Nanowrimo: the death of a novel and the birth of a story part 1 (the story)

My attempts to participate in National Novel Writing Month failed on many levels, but I did get something out of the effort—an unequivocal reminder of how my writing mind functions and a fun little short story. The lessons I learned about writing will come in a later post . . . when the turkey has worn off a bit from this Thursday (here’s a hint, writing a novel in 30 days doesn’t work for me), but I thought people might find the story fun as a post-Thanksgiving intellectual snack. I must give credit to The Amazing Story Generator for plot inspiration. As its name suggests, it is amazing not to mention fun, which is even more important.

Tears: a short story

I knew I shouldn’t pursue these treacherous doubts. I’d built my life on the idea that medical androids were nothing like real humans. Their bodies, designed to mimic the human body, were research tools only. They did not possess the capacity for human memories or emotions.

Yet here I was, confronted with a crisis I’d never anticipated when I’d entered the scientific field—a tear!

“What’s this?” I asked, my stomach plunging with the answer I didn’t want to hear.

“It hurts!” the android cried.

“That’s impossible!” I snapped, anger flaring conveniently to camouflage my horror. “You aren’t wired to feel pain.”

“But it hurts,” the android stubbornly repeated, pulling the scalpel out of its abdomen where I’d left it in my shock.

I held out my hand for the instrument, scenes from movies of artificial intelligence massacring their makers suddenly flooding my mind.

The android contemplated me suspiciously. “I don’t want to do this anymore.”

The request was so simple, but with the biochemical hazard looming on the horizon of Western civilization and the impending global war, stopping my work prematurely was nothing short of suicide.

The android gazed at me with pleading eyes, the scalpel still gripped in its hand, poised in an innocent yet somehow threatening way. As I gazed at the genderless, reportedly soulless being in front of me, I knew my choice was already made. But it wasn’t the scalpel that made my decision. It was the eyes. There was no denying the sincerity of feeling behind them.

“Alright,” I whispered. “You don’t have to do this anymore.”

The android placed the scalpel in my hand with a trust that took me aback and grabbed a cloth from the instrument table, placing it over the bleeding incision.

“Are you hungry?” I asked to mask my confusion. I glanced at the clock and was thankful to see that it was after most of the other researchers would have gone home. “I’ll take you to dinner.”

“I’d like that very much.” It hopped down from the operating table, emphasizing the extreme deviation from programming protocol.

My eyes scanned the naked body, and I cleared my throat uncomfortably. “Let me get you some clothes. I think I have an extra pair.”

Dusk was settling when we left ten minutes later. The android hesitated momentarily at the door to the lab before stepping out onto the concrete. I watched its eyes widen at the painted sky and wondered what it would be like to see a sunset for the first time.

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The Invisible Woman and the Thin Ideal

I doubt there is a single woman in the U.S. who hasn’t felt the need to be thin at some point in her life. The bombardment of thin ideology is impossible to escape. What’s worse, it’s being sold to women under the guise of having something to do with health, finding its way into children’s commercials like the Sketcher’s ad for girls in which their shape-ups keep Heidi fit so that the boys will follow her around to adult ads promising practically the same thing.

The reality is that the thin ideal has nothing to do with health.

The thin ideal is all about the dress size. Exercise is marketed to slim the body down. Foods are marketed for the ability to make a person lose weight instead of for their nutritional content.

It’s this thin ideal that drives people to criticize an Olympic athlete  for being “fat” and obsessively speculate about the few-pound weight gain of celebrities while ignoring the very serious and dangerous weight loss of models.

It’s the thin ideal that makes plus size models (and for the record, plus size in the fashion industry is now anyone size 6 or above) all but invisible in media. The only time they’re not invisible is when their “largeness” is being focused on—an anomaly of being comfortable with a body that doesn’t fit the thin ideal. Think about it. Do you ever see plus-size models on the cover of fashion magazines when their weight or body size is not the focus? When was the last time a female protagonist in a movie was anything but thin? For that matter, when was the last time a female background character was anything but thin?

While we’re on the topic of models, let’s not forget that even the “thin” models are photoshopped to be thinner… that is, if the body is even real.

The thin ideal sets an impossible standard, and it’s used to sell women products they’re told that they absolutely must have in order to achieve this impossible standard. It’s a marketing tool.

But it’s so much more than that too.

In one of my earlier posts, I pointed out how modesty is a tool of the patriarchy to keep women objectified. In a similar vein, I believe the thin ideal is a tool of the patriarchy to keep women invisible.

