When I Grow Up I Want to Be HER

I mentioned having an identity goal a few weeks ago. This is it.

For as long as I can remember, I have an image in my head. This image is a mix of real people I have known over the years, characters who struck a chord in me, a few philosophical discussions, and, yes, some stereotypes.

I refer to her as the ‘old woman,’ partly because the majority of the people (real and fictional) who went into making her are/were women. Partly because for most of my life I thought I was a woman.

She is who I want to be when I ‘grow up.’

I don’t think I can encompass an idea I’ve built up over a lifetime in a single blog post, but I can try to hit the highlights.

The Old Woman

The first thing that would strike most people about her is her self assurance. She wears her grey hairs as the badge of life and experience they are. She knows who and what she is and is comfortable with that knowledge.

Her home is a sanctuary she has built, both for herself and others. It rings with music, is frequently filled with the smells of fresh baking, has cozy nooks for someone who needs some space to curl up with one of the many books (bookcases in every room). Outside are flower and herb and vegetable gardens ringing the house.

Her favorite thing is to have her home filled with the sounds of family and friends, but she can be content in herself when everyone is out or gone home. She isn’t very active in the local community, being content to save most physical interaction for family and friends. But she has wide-ranging correspondence with people from all over the world. And without ever leaving her locality she is able to open her young family member’s eyes to some of the true scope of the world around them.

She is one of the center-poles of her family. Organizing family events, ensuring that everyone is up-to-date on the latest changes, and folks who need help are connected with folks who can help. ONE of the center poles because she encouraged and helped others take on these roles also. She knows that if she is the only one the family will lose coherence when she needs to step down from this role.

And Me

After putting a great deal of thought into it, I do think this is someone I can become, or come close to. There is nothing in this characterization that conflicts with who I am. Not like if I, say, wanted to become a world-renowned speaker or a local community leader *shudder*. It embraces things which have always been core to me–family, connecting with and learning from people, taking care of folks I love, music, being a home-body, not liking in-person socializing. But it also challenges me to grow, not into something different, but into a more capable, confident, comfortable version of who I am now.

And since I generally like who I am now, but want to be MORE than I am now, I think that’s a good thing.

Future posts related to this goal will be varied, I’m not sure yet what topics beyond self-care and baking will come up. Just gonna see how it goes, I guess.

Lifetime Resolutions: Jess Mahler’s Bookshelf

When I first started this little series, I planned on discussing the identity-focused resolution first–who I want to become.

But (partly because it’s frigging late), I decided to start with the simplest resolution first.

Jess Mahler’s Bookshelf

It really is that simple, I want ‘Jess Mahler’s Bookshelf’. I want to be able to fill a shelf with books that have my name on the spine. Books that I can be proud to say are mine.

Depending on how you look at it, I’m either being ambitious or low balling. On the one hand, I’ve already written and published more books than 99% of people ever will. On the other hand, a typical shelf holds around 20 or 25 books, and many prolific authors have written over a hundred books.

But to get that kind of output, you need to be writing full time. Being a full-time writer has been an on-again-off-again dream for a while. The truth, though, is that I can’t see myself finding the time, energy, or sanity to write full time. At least, not without sacrificing my ability to achieve my other goals.

So one shelf’s worth of books sounds right. A book every year or two, as it were.

Note, I haven’t said anything about making money from these books, developing a fan base, etc.

One of the hard truths I accepted this year is that marketing is something I struggle with and don’t much like. And I don’t want to make it a focus anymore. I like both me and my writing better when I’m writing for love of it. Writing with another end goal in mind (like making money) becomes self-destructive.

I will do some marketing, but it’s going to be a ‘when I have time but if I can’t, I can’t’ kind of thing.

In theory, keeping a blog and talking about my books here and on social media may give me enough reach to get some steady sales. Especially when I get a couple more books out. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like the idea.

But that’s not part of the goal, it’s a side benefit.

For more on the Bookshelf

I’ve decided that these resolutions will be the core of this blog going forward. I’ll try to write a blog post a week about my progress a resolution or something related to one of them.

Posts related to this resolution will have tags like ‘polyamory,’ ‘fantasy,’ ‘research,’ ‘werewolves,’ ‘conlang,’ and ‘relationships.’

Lifetime Resolutions

So, it’s the time of year when everyone talks about their plans for the new year, what they are going to change, do better, etc.

I’ve never been much for pinning my goals to a date on my calendar. So this post is an oddity for me. But I did make some big resolutions, so why not share them?
I just didn’t make them for the new year.

