Monday, September 1, 2014

Blorpy The Spudlet

I'm just about 11 weeks pregnant now and my last blog post, sometime in July, with a series of random thoughts, had one that simply said "Sometimes I feel guilty for not having kids". I find it obviously ironic since, when I wrote it, I was unknowingly pregnant. At the time I was pretty sure kids were not going to happen to us for a variety of reasons. So, you know, happy surprises.

Being pregnant is definitely weird. I'm not showing yet or anything, but I can feel a lot of changes. I'm tired a lot and nauseous pretty much all day (all normal, but still). Heartburn, which I've never had before, had been an experience. Oh, and gas. Lots and lots of gas. Those parts are not a lot of fun, although I'm happy otherwise. Naps help a lot. Crackers and tea have become my favorite things.

My doc had me go off of my anxiety medication cold turkey, which I do NOT recommend. My meds are actually considered "safe" during pregnancy, and then you taper off in the last trimester. But German docs are not super fond of brain drugs. I get it, but I would rather have been able to ease off. And the promise of acupuncture in the last trimester? Not really doing anything for all the sickness feelings now. It was also probably the first real example of people deciding things for you because you're pregnant. I'm sure it won't be the last.

Body-wise, I won't lie. Being pregnant is hard when you have BDD. And I haven't even started the major body changes yet. I haven't been having an issue with eating, except for the nausea making it so I have to eat less but more often. The result so far is a happy fetus that's progressing perfectly, swimming around and growing parts.

I don't feel like glossing over the difficult parts of all this. Women in general are expected to never complain, I think pregnant women get this pressure 1000x more. You're expected to be in bliss land, loving every second of the experience. And for some women it's like that and to them I say: thppppt. Well, not really. Mostly I say: you are SO lucky! For the rest, parts of this process are difficult and we don't feel that great.

Admitting that being pregnant isn't a thrill a minute doesn't mean you want it any less or aren't happy about the eventual result. It's just that, like most human experiences, there are ups and downs. I have friends who had truly miserable pregnancies and are great mom's. It's no reflection on anything other than whatever your personal hormone cocktail is doing.

I have, as I expect most pregnant women do, lots of worries big and small. Worry that everything will continue to go well. Worry about all the potential things that can go wrong. Worry about how I'll be as a mom. Annoying, superficial worry about stuff like weight gain. Frankly, I think anyone who isn't worried about what kind of mom they'll be or what the world will be like or the rest is a little weird. Of all the experiences, I should think pregnancy would make you just a little more concerned about...everything. Keeping calm and reminding yourself that billions of people do this is, you know, pretty helpful, honestly.

Anyway, I'll be painting my little versions of what we are affectionately calling "Blorpy" until such time as there's an actual gender involved, a few months from now. Most of the descriptions of embryo's and fetuses involve comparing them to fruit. So naturally it ended up as a blueberry with arm buds. And a cutlass. Because, uhm, being an embryo is probably pretty weird?










Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Random Thought

My mom studied Chaucer when I was little and would practice speaking Old English with me as we listened to Celtic music. 

The sound of my Nana calling my name from downstairs, emphasizing the "rye" sound in the middle with her soft Brooklyn accent.

Our favorite Christmas music tape had folksy covers of all the classics and then would cut to a song called "Dunderbeck" towards the end, all about a guy who invented a sausage meat machine he ends up ground up in. I think it was for kids. It was our favorite part.

On long car trips we'd listen to Shel Silverstein's "There's a Light On in the Attic" so much that I can't read any of those poems without hearing his inflections, laugh, and distinct cadence.

I ripped grass up from the ground once and the sound it made was like a human being growling. I got scared and ran away.

One of my most frequent nightmares is that my Nana has been alive the past 14 years and we all just...forgot about her until now.

Even though I love jewelry I can barely wear any because it makes me hyper aware of whatever part of my body it's on and I get uncomfortable. Necklaces in particular, I feel like I'm choking in them.

As a teenager I hated the thick collars on t-shirts so much I cut or chewed them all off.

One of my favorite movies growing up was Sleeping Beauty because they 3 fairies were amazing and Maleficent turned into a dragon. I thought Aurora was pretty boring.

I often mix up number combinations right after I'm told what they are.

My first experience with trolling was in 4 grade when I wrote a little humorous picture book called "How to Survive School Lunches" and someone wrote in the back that I was a terrible person and that school lunches were great. This was in '88 or '89.

