Result!

It took me all day but I wrote 376 words which did not entirely suck.

Given that I haven’t been able to manage fiction at all for months, I am calling this a victory.

Also my motley lot of survivors have a completely reasonable reason for surviving the Mysterious Disappearance.

They’re all in prison.

As prisoners.

Or guards.

They’re all locked in together behind the sturdiest doors on the whole station.

Yes.

I like it.

Victory.

Advertisements

Motherhood = Pain

My friend Miranda has told me that I am the greatest example of maternal fortitude she has ever seen, because once she walked in to see me sleeping on the couch with my two-year-old lying on top of me, repeatedly kicking me in the head, and I refused to wake up.

Well, yeah. I needed that nap. I wasn’t getting up for anything.

It’s something they don’t mention to prospective mothers much, if at all. You get warnings and lots of jovial comments about ‘oh, you’re going to be so tired!’ because sleep deprivation isn’t a form of torture or anything. You get plenty of warnings about labour, like, way more warnings than you ever wanted because no new mother needs to know exactly how many things can go hideously wrong, she’s freaked out enough. Tantrums, baby illnesses, yep, all covered.

You know what nobody ever, ever mentioned to me?

You spend the first few years of your child’s life with them beating you up.

Seriously. First with the babies it’s eye-gouging, hair-yanking and getting that soft little skull slammed into your face repeatedly. (It’s not that soft. Really.) Then they get bigger and learn to punch and kick and flail and bite and all sorts of super fun stuff that you can’t stop them from doing no matter how much you say ‘no’ because they’re toddlers and they have no impulse control and will hit you without thinking it through.

I’ve been kicked and smacked in the face, the teeth, the boob, the stomach, and all sorts of other places. She’s bludgeoned my husband’s testicles so often that we’re starting to wonder if she’s trying to say she doesn’t want a baby sister. And while it’s been on purpose a few times, much more often it’s just a by-product of Random Angry Flailing or attempts to get my attention by someone who doesn’t yet understand the difference between a gentle poke and a ringing slap.

So two things –

One: If you are writing a small child, like two to four, and you’ve never had to handle one? They’re not as helpless as you think. They wriggle like eels, kick like tiny mules, scream like air-raid sirens and are almost as accomplished as cats at escape-artistry. If you want to hold onto a toddler who’s really fighting hard, you want to wrap them in a blanket or put them in a bag or something because suddenly they’ll have eight limbs and no spine and… well, take a very large cat and try to stuff it into a pillow-case. Like that, but with fewer claws and a much stronger punch. And it hurts when they hit you – remember, they’re much stronger for their size than you are!

Two: If you ever wonder why mothers take so much crap from their kids, remember this. I have taken more physical abuse from my daughter in nearly three years than I did during the entirety of a bullying-heavy school experience, and I still adore her and would do anything for her. I suspect some kind of evolutionary fail-safe is involved to the tune of ‘offspring = love, do not murder’ that completely overrides any sense of self-preservation, and I have no reason to believe that it’s going to shut off when she becomes a sullen teenager. Mothers get pretty inured to this stuff is my point, I guess. It’s not any kind of impulse to martyrdom, it really does stop bothering you after a while. So any mother of one or more children (assuming she’s been caring for them herself, not passing them off to a nanny or something) probably isn’t going to collapse sobbing if she gets hit because OMG physical violence is so completely outside her experience.

It’s not. It’s really, really, really not. She can of course collapse sobbing because she got hit really hard in the stomach or because she is being attacked by a scary person or whatever, there are a ton of valid reasons, but she is not a fragile flower who’s never been struck before. So be aware of that.

 

I Would Make A Terrible Fictional Character

I have hurt myself again. I’m not really sure how – I was just walking along and there was stabbing pain in my ankle again. Hypermobility means that this happens, and I’m mostly used to it.

