You Can Also Be In Pain

There’s a lot of defensiveness in the conversation around certain social justice topics. On both sides, as they both tend to get pretty militant about such things, and I think some of that comes from feeling attacked. I am not commenting on the militancy; if you (on either side) want to go “But I need to be militant because X,” do it elsewhere. I just want to point out something very gentle to some of the participants in this debate:

Other people’s pain does not invalidate yours.

The fact that people are talking about a specific Painful Thing which hasn’t happened to you does not mean you haven’t had other Painful Things happen to you. It’s not an attack on you. It’s not a contest. It’s not about who has suffered more. We can all say “yes, both of these things were bad and no one should have to suffer any of them.” And you can let them talk about their Painful Things without bringing up your Painful Thing. Letting them talk about their Painful Things doesn’t mean you aren’t yourself in pain. I’m pretty sure everyone knows there are other pains in the world, no matter how militant they get about their activism for any particular cause. (Well, okay, I’ve met one person who I wasn’t sure knew that, but I would like to think they learned after we graduated college. Most people know that.) When they get upset at you for bringing up unrelated pain, they’re not saying you don’t have pain. They’re upset because you went to a knitting group and only wanted to talk about how great quilting is. They might be related, but they’re not the same thing. People saying “not the place for this conversation” aren’t saying you don’t have pain. They’re saying “That’s not what we’re talking about here.” And if they run the blog or meeting or support group or whatever, they get to say that, same way I get to decree that we are not discussing the validity of safe spaces or militancy in the comments here.

But that’s okay. Because you get to go find a spot where you can discuss your Painful Thing. If you can’t find one, you can invent one. Start a blog, start a meeting, start a support group. And don’t compare magnitude of pain or anything like that– just find a spot where you can talk about yours. Feeling heard will help. Feeling like you’re not the only one with your kind of pain will help. I was a neurodivergent woman suffering domestic violence on a campus where the loudest activists were activating for transgender rights. It took me years to figure out why I had been so angry at them in college, and I didn’t manage it until after I’d found a place to process my own pain– I was angry because people were hearing them and no one was hearing me.

Trust me, it’s so much better to find a place where they’re looking at hearing you than it is to try to latch on to any old discussion about a Painful Issue. You’re more likely to get heard that way, more likely to process it. Let the people talking about other issues go on talking about those issues amongst themselves.

It’s okay. You are still allowed to be in pain.

And there is almost certainly someplace out there where people will welcome your sharing it.

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Listening with Your Whole Body

I very nearly failed dance in college. I got a notice of concern at mid-terms, which was college-speak for “if you continue the way you are going, you will fail the class.” It was my junior year, I had never so much as gotten a C in anything in my college career, and I was utterly panicked over the whole thing. I had no idea it was coming; I thought I was doing pretty well in that class.

There were a lot of problems combining to lead to my notice of concern and eventual scraping of a C, but the fundamental one was a massive disconnect between me and the teacher about what dance was. He wanted us to hear our internal rhythms and was always after us to dance without the music. It doesn’t work like that for me.

Dancing is listening to the music with my whole body.

I knew that in my junior year of college. But I was already starting to lose it by the end of the class, and the events of the next couple of years crushed the sparkle right out of me until I had forgotten. Dancing became something that I only did socially… and then something that I stopped doing altogether, even though I had once loved it in all its forms.

Just recently, I started a new program of productivity (and I cannot recommend Habitica enough for productivity problems) and part of that productivity is exercise. For my exercise, I do two energetic songs and one that I really want to dance to even if it’s less energetic. (“Only the Music” by Heather Alexander, with its suitability for the air waltz, is one I love for this, even if it won’t get my heart rate up.) I’ve been dragging myself through this for a bit, thinking about other things for a while, until I put on Adele’s song “Hello” and realized that the music is so different from the words that dancing to the rhythm of one puts you at odds with the other, and found myself off in a mental comparison to a medieval dance where you are supposed to be dancing to the baseline because the melody is improvised, but in this age of recorded music no one actually does.

