What Can I Say? I’m Picky.

The first time I heard about the Kinsey scale, I thought: Oh. That’s what’s wrong with me.

It was in this Resident Assistant training seminar thing–must have been one on gender and sexuality sensitivity, I guess–but what I remember is the woman heading the thing drawing the scale up on the board and explaining Kinsey’s concept of the spectrum of sexuality and it was like bam! a frying pan to the head and then this moment of complete clarity, of certainty: Oh. Oh hey. That’s me!

Continue reading “What Can I Say? I’m Picky.”

Please Don’t Go Girl

I’ve never been good at being a girl.

By that I mean, not by anyone else’s standards, I think.

This has always been a source of anxiety for my mom, at least as long as I can remember. When I was in high school, we had a fight–or she did; I was just a bystander–because I didn’t put on earrings before leaving the house. She was furious with me for reasons that she couldn’t articulate and that I could not understand. What difference did it make, I wondered? Who would even notice? But that, of course, wasn’t the point. The point was, my mom would know, would been painfully aware of the absence in my earlobes and thus be unable to function.

I don’t remember who won that one.

When I was in middle school, the boy band New Kids On The Block was the overwhelming teenage thing. We were middle school kids with one eye already on high school, on that great thundercloud that promised a kind of future that everyone was always telling us we should prepare for. Like adulthood was something that required waders and a hat. A flashlight with some extra batteries and we’d be all set. It was a worry in the future, one we were aware of but not consumed by.

We were just girls prone to sleepovers and lazy afternoons with bad movies. And, for a time, New Kids, too. But I didn’t care about them. I was no gender warrior, to be sure; I wasn’t consciously rejecting their kind of cool as some sort of feminist protest, I just–wasn’t interested.

Granted, this self-imposed limitation kept me out of some conversations among my friends, sure, and I couldn’t sing along to “Hangin’ Tough,” either. But my friends didn’t seem to care.

I don’t know that I ever fit in easily with them, anyway. At least that’s how I felt at the time. If I thought about this New Kids question at all, it fell into the well-established column of “how I am different,” so I paid the issue of Jordan and Jonathan and Joey and Donnie no extra mind.

But my mom, she was worried. She couldn’t understand why, if all my friends were into something, extolled its virtues in chorus kind, I did not. In her mind, I think, it was willful; I was stubborn, I was ostracizing myself. She thought this way, still does, I think, because that’s the way she operates, the only way she knows how to be.

So she mounted a sustained campaign, one designed to convert me into the teenage girl she knew I could be, if only I tried a little harder. If only I took some of the energy I devoted to reading or writing or whatever the hell it was I did that she chose not to understand and put it towards something worthwhile, then I could be fixed. Of this, she was sure.

While my friends’ mothers were rolling their eyes at the stupid New Kids phase, then, and resisting their daughters’ entreaties for more merchandise, more material proof of their undying devotion, my mom did the opposite: in the face of my not asking, not caring, she bought me New Kids tapes and a New Kids t-shirt and waited anxiously for my new self, my girl self, to be reborn.

An effort, I fear, all in vain.

I wonder what she wanted me to be, really.

A girl who liked pink, I think.

A girl who dated.

A girl who was at ease with her femininity in a way I don’t think my mom’s ever been.

For her, being a girl isn’t a social construct, a pattern of public behaviors that mark a particular gender, an easily recognizable version of “woman.” It’s who I was supposed to be, someone who got it, got girlhood, and thus (went my mom’s thinking) would reap the benefits that the world heaps on somebody who’s good at being a girl.

My father’s the feminist in the family, the one who always told me that I could be and do whatever I wanted to, that the only limitations were my will and my willingness to convert what’s in my head into action.

My mother–

She feels cowed by the world, by people she’s decided are smarter than she is, better in some undefinable way, and she deals with this anxiety by inexorably pushing everyone else away.

My dad’s the only one who’s refused to go. Loyal to a fault, he is.

I’ve done a lot to disappoint my mother, but I think this is the most fundamental of them all: I’ve never been good at being a girl.

And more to the point: I’ve never wanted to learn how.

I don’t know that she’ll ever forgive me for that.

See You

Tomorrow morning, Dad’s heart will stop beating on its own.

