On Stress

Since I spoke last week about resting I thought I’d tackle stress this week, specifically what sources of stress I deal with and how I deal with them.

It would be nice to live a stress-free life, wouldn’t it? I dream of that sometimes, having the independent wealth to eliminate almost all the things that stress me and my friends out, to be who we can be without outside pressure.

Sadly this is an unlikely dream to come true.

The way I look at it there are two main types of stress; those inflicted upon us and those we generate ourselves.

We have a limited ability to affect the stress inflicted upon us. We can change jobs, if there are any available, but all jobs come with some form of stress. We can avoid people but then we can suffer stress from feeling lonely and feeling unloved and unwanted.

For external stress we must affect how we react to it.

My day job is tech-support, an extremely stressful occupation if ever there was. I’m on the telephone most of the day and if you don’t understand how stressful that is for an introvert then I envy you your ignorance.

The stress level of my job isn’t steady. It varies from client to client, from issue to issue, from day to day. As an example, last week was mostly low-stress until the end of Friday where I dealt with two clients who, for various reasons, sent my stress level skyrocketing. Even after work there was stress as I tried ordering sushi takeout from one of my favourite places only to be stymied through phone issues on the restaurant’s end. Friday night I was so frustrated I wanted to scream.

Which is exactly what I did.

Shocked? Who amongst us hasn’t cursed or yelled out in frustration? The trick is to not explode in someone’s face and find somewhere you can let it out verbally without disturbing others. If you ever work in a call centre trust me you’ll hear plenty of people cursing underneath their breath. Verbal release of stress is one of the easiest ways to deal with it and still works even in a pandemic.

Another way to deal with stress is through physical action. Note, this doesn’t mean violence such as punching a wall or someone’s face. Actions such as these are unhealthy and upsetting, especially if the source of stress is an argument with someone else.

I’m talking about exercise! Lifting weights, running on a treadmill, getting your body moving and focusing on that rather than what’s stressing you out. This is harder now that a lot of spaces are closed due to COVID but even of you just grab some soup cans and start curling them or you try a few pushups on the floor you’re moving and burning through energy and stress.

Martial arts have helped me deal with my stress. Sword-work and boxing require you to be present in what you’re doing to avoid injuring yourself or others instead of focusing on something stressful. This helps get you out of your head, even if just for an hour, and has relieved tons of stress for me.

External stress is manageable in most cases, even if it can feel overwhelming at times. It’s good to remember to rest when we need it and get out of situations that burden us with more than we can handle.

Stress that comes from inside is a lot harder to deal with.

The tools we use to deal with external stress can help but ultimately internal stress requires intense self-reflection. This is one of those situations where a good therapist can help by providing insight and tools for us to work with but as I’ve said previously the real work we need to do ourselves.

As we’ve grown up the external stresses we faced affected us in ways we could spend the rest of our lives untangling. We shouldn’t expect we can remove all sources of internal stress but through reflection and honesty we can look at how we stress ourselves and how we react to stimuli and generate stress.

For me I’ve discovered that my brain chemistry affects me in a way that causes me stress. Depression is like a weight that holds me back and medication helps. I avoided it for years and stressed myself unnecessarily because of it. This is one of those internal behaviours I needed to overcome, my reluctance to accept chemical assistance. Thankfully I did and my life has improved greatly.

I hope what I’ve written resonates with you and helps you reduce the stress in your life.

On Resting

One of the most important and hardest things to do is to take a rest when we need it and not feel guilty.

I’m writing this after basically being a slug for a full week’s worth of vacation. When I say I did nothing I mean I did the bare minimum to keep myself fed and alive while spending the majority of my time reading and watching Netflix. I didn’t go to the gym, went outside as little as needed, and aside from a couple blog posts, including this one, didn’t write anything.

I hate to admit it, but I needed this week.

Being neurodivergent in a neurotypical world is hard enough. Add onto it a stressful job and it only gets worse, so every now and then a quiet week is needed to clear out the filters. And this isn’t taking into account the current stress from COVID and everything else going on in the world.

I wish I was one of those people who could write while stressed but I’m not. I need the right (write?) environment and the mental energy to get going but by the end of the work day I’m usually mentally exhausted. I’ve tried writing before work but that’s been mixed at best. Getting running in the morning can be difficult.

