#readingwednesday: crow after roe

Alright, kids, we haven’t done an angry feminist/social justice post here for awhile, but I’ve had a cranky week topped up with a rage-inducing book, so buckle your seatbelts; we’re going for a ride on the S.S. Furiosa.

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beep beep.

I picked up Crow After Row at the Civil Liberties and Public Policy conference at Hampshire College back in 2012, just after the book was published. At the time, a significant focus of the conference was on abortion rights and the influx of TRAP laws coming out of state legislatures. Since the 2010 midterm election and the flood of Tea Party Republicans taking hold of seats at both the state and federal levels, there have been exponential increases in the amount of anti-choice policies enacted across the country, and in 2012 states were already beginning to see the impact of those policies on pregnant and parenting individuals.

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Written by a political reporter and a legal analyst/attorney, it’s no surprise that Crow After Roe offers an incredibly in-depth legal examination of the multitude of laws that have been proposed, challenged, re-challenged, and sometimes (despite all efforts to the contrary) enacted. What this book really accomplishes, however, is creating coherent connections between laws, cases, regulations, rhetoric, and concepts of constitutionality, personhood, agency, and choice. While some of the statutory information feels a little outdated–four years is a long time in the policy world, especially in this legislative area, and things change quickly–the analysis is still sound, and the recommendations for readers to take action through grassroots organizing, political participation, and outspoken defense of their own rights remain deeply, deeply relevant.

I’ll be honest, team, I had plans for this post–I was going to rant and rave against the misogynistic bullshit that fuels the anti-choice movement; I was going to cite sources on the economic and professional and mental health benefits of the availability and accessibility of abortion; I was going to throw out anecdotes and statistics on all of the reasons why the way abortion access is treated in public discourse is so rooted in sexism and imperialism and paternalistic crap that it makes me want to rip my hair out. But in all honesty, there’s no point. If you’re already pro-choice, I don’t need to preach to you–you’re in the choir. If you’re anti-choice–first of all, fuck you; second of all, what are you even doing reading this?–I doubt that reading another pro-choice essay on the internet is going to convince you, since you apparently get your jollies by forcing people to carry unwanted or unsafe pregnancies to term.

So instead, I’ll leave you with this: If you believe in reproductive freedom, in reproductive justice, in the human right of people capable of pregnancy to make their own decisions about the outcomes of those pregnancies without input from the state, then please, please, do not sit quietly by. Volunteer. Stay informed. Participate in your state and local politics, not just in federal elections, and for the love of all that is holy, vote.

And, if you have it in your heart and in your wallet, consider making a donation to the National Network of Abortion Funds, which makes abortion accessible to people who might otherwise be unable to afford it due to economic barriers.

Every little bit helps. And heaven knows that if things continue the way they’re going, we’re going to need every bit.

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#saturdayscenes: 4/9/16

a sample of today’s writing:

Mari carefully wove her way around the edge of the ballroom, smiling at the occasional bow or curtsy. She met her mother’s eye across the room and inclined her head toward the kitchens. The Queen arched an eyebrow, but Mari had told her in no uncertain terms that she was expecting to be able to take the occasional break to get some air and check on Sofia. Her mother gave a nearly imperceptible nod before returning to her dance with her brother, the King, laughing easily at something he said and cuffing him playfully on the arm. Mari shook her head in amusement. She knew that rumors abounded that her mother and uncle secretly hated each other and only played at their friendly relationship in public, but she knew that Uncle Tomas was her mother’s best friend as much as Daniel was hers.

She slipped her way through the servant’s entrance to the kitchens, gracefully dodging a liveried kitchen maid carrying a tray of champagne flutes through the door. The kitchens were bustling with activity and she kept carefully out of the way, edging along the walls to where a tray of water glasses sat on a counter, waiting to be carried out. She plucked one off and sipped at it, grateful for the way the cooks and their assistants ignored her this time around—the first few times she’d snuck in, they had tried to see if she needed anything, but now they seemed content to let her stay out of the way and drink her water.

A familiar head of curly auburn hair caught her eye, and she raised an eyebrow as one of the guards disguised as general servants came towards her, leading the way for a woman in a dark blue dress. “Emilia?” she asked. “What are—”

The woman behind Emilia came fully into view, and Mari caught her breath.

She had hoped, when she caught sight of Ella on the stairs, that Raya wouldn’t be far behind her, but after the first dance she shared with Daniel it seemed clear that she had come alone. But here she was, standing in the kitchen, resplendent in a midnight blue gown that glittered like starlight and clung to her perfectly, and Mari felt her mouth go dry.