Then today I tried not thinking about anything but the music and just zeroing in on it. I found that when I do it like that, it has an effect on my mood– I was laughing by the end of my dance, at myself and the music and the world, because this actually is fun. I’m not dragging myself through this every day just because I need to get my heart rate up, despite the fact that I do need to get my heart rate up. Dancing is moving meditation, easier in many ways than the sitting still kind. If you can manage to let go enough to just lose yourself in the music, it’s fun.

I forgot the thing I said long ago to my dance professor. Dancing is listening to the music with my whole body. And there’s probably another whole post in picking that apart and making an example of how education is destroying people’s creativity, but for the moment– I’m dancing again.

 

Apothecary Chronicles: A is for Allium

Greetings! It’s been a while, hasn’t it. Things keep happening. To get myself back into the habit of posting regularly, I’m going to go through The Wild & Weedy Apothecary by Doreen Shababy and make every single recipe in it.

I’ve actually had this project in mind for a while. I want to be a healer, you see, and herbalism is one of the ways to get there. If I go through the book of recipes and make all the things, even if I don’t find anyone to try it out on I’ve familiarized myself with the process and I’m likely to remember it’s there when someone in my life does get hurt. I even made myself garlic tea sometime last year, but I never seemed to get around to making the next recipe.

And then my partner got bronchitis.

Unsurprisingly, this kickstarted me into making the next couple of recipes, which looked to be useful ones for this particular problem. “Alliums” are the garlic and onion kind of plants. It includes a lot of other stuff, like chives and ramps, but the recipes given are for garlic and onion. I deal with worry by cooking, so I prepared a massive pot of chicken and dumpling soup, roasted garlic, garlic syrup, and onion syrup. (The chicken and dumpling soup isn’t from the book; that’s just something I make whenever my partner gets sick.) Garlic syrup needs to be begun the night before, and I was joking about “#modernpaganism” involving standing at a stove in a brightly-lit kitchen with your knife, recipe book, and laptop blasting showtunes. If you take these things at the value of the stereotype, I ought to have been cutting stuff up with my bolline to put into a cauldron over the fire. But these days, you’re just as likely to be practicing the Craft over your stove. I certainly was. And that’s actually a sign you’re past being a raw beginner, when that starts to happen to you– it means you’re seeing the magic in everyday life. I don’t expect the people who need this statement to hear it, but: there is more to the world than circles and candles and velvet robes. Those are lovely and rituals that use them certainly have their place, but it is no less magical to stand in your kitchen chopping garlic and thinking very hard about how much you want your lover to get well again.

The remedies this chapter were all aimed at colds, and the standout winner was definitely the onion syrup. The book lists it as an expectorant, and its effects were fairly immediate after each dose and quite strong. It’s a good tool to have in the box. I’m less sure about how well the garlic syrup was working, but it’s meant for preventing colds, not treating bronchitis.

Vision

I just finished reading Walking to Mercury. I found it harder than The Fifth Sacred Thing, because it’s closer to reality– Fifth Sacred Thing is in some respects a far more realistic utopian fantasy than most of them, but it’s still a utopian fantasy. I was able to appreciate that here was a vision of utopia that didn’t ignore the fact that not everybody is going to get along, and not everybody is going to have the same vision, while still maintaining an awareness that this was unlikely to ever come too far into my reality, and some parts (like the bees) were just plain fantasy.

Walking to Mercury isn’t like that. It’s real– it’s set in a time that really happened, nothing in it is particularly implausible (What about that bit where they imply Home Front’s terrorist attack was actually a false flag operation by the DOJ, you ask? Sadly, I don’t find that implausible in the slightest.), and the protest at the end seems to be based on something Starhawk actually lived through, since she’s written elsewhere about having protested nuclear wars. I found it very hard to cope with as a result, and it took me a few months of patiently working my way through a few chapters at a time, especially the beginning where the experience of being young and in a world that doesn’t fit is described in such detail.

Because it’s realistic, it leaves a stronger impression– and I’m more interested in that world than in the one described in Fifth Sacred Thing. I observed to my partner that the problem with reading Starhawk’s books is that it makes me want to have a vision, and got the response “Careful what you ask for, you may get it.” To which I answered “That would be why I call it a problem.” I’ve asked the gods for wisdom before, and usually I end up with the universe crashing down on my head. Because life experience is how one gains wisdom, and if you ask for something vague you’re likely to get it in the most life-altering possible way. And I’ve also been at conventions and listened to people who work closely with individual gods talk about the ways that makes their lives… uncomfortable. I think it’s best summed up in The Curse of Chalion, actually, which is a fantasy book, but a well-researched one: “You are the tool. You are not the work. Expect to be valued accordingly.”

