Not the everygirl

Before, I used to think there was an answer to every question. If I asked how many pitches I needed to send out to make a living, someone would know the right number. I believed that there was a right number, a right answer, to every single question I had. Why? Because I was grasping at straws.

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Before, I used to think there was an answer to every question. If I asked how many pitches I needed to send out to make a living, someone would know the right number. I believed that there was a right number, a right answer, to every single question I had. Why? Because I was grasping at straws, and it was comforting to know that every experience was comparable and quantifiable on some level. It’s comforting to believe that someone knows how to put the puzzle together.

I am 27 years old, and I just got walloped over the head with the fact that this is just not true. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, because Linda Formichelli and Carol Tice have been trying to ram it into my head on a weekly basis since last August. It was yesterday that I stopped and thought and realized that hey, they’re right. Here’s what they’re right about:

+There is no such thing as one experience. There is no one experience that is intrinsically female or male or millennial or baby boomer. There is no one immigrant experience, no one black experience, no one rich experience or one poor experience. There is no such transcendent universality other than the fact that we are, so far as we know, all human. But there are—hold on, let me Google how many—7.125 billion humans on Earth. That’s a lot of different stories.

+ There is no right answer. And that’s because everyone has different goals, different measures of success, different handicaps and capabilities.

But they’re wrong about one thing, in my one-girl opinion: Talking about what works for us helps. It helps us to see that we are different, and how. Should it be used to model our own systems? Maybe. If your own system isn’t working, pulling processes from this person and that person might help you weasel out what works best for you. The problem comes when you look at one successful person’s daily routine and think to yourself, “I must do that—exactly that—and I will succeed.”

Someone else’s formula for success is not your formula for success. It is not my formula for success. It is one formula for success. And there are so many!

What I’ve been reading this week

+ “I’m not trying to have it all” by Kristy Sammis via DailyWorth

+ “Ask a freelancer: How do I handle these 3 common pitch problems?” by Nicole Deiker via Contently

+ “Fresh Off The Boat star: ‘I don’t need to represent every Asian mom ever” by Nolan Feeney via Time

Je Suis

I don’t think I’m brave enough to “je suis Charlie.” Saying the words is easy. Tweeting them? Easy. But living them? Living that sort of courage and ferocity is terrifying…at least to me.

I don’t think I’m brave enough to “je suis Charlie.” Saying the words is easy. Tweeting them? Easy. But living them? Living that sort of courage and ferocity is terrifying…at least to me.

One late, late night during my junior year of college, I threw out a new nickname for my roommate. “P’cheesie” I called her, nominally short for “parcheesi,” which is ridiculous because I have played that game in my life, much less with my best friend. Bu the name stuck. It spread. “Panda,” we called her boyfriend, my best guy (space) friend. That nickname was far more apt. He’s a big guy, not tall but cuddly in a bear-ish sort of way. And me? They called me Pips. Short for Pipsqueak. So you see, I’m really not a “je suis Charlie” sort of gal.

But—but!—I wish I was. I first read Voltaire in high school, right after I saw Candide on PBS. “I disapprove what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Which was apparently coined by the Frenchman’s biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall. No matter (though I must say, in the week or so following the Charlie Hebdo slayings, I’ve seen a lot of Very Important News People attribute it to V. Time to learn more about Ms. Hall, I think).

So, what am I saying? Forgive me readers, for I like a good ramble, and this is my diary, so I shall ramble if I like. What I mean to say is that today, I am not of the same ilk as the men and women who are so definite in their opinions and their words and drawings. Not now, not yet. But I do wish to be, and I think (maybe) that I am growing and evolving and hardening my resolve even as I write this. Perhaps tomorrow, I will be “je suis Charlie.” Perhaps the next day. But for this particular second—mark the clock, it is 3:42 p.m. EST by my watch—I shall think it and work to believe it and (I think therefore I am—did Descartes even say that one? Must check his biography) someday…someday I shall live it.

The problem with “forget these women”

One of the more worrying characteristics of modern culture is, in my opinion, our use of sweeping statements. There is no more gray area.