One of the surgeons will cradle it in his fingers while the machines tick and turn over and keep my father alive as they dig out the old valve and put in the new.

But my dad’s been through this before.

This time, he knows what kind of pain to expect.

What it’s gonna feel like as his breastbone tries to knit itself back together. As his heart learns how to work with its new and improved parts.

And he’s been in so much pain of late–from the angina, the neuropathy, the up-and-down of over a decade’s worth of drugs–that I wonder if the prospect of the old pain, the familiar one, seems less daunting. Perhaps even welcome, for all of its relative routine.

They were hopeful that the doctors would be able to find another way in, between his ribs or even through his groin. But no: more than ten years and four new arteries are in the way, all that delicate stitching making anything but a direct approach impossible.

There’s a lot he’s not telling us, my brother and I. Little hints pop up in conversation, shades that this operation is far more serious than he wants to say outright.

It tells you something about us, our family, that we’re treating the prospect of heart surgery alone as something less than remarkable. As if it’s not “serious” enough on its own. Continue reading “See You”

The Hamster In My Head Needs A Break

Yeah, even this isn’t helping.

Had one of those days today when everything made me angry, when the world was too fucking loud for my own good, like needles on a chalkboard bad, all that sound.

I tried my regular tricks: tried writing, tried sleeping, tried noise-canceling headphones. Tried blasting AC/DC in the car, tried weak margaritas and pizza. Nothing’s worked.

So I’m resigned, I guess, to being a bundle of energy, a handful of quarters with no place to spend them, no ski-ball machines in sight.

To being a little pissed, a little jittery, a little out of my head for awhile until I can calm the fuck down. Take a breath and read something, really read it. Finish that story, all four of them that are floating around right now. Can kick off the anxiety and relax enough to get something done.

Until then, until when, I don’t know.

Know Your Squick

In which a post that started off quick and funny ends up long and angsty. 

One of the great things about slash fic is that it forces you to get to know your squick, those points at which the fic does something [to someone] that goes a step beyond what your personal fanon is willing to tolerate.

Sometimes, squick points are specific sex acts. Or they can be certain character pairings that to you, the reader, border on the unholy. In a bad way. Other times, it’s a particular trope that makes you nervous, like wing!fic, or curtain!fic or bottom!sammy in SPN slash.

What I appreciate about the squick factor is that it is, in my experience, a constant site of negotiation. When I started reading Wincest, for example, I was horrified by the notion of Castiel/Dean. Then it kind of slid from horrified to indifferent. Then from indifferent to oh, okay, maybe I could see it. And so on.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some squick rubicons that I still will not cross. Any slash fic featuring John Winchester, for example? Forget it. No freaking way.

But I guess I see the whole notion of squick in slash as generative, as a way of delimiting one’s imaginative [sexual] boundaries and then shifting those borders as needed. It’s like Henry Jenkins says in Textual Poachers:

“Not all of slash is politically conscious; not all of slash is progressive; not all of slash is feminist; yet one cannot totally ignore the progressive potential of this exchange and the degree to which slash may be one of the few places in popular culture where questions of sexual identity can be explored outside of the polarization that increasingly surrounds this debate.” (Jenkins 221)

So, for me, wrestling with the squick is one way that I as a reader [and a writer] do this kind of work, monkey around with “questions of sexual identity” for myself and for my own readers via slash fic.

Notice how I’ve gotten this far without saying what my SPN squick points are? As I’ve said before: repression–it’s a talent.

Now these are mine and mine alone: I sure as hell make no judgements about other readers and writers who go places I don’t want, or who avoid locations that I hang out in all the time. [I’m thinking of one of my readers who is lovely about my Wincest fic but vaguely disgusted by my Cas/Dean stuff. Heh.]

  1. Anything with John Winchester. Period. Dude creeps me out in the main narrative and I sure as hell don’t want him hovering over my slash fic.
  2. Non-con, in general. There are times when I’m ok with dubious con–because it usually works out for the best, in a not-terribly-feminist sort of way–but non-con? No thanks.
  3. Extreme violence. Yes, “extreme” is a wiggle word, but it’s like Justice Stewart said: I know it when I see it.
  4. Fic set before the boys are in high school. Just–ack.