Raya stared back at her, just as wide-eyed, and Mari found herself amazed at how strange it was that she hadn’t really realized how bright the other woman’s eyes were when they’d met a fortnight ago. “Princess,” she said, seeming too surprised to even duck a curtsy. “What are you doing in the kitchen?”

She sounded utterly dumbfounded, not that Mari could quite blame her. It probably was odd for her to be hiding from her own ball. “I needed a break,” she admitted, and raised her eyebrows. “What are you doing in the kitchens?”

A soft flush darkened Raya’s cheeks. “I was worried I’d trip down the stairs,” she said, her smile soft and sheepish.

It was such a genuine answer that Mari laughed honestly for the first time that night. Her laughter seemed to relax Raya, and Emilia shook her head with a fond roll of her eyes, dipping a bow and leaving the way she had come. Wiping surprised tears of mirth from her eyes, Mari set her water glass down on the tray. “I was thinking I’d go to the gardens and get a bit of air,” she said. “I don’t suppose you’d like to join me?”

Raya looked surprised, but the smile that spread across her lips transformed her face from lovely to gorgeous. “Princess, I can’t think of anything I’d like more,” she said, and she took Mari’s hand.

#readingwednesday: the left hand of darkness

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The Left Hand of Darkness is one of those classics that’s always hovered along my peripheral vision as a casual reader of science fiction. I’ve always tended to be a little pickier about my sci-fi than about my fantasy (though I’ve gotten pickier about that in my ~old age~ as well), likely because mainstream science fiction always feels a lot like a boys’ club that just kind of reinforces all the same old tropes and structures of existing society. Jane Espenson, one of my very favorite TV writers in sci-fi, said it better than I could:

“If we can’t write diversity into sci-fi, then what’s the point? You don’t create new worlds to give them all the same limits of the old ones.”

To me, science fiction, at its core, should be about exploring concepts in interesting ways, finding ways to explore the reaches of human diversity and imagination. Gender is one of the most interesting concepts to twist and examine and play with, yet so much of science fiction just falls into playing out the generally accepted sex binary. Boring, team. Just…boring.

One of the reasons I think I’ve kept The Left Hand of Darkness on the back-burner of my “to-read” list for so long is that its status as a “classic” made me suspect it would be more of the same “rugged individualistic wonder-of-space” cliches that have made me skirt around so much of classic science fiction. Recently, though, it turned up on a list of “feminist sci-fi” that included people like Octavia E. Butler (another major favorite), and that made me do a double-take, because no way does someone who plays into “white dude looks at space” tropes end up on the same list as Octavia E. Butler, Feminist Literary Queen of My Heart.

And yes, that is how I refer to her in my head.

Reading The Left Hand of Darkness cover to cover took me about four days worth of commutes, which is to say, not very long. In a lot of ways, this book felt like more of a philosophical text than a novel, which isn’t to say that I didn’t like that part–in all honesty, I think it made me like it more. The world (universe?) building was original and interesting, with the Ekumen taking more of a coordination role rather than one of law enforcement (see: the Galactic Senate, the United Federation of Planets, etc). Le Guin creates universes of culture, religion, government, sex, gender; her worlds are multifaceted and fascinating in a way that manages to elicit the quiet objectivity of a researcher woven with the subjective reactions of a tourist experiencing constant low-grade culture shock, or, more accurately, an ambassador who has spent some time at their post but continues to find themselves continuously surprised by the differences between the culture of their current environment compared to that of their native world.

The exploration of sex, gender, and sexuality in The Left Hand of Darkness was fairly groundbreaking when it was published, and, in all likelihood, probably still would be if it had been published today. The Gethenians, the humans who inhabit the planet Gethen, or “Winter” as the protagonist calls it, the name the planet was given before contact was made, are sexually androgynous. They are able to be sexually active only during certain parts of each month, similar to a menstrual cycle, and it’s during this period, kemmer, that they take on what we would call “binary” primary sex characteristics in order to mate and conceive. Because during each kemmer period the Gethenians could take on male or female characteristics, there is no sex or gender binary in the way that we think of it, no gender identity in the way that we think of it. To our protagonist, who comes from a “bisexual” (here referring not to sexuality, but to sexual dimorphism) society, it’s a constant cause for comparison, as he regularly encounters scenarios in which his own socialization in a gendered culture butts up against the desexualized culture of Gethen. There is no masculinity to protect, no battles for sexual dominance, no sexualization of bodies and products and commerce. Sexual violence doesn’t exist; unplanned pregnancies all but unheard of, reproductive violence nonexistence. As a reader, it’s baffling, but at the same time, not utopic–after all, an exchange was made: everyday sexuality sacrificed in exchange for sexual safety and an egalitarian society. Our protagonist wonders, outright, if explicit sexuality and true egalitarianism can co-exist, and doesn’t come up with an answer. It’s questions like this that make The Left Hand of Darkness stand out as a philosophical science fiction text–after all, sci-fi, at its core, is designed to make you wonder, to ask questions.