I like to take pictures of my husband when he's sleeping. He looks content in a way he never does awake.

I have a weird aversion to bare feet. 

When I was little I used to paint smiling faces on any suns in my work and about 14 fingers on every hand.

Life is baffling and strange and weird and upsetting and it utterly paralyzes me with fear to think about ever dying.

I'm most creative after midnight but not very after 3am.

Summer is my least favorite season, I don't do well in sun and heat. 

If I could live anywhere it would be right by an ocean in a little Victorian style house with trees and it's own stream.

I don't believe in god, karma, or any afterlife. but if I did I would hope it would be like Terry Pratchett's or The Undying Lands in LOTR.

Sometimes I feel guilty for not having children.

My brain works on the nearly constant setting of Non Sequitor Theater.









Friday, June 6, 2014

Whole

Whole

A piece of me
Broke off today
I barely felt it go
Was it important
Like my sense of dignity
Or
the place between my legs
That
defines so much
maybe it was small
The piece of me that broke off
today
I hardly noticed
Until it was gone
What was it
My sense of humor about
The space between my teeth
Or
A memory of…well…
I forget
Still
A piece of me
Broke off today and
I hardly felt it

go

What If I Were Beautiful

I turned 35 this year. It’s both a totally unremarkable yet weirdly significant age to me. Everyone talks about 40 and I’m sure I’ll care about it when I get there, but for whatever reason 35 feels more weighty right now.

There’s this habit I have of ignoring the positive in favor of finding any and all ways to think negatively about myself. My therapist called them NAT’s or Negative Automatic Thoughts. Anyone who has been in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is probably familiar with the term and the worksheets that go with it when you start working on unwinding that particular mental ball of suck. It’s not a fun process but it is important and in the 4 years since I stopped therapy I’ve continued to apply what I learned about the ruts of my thinking every day.

Still, I fall back on certain old reliable NAT’s, the twin Brain Goblins (also developed in therapy: anthropomorphizing my issues into actual “things”. I decided on Brain Goblins.) of Not Enough and But You’re Still Fat and Ugly! whenever I’m stressed, tired, and/or working really hard on something important to me. Any time I accomplish anything significant, those two little mind parasites hop on up and start nattering in my ear.

Of course, Ed (Eating Disorder) is always around, desperately trying to get my attention and convince me that THIS time not eating will DEFINITELY solve all my problems. Those other times it made me sick and tired and unproductive were just because I wasn’t strong enough. This time, if I starve and get thin, everything will be just fine.

Basically Ed is the poisonous, kind of suicidal, part of my depression and anxiety that likes to sound friendly and cheerful, while he’s actually just eating away at my sense of self. He’s a real little shit and lies constantly. I don’t like him, he never brings me anything but false promises and grief.  However, mental illnesses like eating disorders are an ongoing process and you don’t really “cure” it so much as learn how to manage it. At least in my experience.

Lately, Ed’s been really enjoying this whole “getting older” thing and having a right fun time telling me that I “used” to be thin and pretty, but now I’m old and fat and gross. Nothing I’ve accomplished professionally or creatively means squat because I’m not a big gaping hole of hunger all the time and I wear an average dress size.

This is a bit of a switch from my younger days when Ed jused to tell me I was gross, full stop, no qualifiers. Nowadays, with hindsight and the discovery of photos from my 20’s and teens…it’s a little harder for him to convince me I was always hideous.

The thing is, that’s not really very comforting. I had absolutely no idea what I really looked like then, which makes it a pretty safe bet I don’t know now, either. And it means I’ve spent 22 years of my life or so absolutely convinced I’m ugly and not worthwhile because of it.

I feel guilty for caring about this because, on the one hand, it’s superficial and vain. Intellectually I’m well aware that my worth is not based on how I look and my life would have whatever meaning I give it regardless. But that’s the thing. If I can’t even say that I was pretty, that I might still be, and that my weight has nothing to do with it…I don’t think I’m really valuing myself fully. I don’t think I’m allowing myself to actually be…myself.

It’s difficult not to say that I’ve wasted literally two decades believing awful things about myself. “Wasted” is a strong word, implying I’ve done nothing and amounted to nothing and been essentially a lump on the face of the earth. I don’t think that’s true, at least on my good days. But there’s a wide gulf of difference between what I think and what I feel. And, when you’re something of an intellectual the way I am, it’s easy to pretend you can “think” your way out of emotional sinkholes. You actually can’t.