You’d think with a whole week free from work I’d be able to write up a storm, but this is where that need to rest comes in. Being neurodivergent means, at least for me, that executive dysfunction is real and getting started sometimes, especially if I’m already at a higher baseline level of stress (hello world falling apart), can be almost impossible.

Essentially what I’m saying is I did nothing for a week and I refuse to feel guilty about it.

This is part of my process with coming to grips with being disabled. I’m not lazy for needing to rest, to check out and let my brain spend time just absorbing rather than trying to generate. It’s okay to just read and when that’s too much it’s okay to nap or watch visual media.

It’s okay to just be without “contributing” all the time.

I know for me this has been a hard truth to realize. Not presenting as neurodivergent enough or being unintentionally taught to mask my behaviours means I was expected to constantly be working on something even when I was completely unmotivated and needed to unplug from things. This isn’t a dig at my parents as ADHD and autism, the two ways it’s likely I’m neurodivergent, are still somewhat of a mystery now never mind in the 80’s.

However, now that I realize I’m neurodivergent it’s my responsibility to take that into account and work at making my life better. Rest when I need it, without guilt, and work on modifying my lifestyle to give me the best life possible. Exercise won’t “fix” me but it, along with finding the right diet, will help.

Rest is always something I, and you, will need. Don’t feel guilty.

Queer People Belong In Gaming

Since Thanksgiving has just passed I thought I’d write about something I’m thankful for, all the queer people it has been my pleasure to game with over the last few months.

You see, I’m an old school Dungeons and Dragons player. I cut my teeth on Basic D&D and first edition AD&D. I’ve played Rifts, TORG, Vampire, Werewolf, even Changeling. Hell, I’ve even played the beast known as Rolemaster, but until recently it was always with straight and mostly white dudes because that’s who was available.

A lot of that has to do with, well, I’m just terrible at making friends and for a long time it’s seemed that the hobby was dominated if not exclusively inhabited but SWD (Straight White Dudes). The creator of D&D was a SWD and just about everyone I grew up with playing it was a SWD and a nerd and a lot of them pretty toxic.

Thankfully I’ve managed to escape a lot of that toxicity and continue to do my best to be a better person. A lot of that is thanks to getting more into writing and meeting and befriending a wider range of people and coming to grips with my identity as a disabled person and neurodivergent.

My greatest piece of luck was at the beginning of quarantine a queer writing friend post they wanted to start a regular Wednesday night D&D group online. After a moment of thought I said I’d be interested and haven’t regretted saying yes for a second.

My queer gaming group is some of the best people it’s been my privilege to get to know. They are creative, funny, lovely people. Having them in my life, especially now while we suffer under the plague, has been a great stress relief.

In ever gaming group I’ve been in before there’s always been at least one toxic SWD who needs to be the big swinging dick. In my current group there isn’t a single toxic person of any gender. It’s refreshing.

I’m never going back to playing with an all SWD group. Diversity isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a way to greatly improve the gaming experience for everyone. More voices means more choices and less boredom.

Find yourself a diverse gaming group and you’ll see, but there is a caveat. If you’re an SWD like me, especially if you’ve been raised in a toxic gaming community, you need to be aware of the damage that’s done to your psyche and not drag that garbage along with you. Be supportive, be kind, but most of all be open to new perspectives. A diverse group may not play the way you’re used to so modify your style to fit the group.

And if you do end up running a game for a diverse group be ready to adjust how you run the game for them. They’ll come up with options and character designs you’d never would’ve imagined. Let them run with it and combine it with your style of play to make something fun for everyone.

Queer and diverse people belong in gaming. It’s going to change the games we play, altering current ones and creating new more inclusive games. This isn’t something to be afraid of but something to celebrate.

Let’s enter the future together.

Access To Education And Information

I was watching an anime called Food Wars this weekend, the second season just released on Netflix, and a scene in one of the episodes prompted me to start thinking about education/information and how our access to it is often based on class lines and sometime just sheer luck.

The scene involved the main character working in a kitchen that produced French cuisine, something he had little experience with growing up but a skill set he was expected to know before going to the super elite cooking school he’s attending that placed him there. The show never acknowledges it, but even if it was unintentional, the character was setup to fail and only makes it through because of his ability and willingness to work hard.

Most others would fail in this situation.

It’s something that happens all the time in the real world and as often as not is ignored or explained away as a lack of character. Person X failed because they “didn’t want it enough” or “their just not bright enough” and so on.