Lazy sci-fi answers those questions for you. Good sci-fi leaves you wondering, and makes you do the work yourself.

As a reading experience the book has been criticized by some readers over the years for spending too much time on exposition and internal monologue and not enough time on “real plot”, but personally, I don’t find this to be a down side. The book has plenty of action in its own time, but it’s not the space battles and explosions we usually get in sci-fi–it’s a cooler (ha, weather joke!) sort of action, political intrigue and character-vs-nature. This isn’t to say that the plot itself is boring, but that what moves the book along is the strength of the characters, their relationships to one another and to the environment, and the strength of the questions and concepts that the book explores. For my own part, I’ll take interesting characters, philosophically interesting world-building, and geopolitical intrigue over space battles any day of the week.

The argument has also been made, more recently, that Le Guin could have gone farther in exploring the gender concepts in the book and dismantling patriarchal ideas. To that, I’d say that I think that those critics might be missing the point. While I don’t doubt that Le Guin set out to write a transformative text and that she took great enjoyment and fascination with yanking the rug out from under those who take sexual dimorphism and patriarchal gender roles as given in any and all stories, I don’t think her goal was to say fuck you to the patriarchy so much as to invite questions and curiosity so that people could give their own fuck yous to the patriarchy. In her introduction, Le Guin points out that,

“science fiction is often described, and even defined, as extrapolative. The science fiction writer is supposed to take a trend or phenomenon of the here-and-now, purify and intensify it for dramatic effect, and extend it into the future… a prediction is made. Method and results much resemble those of a scientist… the outcome seems almost inevitably to be cancer… somewhere between the gradual extinction of human liberty and the total extinction of terrestrial life… Almost anything carried to its logical extreme becomes depressing, if not carcinogenic.”

Le Guin’s goal, at its purest point, was to take an interesting idea, and a fascinating question, and turn it into a story. She isn’t an academic, she isn’t a scholar of feminist theory–she’s a storyteller. And an excellent storyteller at that.

Team, if you, like me, have been avoiding The Left Hand of Darkness due to worries that it might be old-fashioned or trope-y or full of dude-bro cliches, give it a shot. Do be aware that, for all its progressive gender ideas, it was published in 1969. One of the things that jumped out at me, the use of he/him pronouns in a society that was hypothetically gender-less, probably would have been written differently today. But for me, at least, that wasn’t a deal breaker, and paved the way–as Le Guin probably would prefer it–for me to ask my own questions about what this story would look like if the concepts in it were explored today.

Like I said: good science fiction makes you work for the full experience.

But I think the work is the fun part.

Don’t you?

#saturdayscenes: 3/26/16

a sample of today’s writing:

Natasha shuts the door to the bedroom, turning the old but still clearly functional Nokia on and dialing Clint’s cell number from memory. He’s broken more phones over the years than she can count, but always keeps the same number, to make things easier on Laura and the kids. Lila’s nearly old enough to recite it from memory, when her preschool teachers ask her.

The phone rings, and rings, and rings, and Natasha’s nails have very nearly drawn blood from her palms when Clint picks up. “–not going to tell you again,” he’s saying, his Stern Dad voice, and Natasha nearly laughs in relief and amusement when he abruptly switches tones to professionally wary. “Hello?”

“It’s me,” she says.

“Nat?” His voice changes again, goes light and warm, the way it always does when she calls, and she closes her eyes, sinks down onto Sam’s bed. “What’s up? What number are you calling from?”

“It’s a burner,” she says, swallowing. “Clint, I need to tell you something. Are you alone? With the kids?” She doesn’t even know what day it is.

“What? No. It’s Sunday, Nat, Laura’s home. We just finished lunch.” The puzzled frown hovers along the edges of his words. “Nat, what’s going on? Are you okay?”

“Yes. No.” She takes a breath. On the end of the line, Clint is quiet, patient, waiting for her, and she’s glad of it. “Go outside. You’re not going to want to be near them, when you hear this.”