Whenever I talk about this people I know immediately reassure me that I have done things, that they wish they’d done what I have, and from their perspective my life and accomplishments look pretty okay. I never really know how to respond because if I deny it I’m being an ungrateful jerk, if I accept them, I tend to think that makes me an egotistical ass. The truth is probably more in the middle, which is not an area of thinking I’m particularly good at.

In therapy we called it “All or Nothing Thinking”. It’s probably my most consistent NAT and the one I strongly suspect I’ll be struggling with until I get old enough to stop caring or die. A little defeatist and a lot morbid but realistic.

I used to wonder why my thinking about certain things is so extreme, but after a lot of time to consider it, it’s pretty simple: I’m female, I grew up female in Western culture, that culture has influenced me, and in that culture women can’t really win when it comes to beauty. Or anything.

For instance, if you don’t care about how you look and just do whatever, the downside is that people will criticize you for being a lazy slob who doesn’t present themselves well, and if you’re not conventionally attractive, ugly and therefore worthless. The upside? You’re more like a “dude”, laid back and not all vain, like “other” girls, and people may take you more seriously depending on circumstances.

If you do care about how you look and work on it, the downside is that people think you’re superficial, vain, vapid, and high maintenance. You will also likely get a lot more unwanted attention. The upside? People are nicer to pretty, grown up, and especially if you’re conventionally attractive, women. You will have “worth” but only as long as you maintain your looks, and that kind of “worth” has a pretty limited shelf life. And it has nothing to do with you as a person.

There’s really no middle ground. It’s like that for a lot things that pertain to women, this lack of an inbetween, human place, where we’re individuals with complicated inner lives.

And even though I’ve been talking about beauty I’ve been avoiding addressing the actual title of this post because it terrifies to ask the question: what if I were beautiful? What if I was, all those years I thought I was some hulking she-beast, actually beautiful?

Would knowing that have changed anything? Would I have been a different person? Done different things? I have no idea. I only know that I avoided a lot of living due to how I felt about how I looked, like getting a passport until I was in my 30’s and had no choice. Because even though I desperately wanted to travel I was more paralyzed by my fear of taking a bad photo than of not seeing the world. Newsflash: my passport photo is terrible and now I live in Europe. Nothing collapsed, the world stayed in rotation, my friends still like me.

So now I’m 35 and I’ve managed to get to a somewhat neutral place about how I look sometimes. If I’m honest, I still think rather badly about myself in this area and it’s frustrating and discouraging. And it’s not about looking for compliments because, frankly, that makes it worse. I don’t believe people when they say I’m cute or pretty. I can’t. It’s like something would break and never get fixed if I allowed myself to entertain that was true for even a second.

I envy people who don’t care about this kind of thing, I really do. But I also know that feeling guilty for my culture having an impact on me isn’t really productive. And it’s true of everyone, just to different degrees and result.

So…what if I were beautiful? What  if I AM beautiful? What if who I am, inside and outside, is pretty and lovely and infinitely worthwhile? Am I going to discover that when I’m old and no longer able to deny the truth? Or can I somehow learn to accept it now, to embrace it, enjoy it a little, but not make it worth more than it is?

The answer is: I have no fucking idea.  I wish I did.


Me at roughly 20 or so.
Me, age 35.

Regardless, if I don’t stop poisoning myself with self-hate, it won’t mater if I ever know it. Because it will be too late.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Storytelling

My dad and I have what I tend to think of as a distant, tenuously cordial, relationship. This is an improvement over at least a decade’s worth of animosity. A lot of how I feel about it and the years of tense, sometimes outright hostility between us, are defined by moments in stories that gave me insights I might not have come to on my own.

It’s fitting that this is the way I relate to my father, through stories, because he’s responsible for introducing me to the books and narrative worlds that have shaped my life the most. My dad is the one who read me The Hobbit when I was 5, solidifying my lifelong obsession with Tolkien. My dad is the one who brought home manga for me and my brother from Japan, all in Japanese, as my first introduction to the magic of words and pictures. My dad is the one who took me to the comics shop and let me pick out my own books starting when I was ten or eleven. My dad is the one who let me watch Raiders of The Lost Ark and 7 Samurai and Star Wars and Monty Python when I was too young to “get” a lot of what was going on, but still deeply influenced my outlook on the world.

