. And you know what? Far be it for me to elect myself the Boss of Explaining Feminism and The Pro-Choice Movement to Ross Douthat, but I guess someone has to do it, so here goes.

Douthat begins by complaining that Nellie Gray, a former-WAC-corporal-turned-bureaucrat-turned-lawyer who helped establish the March for Life, the annual rally against Roe vs. Wade, is not a “case study for students of second-wave feminism.” This, Douthat argues, is because “cultural stereotypes” cause us to believe that the anti-choice movement has a more “complicated relationship” to women’s advancement than all those Liberal left-wingers want us to believe.

I bet you are wondering how on earth banning women from exercising their reproductive rights is anything more than a reverse of all the hard-won equality that feminism has fought for. I know that I sure am! Let’s see what Ross Douthat has to say.

First of all, Douthat wants you to understand that one of the “stereotypes” about the anti-choice movement, the idea that they are trying to reinforce traditional gender roles by forcing women to have children and stay out of the work force, just isn’t true! He notes that,

Jon Shields of Claremont McKenna College pointed out last year, pro-life sentiment has been steady over the last four decades even as opposition to women in the work force (or the military, or the White House) has largely collapsed. Most anti-abortion Americans today are also gender egalitarians: indeed, Shields notes, pro-life attitudes toward women’s professional advancement have converged so quickly with pro-choice attitudes that “the average moderately pro-life citizen is a stronger supporter of gender equality than even the typical strongly pro-choice citizen was in the early 1980s.” Among the younger generation, any “divide over women’s roles nearly disappears entirely.”

Translation: the anti-choice movement totally gives you permission to work outside of the home! And wear pants! And vote! They support all kinds of radical choices for women!

I mean, except whether or not to have kids once you’re already pregnant.

You’re totally allowed to be in control of your own body right up until that one, single, solitary sperm encounters that one single, solitary egg – after that moment, you’re up baby creek without a paddle.

Douthat then goes on to assert that,

The pro-life cause has proved unexpectedly resilient, in other words, not because millions of Americans are nostalgists for a world of stricter gender norms, but because they have convinced themselves that the opportunities the feminist revolution won for women can be sustained without unrestricted access to abortion.”

What he actually means is that SOME of the opportunities the feminist revolution won for women can be sustained without unrestricted access to abortion. You know, all the opportunities that don’t involve a woman’s right to choose whether she has kids or not.

And before you jump in to tell me that if a woman doesn’t want to have kids, she should just use birth control, let me tell you that that’s not how it works. Even with all sex education in the world, even with easy access to birth control, women are still going to have unplanned pregnancies.

Sex education is easily forgotten in the heat of the moment. Birth control fails. We all know that no form of birth control is 100% effective, except for abstinence.

Please, go ahead and raise your hand if you think that preaching abstinence is going to work.

Lindsey Graham, you can put your hand down right now.

Douthat finishes his article by saying that,

For its part, if the pro-life movement wants not only to endure but to triumph, then it needs … [to offer] … realist’s explanation of how, in policy and culture, the feminist revolution could be reformed without being repealed.

Ross Douthat, let me explain this to you using small words, so that you will understand:

If you are trying to take choices away from women, that is not feminist. If you want to enact policy that will quite certainly lead to women’s deaths, that is not feminist. If you think that you, as a man, get to have any say over what happens to women’s bodies, that is really not fucking feminist.

Got it?

Good.

And you know what? If you really, truly believe that life begins at conception, why not work to fund research and raise awareness regarding miscarriage and infertility? One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, and those are only the pregnancies that women know about. It’s actually estimated that 50-75% of all embryos fail to implant due to genetic problems, hormone imbalances and other factors – if you really want to save unborn babies, why not go that route? You’d be saving way more “lives” that way than by banning abortion.

And let’s not even talk about all the ways in which you don’t help the children you’ve “saved” from being aborted. You know, the children born to mothers struggling to make ends meet, the children who don’t have access to healthcare, the children who don’t get enough to eat on a daily basis. Those children.

The thing is, Ross Douthat, you and I both know that this isn’t about saving unborn children. This isn’t about the fact that you believe that abortion is murder. This is about controlling women, plain and simple. This is about you thinking that you can use the rhetoric of the feminist movement to somehow trick women into agreeing with your anti-choice stance.

So please refrain from ever using the word “feminist” in conjunction with the anti-choice movement ever again.

p.s. Also, please never use the term “mansplaining” ever again.

p.p.s. No one says “chauvinist” anymore. Just sayin’

p.p.p.s. I don’t like you.

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An Open Letter To Wil Wheaton

21 Jan

Hi Wil Wheaton,

How’s it going? Good, I hope. We’re all fine here. I mean, we just had this gross stomach flu or whatever, and my kid kind of threw up all over everything. But everyone’s okay now. In case you were wondering.