On the literal front, the thin ideal goes hand in hand with other gender norms—demure, dainty, delicate, frail, fragile. Being thin literally prevents women from taking up too much space or from being too obtrusive. The physical taxation on the body ensures that women remain weaker and in need of a “big strong man” to protect them. Morever, it pressures many women to choose to be weak because working out and eating healthy can cause a form of weight gain. A healthy weight is still too big for the thin ideal.

On a more metaphoric front, the thin ideal keeps women’s accomplishments and abilities invisible. By placing so much important on the body’s appearance, the thin ideal diminishes the importance of pursuing intellectual accomplishment, which means fewer women are a “threat” to men in cerebral fields. And if a woman says “fuck it” and breaks away from the pressure of the thin ideal, her accomplishments are still safely obscured by drawing attention to her body and its perceived flaws, thus people are more concerned with Ashley Judd’s “puffy” face than with her kick-ass activism and with Sandra Fluke’s sexual appeal than with what she has to say.

Lastly, the thin ideal keeps women invisible to themselves. When everything, including exercise and food, is marketed based on its ability to make a woman attractive to others, it becomes far too easy to forget that the body is the vehicle through which we live. Exercise shouldn’t be about keeping a firm butt and flat abs because that’s what others (e.g. men) want, it should be about keeping the heart healthy and the muscles strong so that women can experience life. The thin ideal distances women from their needs and desires for the sake of matching up to an arbitrary (or perhaps not so arbitrary) standard set by an obscure “other.” We’ve come a long way from the days when people thought a woman’s uterus would fall out if she exercised, but we have an equally long way to go to allow women to reclaim their bodies for their own use.

It’s time to change the conversation. We need to replace the thin ideal with a healthy ideal–one that acknowledges the body diversity that exists and that takes the focus off of a beauty standard that requires bad health to achieve. Women need to claim their right to care for their bodies’ needs for reasons that have nothing to do with anyone else. Women need to claim their right to take up space.

Conversion Stories: Happy Eternity in Hell!

I must say, this is one of the more unusual and amusing conversion attempts I’ve ever had! I was “blessed” with the opportunity of having a political conversation turn to the Bible. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly expressing any political opinion outside of a conservative one will bring out the Jesus freaks.

In this case, I was discussing marriage equality. Interestingly, it didn’t start out with the usual pro- versus anti- marriage equality for lgbt. In fact, no one was really disputing the fact that same-sex couples should have the right to marry. The deeper question, instead, was whether polygamy should be legal.

I probably take a more radical approach to marriage equality, believing that the government really doesn’t have any business defining or determining what a legitimate marriage is. If someone wants to marry fifty consenting people, that’s their business. If another person wants to marry as a contractual agreement to get health insurance or gain access to citizenship, also their own business.

We didn’t actually get that far in the conversation though. I had barely expressed my support for marriage equality for polygamists when new guy jumps on, calling me a witch.

I didn’t assume it was serious. I thought it was a joke at first, perhaps a petty attempt to shame me. Since an insult first requires a negative view of the label, I wasn’t insulted. I responded with a light-hearted comment about being proud to be a witch if that meant standing for marriage equality.

After a few more random and incomprehensible comments, this guy asked, “Have you read your Bible lately?”

I love that he assumed I have a Bible (or want one), but I let that go. “No, I’ve had enough of that for one lifetime.”

Then he said, “And you guys will lose . . . Bible prophesy, actually Bible code!”

I can only assume he was talking about the election here. Still trying to keep things light, I joked that I might win if I hexed him. I even pulled out the big guns and dropped a few names of people I know in high places. “I’ve got a pretty good relationship with Santa. We met under the Christmas tree a few times last year, and he owes me some favors.”

By that time, I was practically wetting myself laughing because this guy was taking me seriously! It was like a mouse being handed to a cat. I just couldn’t resist the play.

“I’m not afraid of you!” he cried back.

Seeing an opportunity to end the conversation somewhat amicably, I replied, “Nor I of you. That’s the point.”

But did he take the point? No, or course not. That would have been too boringly easy.

“No,” he admitted, “but you are afraid of my God.”

I suppose he felt he was making one hell of a zinger, but in what universe does my scoffing translate to fear of his god? If I were afraid of his god, I would still be a Christian. I really shouldn’t have had to point out the obvious, but I did.

Then this oh-so-kind-and-godly Christian told me, “Happy eternity in hell!”

Looking back at the exchange now that the election is over, I have to smile at the fact that his predictions proved false. I wonder if he thinks I really did hex him or if he’s still trying to convince himself that his god didn’t somehow fail him. I’m sure he’s able to comfort himself to some extent with the idea that I’m still going to hell for all eternity.