Statements and attitudes like this ignore that access to information or education, especially early in life, shapes a lot of who we are and how we interact with the world and is broken down along class and racial lines.

To give an example using myself, I was educated in multiple different public schools because my family moved a lot, so my education was interrupted on a regular basis and I had to adjust to a new school environment. In addition to this, my family is split between tobacco farmers and Newfoundlanders, both backgrounds that most people would equate with redneck stereotypes.

This means I wasn’t exposed to a lot of what’s considered high-brow as a child, including classical music or literature. I never went to a school that offered anything other than the basics, couldn’t afford tutors, and was never really assessed on what my strengths were.

I wasn’t underserved by my education but it could be said I lacked access to a lot of educational opportunities. Also, my education never really identified my strengths and encouraged them, giving me opportunities to really dig deep into my interests and learn more about them.

I wish I could say I was an isolated case but we know I wasn’t. Anyone who doesn’t possess the wealth to afford it lacks an education in anything other than what’s required to work in a job for the majority of your life before retiring and then being able to pursue any lingering interests you may have that weren’t beaten out of you by life by then.

I also wish I had an easy answer to give on how we can fix this but this isn’t a simple issue. Access to better educational materials is a start, but kids need to be encouraged and exposed to a lot more when they’re young and not just expected to magically discover their interests. And when they discover something that interests them they need to be encouraged, even if what they’re interested in doesn’t have direct economic relevance.

Education needs to be more than just preparing us for the workforce, and for the wealthy or those we the right access it often is. I can think of multiple people I know who were afforded opportunities I would have never had due to their background.

Money isn’t always the determining factor. A lot of times where you live affects you opportunities. Living in rural areas often puts students at a disadvantage even today as broadband penetration into rural areas, and therefore access the information, is often poor. How can we expect country kids to keep up if they don’t have access to information? How can we expect them to understand the issues faced by a lot of the world if they only get a dribble of what’s actually happening.

All of this is just what I’ve been ruminating about after watching that one scene. I do hope we do start to upgrade our educational systems and improve rural broadband access, but unfortunately I doubt there’s the will to do so on either side of the political divide.

Therapy

My post last week about anger got me thinking about therapy, how it’s used and how it’s portrayed/memed about. What I think about it might come across as shocking.

Therapy isn’t the answer to everything.

Put down the torches and pitchforks for a moment and hear me out. I’m not saying therapy is useless or that it should be avoided, just that we should stop seeing it as the be all end all for mental health.

For some people it’s near to useless as their brain chemistry is wonky and all the coping mechanisms in the world won’t help much but little bit of pharmacology will. Telling people suffering from chemical imbalances that all they need is therapy could influence them away from seeking the medical care they actually need and delay their improvement drastically, and unfortunately not all therapists are able to pick up on the signs their patients might need medication.

Additionally, neurodiverse people exist and therapy won’t change them. At best it could give them coping mechanisms to deal with how society treats them, but until we actually change our society to remove the barriers for neurodiverse and disabled people, therapy is at best a band-aid solution.

This brings up another common meme I see about “men need to get into therapy to deal with their issues”. Okay, I know this sentiment is coming from a place of hurt from a lot on non-men people but for the love of whatever gods you pray to stop saying this.

Therapy would help some men but only those who are ready for it, and it ignores that a lot of the issues men face are systemic rather than individual. You can mandate therapy for boys all you want but it won’t stop the flood of patriarchal images they absorb on a daily basis. Therapy places the onus on the individual rather than the system in place.

Additionally, and this is anecdotal I admit, but I’ve met men who were in therapy and to be honest they were still deeply flawed individuals who were capable of great cruelty and betrayal. Therapy didn’t “fix” them and in one case he knew exactly what he needed to do and what to say to his therapist but never actually applied those lessons and used charm to get away with whatever he wanted and pouted when called out on his bullshit.

No, therapy isn’t always the answer it’s often portrayed as. It can be a useful tool and an aid in becoming our best self but it isn’t a panacea that can fix all of society’s problems. True change, structural change, can only come about when we combine the journey to becoming our best self with an effort to aid our communities. This can take many different forms and there’s a bountiful number of ways we can improve not just ourselves but the world around us, some small and some large, but all of them part of creating a better life for everyone.

With or without therapy I ask you to do what you need to heal yourself and the people around you. It’s on us to shape this world into something fairer and happier.