Starting Over After Crisis

This summer I had what I suppose you could call a midlife crisis. I just turned 36, so right around the traditional age for it. But it definitely wasn’t the traditional kind of crisis.

What happened was, between abusive relationships, homelessness, and chronic illness/disability, I had spent my life fighting against things. In fact, though I hadn’t realized it, my entire sense of self was based on resistance. It’s why I would always say my favorite quality was my stubbornness.

My role in life was to be the immovable object, standing forever against the irresistible force.

But I escaped the abusive relationships. And got out of homelessness. And started getting treatments to get the various health problems under control.

The truth is, that an immovable object is lost without the irresistible force. What do you do when you wake up one day and realize the struggles that were the basis for everything you are… don’t exist anymore.

It was kind of humbling to realize that my unerring sense of self all these years was really a sense of opposition. That without needing to resist those things which tried to destroy me, I didn’t know who I was.

I’m still working on figuring out who I am, how do I define and identify myself. (My spreadsheets have spreadsheets, YES I want definition and label and all that jazz. 😛 ) But in the meantime, I figured out who I want to become and what I want to do. I’ve got all the stubborn power and endurance of an immovable object. I’m damn well gonna do something with that.

Lifetime Resolutions

I have five goals, five lifetime resolutions if you will. One, as I mentioned is an identity goal. Who I want to be. The others are action goals, things I want to do and achieve.
None of these are small goals, but then I’ve never been knowing for thinking small.

Perhaps ironically, blogging doesn’t fit in with any of those life goals. But the truth is, I’ve missed blogging over the last year+. I’m not ready to blog about polyamory. That burnout went deep and I don’t know if I’ll ever take up those blog topics again. Still, I want to blog.

So to get me started, over the next few weeks I’m going to blog about my lifetime resolutions. And over the next year, and hopefully longer, I’ll occasionally share updates on my process, projects, and process.

I don’t know how much interest there will be in these posts, but all together they are going to cover a wide variety of topics. And I know some folks who followed my writing and work in the past will be interested in them.

Jess Mahler Work in Progress Updates

It’s been a while since I talked about what I’ve got going, so I figure it’s time for an update.

I’ve finally really accepted that when it coming to actual writing, I’m not going to be able to pick a project and stick with it. Once I hit editing stage, I can generally plow through, but until then I’m gonna keep bouncing from project to project. My brain seems to reach a point where it needs some downtime to let ideas stew every once in a while. And when it does, I’ll jump to a different project until I hit overload on that one.

So here’s where I’m at:

Safer Sex for the Non-Monogamous is in late editing stage with a tentative publication in late January. I’m really pleased with how it’s coming. It’s getting most of my attention right now.

Planting Life in the City of Death (formerly Building Family) is is nearly at 50,000 words, so about a bit less than half of the way done. (Hoping for a final word count of around 100,000, but gotta leave room for cuts during edits.) Just found a spot where I need to make some major changes to the ending, so we’ll see what happens there. When I have time for fiction, this is the one pull out right now.

Space Werewolves is at 17,000 words and currently on hold while I let things stew and occasionally take a stab at figuring out orbital mechanics. I don’t I’ve mentioned Space Werewolves on here before, since I just started it over the summer. Let’s see. I usually don’t do those analogy things to describe my work, but I think this might work: werewolves + human & transgender ship multi-body cyborg + the Underground Railroad in space.

Polyamory and Kink is in early drafting stage. I’m not actually sure how many words I have, but I’ve got a rough outline/table of contents and about a dozen sections either written or roughed in. Currently on hold.

 

It’s Time to Tell Men What They Are Doing Right

I want to say a thing to my fellow women and non-men. And I’m probably gonna piss a bunch of you off.

We need to do a better job of acknowledging the good things men do.

Sit on your knee-jerk for a minute and hear me out.

A while ago, I was watching a program for parents and the guy up on stage made the point that in a healthy marriage, people say four good things to each other for each negative thing they say. But many kids here 10 negative things about each themselves for every 1 positive thing they here.

This is an important facet of human interaction. If we don’t tell people what they are doing right and only criticize them for what they are doing wrong, the vast majority of people will stop trying. The message they get is that they can’t do anything right, that you are going to be angry with them no matter what, so what’s the point?

Now, take a look at what gets said about men. I’m not talking implicit stuff like how boys toys are about doing stuff and girls toys about being pretty. I’m talking the clear, explicit statements about men, either individual men or men as a whole, that are all over our social media feeds.

Women and non-men tend to focus on the implicit stuff as needing to be fixed—and that’s fair because the implicit messages we get sent are fucking horrible.