Soooooo about this thing I am writing.

I know I promised you a post showcasing all my hilarious drunk tweets at you, and I swear, I’m getting to that, but you’re going to have to bear with me through a bit of backstory first.

I mean, or not. You can always scroll on through. This is the internet after all.

But if you want to read all the nitty gritty details, here they are:

Twelve was a tough age for me. Some kind of paradigm shift happened over the summer between sixth and seventh grades and I went from being a pretty normal, if obnoxiously know-it-all kid to being the biggest loser in dweeb town (have you ever been there? I don’t recommend it). Part of it was that all the other girls in my class had started wearing tight jeans and cute t-shirts, while my daily outfit usually consisted of a sweatshirt with kittens on it (I had several) and track pants. Part of it was that I’d spent July and August developing a really unfortunate case of acne. The main problem, though, seemed to be that everyone else had collectively decided that they were going to grow up, and meanwhile I was still reading Babysitters Club books and playing with dolls.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that I had the shit teased out of me. All day, every day. I cried. A lot.

The fact that my father left a year later only compounded my misery.

Have you ever read David Sedaris’ essay A Plague of Tics? In it, he talks about obsessive-compulsive disorder, the symptoms of which he suffered from right up until he started college and took up smoking. He writes,

“It’s as if I had been born to smoke, and until I realized it, my limbs were left to search for some alternative.”

Sometimes I wonder if I was born to be a geek, but didn’t figure it out until seventh grade. I’d always had pet obsessions, things that I read, talked and thought about constantly for a few months before discarding them and taking up a new interest. For a while it was the Titanic, and, if you’d known me during that phase I could’ve given you all the specs of the ship, given you an accurate timeline of it sinking, and spit out a list of famous survivors. After that, I think, it was The Black Death. I also went through periods where I was deeply interested in The Russian Revolution, Anne Boleyn and the Halifax Explosion. It was always something, you know?

In retrospect, I think that I was a geek in search of something to geek out about. Then, when I was twelve, I discovered Star Trek.

Star Trek was like my own private It Gets Better Project. I mean, sure, waiting 400 years for things to get better wasn’t exactly the most optimistic view to take, but still, I enjoyed the fact that someone, somewhere had imagined a future that was vastly better than the present I was living in. A future where socio-economic status didn’t seem to exist anymore (as long as you were in Starfleet, I guess), and nobody had nicer possessions or better clothing than anyone else, because everyone just replicated whatever they wanted. Racism, sexism and gross teenage acne all seemed to be things of the past, and people could legit have sex with robots if they wanted to. And if someone’s dad disappeared*, it was probably because they had died on some kind of mission, sacrificing their lives for Exploration and Science – not because they just didn’t feel like living with their family anymore.

I know it’s popular to hate on Wesley, and make “Shut Up, Wesley” jokes and talk about what a loser he was, but you know what? I liked Wesley. I mean, I liked him because he was cute, and I was twelve, and I wished he was my boyfriend, but I also liked him because I identified with him. Like me, he didn’t seem to have any friends (I mean, yeah, the show tried to pretend that he had friends, but come on now. Let’s be serious grownups, please. You and I both know that Wes did not have any friends). Like me, most of his interactions were with adults who thought that he was pretty smart, but still didn’t exactly respect him. And, like me, he was prone to speaking out at the wrong times, saying the wrong thing, and was generally regarded by everyone as a nuisance.

I was, like, pretty sure that Wesley Crusher was my soul mate.

Naturally, being a trekkie didn’t exactly improve my image at school. I guess I could’ve just, you know, not told anyone about my Star Trek habit but, being me, I couldn’t keep my damn mouth shut. As with my other, former obsessions, I wanted to talk about it all the damn time, forcing my parents, classmates and few remaining friends to listen to me rattle off every tiny detail about the Enterprise and her crew. Pretty soon everyone in my class knew that I had a crush on Wil Wheaton, and the kids who actually knew who that was added that to their reasons to make fun of me. To say that I was miserable would be an understatement.

You know what, though? It helped to have Star Trek tapes to pop into the VCR when I got home. It helped to watch you being a nerd in space, and it helped even more to realize that you were happy being a nerd in space.  It even helped to know that all the other fans of the show hated you because I was like, damn, I am only being crapped on by a bunch of twelve year olds, but here is a dude who is seriously hated by every adult science fiction fan ever, and is he letting it get him down? No, he is hanging out in space, saving the motherfucking Enterprise like a fucking boss.

Eventually, I stopped watching Star Trek. Part of it was that I grew out of the show, but part of it was also self-preservation; if I didn’t want to be a nerdy loser for the rest of my life, I would have to start actually being interested in cool things. I began to cultivate the persona of someone who liked hip, independent films and read near-incomprehensible modern poetry. I shopped at second-hand stores for vintage clothing (mostly because I couldn’t afford anything new), listened to Tori Amos, and dyed my hair weird colours. I learned to be snarky, and started making fun of people before they could make fun of me.