Anger

CW: This post is a discussion about anger and may contain some triggering subjects

Anger, and how men deal with it, has been on my mind today and I’m writing this post in an effort to understand why and hopefully share something others might find useful in understanding their own emotions.

From my perspective it often feels like anger is viewed in a binary manner. Either it’s the defining trait of masculinity, real men are angry men, or it’s a cancerous emotion to be avoided at all times, a bugbear of immense proportions. Showing anger, depending upon who you are, will either garnish you praise or condemnation.

This is bullshit.

I’m exhausted of the moral judgement around emotions, especially men’s emotions as it seems we can never win. One side expects us to be stoics who only ever express rage while the other expects us to never be angrier than a wet mouse. In both cases we’re judged if we don’t perform our emotions in what’s considered a socially appropriate manner or for even having those emotions in the first place.

It’s especially frustrating to have your emotions questioned, to have people seemingly say to you that you don’t have the right to be angry or upset, or that you need to do something to get over them rather than help you with dealing with your emotions.

To give an example from my own life, a little under three years ago my last romantic relationship ended after my ex broke up with me. Naturally I was angry and hurt and sad and all the other emotions you’d expect mixed together and rightfully so. I had and still have every right to feel what I feel about what happened.

What I don’t have and will never have is the right to lash out at others for what I feel, and it felt like everything I felt was being judged with the expectation I would lash out, whether verbally or physically. It felt like some of my “friends” expected me to actually assault my ex in some desperate attempt to get her back.

I’d say that was a ludicrous notion if it didn’t seem to happen everyday to women around the world. This is where we’re failing not just women but men as well when it comes to dealing with emotions.

When I broke up with my ex it was the women in my life who offered me their emotional labour in dealing with what I was feeling while the men, with one notable exception, did their best to brush it off and one told me to go have sex with someone else to get over her and then did his best to avoid me at all costs.

This is where, my fellow men, we are failing ourselves in dealing with anger and other emotions. We hide from them, deny them, try and lose ourselves in sensation to forget about them and never deal with them or find clarity in helping others. This suppression leads to those emotions gaining strength and leaking out at inopportune times and finding violent ways of expressing themselves.

It’s why, with good reason, a lot of women are afraid when a man appears angry. They expect an imminent assault, no matter the reason for the anger, and for a lot of men that’s the only outlet they know, the only one they’ve been told is acceptable under masculinity.

That’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it, that we can only have physical violence as the only way of truly expressing anger and all other ways of expressing it are only methods of play-acting until we start swinging.

I hope it comes as no surprise but I’ve done my best to learn how to reject this. Now don’t get me wrong, physical effort is a great way of dealing with emotions but there’s a marked difference between hitting a punching bag and someone’s face. Violence against another should only ever be employed in service of a greater cause, such as protecting the weak, and never in an effort to make yourself feel better.

So how did I deal with my anger over the breakup? Two ways. First, I used it as fuel for my workouts. Instead of it ruling me I harnessed it as well as I could and used it for positive ends. Second, I examined it. Instead of denying or suppressing it I asked myself why I was angry, what was the source, and discovered it wasn’t my ex I was angry with for breaking up with me but the loss of what our relationship had come to mean to me and the potential I saw for the future.

It’s the second part that’s the hardest for a lot of us. It’s easier to deny or deflect our feelings rather than putting in the effort to examine them because it’s painful and who wants that kind of pain?

I hope we can come to a point as a society that we can recognize and deal with our anger more constructively and help each other rather than recoil in fear when someone expresses it genuinely. Our emotional health would be so much better if we could.

Writing Doesn’t Need To Be Inaccessible To Be Good

It seems this debate arises regularly amongst writers when we start talking about what makes writing “good”. I put “good” in quotes because there’s so many subjective factors involved when judging the quality of a piece of writing but one thing should be absolutely clear.Your writing doesn’t need to be inaccessible to be good.

I’m not saying the opposite though, that making a work inaccessible makes it automatically bad. No, what I’m talking about is the notion that writing something the requires the reader have arcane knowledge on a subject that would require at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject doesn’t mean you’ve produced great art.

To assume so make you a pretentious twit and there are already plenty of those amongst writers already.

It’s the reason why genre fiction is often labelled as “lesser” writing by most of academia as a lot of it is accessible. I should know, I managed to get through a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature. Thankfully that and all my schooling prior didn’t kill my love of reading, especially my love of science fiction and fantasy.