“Okay.” No argument; he trusts her immediately, and it puts a lump in her throat. He calls to Laura; lets her know he’s stepping out onto the porch, and she waits until she hears the swing and click of the front door. “I’m outside,” he says. “What’s going on, Tasha?”

“Don’t call me Tasha,” she says, and it comes out in a whisper, almost choked. “Not now. I can’t, Clint.”

“Alright. I’m sorry.” He takes a breath. “What is it?”

She tries to think of a way to soften the blow, but that’s never been things work between them. “Nick’s dead.”

10 things a year as a therapist taught me about life, work & growth

As of 6pm on Friday, I am no longer a therapist.

It’s a strange, bittersweet feeling. For over a year, being a therapist was more than just a job–it was part of my identity. Work didn’t get to stay at work; it was part of my life in a deeply profound way. My co-workers became my supporters in ways that were unlike anything I’d experienced at any other job; the concept of a “mental health day” took on an entirely new meaning, being present in my work became more important than ever.

Looking back on the past year, it’s hard to pick out the things that I learned from being a therapist as opposed to things I learned simply by getting another year older (and maybe a few months wiser). But that, I suppose, is why self-reflection has become such an important part of my growth process. I’ve written before about journaling and how daily reflective practice has changed the way I spend my time, but it really has made a huge difference–not just in my ability to look back at moments of gratitude, but to watch myself experience learning and growth. It’s also allowed me to read old entries and see the places where I learned hard lessons and received some painful reminders of my own limitations–limitations that, thanks in part to that active self-reflection, I was sometimes able to turn into strengths.

But not without challenges, and not without luck, and not without help.

For better or worse, I’m a lists person, and I do my best memory collection through organization. So, here we are:

10 Things a Year as a Therapist Taught Me about Life, Work & Growth

Continue reading

#saturdayscenes: 3/19/16

a sample of today’s writing:

After a job in Turkey that goes tits-up so quickly Natasha had spent the rest of the mission doing damage control, she stalks into Fury’s office the minute Medical releases her with fresh stitches itching along her shoulder blade and a bandage around her knuckles. “I want a new partner,” she snaps, kicking the door shut behind her.

Fury snorts. “Hello to you, too,” he says, leaning back in his chair. The DC skyline stretches out behind him, glittering and gorgeous in the late afternoon sun, and Natasha wants to glare at it for daring to be lovely when she’s so annoyed. “You just missed Rogers. He came in with the same request.

“Good,” she says, crossing her arms over her chest, not even wincing at the tug of her stitches. “Shouldn’t be hard to do a transfer, then.”

“It’s as hard as I decide to make it,” he says, narrowing his eye at her. “And I’m of a mind to make it damn tricky for you, since you seem to be forgetting that I’m the one who makes those assignments around here.”

Natasha glares. “I want,” she repeats, “a new partner.”

“Tough shit.” He gets up, crossing to the table against the wall and pouring her a generous glass of an amber liquor, holding it out to her pointedly. Natasha sighs and takes it, and he points her toward the black leather couches in the center of the room.

When she’s sitting, her shoulders tight and the glass held loosely in her hands, he brings the decanter with him and sits down across from her. “How’s Barton?”

The abrupt change of topic should probably phase her, but she’s known Fury long enough that it doesn’t. He might be down one eye, but he’s been able to read her too well from the beginning. “Better,” she says, running her thumb along the smooth crystal of her glass. “He’s shooting again, but not with a SHIELD bow. One of his old ones. Not sure where he dug it up.”

That’s not quite true, but Fury doesn’t need to know that. The last time she’d talked to Clint over Skype, he’d shown her the fresh bowstring calluses on his fingers, telling her about the bow Laura had unearthed for him in the attic in one of the boxes Natasha had brought from her old New York apartment, and his grin had reached all the way to his sparkling eyes.

“That’s progress,” Fury says, and extends his glass to her. “To an absent friend,” he says, and as irritated as she is with him, she leans across the table and clinks her glass to his.

#readingwednesday: who fears death

Note: This review contains reference to rape, female genital mutilation, genocide, and violence. Please read at your own discretion.

These days, it seems like every other novel on bookstore (virtual or brick-and-mortar) shelves is some kind of post-apocalyptic dystopian story. The Hunger Games is one of the highest-grossing series of the past few years; the Divergent series has sold millions of copies; don’t even get me started on World War Z and Maze Runner. In a lot of ways, we seem to be oversaturated with post-apocalypse stories, to the point where they all seem to run into one another, the details getting lost.