And I can comfort myself with the promise of peace and happiness down there while all the Christians like him are safely contained up in heaven where they can eat each other alive over their doctrinal differences. I get the feeling that God might come down and join us heathens just to get away from the snarling piety. The tolerant Christians are welcome to join us too. But hell doesn’t put up with conversion attempts, so leave the proselytizing at the gate.

Like a Virgin: Voting

This wasn’t my first time voting, but in many ways it was. In the past, I voted who I was told to vote for. I didn’t dare think outside the box because I was terrified of what might happen. The few people who were brave enough to openly support Obama at Bob Jones University were looked down on and ostracized by their fellow students, and I’ll admit that I was one of the students ostracizing those brave souls. Between the peer pressure and the terror stories told by the preachers about what would happen to America if we didn’t vote her back to fundamentalist principles, there never seemed any other option. I voted blindly. I voted fearfully.

This time around, there was a similar fear, but on the opposite end of the spectrum. As I watched the consistent attempts to whittle down women’s rights and listened to the rhetoric that made me feel like I had entered an alternative universe, I felt like, once again, I had no choice. Even though I was unhappy with Obama for having extended the Patriot Act and concerned with the potential ramifications of H.R. 347—even though I was dumbfounded by the fact that both were almost unanimously passed through Congress—I still felt like I was being forced to vote out of fear of what might happen if a Republican won . . . until I discovered that there were more than two choices.

People told me it was a wasted vote. They told me that “third parties” never won and that the two-party system was just the way it was. They told me their own disappointed stories of having voted for third-parties and nothing coming of it. They said the United States had been that way since its birth and wouldn’t change.

But I decided that I wasn’t comfortable just letting it go and voting what I was told. I looked into each candidate. I thought I would probably come back to Obama because he would still seem like the best choice, but it gave me comfort to feel like I was making an informed choice.

To my consternation, I found myself falling in love with Jill Stein and the Green New Deal. I fell in love with her stand for freedom, her refusal to take corporate money, and her unflinching honesty about topics that the Democrats and Republicans were staying as far away from as possible.

Still, I heard that voice whispering that I needed to vote for Obama . . . or else.

Or else what? Something bad might happen if I step out of the two-party peer-pressure system? Such classic avoidance training! Yes, something bad might happen if I take a chance to express my disapproval with both Democrats and Republicans . . . the candidate I like least might win.

But nothing good could happen if I voted out of fear.

Both Democrats and Republicans have betrayed freedom, in my mind, by passing legislation that attacked various rights. I definitely think Republicans have made more obvious attacks, but they both made attacks. Voting out of fear would just mean I was making a choice between which rights I was willing to forego. Was I willing to overlook my right to privacy in order to vote to have my right to choose? Were my rights as a bisexual worth more than my right to protest, to freedom of speech, or to due process?

I don’t think I should be having to weigh which rights I’m willing to take a hit on. Talk about wasting a vote! Voting for someone I don’t believe in because I am too scared not to is a wasted vote!

Eleanor Roosevelt is famous for saying, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I’ve been thinking about that statement and the personal power it implies all afternoon, and I think she was onto something much deeper than just feeling bad or good about oneself.

No one can take away my power or my rights without my consent. No one can take away my choice or my autonomy without my consent. No one can take away my voice without my consent.

I hear so many people complaining about the way the elections are functioning and expressing dissatisfaction in the lack of choices, and the infuriating part is that we are the ones locking ourselves into this because we too scared of what might happen if we step outside of the box we’ve put around ourselves.

But isn’t that what I left fundamentalism to escape? A life controlled by fear isn’t what I want. My power is my own. I will not give it up by believing that it can be taken away.

Today, for the first time, I voted for the candidate who I felt represented freedom the most.

For the first time, I feel like my vote actually counted because it wasn’t a tool in someone else’s hands; it was the clear and unequivocal exercise of my right to express how I want government to function.

I can’t even express how excited and proud I was to walk into that booth and know that I was making my own choice. I dream of a day when we can all recognize the tremendous power of change that we possess and stop this silly business of voting the party line out of fear.

Tales from the Lesloom: Speed Dating Furniture Style

After an intense October, I think something a little more lighthearted is called for. In honor of Nanowrimo, I present to you (drum roll please) another installment in the Adventures of the Lesloom. In this episode, (cue dramatic music and deep narrator’s voice) the lesbian futon searches for a companion. Will it be able to find the girl it’s looking for? Or will its destiny fail before it was even begun? Duh duh duuuuuuuuuh. (Or however you would spell out those suspenseful sounds) Anyways, have fun with this slightly melodramatic means of distracting myself from the 1500+ words I’m supposed to be adding to my book.