But my biggest squick point as a fan has nothing to do with the fic. It has to do with the real world.

See, as a fan, I’ve never really been into the “real world” side of whatever it was I was fanning over. Take Star Trek, the foundation of my life as a fan. I’ve never been to a convention, or stood in line to hear the actors speak, or gone to Gene Roddenberry’s grave, because, fundamentally, what I love about ST is the fiction, are the characters and the stories. I don’t ‘ship Nimoy and Shatner, I don’t follow the actors around on Twitter, I’ve never watched the show’s blooper reels because, it’s just like, I know that it’s all pretend. All made up and crafted out of styrofoam and velour and monsters of the week: I know that.

But there’s part of me that’s cognitively dissonant enough to hang on to the fiction, to be invested in Dr. McCoy rather than DeForest Kelley, in Khan rather than Montelban, in Chapel rather than Majel Barrett. And I want to keep it so, to keep pretending at least in that tiny region of my brain that the Enterprise exists, that these people are truly tangling with all the weird shit that Kirk’s ego gets them into.

And in ST fandom, this is actually pretty easy to do, for me. Because the actors are old enough–hell, the show was old enough, when I stumbled across it–that I can fashion that dissonant space without too much trouble. Can maintain it without installing a watcher at the gate.

But in SPN fandom? Those borders are much, much more difficult to enforce, given the primary narrative’s obsession with pointing back at its real world fans and the real-time nature of the show’s production [relatively] and my consumption of the product.

And yes, talk about dissonance, right? Given that my research on this stupid show had centered on fandom, on the show’s portrayal of its female fans. But I don’t care about who’s producing, at some level. At who’s doing the writing, what the network is saying about next season, what the actors [god forbid] think about the current story arc. [This may explain why I broke up with SPN for like two weeks over “The French Mistake.” Grrr.]

So I actively avoid learning anything about the real world side of SPN. Like Ned Seagoon used to say on the Goon Show: I don’t wish to know that!

Now granted, this IS going to cause problems for my scholarship, this desire to hold the borders fast between the world of the show and the real life logistics that make the show happen, the real people who engage with the fans [whether we want them to or not]. I know this. It’s problematic. I’m not an “informed fan,” as a  fellow scholar put it once at an SPN panel.

Maybe it’s just temporary. Maybe it’ll be like my once avowed opposition to J2 [Real Person Slash for SPN], a taboo that flew by the wayside thanks to my research on meta slash fic. [Hey, I had to read those stories! It was part of my research. I swear.]

But. We shall see.

Leverage [my dad has it]

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So my dad’s been home for the last week after his latest heart intervention, a stent slipped into one of his arteries, one of the few originals remaining. As always after one of these deals, he’s been on a lot of drugs and high as a freaking kite.

As unlike always, he’s been supervised.

Here’s why.

Back when my brother and I were in high school, Dad had surgery unrelated to his heart: a hernia, perhaps. Something painful and annoying but not life-threatening.

But something that left behind a lot of pain. That necessitated some hardcore happy meds.

Now, I think my dad is the only kid who went to high school in California in the 1960s who can’t handle narcotics. I mean, they go right to his head, send him straight off to loopy town, but leave him with a druggy amnesia, with no memory of having taken high-quality meds. [Just ask my brother about the weird, mail-based monologue Dad delivered to him on one of these occasions. My dad? Has no clue that this ever happened.]

He thinks, when he’s on this stuff, that he’s straight as an arrow. That he’s freaking Clark Kent in a bathrobe and slippers, able to move furniture in a single bound.

And herein lies the rub.

So back in high school, recovering from this non-life threatening surgery, Dad was left home alone. My brother and I went to school, my mother to work, all certain that Dad would sleep away the day in a sunny haze, would do nothing more strenuous than go to the kitchen for a snack.

Because my dad is a smart guy. One of the most intelligent people I know. Surely he understood the doctor’s admonition of rest was not an idle one, especially with multiple stitches in his gut.

But my dad had other plans.

When we got home from school, Dad was sitting in the kitchen, wrapped in his tattered blue bathrobe and beaming. Lit up like a damn Christmas tree.

In that house, the kitchen was in the same space as the den, my dad’s home workspace, in kind of small great room style, with the room directly connected to the attached garage.