But it got me thinking, because I narrativize my reality fairly frequently, about how completely unrealistic my life is sometimes, when you define ‘realistic’ as ‘standard’.  I’ve always had a great sympathy for Sailor Moon – her detractors complain about how her klutziness is supposed to be ‘cute’ and isn’t, and it’s always bothered me. When I was younger I loved seeing a character – a heroine, even! – who was just as apocalyptically clumsy as me, and couldn’t walk down a street without falling flat on her face.  And Usagi isn’t just clumsy – she’s gawky and awkward sometimes, has trouble figuring out how to behave like a grownup even as she wants more and more to be one, cries when she’s scared and generally acts like a completely genuine fourteen-year-old girl. I loved her for that, and always will.

I’m relatively fortunate in my search for role-models. I am a white, English-speaking cis-gendered woman, and I have plenty of them to choose from. I’m aware that that makes me relatively lucky, in that I’m actually permitted to exist in popular media. But if I was a fictional character, unless my hypermobility was the subject of a Very Special Episode in which everyone is instructed about my obscure illness via a carefully tailored scenario – maybe by House – I wouldn’t be very plausible. I have trouble convincing people the problem exists even when they can actually talk to me. Add severe anxiety issues and the unrealistically poor memory to the mix, and I’m really quite poorly thought out as a character.

Now I envy the characters in fourth-wall-breaking comics like Real Life, who can complain to their creator about their poor characterization or their story’s internal logic, because I definitely think my narrative could be improved.

Realism in writing isn’t the same thing as ‘like reality’. Reality is all too often dull, repetitive, and sometimes wildly implausible. When I see a novel or a movie lauded for being ‘raw’ and ‘real’, I will automatically pass on it because ‘real’ usually means ‘full of unpleasant people doing stupid things and being just appallingly dull and self-pitying’. A story should be held to a higher standard of narrative plausibility than reality, because reality has no quality control at all, whereas a story should have an editor or a producer or someone whose job it is to say ‘wait, that just makes no sense at all’.

Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try to be realistic in writing – realistic characters are the best kind. But consider the suffix. Realistic doesn’t mean real. Wiktionary defines the suffix ‘ic’ as ‘of or pertaining to’. (It kind of startled me that Google had so many suggestions for a search of ‘the suffix ‘ic”, indicating that an awful lot of people had wondered about this) So realistic writing should be ‘of or pertaining to’ that which is real, but not necessarily real real. Reality doesn’t need to make sense, to be logically consistent and plausible. Fiction does. Which is odd, when you think about it, but there it is.

If anyone else has looked at their life or events therein and thought ‘wow, my narrative is really pretty sub-par, I could come up with something way better than this’, I would love to hear about it. Answers guaranteed!

 

Rainy Days and Rereading

This post is late, and I apologize. It’s rainy today, and entertaining a hyperactive toddler who’s cooped up in a small house takes a lot of energy. My love for Playschool is being seriously strained, as is my capacity for imitating the dance-moves on Yo Gabba Gabba.

It’s a shame, because it’s a perfect day for curling up on the couch with a cup of tea and a book, preferably an old favourite. Something you know is going to be good, with no nasty surprises and the comfort of revisiting old friends. It’s the kind of day that cries out for a cosy reading-nook and a teapot with a cosy.

I have neither, but I am rereading an old favourite. Having just acquired the latest Harry Dresden, I’ve been warming up by reading over the whole series. I’m reading ‘Ghost Story’ now, and my heartstrings are being extensively wrung. I like it, though. I love the characters, and I’m glad to see them again. Jim Butcher is one of the authors I can read over and over again – his continuity isn’t always perfect, but I love his prose, his snarky dialogue, and his characters.

My ultimate re-read author is Jane Austen. Her elegant prose is a joy to read every time, and I love the characters – even Fanny Price, who many readers loathe. But I’m shy and anxious myself, so that helps me identify with her. There are some I just want to slap – I am looking at you, Miss Crawford – but most of her characters I am delighted to meet again.

Jules Verne is very hit or miss for me. I reread ‘Around The World In Eighty Days’ over and over again, but spent most of ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ wanting to smack Harry across the ear until he stopped freaking whining. I couldn’t even finish ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ because it’s just page after page after page of fish and I just got so bored. How can being kidnapped aboard a giant steampunky submarine be so dull?

