On Ailing

I have too many friends who aren’t healthy at the moment: injuries, cancer, infection, and a couple of cases of severe pain with unknown causes. I’m still having fun with that last category myself, as well as coming to grips with how extended illness can change people and perspectives. So I’m seeing more articles on the topic than usual and paying attention even when I may not have the time and energy for everything I want to do. I need to share two of these.

She was arrested because she refused to follow the unspoken rules: as a woman, it is your job to make the people around you comfortable with who you are. And her scars made someone uncomfortable.

We are conditioned to believe that our beauty lies in our ability to bring aesthetic pleasure to others. We’re taught never to leave the house without makeup, just in case we run in to Mr. Right. We spend childhood daydreams imagining our wedding dresses. Come middle age, we spend our hard-earned money on wrinkle creams and Botox. We’re taught to look beautiful. And we’re taught that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

But what if that’s not true? What if the things that make me beautiful are things with which you’re uncomfortable? What if the beholder doesn’t matter, because the things that make me beautiful are an intrinsic part of who I am?

of Scars has a short and sweet post on the intersection of expectations, appearances, and being an ill woman in public.

As I tried to gain my composure, I glanced around the table for help or guidance, or at least stall for time to think. I was trying to find the right words. How do I answer a question I never was able to answer for myself? How do I explain every detail of every day being effected, and give the emotions a sick person goes through with clarity. I could have given up, cracked a joke like I usually do, and changed the subject, but I remember thinking if I don’t try to explain this, how could I ever expect her to understand. If I can’t explain this to my best friend, how could I explain my world to anyone else? I had to at least try.

At that moment, the spoon theory was born. I quickly grabbed every spoon on the table; hell I grabbed spoons off of the other tables. I looked at her in the eyes and said “Here you go, you have Lupus”.

Christine Miserandino explains what it means to be, not so much sick, as not healthy. It is a must-read.

Be well, everyone.

Repost: To My Conservative Friends and Colleagues

Reposted for topicality and to enhance my reputation as a seer.

Who needs to die before you speak?

We’ve already had one death arguably attributable to this insanity of refusing to recognize the authority of a duly elected president and Congress. How many more will it take?

Sure, the guy was a raving loon, but there are a lot of people out there right now who are being told insane things and believing them. They believe a man could be elected president without anyone verifying his citizenship. They believe Congress could and would pass a bill that mandates euthanasia. They believe they’re about to be rounded up and shipped to gulags or concentration camps for disagreeing with the administration’s policies. It doesn’t matter that those things are insane. These people have been whipped into a fine state of paranoia.

It’s easy to tell yourself you’re not like them, that you merely disagree with the changes that are happening. After all, you’re not insane, just conservative.

Will that matter when the next person dies over this? Representative David Scott has had a swastika painted on his office sign. Another representative was hung in effigy. Representative Brad Miller received a death threat. Senator Arlen Specter invited people to tell him what they thought about health care reform–held back the police who were concerned about violence and disruption–and still people screamed in his face and called him a tyrant. A man showed up to protest the president’s town hall meeting today wearing a gun and carrying a sign that said, “It is time to water the tree of liberty” (referencing Jefferson’s “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”).

Those are just some of the politicians who are on the receiving end of violent anger. Fights are breaking out outside these meetings on health care. My husband was accused earlier this week, by someone who should know better, of planning to turn an old friend in for an “incorrect” political position. I can’t buy ammunition right now to go target shooting because it’s all sold out and has been for months. This whole thing is teetering on the edge. Someone else is going to die soon. Maybe lots of someone elses.

It will be your fault.

“Why?” you ask, “I’m not the one feeding their paranoia.” No, you’re not, but you’re the only people who can stop it.

They’re not going to listen to us. We liberals are already traitors and, somehow, simultaneously Nazis and communists. They believe we’re going to round them up and put them to sleep. They believe that if they listen to us, they die.

Some of them will listen to you because they know you’re on the same side. Some won’t listen, exactly, but will find their first reasons to doubt the lies because you speak against them. Some won’t listen to anyone but Rush and the rest of talk radio and their friends at Fox.

That’s where you need to do your most talking. Talk to the stations and tell them you won’t watch or listen while they refuse to speak against the violence. Tell them you can see how they’re dividing the country and they have a responsibility to do better. Tell them the same thing I’ve told you: Unless they speak against it, they who have so much influence, they are complicit in the violence. They condone with their silence.

Then tell their advertisers the same thing. Then the conservative politicians.

Unless you want the violence, you have to tell those in a leadership position to lead their people in a different direction. They represent you, and you haven’t argued up to this point that they don’t. If they lead us into more violence and death, they are doing it in your name.

If you don’t speak now, the next death will be your fault.

The Abortion Post

Last night, health care reform passed the House. I should have been happy. Not ecstatic–the plan doesn’t contain enough of what I wanted (strong public option) for that. But happy. This is progress. It has been a long time coming, and the forces arrayed against it, from vested interests to an administration unwilling to spend too much political capital to a media more interested in talking about the fight than about the huge political will among the public to see it passed, have been formidable.

Instead, I found myself angry. I Tweeted this:


HCR = yay, but once again, women bear the largest burden of getting everyone to the table and acting like adults.


An old friend on Facebook wanted to know what I meant, so here’s my answer. The anger here isn’t directed at him.