But implicit messages and explicit messages don’t cancel each other out. Men and boys (most especially boys) who hear endless explicit messages about men being rapists aren’t going to magically not be affected by that message because most CEOs are men.

What message are our sons getting?

What are we teaching them about what it means to be a man?

Are they learning what makes a good man? Or are they getting hammered with messages about what makes a bad man/how bad men are?

How can we expect them to grow up to be good men if we don’t give them good models of manhood to follow?

I’m not talking about giving cookies to allies for good behavior. And I’m not talking about ignoring bad shit that men do.

But let me give you an example.

In one of the MCU movies with Captain America (I think it was actually Captain America, but don’t hold me to that). Steve asks someone out, gets turned down, accepts is politely and walks away.

This was a perfect chance for positive reinforcement. We could have had memes, blog posts, videos ‘that’s how you do it’ ‘why Cap’s a real man’, shit like that.

Instead, I only saw one person talking about how important and positive a moment this was in building Cap’s character, and that person was responding to people criticizing Cap for being willing to take no for an answer.

We had a chance to send a message, to men, to boys, and to Hollywood, ‘this is good, give us more of it.’ and we dropped the ball.

I can hear some of the responses I’m going to get already ‘it’s not our job! We already do a disproportionate amount of emotional labor! They need to fix themselves! Why are we responsible!’

This isn’t about fair. It isn’t about right. And it isn’t about equal.

It’s about building something healthy.

You ever been in a relationship with someone who was unintentionally abusive? Someone who wanted to learn better?

In that kind of situation you have two choices: get out or help them while they learn and grow. And if you can’t focus on fair, you can’t focus on fair. You need to do your part.

That doesn’t mean you need to put up with it when they screw up. You tell them, ‘you did X, that’s gaslighting. Stop.’ But it does mean that when you tell them to stop and they do you need to reinforce that, ‘that you for stopping when I told you. I really appreciate the effort you are making.’

The relationship between men and women & non-men has historically been an abusive one. And some of that abuse lingers today. But men have been saying, for close to a hundred years, that they want to do better. If men didn’t want to do better, then women still wouldn’t have the vote.

If we want to ever have a healthy relationship (on a cultural/political level) between men and women & non-men, we need to step up the positive reinforcement. We need to tell men when we something that is right.

Some people can shrug off negative messages and struggle through to stay engaged and do what is right. And the many, many men who have done that, who have stood up for and with women and non-men to call for changes, are amazing and wonderful.

But that doesn’t change what makes for a healthy relationship.

Fight to change the implicit messages. Fight to change the assumption that men make better CEOs or the way women politicians are criticized for their appearance in a way men politicians never are. That is good and important work.

But don’t forget that explicit messages matter. That in terms of explicit messaging, women are constantly getting positive reinforcement through advertisements, social media campaigns, even school programs. And men are constantly getting negative reinforcement with little to no positive reinforcement.

I’m not trying to blame anyone. It’s easier to criticize the bad than to praise the good. That’s human nature too. So it’s understandable that we’ve focused more on criticism than publicly recognizing the good. But we need to make a choice: are we going to dig in and make this relationship work, regardless of ‘fair’. Or are we giving up on the relationship?

If that latter is your choice, there are definitely limits to the ways you can disconnect yourself from men, but there are steps you can take, from only having kids through IVF from a sperm donor, to only reading stuff written by women and non-men, to looking for or starting a business that caters specifically to women and non-men so you don’t need to deal with men at work.

Me? I’ve known some pretty awesome men in my life. One of whom I owe my life to (okay, two, if you count my father). I’ve got two sons. I’m not walking away from them. And that means working to make a world where my sons, and other people’s sons, and all the men who want to do better, hear the positive reinforcement they need (and frankly, deserve) as they continue to grow.

Echo Chamber or Comfort Zone?

Echo chamber has become a bit of a buzzword over the past few years. The basic idea is a space where everyone is saying and supporting the same ideas. People in an echo chamber are never challenged to think beyond their assumptions, to see a different perspective, or to learn new things that don’t agree with them.

Many people agree that echo chambers are bad. That we need restructure social media  to reduce the echo chamber affect. That it is unhealthy to be in an echo chamber.

I agree with most of the criticisms of echo chambers. But I think it’s time to reframe the idea, because the criticism is also missing some of the benefits of echo chambers.

Benefits? Of echo chambers? Yes, really. Though I don’t blame you for doubting. After all, everything we’ve heard about echo chambers is bad. It’s almost as if we are in an echo chamber–about echo chambers!

Social Comfort Zones

But what if we didn’t say echo chamber? What if, instead, we called is a “social comfort zone”?