Of course, just because a piece is genre fiction doesn’t mean it’s automatically accessible, and the age and quality of the work has little to do with this. I just tried to read a recently published book that switched perspectives, used second person, and reworked events of the previous book in the series that I found it rather inaccessible myself. It’s a good book I’m know from the friends who are raving about it. I appreciate their taste and know they wouldn’t hype a terrible novel, but I just ran headlong into a wall trying to read it. (I’m not saying the book or author as I don’t want to bring any ire down on them.)

An older example would be HP Lovecraft. I’ve slogged my way through one or two of his stories, and as much as I love the idea of the Cthulhu mythos I think his writing is execrable and don’t understand why anyone could like it, never mind the blatant racism. If you love Lovecraft’s work all the power to you but don’t try and hold it up as an example of a breezy read.

(As a side note, this is one of the reasons why I think the concept of “canon” is flawed. A lot of what could be considered foundational works, especially in SF&F, are inaccessible to a modern audience for various reasons. Read what you love and draw inspiration from that.)

Does this mean all works of fiction need to be accessible to be good? Of course not! First of all, it’s not on me or anyone else to dictate what another artist creates or how they create it. We can be critical of a work for any number of reasons but criticism should be about understanding something, not about dragging the creator over the proverbial coals. In the era of “hot takes” this is something to remember.

Additionally, it’s possible for writing to possess various levels of accessibility. A great piece is one that as you gain more knowledge you find more and more hidden within as you re-read it over the years. Your understanding of the text grows with you.

Reading can be one of the greatest pleasures life affords us. We can be taken on a journey to another land, see things from different perspectives, escape from pain or distress. Never feel shame about reading accessible books, however they categorized (Young Adult and Graphic Novels being two prime examples).

Find what you love and read.

Your writing doesn’t need to be inaccessible to be good.

I’m not saying the opposite though, the making a work inaccessible makes it automatically bad. No, what I’m talking about is the notion that writing something the requires the reader have arcane knowledge on a subject that would require at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject doesn’t mean you’ve produced great art.

To assume so make you a pretentious twit and there are already plenty of those amongst writers already.

It’s the reason why genre fiction is often labelled as “lesser” writing by most of academia as a lot of it is accessible. I should know, I managed to get through a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature. Thankfully that and all my schooling prior didn’t kill my love of reading, especially my love of science fiction and fantasy.

Of course, just because a piece is genre fiction doesn’t mean it’s automatically accessible, and the age and quality of the work has little to do with this. I just tried to read a recently published book that switched perspectives, used second person, and reworked events of the previous book in the series that I found it rather inaccessible myself. It’s a good book I’m know from the friends who are raving about it. I appreciate their taste and know they wouldn’t hype a terrible novel, but I just ran headlong into a wall trying to read it. (I’m not saying the book or author as I don’t want to bring any ire down on them.)

An older example would be HP Lovecraft. I’ve slogged my way through one or two of his stories, and as much as I love the idea of the Cthulhu mythos I think his writing is execrable and don’t understand why anyone could like it, never mind the blatant racism. If you love Lovecraft’s work all the power to you but don’t try and hold it up as an example of a breezy read.

(As a side note, this is one of the reasons why I think the concept of “canon” is flawed. A lot of what could be considered foundational works, especially in SF&F, are inaccessible to a modern audience for various reasons. Read what you love and draw inspiration from that.)

Does this mean all works of fiction need to be accessible to be good? Of course not! First of all, it’s not on me or anyone else to dictate what another artist creates or how they create it. We can be critical of a work for any number of reasons but criticism should be about understanding something, not about dragging the creator over the proverbial coals. In the era of “hot takes” this is something to remember.

Additionally, it’s possible for writing to possess various levels of accessibility. A great piece is one that as you gain more knowledge you find more and more hidden within as you re-read it over the years. Your understanding of the text grows with you.

Reading can be one of the greatest pleasures life affords us. We can be taken on a journey to another land, see things from different perspectives, escape from pain or distress. Never feel shame about reading accessible books, however they categorized (Young Adult and Graphic Novels being two prime examples).

Find what you love and read.

It seems this debate arises regularly amongst writers when we start talking about what makes writing “good”. I put “good” in quotes because there’s so many subjective factors involved when judging the quality of a piece of writing but one thing should be absolutely clear.

Your writing doesn’t need to be inaccessible to be good.

