Monday, January 30, 2017

Self-care when the world explodes

I freely admit that I am bad at taking care of myself. I've always been one to focus on taking care of everyone else, until I inevitably collapse or break down. It's not the healthiest of traits, I know, and it is something I'm working on.

Having been through the break-downs, I'm intimately aware of the idea that you can't take care of other people if you don't take care of yourself. And yes, I know it's hard, and it feels wrong somehow. Still, it's important to remember a few things:

  • There's no shame in taking a break. Turn off Facebook, Twitter, the news, whatever is sending you into the pit of despair at the moment, and take a breath. It'll be there when you get back, and you'll be that much stronger for not drowning in it the whole time.
  • Find something concrete you can do. For myself, I find that I feel a lot better if I can look at the problem and find one specific, concrete action that I can take. You don't have to solve everything, but everyone can do one small thing - join a protest, donate, pass on information to those who need it.
  • It bears repeating: You don't have to solve everything. What's going on right now is, frankly, terrifying, and it's hard to see how it's going to stop. You, single person reading this on a screen, are not solely responsible for fixing everything. If you feel like the only way to move forward is if you can do everything, then you're never going to get started.
  • There's still an awful lot of good right now - people are helping each other, scientists are making new discoveries that can lead to tremendous things every day, and something new is being created every second of the day. Remind yourself why you care what happens to the world by finding the good, and add to the good.
  • Get the rest you need, make sure you eat regularly, all the things that the stereotypical parent tells their kids when the kids are away from home. There's a lot of work to be done, and it's going to be really hard to do any of it if you pass out from exhaustion or dehydration.
Look, I'm going to do my best not to be hypocritical about this, and plan to take my own advice. No one's perfect, and there are going to be days when taking care of yourself and anyone else will seem like too much. That's OK - that's what self-care is for. The important thing is to keep yourself going, keep fighting, and keep adding to the good in the world. It's a lot, I know. Good thing there's a lot of us willing to do the work.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Requiem for a DamnCat

A little over thirteen years ago, I met my now-husband Eric. A little while after that initial meeting, I met his two cats, Ramses and Feina. They were around four and five years old at the time, and they were clearly important to Eric. The fact that they were important to him is actually one of the things that attracted me to Eric.

Ramses, the older of the two, was a black cat of mighty strength - he was about eighteen pounds at his height, and most of it was muscle. He was not what you'd call a good kitty - he frequently decided that he didn't like certain people, and made his displeasure known by discovering what color their blood was. But if he liked you? He would defend you with all five pointy ends against all foes, both real and imagined.

He walked into Eric's life when he was about six months old, skinny as a rail and limping just enough to look pathetic. Eric's then-girlfriend asked if they could keep him, and Eric, who had never liked cats before, said yes. Eric didn't really stand a chance after that.

The last year or so, age had been catching up with Ramses - he was losing weight, slowing down, and was significantly more cuddly. I had a feeling that his time with us was coming to a close, and so maybe a week or so ago I told him that it was OK if he needed to go - he didn't have to stay just for us. His response was his deep rumbling purr, as usual.

Saturday, Eric discovered that Ramses' time was up. It took two forms of aggressive cancer, and upper respiratory infection, and being the cat equivalent of about 90 years old to take him down; he was a fighter until the end.

Walking into the house is still really difficult - I'm so used to having him greet me when I walk in, that it almost broke me when I walked in yesterday and he wasn't there. I know he was a cat, and they don't live as long as we do; at the same time, I can probably count on one hand the number of people who have been in my life longer than he was.

We'll miss you tremendously, Buddy. Try not to destroy the world while you wait for us, OK?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Music to fight by

Music has always been a pretty important part of my life. I have a hard time focusing if I don't have something playing in the background, and I love a good playlist.

At the end of last year, I put together a playlist called "Not Yet Dead Dammit," just to help me remember that I was going to get through the rough times. Now that things are coming to a head, and the Malevolent Cheeto is actually taking office, I know a lot of us are worried. Terrified, angry, sad - there are a lot of emotions running wild right now, and it's unlikely that that will change anytime soon. I've added some new songs to the playlist, and they all fall into one of three categories: call to action (lots of angry, "things are broken and we need to fix them" songs), celebration (primarily things that remind me that I'm still here in spite of everything), and rest (songs that remind me to take a breath, that I can't keep up the fight if I don't let myself recharge).

I know it may not be a great solution for everyone, but just the exercise of putting the playlist together helped me get into a good head space for the times to come. Things are frightening, and it feels like the US is on the precipice of disaster; there's still so much we can do to pull ourselves away from the edge.

To everyone marching and protesting this weekend, please be safe, and thank you for getting the message out.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Movie review - Hidden Figures

This weekend was filled with movies, and the one that made the biggest impact on me was Hidden Figures. Given the timing (MLK Jr. day, the upcoming inauguration, etc.), it felt like a movie that was coming along at just the right time.

For those of you who somehow missed any of the ads or previews, Hidden Figures is based on the true story of three African-American women - Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson - who were employees at NASA when the US first launched a man into orbit. Their work in several different areas helped make the US space program possible.

Set in 1961, there are scores of undertones and, well, tones, of both racism and sexism in nearly every interaction. There's also a running theme of people - women in general, and women of color in particular - being told that "it's just the way things are." Watching not just the main characters, but several other people, in their own way, decide to find a different way was inspiring.

In a lot of ways, the movie isn't about the "firsts" - the first female engineer, the first American in orbit, the first African-American supervisor at NASA. It's about people going after what they want and getting things done, and fighting the obstacles in their way.

The other thing I really appreciated was the fact that the movie avoids the "white savior" trope. The previews make Kevin Costner's character look like the noble knight, taking a swing for freedom and equality; in the movie itself, he really just wants to get things done and sees a way to make the process more efficient. If it happens to be a stand for equality, great.

Overall, I really enjoyed the movie. I thought that the writing and the acting were fantastic, and I would not be surprised at all if there are Oscar nominations all around. It felt important, and got a message across without being preachy - if you don't like the way things are, find another way.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Writing annoying people - how accurate is too accurate?

A discussion with several friends led me to wonder where the line between accurate and too accurate may be when portraying a character who is, shall we say, not well liked. For example, I know quite a few people who stopped reading the Harry Potter books after Order of the Phoenix, because Harry as written in that book is a little too close to the average obnoxious teenager for comfort. I admit, it's very clear when some authors have more experience with, say, teenagers, and use that experience to inform their writing.

Obviously, as writers we want to create characters that are realistic and multi-dimensional, because those characters are much more interesting to read and write and they drive more exciting stories. At the same time, I've certainly put books down because a character was getting on my nerves - in general, if I want to reach through a page and throttle a character, it's probably a book I should put down.

So where to draw the line? Or is there actually a line that needs to be drawn? I'm not certain, myself; no one has ever accused any of my characters as being "too realistic," so it may be a moot point for me. But as readers and/or writers, what do you all think?