We don’t talk a lot, me and my dad. I Skype with my mom pretty regularly and he’ll pop in to say hi, but it’s always a little awkward. A little rushed. When we do talk, it’s not about what’s going on in my life or his. We talk about stories because for us they are safe and meaningful and keep us from touching on old hurts and current regrets.  

One of my favorite films, that my father first let me watch when I was probably 7 or 8, was Stand By Me. I didn’t know it then, but it was my first exposure to the work of Stephen King, an author whose storytelling I would come to love, admire, and find both inspirational and heart wrenching over the years.  Even though I was too young to fully grasp all of the themes and relationships in that film, it stuck with me, and became a frequent re-watch and top film recommendation.

I my 20’s, during a particularly rough patch with my father when I didn’t speak to him for about 6 months, I re-watched Stand By Me as a kind of comfort blanket. It was like visiting old friends you haven’t seen in awhile and staying up late at night to have the kind of conversations that only happen past 1am.

I was watching the scene toward the end, when Geordie is finally breaking down about his brother and his father. His best friend is comforting him with a wisdom and compassion we rarely get to see boys express, when a line from the Chris character hit me like the train hit Ray Brauer in the film, knocking the breath and life out of me for a moment.

“Your father doesn’t hate you. He just doesn’t know you.”

I’d heard this line hundreds of times before. Heard it, but not understood it. Heard it, but not really felt it. Until that moment, in those set of circumstances, I don’t think I could have really grasped the depth and importance of that set of words. Something angry, frustrated, and deeply hurt inside me let go a little that day. I understood my father in a way I hadn’t before and finally grasped something important about our relationship and the guilt and sadness I’d been carrying around about it since adolescence. Until that moment I don’t know that I’d really let myself realize that I honestly thought my father hated me and that it was my fault. Only it wasn’t, he just doesn’t know me.

That line changed the way I thought about my relationship with my father and helped me move past some things that had been eating away at me for a long time. It didn't fix our relationship, that's not something that can be fixed like that. It simply allowed me to see, clearly, something that had previously been buried in emotional fog.

It baffles me sometimes how my dad and I, with so many stories in common, can be so little alike in most other ways. I try not to dwell on things that were said in anger or resentment, that exist in a past that there should be enough distance from now to not matter so much. But it lingers. Even when things are forgiven, they don’t disappear. And some things simply aren’t gotten “over”. I’m not even sure it’s about forgiveness at that point, it’s more about acceptance. Accepting who you are, who they are, and that events have shaped you both collectively and separately that there’s no going back from.

It’s bittersweet, thinking and knowing that, because I personally believe life is too short and grudges and anger don’t make it any easier or better. I also think, though, that people sometimes mistake forgiving as forgetting, or as a kind of do-over for things that can’t always be undone. Sometimes relationships can’t be salvaged. Sometimes it's not about it being "good" but about it not being "bad". Sometimes we are distant because the people involved are too different. Sometimes distant is better than none. And with my dad and I, we at least have these stories that give us some kind of common ground.

This, among many other examples, is why I believe stories are powerful, important, transcendent things that human beings take too much for granted. Our ability to tell a story, to connect with others through thoughts that become words that weave into tales is a remarkable, incredible thing. We can reach through time and space with our stories. We can touch the lives of people we will never know and who will never know us. 

A story can radically change the trajectory of your life, it can alter the way you think, feel, and imagine what life can be. A story can get you closer to understanding what it’s like to be someone else than almost anything else, and it can show you who you really are. The stories we love live inside us, waiting to be shared. They are a source of comfort, change, and joy in a world full of chaos, pain, and difficulty. We should use that power wisely.





Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Oh No, Not Again

I honestly don’t really have the time to keep addressing yet another example of sexism in comics, it’s been nearly 15 years of this, I feel like a broken record. But. Here we are and here I am and there are a few “arguments” I think need to be countered. Again.

The first problem is how often I see directly contradictory ideas offered as trump cards in discussions about sexually objectifying images of female characters.  Somehow an image is both “realistic, some women really look like that!” and also “not meant to be realistic, they’re fictional and exaggerated for effect!”. These two things don’t go together. Either they’re realistic or they’re not. Hint: they are not. If you’re going to argue that they’re supposed to be exaggerated, fine, but then you’re going to have to acknowledge WHY they’re exaggerated, what bits tend to be exaggerated, for what audience, and how that might inform the objectification criticism.