I’m not saying the opposite though, the making a work inaccessible makes it automatically bad. No, what I’m talking about is the notion that writing something the requires the reader have arcane knowledge on a subject that would require at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject doesn’t mean you’ve produced great art.

To assume so make you a pretentious twit and there are already plenty of those amongst writers already.

It’s the reason why genre fiction is often labelled as “lesser” writing by most of academia as a lot of it is accessible. I should know, I managed to get through a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature. Thankfully that and all my schooling prior didn’t kill my love of reading, especially my love of science fiction and fantasy.

Of course, just because a piece is genre fiction doesn’t mean it’s automatically accessible, and the age and quality of the work has little to do with this. I just tried to read a recently published book that switched perspectives, used second person, and reworked events of the previous book in the series that I found it rather inaccessible myself. It’s a good book I’m know from the friends who are raving about it. I appreciate their taste and know they wouldn’t hype a terrible novel, but I just ran headlong into a wall trying to read it. (I’m not saying the book or author as I don’t want to bring any ire down on them.)

An older example would be HP Lovecraft. I’ve slogged my way through one or two of his stories, and as much as I love the idea of the Cthulhu mythos I think his writing is execrable and don’t understand why anyone could like it, never mind the blatant racism. If you love Lovecraft’s work all the power to you but don’t try and hold it up as an example of a breezy read.

(As a side note, this is one of the reasons why I think the concept of “canon” is flawed. A lot of what could be considered foundational works, especially in SF&F, are inaccessible to a modern audience for various reasons. Read what you love and draw inspiration from that.)

Does this mean all works of fiction need to be accessible to be good? Of course not! First of all, it’s not on me or anyone else to dictate what another artist creates or how they create it. We can be critical of a work for any number of reasons but criticism should be about understanding something, not about dragging the creator over the proverbial coals. In the era of “hot takes” this is something to remember.

Additionally, it’s possible for writing to possess various levels of accessibility. A great piece is one that as you gain more knowledge you find more and more hidden within as you re-read it over the years. Your understanding of the text grows with you.

Reading can be one of the greatest pleasures life affords us. We can be taken on a journey to another land, see things from different perspectives, escape from pain or distress. Never feel shame about reading accessible books, however they categorized (Young Adult and Graphic Novels being two prime examples).

Find what you love and read.

Appreciation Vs. Appropriation

I was speaking with a friend recently about our shared love of Avatar: The Last Airbender and we ended up on the topic of cosplay and cultural appropriation. After our conversation I couldn’t help think about the differences between appreciating another culture and appropriating it and how it affects creatives of all strips.

First of all, let’s define cultural appropriation for the purpose of this discussion. It’s dependent upon two factors; first, a dominant culture must be taking from a disadvantaged culture, and second, the person appropriating must be doing so for what we’d consider surface level motives, whether greed or simple aesthetic pleasures, and not promoting any creators of that culture as part of their efforts.

A prime example is anyone who makes or wears indigenous headdresses who is not part of an indigenous culture or invited to participate in said culture’s practices. See the numerous white girls at Cochella for an example.

The important part to note is that this is for people who haven’t been invited to participate in said cultural practices. If you’re invited to participate or if the practice is widely shared by that culture, then it isn’t appropriation it’s appreciation.

A good example of this is kendo, a sport based on Japanese sword-fighting. It’s practiced the world over and participants come from all walks of life to beat each other with bamboo staves in the name of peace and harmony. The sport retains its Japanese influence no matter where’s it’s practiced but it’s something shared rather than something taken.

And that’s the key element. Appreciation is about sharing something amazing about another culture while appropriation is about extracting value from another culture, much like mining it for oil. It’s about power differentials and cultural colonialism and, ultimately, about respecting others.

Of course there can be a thin line between appreciation and appropriation.

As creative people part of the dominant culture we need to ask ourselves who will be affected and how will they be affected when we include elements from outside our own culture, especially if it’s from a disadvantaged group.

Are we relying on discredited or harmful stereotypes when drawing from another culture? Are we showing a balanced perspective? Is there a similar aspect in our own culture we can draw upon instead before we go prospecting in other cultures’ backyards?

These questions are especially important when dealing with religious aspects of other cultures. One person’s mythology is another person’s religion. Using sacred imagery from another culture should be verboten. It can be inspiration for your own creation, to spur you into creating something new, but copying wholesale from a tradition you don’t practice is reprehensible.