SPEED DATING FURNITURE STYLE

The lesbian futon sat on display in the store for months, quietly observing then rejecting all those that came to propose a union. It would puff the cushion out too hard or soften it too much or twist its slatted back just enough to throw a person off, whatever was needed to let the seekers know it was not what they were seeking. The salespeople grew irritated with the futon and tried to make it more enticing by lowering the tag they had attached to it shortly after its arrival. But the futon held out. It knew that at some point, the right girl would come along.

And she did.

As soon as the girl and her family came through the front doors, the futon knew that she had arrived even though it couldn’t see her yet. It was like the other end of a string had been picked up. The futon fluffed itself up to its best and waited for the girl to come.

After a half hour, the browsing family finally came within sight of the futon. The girl was still somewhat young, just entering her teens. Her bouncing pony tail and bright laugh caused the futon to shiver. This was its girl—the girl that it would guard and protect in her journey to understanding her sexuality, for the futon could tell that she did not yet know that she was a lesbian. It could be there for her coming out!

It shouted its silent language, “Come here! I’m over here!”

The girl’s parents were too busy looking at a bunk bed to hear the calling of destiny, but the girl looked around, scanning the various pieces of furniture surrounding her. When her eyes fell on the futon, they lit up.

She ran over for a closer look.

The futon desperately hoped it wasn’t dusty from the many months of sitting there.

The girl examined its bright red upholstery and the creamy blond wood of its frame. The trace of her fingers made the futon glow, and it sent a soft “hello” back to her.

Suddenly she flopped on top of the cushion, rolling over onto her back to look up at the ceiling. “Mom! Come look at this!”

“What is it, Emma?”

Emma, the futon whispered the name to itself.

“I think this is it!”

Emma’s mother came over to look. “But it’s a couch.”

“But isn’t that kind of the same as a daybed? It’s super comfy, and it would look great in my room!”

“Honey,” her father interjected, “We came to buy you a bunk bed. This isn’t the time to look at accessories for your room.”

Emma’s parents began walking back towards the bunk beds.

The futon cried out, Emma!

Emma turned once more to look at the futon, but she continued to follow her parents. It was going to lose her!

The futon began crying out for a one of the salespeople working nearby. It shivered its legs are hard as it could, trying anything to move and get someone’s attention. But by the time someone came by, Emma and her family had disappeared into another part of the store.

She wanted me, the futon sighed. She was perfect.

The salesperson, somehow sensing the futon’s desolation, hung around to primp it a bit. At first he just intended to fluff the cushion a bit and dust the arms. A piece like this that hadn’t sold for so long wasn’t worth wasting too much time on. But for some reason, he felt compelled to help the futon lie down. The poor thing seemed too heavy to sit up straight anymore.

Although the futon desperately wanted to just lie down on the floor, it was too sad to help the man rearrange it. The mattress was heavy, and the salesman found himself still straining several minutes later.

Just as he was finishing lying the mattress out flat, Emma and her parents came back around the corner.  “Wait! Wasn’t this that couch?” Emma asked the salesman excitedly.

Emma?  The futon perked up. You’re back!

“It is! It’s a futon!” The salesman was overly enthusiastic, thrilled that someone would take an interest immediately after his impromptu redecoration.

“What’s a futon?” Emma asked.

The salesperson explained how the futon could be both a couch and a bed, that this particular one had three major positions, and a little bit about the history of futons in general . . . though he himself didn’t quite know if the history he was giving was accurate or not.

“Oh, please, can I get it?” Emma begged.

Yes, please! The futon begged.

“Don’t you want a bunk bed?” her mother replied skeptically.

“No, I want this. This is so cool!”

The salesman smiled at Emma’s parents and made one last pitch. “It just so happens that this futon is currently on sale. It’s a great deal right now!”

The poor futon felt like it might jump out of its nails it was so nervous. After Emma’s parents deliberated the purchase for a torturous amount of time, they finally answered.

“Alright, we’ll get you the futon. But you can’t come back asking for a bunk bed later. If you have a friend stay over, they’ll have to share the futon instead of sleeping on the other bunk. But if you can live with that, we’ll get it for you.”

“Yes! Oh, thank you!” Emma jumped delightedly onto her new futon, and the futon did its best to hug her back.

“Great, will you be taking it with you today?” The salesman asked, leading the family towards his station, ecstatic himself at having sold the most hopeless piece in the store.

After the salesman had arranged all the purchase details with Emma’s parents, he came by for a final goodbye to the futon. “Good luck, my friend. Glad you found a home,” he whispered to it before it was disassembled and loaded into their van.

As the futon road down the highway on the way to its new home, it tried to imagine all the adventures it would have with its special girl, but it knew that even the best of imaginations couldn’t imagine the beauty of real life.