So I do not have the kind of hubris it would take to sit before the altar and ask for a vision. But Walking to Mercury is still enough to make me want one– to want to see the world that cleanly, to have some vibration deep in my bones that this is what I am meant to be doing. Which renders it powerful writing.

The Infinities of Writing

I read something recently that talked about how writing is the only creative art where a huge part of the culture is how difficult it is to sit down and actually do it. Most creative arts people actually want to do and enjoy doing, but writing culture includes a lot of “and now I am wrestling with myself trying to get down to actually working on this thing that I supposedly enjoy doing.” Certainly I’m no exception to that, but it’s been getting easier to deal with lately, in part because I changed how I think about it.

The thing that’s hard for me in writing is that it’s perfect and infinite in my head. The story could be any of a hundred things, and they’re all wonderful and perfect, and it could go in any direction I choose to take it. There are thousands of versions, usually I’ve thought of all of them, and usually I’m thinking in high-concept: “I want to do a story about saving the world and equality and relationships, and it’s going to have a diverse cast and well-rounded characters and I’m going to avoid all of these common tropes and be truly original!”

Writing it down collapses the waveform. I go from having infinitely many possibilities to having one precise analysis of one of these visions at one moment in time, and usually it’s a pale imitation of whatever my high concept was. There’s actually a wonderful example of this line of thought in The Hours (the movie; I’ve yet to read the book) when Richard is telling Clarissa what he wanted to write about: “No matter what you start with it ends up being so much less.” You can’t write down the vision in a way that lives up to the vision; it’s impossible.

The way I’ve been getting around this is thinking of it as putting into a form that can be shared. Having the vision of these characters and these stories (or in the case of poetry, this overpowering emotion) is wonderful, but it’s not actually useful if it isn’t in a form that can be shared with others, and until we perfect telepathy, I can’t just communicate the vision. Even if what I write down is a pale imitation, even if it’s one moment of one slice that could never communicate the whole, I still have more than I did before, because now I have it in a form that I can show to other people and try to communicate it to them. And as I keep trying, I get better at communicating the vision. I communicate a little more of it each time.

I may never get to the point where I’m satisfied with my work. I don’t think writers do, at least not the ones possessed by visions. But I’m communicating a little more of what I see each time, and even if what I’m putting out there is a pale imitation of what I want to put out there, isn’t that better than never putting anything out there at all? Isn’t it better that I’m trying to share my vision?

(This post, by the way, is a self-demonstrating example. It is so much less than what I wanted to communicate to you about writing– but hey, I’ve got a blog post up discussing something substantial, so maybe you will all read and comment and tell other people about it, and I will get people who want to read my writing.)

Samhain

I swear I still exist! I’ve just been extraordinarily busy and exhausted. It should calm down in a couple of weeks, although I’m going to try to put up a real post before then. Today I was off having Samhain, which was a lovely ritual followed by a lovely feast. And next time I go to one of these things I really need to make something substantial and real-food for the potluck part, because everyone brings desserts, and while desserts are my specialty, they seem to be everyone else’s specialty too.

I’m too tired to get into it now, but it strikes me that there should be an ideal math of number of people at a potluck to be assured of sufficient variety to feed everyone but not so much food that there’s no hope of the group eating it all.

Happy Samhain, everyone!

It’s Here, It’s Here!

My contributor’s copy of Like a Circlet Editor has appeared! It’s here! It’s here!

I’m very excited by this, if you couldn’t tell. I now have a book with my name in and story in it that’s actually going to get sold to people. And it has “With contributions by…” on the back and my name is at the top of that list!

And to think, I almost didn’t submit this one because I thought it was too weird. This demonstrates the importance of just biting the bullet and sending stuff in, even when you think you have no chance of being published. Actually, I’ve just broken an important truism of publishing here: this is the first thing I ever submitted anywhere. The first thing you submit never actually gets published.