I should note this isn’t me saying you can never include elements from other cultures in your creations or that you’re only locked into expressing yourself through shared cultural elements. Nor should we expect own voices creators to only present what we consider an “authentic” representation of their culture but let them voice whatever is their reality.

Infusions from and mingling with other cultures is one of the great things about our interconnected world and we should do our best to appreciate and promote what we find fascinating in this amazing world we live in. What we shouldn’t do is take without giving.

Promote own voices creators when you can. Create characters from all different cultures but don’t presume to speak on any one culture’s behalf. Avoid stereotypes and remember that while our culture affects us it isn’t the only thing that crafts who we are.

Appreciate, don’t appropriate.

Hunger And The Universality Of The Fat Experience

I read Hunger by Roxane Gay in a day, couldn’t put it down. I rarely read memoirs because most of the people who write them have absolutely nothing in common with me and no emotional impact on my life.

Hunger left me crying.

I should clarify. It didn’t leave me crying by what Dr. Gay endured, even though anyone with basic empathy would be emotional after reading Hunger. No, it left me crying because I know what it feels like to endure a lot of what she went through and experiences to this day.

Man or woman, it’s hard being fat in this world. There’s a universality to what fat people experience that persons closer to “ideal” body types don’t understand, could never understand.

And when I say fat I’m talking about people the rest of the world would consider obese.

I was always the fat kid. Being born disabled with mobility issues I started off at a disadvantage and it only got worse. I spent much of my youth, from birth to at least nine years old, in corrective casts in an effort to get my feet to grow right, and even then they don’t work quite right making walking or standing for long periods extremely painful. Combine that with a genetic predisposition to be a larger than average and growing up with less than stellar nutritional examples, I was doomed to be the fat kid.

Since I was never allowed to be disabled it was always assumed my weight was because I lacked willpower or that I was lazy. Never mind that living with a disabled body drains a lot of your energy, even the boundless energy of a child, or that not taking into account my disability led to me doing too much, getting tired and/or hurt, and therefore discouraged from being active.

On top of this, once you’re fat the whole world notices and decides it’s their responsibility to make sure you know. I’ve had insults shouted at me from cars, been looked at with revulsion, and made to wish I was invisible. I’ve had friends and family tell me I just need to lose X amount of weight and I’ll look good, and endured the ordeal that was shopping for clothing while still expanding like the Roman Empire.

Add in depression and anxiety and you have a perfect cocktail for misery.

My trauma is different than Dr. Gray’s (seriously, go read Hunger) but we both ended up in the same place. As I read Hunger I kept seeing bits of my experience flashing before my eyes.

No matter your race or culture, fat is fat, and I wish more people understood.

Go read Hunger and maybe you might.

Why I Love Libraries

When I got my library card, that’s when my life began – Rita Mae Brown

Before writing this I searched for quotes about libraries and the one I’ve quoted above spoke to me the most. I can’t imagine what my life, what everyone I know lives, would have been like without libraries.

A few things need to be understood. Growing up, while my family was never poor we were never rich either. Both my parents worked as soon as my sister was old enough and neither of them came from much wealth. I’m only a generation removed from working on a tobacco farm and only because my father managed to get to college and find work in a bank.

Because of my father’s work we moved around a lot. Between that and my family’s finances I didn’t own a lot of books growing up. Most of the books I own I’ve bought in the last decade when I finally landed a job that could support my bibliophile ways.

Libraries made sure I never lacked for reading material growing up.

I was the kid who checked out stacks of books every couple weeks and returned hungry for more. I was a voracious reader growing up, devouring anything I could get my hands on. The various libraries I visited growing up introduced me to Asmiov and Tolkein, and so many other authors.

Family trips stuck in the back of the car with my annoying sister were made tolerable by the numerous thick sci-fi and fantasy books I dragged along. I was even forbidden comic books because I read them too quickly.

Don’t worry, I’ve corrected that oversight now that I’m older, but my buying habits remain the same in that I’ll buy trade paperbacks rather than individual issues. I love seeing the full arc of a comic rather than getting it in dribs and drabs.

Without libraries I wouldn’t be in the position I am now to buy and support authors and friends. Without libraries hundreds if not thousands of dollars would have been spent on Nascar and nachos instead of books. Without libraries then bookstores and Amazon would be that much poorer (okay, probably not Amazon but I’m engaging in hyperbole here so just run with it).

Libraries will always have a special place in my heart, and I will fight you if you try and close them.