One of the more worrying characteristics of modern culture is, in my opinion, our use of sweeping statements. There is no more gray area. You can’t both support troops and oppose war. You can’t both admire police officers for their commitment to service and public safety and abhor the violence some commit needlessly. You can’t both appreciate Bill Cosby’s legacy as a pioneering African American man in the entertainment industry and express concern over the recent (and past) accusations of rape and sexual assault.

Let me say this: I very much admire the hard work Bill Cosby has undertaken and the success he has achieved. The man is hilarious. He’s an inspiration. He has a legacy and that should not be taken away from him. But that doesn’t mean we should write off the accusations, forgiving him these possible crimes because he has been such a good influence in other areas.

I’m worrying about this today because of Phylicia Rashad’s recent statement. Last night, Showbiz 411 posted an exclusive interview with the iconic actress who starred alongside Cosby in his titular Show. Here’s a snippet of the story:

“Forget these women,” Rashad said. “What you’re seeing is the destruction of a legacy. And I think it’s orchestrated. I don’t know why or who’s doing it, but it’s the legacy. And it’s a legacy that is so important to the culture.”

Forgetting these women, as Rashad urges us to do, would be incredibly bad for women. It might be OK for Cosby and for African American men, but what about women? What about African American women? What about any woman (or man) who has been assaulted, recently or thirty years ago, by any man or any woman who has left or is leaving a legacy that others think ought not to be tarnished by such accusations? Should they also keep mum for what we might call “the greater good”?

I don’t think so. I’m worried.

A moment in the woods

Almost a month ago today, I celebrated my twenty-seventh birthday. I didn’t feel different on the day, not older. But I was changing—evolving—all the same. It started six weeks ago…

Consider this a break from the lyrical non-fiction programming for just a paragraph or two.

So, you know when you have a birthday and people always ask, “hey, do you feel any older today?” I’ve answered that affirmatively just once in my life, and that was when I turned 20. I did feel different. I did feel like I had a past, and it was behind me, and there was this whole new decade awaiting me on the other side of the day.

Almost a month ago today, I celebrated my twenty-seventh birthday. I didn’t feel different on the day, not older. But I was changing—evolving—all the same. It started six weeks ago, when I attended YALLFEST in Charleston. There I was, standing in line stuffing biscuits in my face—I’d missed breakfast and was quickly missing lunch—while I waited with a hundred other young adult fiction readers for a discussion on writers’ neuroses. Here I was, hanging around with a bunch of people who were dealing with the same issues of anxiety and incompetence I often struggle with. It sounds so…stupid…when I tell you all that this is what I was waiting in line to see. Because what I ended up going to when the ballroom for that discussion was filled and I was still in line turned out to be so much more important.

“There’s still seats in the Walter Dean Myers Tribute if anyone wants to come see that.”

I chucked my box o’ biscuits in the trash and dashed out of line and through the doors. No way in hell was I going to park it on the pavement for another hour! I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know who Walter Dean Myers was or why he was worthy of a tribute. (Suffice to say now I know, and I salute him.) But I waltzed into the almost-empty room just as the panel of authors was reminiscing about when they’d met Myers, who had passed in the summer. Coe Booth, Nikki Grimes, Ellen Hopkins, Varian Johnson, and moderator Kwame Alexander discussed their Myers Moments, talked about the man who wrote an astonishing number of books not just in his lifetime but in a single year (four, I think, was what he shot for. One a season.). And these books, so beautifully, honestly, lyrically written, focused on race. Not necessarily as an issue or the issue—though in many cases it was—but on the idea of broadening the main character archetype so it could encompass more than the white-skinned, middle-class default that I had assumed throughout my life as a reader. Until now.

I went to other talks as the day progressed, and the idea of reaching past the standard main character and the stereotypes that accompanied him or her was a constant. But the idea of race—not just black, but all ethnicities, all religions—stuck with me most. It changed me. Now I look at the world with new eyes, and I see it through the lens of Before and After. Before, I cared about female heroines because I was a girl and I wanted to read about people like me doing great, interesting, even normal things. But I didn’t notice race because I saw myself—an upper-middle class white girl—in most of the books I read. And that fine for me, as a reader. I didn’t want nor need anything else. After, I realized that what I hadn’t realized was a problem—no, even dismissed as not being my problem—is a gaping hole in society and popular culture. Now, I see a movie trailer (Exodus, anyone?) and I appreciate the special effects and the scale…and wonder where the rest of the world is, because surely Moses wasn’t white. And surely, there ought to be some Asians and Indians and Native Americans and Latinos in the mix somewhere, if we’re going ahead and taking liberties.