Earlier this year, I picked up Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower in a fit of “where the hell has this been all my life?”, and was blown away. This was post-apocalyptic fiction in a way I had never envisioned, with a woman of color at its center and an entirely different focus than anything I had ever read before. Post-apocalyptic fiction written by men, in my experience, focuses on survival and blood, post-apocalyptic fiction by white women looks at the human aspects of survival, at relationships and families, but womanhood, even of the main character, feels like an afterthought. More often than not, references to womanhood and femininity come in the form of a not like other girls aside, mention of the ways in which our heroine defies gender norms, the ways in which her difference is separate from traditional femininity. Parable of the Sower thrust that aside, creating a protagonist whose story is undeniable female, her experiences inseparable from her womanhood. Despite the darkness and fear of the story and its sequel, I was drawn in like a moth to a flame.

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Who Fears Death is the second post-apocalyptic novel by an African American woman I’ve picked up this year, and, just like Parable of the Sower, I’m enthralled.

Set in a post-nuclear-holocaust Africa, Who Fears Death centers on Onyesonwu, a child conceived through a violent rape who is marked as an Ewu, a biracial child of two cultures: the Okeke and the Nuru. The world that Okorafor creates is a dark one, where rape and violence and genocide and magic intersect, but there is light there as well: friendship and family and love and a fierce strength that brings characters together. Onye’s story is a coming-of-age one, as she leaves her mother and her home behind and undertakes a journey to fulfill a dark, dangerous destiny. She brings along her lover and some friends, and strikes out into a world of sorcery and darkness to defeat her biological father, the man who raped her mother and very nearly killed her lover.

Like Parable of the SowerWho Fears Death is a story defined by women and femininity. Onye’s conception through rape anchors the story in a fear that women across the world carry in their hearts, often when we’re too young to really even understand what it is we’re fearing, a fear we learn from our mothers and grandmothers and sisters and aunts. Najeeba, Onye’s mother, connects to her pregnancy in a show of strength and iron will, delivering alone in the desert after her husband casts her out, and for the first six years of Onye’s life, her mother is her deepest connection. Throughout the book, even after Najeeba fades into the background (in the way that mothers, in coming-of-age stories, must inevitably do), Onye’s heart calls back to her mother’s in a longing felt by daughters everywhere.

Okorafor addresses female genital mutilation–“the Eleventh Rite”–with grace and sensitivity. Onye chooses to undergo the Rite, and as she does, forms a binding and heartfelt connection with the three girls who are circumcised alongside her. Onye’s agency in this is critical; her family rejects the ritual, and it is Onye herself who sneaks out in the night to participate. This haunting scene, in which only women are featured, involves the three girls beside Onye quietly disclosing various levels of sexual activity, including one girl softly telling the others that her father has been sexually abusing her for years. The Eleventh Rite, in many ways a taking, is for this girl a marking of new standing in the community, allowing her to voice her father’s abuse and for the elders to force him to face his actions.

Gender and womanhood provide an undercurrent for the entire novel. When Onye begins to demonstrate magical aptitude, the sorcerer in the village, Aro, refuses to teach her on the grounds of her sex. The fear–and threat–of sexual violence hovers like a cloud along the edges of the novel, and Onye’s heightened awareness of her body and her sexuality as she moves from childhood to adolescence to womanhood comes with a realization of the threat of rape and forced pregnancy. But this fear is not sensationalized or glaring, it simply is, in the way it simply is for women across the globe. It is there. We walk a little faster, we stay closer to our friends and our sisters, we don’t walk alone. This is our reality. This is life.

I haven’t finished the story yet, and so I can’t tell you how it ends–but in all honesty, I don’t want to. This story is dark and heart-wrenching, but it is magical, too: myth and sorcery and cultural history weave seamlessly with technology and mystery and nature, and the language is warm like sand in the sun. The imagery is so visceral you can feel it in your skin, the characters so real in their fears and dreams and imperfections that you could reach out and touch their hands, hold them in your heart. It’s been a long time since a book tore at my heart like this, and putting it down each night is like pulling something out of my soul.

In a review of Say You’re One of Them, a collection of short stories, Nnedi Okorafor wrote, “I can stand the dark but I need light so that I can see where I need to go.” I can’t think of any better way to describe Who Needs Death: there is darkness, so much it sometimes seems that it’ll bubble over and break you into pieces, but there is light, too, and Onye sees it, drawing us closer to it.

Onye keeps moving. She doesn’t just walk. She flies.

And reader, she takes us with her.