I’m tired of this. I’m tired of my reproductive system being held hostage by people who are, you know, generally okay with treating people decently as long as they can still have a peep into my uterus whenever they feel like it. I’m tired of my autonomy being the price of getting anybody to do anything helpful politically. I’m tired of being the sacrifice for the common good.

This pregnancy thing; you know it kills people, don’t you? It doesn’t kill as many people as it used to, but women still die over this. Those who don’t die are changed, sometimes drastically, sometimes permanently. There isn’t a system of the body that isn’t affected by pregnancy. If it didn’t result in the continuation of the species, we’d be devoting unprecedented resources to finding a cure–despite our poor history addressing conditions that only affect women.

I have a great deal of respect for women who know what pregnancy entails and choose to go through it willingly. Forcing the unwilling, however, is barbaric. That includes the lies and coercion that make it impossible for a woman to make the choice for herself. It also includes the ignorance that is imposed on so many women by insufficient or misleading education on the subject.

Life doesn’t begin at conception. Sperm and eggs are not dead things. They can’t survive without a host, but neither can the products of their fusion. And a large percentage of those don’t survive even with a host.

Neither the Bible nor any other holy book I’m aware of condemns abortion. Most of them do praise life, as do most people in general, whoever they think should get to make reproductive decisions. But aside from the Jains, most religions don’t maintain a core belief that every bit of life must be preserved at all costs. Those messages come from those who don’t have to bear the costs–neither of your pregnancy nor mine–and without them, women who have had abortions don’t experience crushing regrets in this life either.

Of course, this isn’t just about the women. It’s also about the children. It’s about what it’s like to be unwanted, or to be “imperfect” in a world that still doesn’t tolerate difference well. It’s about going hungry amid too many grumbling bellies and starting out in the world too far behind to ever catch up and running wild because someone can work or spend time with you but not both. This too is barbaric.

And this is what we may not fix. This is what we’re not allowed to change, the problem we must set aside every time we want to achieve any tiny step forward in the world. This is the currency with which we buy progress, and last night’s progress is just one more example. The cost of human decency must apparently be human decency.

And it’s pissing me off.

On “Crap”

A friend of mine is currently experience an increased demand for entertainment. After noting a couple of Facebook updates related to television shows that are constantly in syndication, I recommended Hulu. I noted that it offers a lot of crap, but that it allows you to choose the crap you want to watch on your own schedule.

I got some pushback on that as being a negative statement, “passive-aggressive” to be exact. It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. I think most people don’t have the same relationship to the word “crap” that I do.

A lot of that has to do with the general version of Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap. Theodore Sturgeon actually said, “Sure, 90% of science fiction is crud. That’s because 90% of everything is crud,” but nobody else says it that way. It’s always “crap.”

The fun part is that nobody really agrees on which 90% we’re going to label “crap.” Lost is and has been a major television phenomenon. It’s near and dear to the hearts of millions, but I can’t watch it, and I’m not alone. On the other hand, I’m a big fan of Stargate SG-1, at one time the number one television show on the planet. However, it makes large portions of science fiction fandom yawn.

I don’t watch movies to get embroiled in other people’s emotional drama, and (physical and emotional) slapstick makes me cringe, so I’ve seen almost no Oscar-winning movies and have no idea what most of the taglines being used around me mean. I can guess that they’ve got something to do with Will Ferrell, but that’s about it.

On the other hand, it would never occur to me to suggest that my views on movies were anything like objective. The statement that so-and-so “is crap” confuses the hell out of me, even when it’s applied to something like Twilight. After all, if that many kids are driven to read, the books are offering them something. It may not be the same thing I want, but it doesn’t become less compelling to them just because I don’t value it.

I know too many people who sneer at cozy mysteries or find “literature” impenetrable to think there’s anything that can be comfortably categorized as “crap.” Yet we still all do it. Officially, I think that makes 100% of everything crap. So if I refer to your favorite movie, book or show as “crap,” don’t take it personally.

After all, my opinion on the subject is probably crap too.

Questions About Genre

Those of you who read genre fiction know that there are two general approaches for a writer interacting with the genre: hewing closely to the tropes and messing with them, doing the unexpected. Of course, in practice, most writers do some of both.

If you read genre fiction, I’d love your input on two questions. First, are you more likely to pick up a genre book or story if you can tell from the cover and description that it’s more true to the genre or less? Second, which kind of story are you more likely to interact with, to discuss, to recommend friends read or avoid, etc.?

Paying for Free

A couple of days ago, I asked a few questions on Twitter:

  • What is the point of entertaining you if you only tell me when I’m doing it wrong?
  • What is the point of writing anything if I’m brilliant only until I challenge you, when I become insane/dishonest/evil?
  • The best free entertainment/enlightenment comes from people who can do many things. Do you pay enough to keep them doing what you like?

Don’t have any idea what I’m talking about? There’s more at Quiche Moraine.

Anthology News

Two blog anthologies made recent announcements I’d like to share.

If you don’t already know that The Open Lab is available, you’ve either been hanging out under a rock or you don’t spend much time in the science blogosphere. I got to read several of the posts in blog form as one of the judges, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest very soon. A big congratulations to Scicurious on editing an excellent volume.

The Young Australian Skeptics Blog Anthology isn’t out yet, but they just announced the list of posts. I’m honored, not only to have been included, but to be among the company I get to keep. I get to be in an anthology with some of my favorite bloggers. I’ll let you know when it’s available.