Comfort zones are already a familiar idea. From school, to relationships, to work, we sometimes need to “reach outside your comfort zone”. And when we are stressed or sick or worried, we sometimes need to “retreat into your comfort zone.”

The comfort zone isn’t inherently  good or bad. It is a place where we are comfortable. It has all the same features of an echo chamber–it prevents us from growing if we stay there too long, it only holds the things we are comfortable with, it doesn’t challenge us, etc. But it also has good features that we don’t associate with the idea of “echo chambers”. Comfort zones are places we can relax. Comfort zones are low stress. Comfort zones help us heal.

What we call “echo chambers” are really social comfort zones. They have all the negative traits of comfort zones in work or daily life. But also all the positives.

What’s in a name?

Once we acknowledge echo chambers as social comfort zones, we can start having a healthier discussion about them.

One that encourages people to reach outside their comfort zone and expose themselves to other perspectives and ideas. But also one that doesn’t shame people for having and using a comfort zone. One that recognizes that some people live in places or situations where they are constantly exposed to other perspectives and their online or IRL comfort zones are a necessary part of how they manage their stress and care for themselves.

I want to give a shout out to Gargron and for inadvertantly inspiring this post. And a shout out to the Fediverse in general for being a place that not only allows but encourages multiple accounts with lots of options for privacy controls so folks can have a comfort zone and a stretch zone on the same social network.

 

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Fantasy Twists Anthology Is Out!

Okay, so the announcement is a bit late, but better late than never, right?

Fantasy Twists anthology, the trope-pretzeling short story collection from Cuil Press, is available as of last Thursday. My own story, One Hell of an STI, is included as well as pieces for six other authors.

If you are looking for creatively written stories inspired by some of your favorite tales as well as diverse characters you should check out Fantasy Twists from Cuil Press

from TheNerdyGirlExpress

I think my favorite part of the anthology is how varied it is.

While all the stories are fantasy, they range from fairy-tale retellings to superheroes. They explore, twist, and recreate, a wide range of fantasy tropes. Some authors took tropes so old they have become cliches and then fallen out of fashion and given them new life. (The scary old person next door) Some authors took tropes that will likely never go out of fashion and took them in a completely different direction. In my case, I took one of the most popular tropes of urban fantasy and turned it inside out.

The characters are varied as well, including werewolves, PoC, superheroes, trans characters, witches, fae, and a character I have been told is loosely based off of the Goblin Kin from Labyrinth. (See if you can spot him.)

Check it out today!

An Interview with Grandmother: Fantasy Twists Blog Tour

I love fairy tales. And I really like well-done new takes on old tales. So I was delighted when Kelseigh N. shared a very different version of “Red Riding Hood” with Cuil Press for our Fantasy Twists anthology.

When Desy starting putting together a Fantasy Twists blog tour, I immediately knew what I wanted to do. I offered to host a stop on the tour and said I’d do a character interview. Kelseigh was good enough to let me “sit down” with Grandmother and learn a bit HER perspective on things. Some of our discussion doesn’t sound much like Red Riding Hood, but that’s because there is a lot more to the story than you ever heard.

I hope you enjoy as much as I did.


Hi Grandmother, thanks for joining me today.

Why hello, Jess. How nice of you to take time out of your day to keep an old woman company. Or perhaps not so old as all that, eh?

So, one thing I can’t stop wondering—what’s with the red and blue cloaks? Is there a special meaning there, or are they just for convenience with the villagers?

A good question, that. Indeed there is, although the current villagers don’t know anything about it. Culture changes over time, you understand, and what once had a particular meaning shifts to mean something different. And we three, our cycle, we have been rolling along for a quite a long time.

But not to put too fine a point on it, from what I understand from the records of Grandmothers past and my own feelings that confirm it to be true, red was once considered the colour of youth, where blue was for those who had come of age. For the Girl and I, the division between those two roles isn’t so much dictated by age of course. But it fits well enough don’t you think?

When did you first notice the Girl? Was it something you gradually became aware of or just an instant realization that she was the one you were waiting for?

I would say the former, although it’s a much less clear-cut feeling than you may think. The three of us who make up the cycle, we are essentially the same people as we always are, but in many ways we are entirely new people every time. Memories don’t really carry well from our Wolf stage to the new Girl, but feelings and instinct…those are a much different matter. I had no idea when my Girl would come, only that she would and there were signs to look for. But in the end it was more a feeling that grew, until one day it dawned on me that this Girl out of all girls was the one I’d been waiting for.

Let me tell you, it was a relief!

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about the Wolf?