When we came in, something was different in the den.

Like, really different.

Like, a giant 150-pound desk different. The thing had been sitting in the garage for a week, waiting patiently for my dad to recover, bothering no one.

Except Dad, apparently.

We asked him: how had he gotten the desk in the house? By himself? With no shoes on?!

“It’s ok,” he told us, he repeated to Mom a few hours later. “I used leverage.”

He was so proud of himself: pleased of his ability to a) identify the correct scientific principle; and b) to apply it on his own, all by himself, and to put his mind at ease.

My mother was furious with him. And man, can she hold a grudge. She didn’t speak to him for almost two days, after that. And when she did, there was a lot of: how could you be so reckless? What if you’d hurt yourself, and bled out?

And the unspoken: what if you’d killed yourself, trying to get the damn desk through that tiny door?

Dad just blinked, his brain a visible oil slick in his eyes, fuzzy as hell and shimmering.

“But,” he repeated, confused. “It’s ok. I used leverage.”

When I talked to him tonight, he was loopy from his follow-up visit with the cardiologist. So pleased and relaxed on the one hand, because the news was good: stent’s working, potentially troubling valve looks better than they’d even hoped, no more interventions for now.

“And,” Dad said, his voice a happy molasses. “They took me off three drugs. And put me on another.”

But on the other hand, the more we talked, the more my dad was sentimental, the drugs pushing him towards an open schmoopiness to which he doesn’t usually subscribe.

“Your mom and I haven’t always been the best parents,” he mused, his words falling into contrails over the phone. “But one thing we did right: we didn’t listen to anybody else about how to raise you all.”

That’s right, I thought, I did not say. You used the only leverage you had: each other.

Depression, you suck.

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Not that you care what I think of you, but dude. You suck.

You might think that, after 3 years of tangling with you head-on, engaging in a little hand-to-hand, that I’d be a little more sanguine about the whole thing. About your general terrible-ness.

But it’s funny: just when I get used to your ugly mug, get to a point where I don’t turn to bloody stone every time I meet your eye–that’s when you get a good lick in edgewise, bash me over the head and fall back into the shadows, cackling.

You’re like a summer thunderstorm that never breaks, until you do: hovering, threatening, promising a downpour. And I’m at a point now where, most of the time, I can accept your presence. Like air and gravity: a natural force I can’t erase or negate, and so I just go with it.

And it’s not like the stupid little rain cloud in the drug commercials on TV: I don’t drag you along behind me everywhere I go. You’re not my personal hellhound, either: invisible, snarling, in desperate need of a snack.

No, I can see you just fine, you bastard. That’s the good thing about naming you, about knowing you: you don’t have the power of surprise anymore.

Now I can see you, feel you creeping in like a pissed-off fog, see your gory grin lit up in my rearview mirror.

There are times when I’m better able to fight you off, I guess. And this hasn’t been one of them, of late.

So, ok. Enough. You’ve had your fun, for now. Take a little trip back to the horizon and leave me alone for a while.

Let’s go back to detente. Give these bite marks a chance to heal, this time.

Dear cute guy who brought me coffee

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A wee dram of a poem, inspired by the conference that I’m at this week.

Dear cute guy who brought me coffee:
At first it was your beard (your plaid).
I could overlook your Topsiders and your socks.
In the end, I shivered when our arms brushed, but.
Don’t take that on yourself, too much.
Still. Nice of you to ask me how I took it.

Always Already Possessed

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Writing is a physical thing, for me. The closest thing I get to an aerobic workout.

I spend a lot of time flailing, when I write; gesturing and pointing and dancing along to whatever music I’m listening to, whatever music is stuck in my head.

I talk back, I talk to, I talk out.

I bite my lip a lot.

Try to avoid seeing myself in the screen.

Look away and type. Close my eyes and type. Think faster than I can type.

When it’s too fast, when I can’t catch up, I write things down on paper, shove the pencil across the page and sketch and suggest and get closer than I can on the screen, sometimes.

I shift in my chair. I pet the cats when they hop up, hold the little cat in my lap and poke at the keys with one hand.

I sing.

I watch the screen for signs of email or Facebook or anything that gives me an excuse not to write, right then.