If you’re going to argue that things like the brokeback pose, impractical outfits whose sole purpose is cleavage/butt definition, are deliberately exaggerated for effect…ok. But you don’t then get to argue that it’s somehow also “realistic”, or that that exaggeration isn’t for a very specific purpose. Otherwise they’d be exaggerating brain size or non-sexual characteristics. The purpose is sexual objectification. Own it.

This goes to another argument that also uses two conflicting ideas. Namely that comics are “for” a male audience, therefore the women are depicted this way to appeal to male readers who apparently only want one body type and only “sexy” images of said characters. This is followed up by saying male characters are also exaggerated therefore it’s equal. Only that’s not possible IF the audience is supposedly straight male. Because if that’s the case, then the women being drawn that way is so that they exist as sexual fantasies and the men are drawn that way to be heroic ideals. Those two things are not the same and they are inherently unequal. The purpose of the exaggeration is very different. It just is.

I also don’t buy the argument that “super” characteristics automatically means one extremely exaggerated body type for women, all the time, that just happens to be very porn-y. On books that are not porn or even porn “lite”. Theoretically the point of super hero comics is telling sequential stories about super hero’s. Sex MAY occur in those stories, but they don’t exist as a vehicle for sex. Porn, on the other hand, is about sex, not story. This isn’t a particularly difficult distinction.

However, when you show women the way a lot of comics covers do, that line gets hella blurred. There’s very little story reason so many of them are posed in a titillating fashion and most of the time it does nothing for the character, either. Because it’s not about them being sexy on their terms for themselves, it’s about being perceived as sexy by others. It’s for an audience, for a viewer, not for the character.
Look, I don’t have any issue with sexy images of women. I like them, I draw them myself. I like porn, I enjoy porn comics. And newsflash: lots of porn comics are far sexier than any of these mainstream covers, with better proportions, art, and layout. So the problem isn’t sex, sexiness, boob size, or even exaggerated proportions.

The problem is WHY they are exaggerated, who is exaggerated, what the context is, who is doing the image and from what pov, and what it conveys. What, exactly, is the point of all these sexy women on comic book covers?  A cover is supposed to give a reader an idea of what the book is going to be like, to appeal to them, to invite them into the story. If your story is “hey, lookit some boobies” terrific. But if it’s a more complex look at how characters with powers deal with the world? Your cover should reflect that idea. Otherwise, what are you conveying? That you’ll get a good story about complex, interesting characters…or a pseudo-porn?

If the latter, just admit it and go for it. Stop being coy or pretending it’s something else. And if it’s not, then give your female characters the same respect you give the male characters and define them by something other than exaggerated visual depictions. At the very least it’s a lazy and trope-tastic art style that repels a lot of potential readers who might otherwise want to check out these stories, if they had any idea what the stories would actually be like. I mean, supes are supposedly “modern myths”, right? That sounds like they’re supposed to be taken just a tad more seriously than Skinemax. So maybe the covers should reflect that. Or not, but pick a direction and own it.

At least with something like Busty Cops or Taken by Bigfoot I know what the hell I’m getting into. They aren’t pretending to be anything else. Comics seem to want this both ways and it’s just insulting at this point. 

Something else that’s insulting? Accusing critiques of vendetta’s, biases, and not being qualified to discuss material in their own field…because they explain why a cover may not be working the way it’s intended. In comics, covers are marketing tools as well as story extensions. It is completely valid to look at one and question whether it is successful and if not, why not. And if the person doing the critiquing happens to have actually edited comics for a living? Yeah, you should pay attention, not throw temper tantrums. Our experience, knowledge, and expertise is absolutely relevant…and I really have to wonder about someone who thinks an informed critique is LESS valid than a reactionary Twitter fit. Let alone some tinfoil hat conspiracy against one of the top two publishers in comics.

I mean, I’ve been editing comics for nearly 15 years. I’m not going to pretend I haven’t or that my CV isn’t something you should consider when I offer an opinion. You don’t have to agree with me, but yes, I do think my background gives my perspective some weight and at the very least some consideration if I talk about things like how covers are developed and how important what that imagery conveys is. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

Can you disagree with a woman in comics without it being sexist? Yep. But not by assuming they don't know what they're talking about because they're a woman, or claiming they have an "agenda" for discussing sexism, harassment, or the ramifications of sexual objectification in pop culture. Unless the "agenda" you're talking about is making comics culture less toxic. 


Finally, if you send rape threats because someone criticized a comic book cover (or for ANY reason) I can only assume you left your sanity in roughly the same location as your brain. Firmly and perpetually up your own ass.