Now, I see injustice. I see how skewed we are. I see how lucky I am and have been and continue to be. And I want to change things. So, I’m evolving. And as I evolve, I find myself…angry. Angry at the world for how it perpetuates atrocities and sweeps them under the rug and continues to misunderstand. That, readers, is why I’ve not been to Ingenue lately. I’ve needed space to gain clarity and figure out exactly what it is that I think of certain things, and how I want to go about changing them.

My thoughts are still roiling, but I hope to return to you soon. I hope to add to the conversation, as this old year turns into the new. I wish you all a Merry Christmas—and a deeply commercial one, if that’s your bent. Happy Yule. I shall see you soon.

P.S. I lied. Sorry about the extra paragraphs.

Catch and release

“Fresh fish doesn’t smell.”
That’s what my ex told me. So when I grabbed a fishing pole for the first time in a dozen years and cast, I thought back on that moment…

fishingmain“Fresh fish doesn’t smell.”

That’s what my ex told me. So when I grabbed a fishing pole for the first time in a dozen years and cast, I thought back on that moment we’d disdainfully passed the seafood counter at Publix. Well, fresh fish does smell. And that smell, I have decided, is seafood stank. It lingers in your nose in a nauseatingly self-satisfying way after you haul in your first catch and then your second.

No matter if you catch and release or catch and stow, your hands are getting up in that fish’s business. There is no stopping the slimy oddness from imprinting in your pores. And even though the slick gooiness is repellant, the feel of the scales beneath it—just a hint of sharpness and then smooth. Sharp and smooth as the gills flutter and the muscles flex and contract. There is a squirm, your grip tightens and then POP—as if that fish is a bar of soap in the shower, it goes sailing (triumphant) through your fingers, arcs over the dock then SPLAT on the wood planks. It wriggle wriggles in any direction it can, so completely disoriented that it can only hope to be flapping its fins toward water.

I feel for the fish then. It cannot breathe, I remember, without the cool river water running over its gills. I wet my hands and reach down for the creature again. I still its movements as gently as I can. And I wince as I reach for the hook. There is no getting it out without leaving behind a slight tear in the fish’s mouth, my father tells me. He leans in, his hands coming closer as if he would help, as if he would take the fish as his own. But I am petulant. I spread my arms and hunch over my catch, protective like a hawk over my catch, and yet all I want is to free it. No, all I want is to turn back the clock to a point at which my sweet spotted trout would have seen the hook and turned tail, never to have the hole I’m ripping in his tough skin. It is horrible and I have done this, and then it is done. The hook hangs limply, my fish lays still. Dead, nearly, I think. Quickly—I must move quickly! I think. Seconds later, the trout is slipped back beneath the surface and he is gone, returned to the depths. And I stink of fish.

Pondering possessives and possession

I haven’t gotten to possessives just yet, but a heaping dose of Spanish during primary and secondary school has helped me fill in the holes. And I dwell on those possessives. El gato de Clara. The cat of Clara, Clara’s cat. It’s all about ownership—of course, that’s what a possessive is. But we do seem to define our world in terms of its relationship to us. My mother, my boyfriend, my best friend’s cousin Clara’s cat.

I’ve been thinking a lot about language lately. Until last week, the only sentence I could confidently say in French was Je suis la jeune fille*. Truthfully, that’s still my most carefree sentence, but I could also tell you that the apple is red and that I have a black cat and you have a white dress and she likes the boy and the boy eats oranges. I shall be a scintillating conversationalist en francaise, don’t you think?