Among more modern works, I can always reread Patricia Briggs’ ‘Mercy Thompson’ series – most of Briggs’ work is, for me, eminently rereadable. Tamora Pierce is even more so – her ‘In The Hand of the Goddess‘ was the first fantasy novel I read with a heroine instead of a hero, when I was very young, and I have adored her work ever since. The Tortall series’ and the Circle books I will happily read over and over, even though I’m much older now than most of her protagonists.

What books can you guys read and reread? What favourites do you keep coming back to on rainy days?

Animated Ladies: Sleeping Beauty

Or: Why I Love Merryweather.

Merryweather argues... as usual.

Merryweather argues… as usual.

Sleeping Beauty is another story that, while on the surface appearing to be a typical if Disneyfied fairy-tale, is completely motivated by female characters. Aurora is the Victim, and a fairly standard one – pretty, sweet, and ultimately helpless. Maleficent is of course the Villain… but the Hero isn’t Prince Phillip, who’s likeable but helpless in the face of of Maleficent’s magic. Phillip is a stooge for the real Heroes of this story – the Three Good Fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. They deflect Maleficent, hide the princess, rescue the prince and pretty much carry him to the final battle, arming him with magic and all but drawing a target on Maleficent for him. If a Hero is defined not as ‘the principal male character’ but as ‘the principal active or motivating character’, as generally I think they should be, it’s definitely the Good Fairies in that role here.

If it weren’t for one thing, I’d suspect the Good Fairies of having some kind of master plan. The movie opens with them unable to move directly against Maleficent, but by the end Maleficent is dead and their twinkly little hands are technically clean. Given that they’re the ones who set up the amelioration of the initial curse, then are also the ones who put Aurora within reach just in time for Maleficent to enact it, then set Phillip on Maleficent with all the force of their magic behind him, it could be a clever plot.

Except for the fact that Flora and Fauna are as thick as bricks.

And they are. There are exactly two moderately bright people in the whole damn movie. Maleficent, who has terrible taste in minions but takes sensible precautions like locking up the True Love, and is only foiled because King Hubert lets something slip in Flora’s hearing. Maleficent knows the fairies are idiots, and couldn’t have expected them to react so effectively or so fast.

The other one, of course, is Merryweather. The youngest (her hair is still black, not grey like the others) and the most confrontational, she’s the only one with a grip on common sense. When Flora suggests sneaking off and raising the baby themselves, Merryweather’s response is a practical query as to who’ll do the housework. Flora assures her ‘Oh, we’ll all pitch in’, but Merryweather’s expression indicates that she isn’t fooled. Flora is the boss. Fauna just wants to take care of the baby. And who’s going to be doing everything else? Junior Fairy Peasant Woman Merryweather, that’s who. She’s also the one who wants to confront Maleficent directly, which the others won’t do because of the Good Fairy Rules.

Much later, when Aurora is turning sixteen, Flora and Fauna decide to make her a pretty dress and a fancy birthday cake respectively. Merryweather’s response to Flora? “But you don’t know how to sew! And she’s never cooked!” Yep, Merryweather’s been doing the grunt work for the last sixteen years all right. She drags the other two down to earth, insists on using magic to do something that Aurora/Rose will actually like, and is graciously allowed to clean the house with magic for a change. Okay, yes, it’s her squabble with Flora that tips Maleficent off, but she’s still far and away the brightest of the fairies.

She’s also the stoutest, which I love. Instead of being the ‘pretty’ one, the youngest fairy is a short, round, sassy little badass who takes Maleficent’s crow down with one zap and is clearly going to Get Shit Done as soon as she’s the Senior Fairy. She’s one of the only examples I can think of of a fat female badass in animation – the only other one leaping to mind is Ma Dola, the feisty pirate captain in ‘Laputa: Castle In The Sky’, though my memory is lousy and there are probably more.

There is a Maleficent movie coming out, which I’m looking forward to. But I’m sad that there’ll probably never be a Merryweather movie, in which a stout, confrontational little fairy kicks some fairytale butt. It’d be great.

Animated Ladies – The Rescuers

There are never enough female characters. This will remain true until ‘the hero, the grumpy one, the fat/big/dumb one, the cute kid and the girl’ is no longer a standard team lineup.This is a convention that drives me absolutely bananas, all the more so because I have once or twice caught myself doing it because I’ve actually internalized this crap. Women should not be only a token presence, despite the increasingly strict narrative conventions that bias towards males – so today’s post is about a movie that is an exception to that stupid rule.