What can one say about their first love that doesn’t sound foolish to others? That she is a goddess? Perhaps she always was, in my eyes, even in her original form. Certainly she was as beautiful then as she is now, albeit in a different way. One hell of a kisser, too.

But I suppose you’re looking for something a little more objective. She is, at the heart of it, the embodiment and protecter of her entire realm. Both the things we humans would see as good and natural, or frightening and arcane, make her up and she does not judge either. She is the unseen danger that puts an edge on the villagers’ lives, and that too is a thing of value. She, that is the part of the cycle she occupies, has watched over the forest as long as there has been a forest to watch, or perhaps longer. I’ve thought long about it and discussed the matter with her, and neither of us are sure there ever was a beginning to what she is, although we each have our theories. Suffice to say she has effectively always been and always shall be, and so will the forest she guards.

How did you feel when you first became Grandmother?

Sad and happy, all at once. Excited. Terrified. Change is like that.

You must remember what I saw happen to the woman I’d loved for years. The two of us had more chance to be together before that day and I had a better idea what to expect, but it was still shocking. But now, so many years later what sticks with me are the happier thoughts. The sight of her, radiant in power, continuing the noble work of ages. Years of being together after that. Her wise counsel when it truly struck home that I was now responsible, alone, for the safety and welfare of the whole village, and for teaching my own Girl when I finally found her. She guided me through those early fears that I would not do as well as she.

I think it would have been a much harder transition without her there.

Okay. That’s all the questions I have. Thanks again for joining us.

Thank you as well. I’ve quite enjoyed our chat.


Fantasy Twists is available for pre-order on Amazon, B&N, Google, and Kobo. It’ll be out on Thursday. (I have a story in there too!)

If you want to learn more about Kelseigh’s work, check out her Patreon.

Miles Vorkosigan Is my Role Model (or How I Horrified Lois McMaster Bujold)

I’ve always felt a strong connection with Miles Vorkosigan. As an undiagnosed autistic teen growing up in an abusive household, I quickly learned that the key to survival was simple: stubborn your way through.

I’m nowhere near on Miles’ level when it comes to being a sheer, unstoppable juggernaut. But Miles was one of the people who showed me that it could be done. That no matter what your obstacles, if you are stubborn enough (and creative enough, and maybe just crazy enough) you can still beat everything in your way.

A few years ago, I learned that Michael had nearly died several times over the past year and we hadn’t known. That he was likely to die in the next few years if we couldn’t get him medical treatment. Treatment that we had no way to get because we were broke and living off money my aunt sent from Israel to keep a roof over our heads.

It broke me. Utterly, completely broke me. I remember going out for a walk and not being able to see where I was going for the tears in my eyes.

There was a little park with a circular garden in the middle. I remember walking around it several times just trying to come to grips.

And a line from Memory floated into my head.

“I am the man who owns Vorkosigan Vashnoi.”

And another,

“A mountain man, dumb as his rocks, doesn’t know when to quit.”

I took a breath. Walked back to the hotel we were staying in. I opened up Memory and re-read Miles Vorkosigan’s revelation about himself.

I wrapped myself in my own elemental stubbornness and knew we would find a way.

A little later, I got on Goodreads and for the first time ever sent a message to an author that I like. I thanked Lois Bujold for Miles, explained that he was something of a role model for me and that her writing was helping me through one of the worst times in my life.

She was awesome enough to write back. I think I scared her a bit. The idea that someone could take her “hyperactive little git” as a role model was… well, not something she was prepared for, apparently. She said she was glad that her writing had helped, but expressed… concern at the idea of someone modeling themself off of Miles.

It’s nearly 5 years later. My partner, while not health, is nowhere near in danger of dying anytime soon. Miles Vorkosigan is still one of my favorite characters.

And somedays, I remember Bujold’s supportive, but appalled, reply, and I just have to laugh.

Don’t worry Simon, I have a rheostat installed. And thanks to Miles, I’ve learned how to dial it UP when I need to.

 

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Special Interests: Autistic Acceptance Month Day 5

Personal opinion: There is no difference between autistic special interests and allistic special interests. Autistic folks just one-track more so we get deeper into our special interests than the rest of you distractable folks 😉

Anyway, some of my special interests:

Polyamory (If you know me, this one is obvious.)

Polyamory on Purpose

Autism (New-ish, in the last year)

A rainbow infinity sign, popular symbol for autism among autistic people.

Languages (Including linguistics and conlangs)

A word cloud made of "why" in several dozen languages.
by Maierstrahl

People (Psychology, Sociology, Archeology, Anthropology)

(Yeah, I couldn’t find an image I liked)