I haven’t gotten to possessives just yet, but a heaping dose of Spanish during primary and secondary school has helped me fill in the holes. And I dwell on those possessives. El gato de Clara. The cat of Clara, Clara’s cat. It’s all about ownership—of course, that’s what a possessive is. But we do seem to define our world in terms of its relationship to us. My mother, my boyfriend, my best friend’s cousin Clara’s cat.

When do we learn possessives, do you think? I think it must happen right around the time people start talking about sharing, to counter-balance the desire to claim our new grammar skills (and everything else in sight). So then you have a toddler in preschool who has learned that his father has given him a ball and that ball of his must be shared with that other snotty-nosed boy because…well, even though it’s his ball, we must share our toys. Because it’s the nice thing to do.

Fast forward fifteen years, when that same boy is at a party, only he’s a young man now and he has a girlfriend (has—see, there it is again). And this young man has to walk a very fine line between the natural desire to hoard his sweetheart’s time and favors and to share her with the world. He must let her spend time with her friends and family, lest he be called a cad. And he must let her hang out with his friends, lest he be accused of not trusting her or not liking her enough to introduce her to his social circle. And hugs are OK, but no kissing, unless you’ve agreed to it beforehand. Monogamy is the default—and monogamy is not sharing, taking full possession, my girlfriend, not yours, buddy, so back off. And polygamy or polyamory—sharing, what’s mine is yours, free love, baby—is the elephant in the room, the weird thing to do.

And what about children? They come out of the womb as the mother’s child, the father’s child, and then they demand to be their own person and then they are so-and-so’s lover and so-and-so’s spouse, but don’t worry, mom, I’ll always be your baby. That is such a conundrum. No wonder humanism—personhood, freedom of thought—brought on revolutions. The ways we think of ourselves and others in relation to ourselves is mindboggling.

I just finished The Forsyte Saga on Netflix this afternoon, and I was struck by this one moment. Soames has just visited Irene to speak about Jon and Fleur’s intended engagement, and Soames is struck by jealousy and regret. He grips Irene and yells that if she had only done what she was supposed to do, as his wife, as his property, the pair might be siblings and they might not be dealing with any of this. And then Jon comes in and hollers something about Irene being his mother. And then Irene retakes control. She tells the men that she is no one’s.

There is something there, in that thought, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it. I’ll let you know once I think it out.

*I just Google translated this to make sure it means what I think it means. It doesn’t. For 15 years, I thought I’d been saying, “I am the happy girl” when all this time, Muzzy was reciting, “I am the young girl.” Damn it.

Cinna-ball and the Secret Service

Last weekend was rough. What was supposed to be a night spent in a hotel while a project was completed at home morphed into two nights with two terrified Goldendoodles sharing the bed. Thanks, Mother Nature.

Last weekend was rough. What was supposed to be a night spent in a hotel while a project was completed at home morphed into two nights with two terrified Goldendoodles sharing the bed. Thanks, Mother Nature.

Cinna-ball is a peculiar canine case study. As a puppy, he was eternally curious. He hopped around the yard, nosing bushes and testing boundaries. One day, though, a switch was flipped. My gregarious explorer became terrified of the world. Unseen car doors, people on the stairs, cardboard boxes—all equally horrifying. But there was (and is) no greater boogeyman than thunder booming overhead. Lord help you if a storm is on the forecast, ‘cause with that first rumble, you’ll have a quaking 65-pound dog in your lap and scratches on your skin from reassurances that fell on fit-to-be-tied floppy ears.

We’ve had a particularly wet, cacophonous summer—ample time for Cinna’s cunning baby brother to learn how to play the hold-me-close game. Mr. Ingenue is the more vocal of the two, so while Cinna-ball shivers and pants, Mr. Ingenue is whining. His tone is high-pitched, his stamping paw insistent. He requires cuddles now, right now, which is a quandary, given that your lap is only so large—and the dogs infinitely more so.

Dogs are curious beasts. When they’re scared of something, heaven help you against their combined 8 stone of pure muscle. Like children, they cower behind your legs and attempt to leap into your arms. But when they’re scared for you? With tails curled and ears alert, they plant their paws on the road ahead, blocking your way while they warn off, well, anything. It’s a peculiar combination of squalling child and Secret Service.