I’ve been watching a lot, and I mean a lot of animation since I had a kid, even more than I did before, and I would like to shout out to the original ‘The Rescuers’, which passed the Bechdel test long before the Bechdel test was cool… or even invented. Spoilers ahead!

Of the four primary characters, three are female. And they never, ever talk about men. The plot goes like so – the primary villain, Madam Medusa, has a passionate, desperate desire for the fabled Devil’s Eye diamond. In order to obtain this thing, she has kidnapped sweet little Penny from Morningside Orphanage. The other two primaries, Miss Bianca and Bernard, get wind of this and on behalf of the Rescue Aid Society of mice (they are mice), go to the rescue.

So let’s start with Penny, who we see first. She’s a little girl in a very scary situation, something which isn’t really downplayed much. She’s been kidnapped, she doesn’t know where she is, and these people who use alligators as guard-dogs have not only held her for three months, but keep putting her down a scary dark hole in the ground where water comes in and might drown her. But Penny fights, to the best of her limited capacity. She tries repeatedly to escape, she puts messages in bottles and throws them out of the boat where she’s being held, she yells at Nero and Brutus (the alligators) when they catch her and gives the dopey sidekick Mr Snoops as good as she gets. Penny is The Victim, but she doesn’t passively wait to be rescued – she does her best to escape while going along with her captors as much as she needs to to keep them from hurting her. She’s smart, and she’s doing pretty damn well for a kid of 6-8.

Miss Bianca is the Hero of the piece, not Bernard. Bernard is unmistakeably second banana from the get-go. Yes, Miss Bianca suffers from some negative stereotyping (fussing about wrinkling her dress, making them late because she has to pack a few things, etc), and Bernard gets to save her from peril once or twice, but nevertheless she is unmistakeably the one in charge. Bernard does what she tells him, both because he has the world’s biggest crush on her and because he really doesn’t know what he’s doing. You see, when the Rescue Aid Society intercepts one of Penny’s letters-in-a-bottle, they agree that someone should be sent to investigate. Miss Bianca, the Hungarian representative, promptly volunteers. The chairman waffles about changing times and danger and goddamn women’s liberation okay fine you can go but you have to take a MAN with you. Then he calls for volunteers from the male representatives, trying to put Miss Bianca and the mission safely into male paws. Miss Bianca is not having his shit, though, and says sweetly that they’re all so kind, but if she has to take a guy she thinks she’ll take Bernard – the cute but doofy mouse janitor who just fell into the bottle and got stuck. The Chairman splutters, but she gets her way, and control of the mission. She gives the orders after that.

Madam Medusa, the Villain, is presented as a sleazy trollop – bad makeup, sagging figure in a skimpy dress, and so on, and that I don’t care for. But she is unmistakeably The Villain, with a pathetically incompetent male sidekick, Mr Snoops. She runs her own business, has her own evil plans and goals, and never shows the slightest interest in men. She’s the one who trained the alligators, who frighten Mr Snoops, and she drinks, drives recklessly, and waves a shotgun with abandon. She’s clever until she loses her temper, and if she isn’t quite as badass as she thinks she is, she’s not doing half bad as a credible villain. (Okay, she’s no Ursula, but she’s pretty good!)

Oddly enough, Miss Bianca and Madam Medusa, the Hero and Villain, never interact directly beyond Medusa freaking out about mice being in the house and waving her shotgun around. But they both talk to Penny, not once but multiple times, and (aside possibly from references to the pirate’s skull) never discuss men AT ALL. Bianca, Medusa, and Penny provide the entirety of the plot’s motivation, almost all of its smarts, and most of the romance – though Bernard crushes on Bianca, she’s the one who makes the move.

It’s silly and cheesy and still problematic in spots, but give The Rescuers credit – it had strong female characters before Strong Female Characters were required, and it’s a fun watch.

However, watch with care – the Rescue Aid Society song is one of the most potent earworms I have ever encountered. I actually woke up humming the damn thing.