I flip between my story and my paper and my exam–between I want to do, what I am doing, what should already be done.

I curse, when I have to. Cajole the words to come, sometimes. Try to hold them at bay, at others.

I spend a lot of time unconscious, when I write.

My friend asked: “How can you not see this, in this piece? What I see? Didn’t you write it?”

And I said yes, of course I did, but I wasn’t conscious, at the time. Not in the same way.

And that’s when it’s easy to write, times like that, when it’s necessary, when it’s not me. When the text just comes and I have to get out of the way and transcribe, just type, just let the letters form on their own, without me.

It’s awesome, sometimes, and scary. Writing like that. Like muscle memory. An autonomic function that just is. Just does.

So someone watching me write? Might think I was possessed, a little. And they’d be right.

And sometimes I feel as though school–the first 12 years of it, at least–was designed to exorcise those demons, to drive them out and pour clarity, obedience, respect down my throat, into their place.

And those things rested easier, I guess, gave me less of a hard time than the demons that drive my writing did. But wow, was I boring, and shit, was I unhappy, and I think I’ll take possession over that, everytime.

It’s Time For A Check Up

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So my grad program wants to know: what have I accomplished this year?

First, I made a lot of mistakes.

I spent too much time comparing myself to my colleagues, measuring myself against an imaginary standard that I manufactured in my spare time and spoon-fed with paranoia.

I spent too much time listening to certain people in my life, both in academia and not. Wasted too many brain cells trying to apply logic to things they said that made no sense then, that make no sense now, and that ultimately don’t mean a damn thing.

I didn’t spend as much time on some readings as I should have, spend more time on others than they really deserved.

At conferences, I didn’t go to enough panels. Didn’t talk to enough people.

I put myself down too often.

I forgot to press “save” more than once.

Dicked around too much, in general.

Waited until the last minute to start my work when I sure as hell knew better. Not all the time, but at least one too many.

Didn’t talk enough in some classes. Talked too much in others.

I got up too early, too often.

Didn’t spend enough time with my students’ texts or spent far, far too much.

I drank too much coffee. Ate too much bad food. Didn’t take up smoking.

Didn’t drink enough booze.

I wasted too much time not writing.

But then, I made some good choices, too.

I presented at my first conference and managed to write something, to say something, that sounded like me: funny and sarcastic and smart.

Presented at a second and, when the room wasn’t as friendly, that time, I didn’t beat myself up about it.

I said “thank you” when people praised my writing, my thinking, my teaching. Didn’t question or try to talk my way out of the compliment. Just said “thanks.”

I said “thank you” when someone told me “You can do better,” because she was right.

I was a little too honest a little too often and, man, was it good.

I started watching Supernatural.

I started writing slash fic and, damn, has that changed my life.

People I don’t know, will never know except via the internet, read my writing and liked it and even came back for more, even saw more in my texts than I did, than I can, than I could.

I remembered how to learn strategically, how to get what I need from a text and move on to the next.

I became myself, in my teaching.

I discovered porn studies and critical discourse analysis and feminist film theory.

I submitted abstracts without fear because, hey, the worst they can say is “no.”

[Or is that “yes”?]

I had colleagues ask me to submit panels with them and said “yes” instead of “why?”

I had papers accepted at a hardcore feminist conference, at pop culture fests in the US and in Switzerland, at a grad conference, at a regional MLA deal.

I didn’t listen when some people gave me misguided–if well-intentioned–advice about my academics, my career, my once-and-future “marketability.”

I accepted that other people in my academic life might actually mean it when they offer help, or guidance, or direction. And that these people might be good advocates, for me. That they want to be, if I’ll let them.

I interviewed my academic idol, saw the mask fall, and figured out that I have to hack out my own path as a scholar. Figured out that douchebaggery can trap, can take even the best of us.

I embraced my inner Rage Cat and then learned how to let him go.

I said “yes” more than I said “no.”

I wrote a love(d) letter and got back something, someone that I’d lost.

I stopped waiting for someone to give me permission to do what I want to do in my research and just–did it.

I realized that I might have something to say, after all, and that some people might want to listen.

I became a writer.

I became “KT.” Or “CC,” all at once.