And things did get better. And I met a dude (who thinks you’re aces, by the way), and we got married, and we have an awesome kid. I’m mostly happy now, and the reasons that I have for being unhappy have nothing to do with how popular or attractive I am. All of the things that I hated about being twelve have pretty much been fixed, which is pretty amazing. Even more amazing is the fact that after almost half a lifetime of pretending not to be a geek, I’m finally starting to re-embrace just how nerdy I actually am. And I have to say, it feels pretty good.

Look, Wil, you’ve probably got a lot of things in your life to be proud about. You’ve got an awesome wife, two great sons, and you continue to make some pretty amazing stuff. And Stand By Me is maybe one of the best movies ever made. But if you ever need one more thing to be proud of, you could think about the fact that you helped a sad, lonely twelve-year-old girl get through a really tough time in her life. Maybe you hear this type of thing all the time. Probably you do. Probably none of this really means much to you, but it trust me, it meant a fuck of a lot to me.

So thanks for that. Seriously, thanks a lot.

Anyway, on THAT note, let’s get to those drunken tweets!

Literally The Best Picture Ever

Literally The Best Picture Ever

p.s. The working title for this post was “Girl Tweets Obsessively/Drunkenly At Childhood Crush Until He Responds: A Story of Triumph”

p.p.s. I want all of Wesley’s season one sweaters. Not even kidding. I’m totally into it.

* My dad didn’t actually disappear, we knew where he was and all that jazz. I was just saying that for, you know, dramatic emphasis. He did leave really super suddenly though.

I Am At Least Three Times As Ugly As Jessica Valenti

15 Jan

Today the website Return Of Kings (which I had never heard of, but I’m sure is super important and relevant) published their list of The 9 Ugliest Feminists in America.

My first thought was: What, they couldn’t find one more ugly feminist in order to round it out to an even ten?

My second thought was: I wonder which pictures of me they chose for their post?

Everyone knows that I am at least the third ugliest feminist in North America.

For example, I am way uglier than Jessica Valenti. Like, this is your ugly picture of her?

jessica-3

Bitch, please.

You want ugly? Let me show you ugly.

ugly

Hey, at least my kid is cute, right?

Science has proven that I am at least three times as ugly as Jessica Valenti. Here is a graph demonstrating our comparative ugliness:

flowchart

 

You know that there is some real fucking science involved when there is a GRAPH. Science is awesome.

Imagine my surprise and embarrassment, then, when I realized that I’d been overlooked for this, the definitive list of ugly feminists. Me. The one with the bad skin, hooked nose and squinty eyes. The one who was voted ugliest in class by a group of 12 year old girls. The one who is eternally on the receiving end of remarks like, well, at least you’re smart.

All right, all right, I know what you’re probably thinking.

“But Annabelle,” you might say, “These women are all famous feminists. Sure, you’ve had a few posts go viral, but you’re nowhere on the same level of recognition as, say, Hanna Rosin.”

And you know what? That would be a fair criticism to make if this was a list of the  nine ugliest famous feminists in America. But it’s not. It’s just a list of the nine ugliest feminists. And I am deeply, deeply hurt that I wasn’t included. Because, seriously, what is my point in life if I’m not grossing out the men’s rights activists with my Medusa-like face?

So, come on, Return of Kings, let me know what I can do to put myself in the running for next year’s list. Should I gain weight? You seem pretty fatphobic, so that could be a winning strategy. Should I lose weight? That might seem strange to some, but I think that if I could get to the point where men consider me “scary skinny” (as the tabloids say), I might have an advantage over more average-sized women. Should I wear more makeup and have you accuse me of looking like a whore? Or should I wear no makeup  and let you mock my face as-is? Should I dress badly so that you can make fun of my fashion sense? Or should I dress well so that you can laugh and laugh about how those silly feminists want to be taken seriously and look good?

Come on, guys, throw a girl a bone here!

In all seriousness, though, the funniest thing about your whole post isn’t your pathetic attempt at making “she’s-so-ugly” jokes – it’s the fact that you seem to think that any of these women care about whether you find them attractive or not. Sadly, most of them don’t even know you exist. They write off your comments and tweets and posts as trolling, and, honestly, don’t even give you a second thought. Sorry. I know the truth hurts. Someone has to say it, though, right?

But hey, I gotta thank you for helping me show that feminism is still relevant and necessary. Because as long as there are still douchebags like you out there publishing crap like this, it’s easy to prove why we still need to fight for women’s rights and equality. Your list has actually done more to help the feminist movement than hurt it. So please, keep on posting stuff like this and making my job easier.

Seriously, though, don’t forget me in 2014!!!