Ignorganization

Cleaning is not something one does because one wants to.  Our inner five-year-olds rebel against it, pouting in corners, stomping feet, wailing “after I beat this monster!” or “lemme just finish this one thing online.”  But we know better.  These are tactics to get our brains to shut up so we can have more candy, or to get nagging roommates to leave us be while we glut on video games.

Then along comes a deadline like a big black spider.  Here is a project that wants your attention.  Those documents have to be done by November 7th, that paper is due on the 8th.  Suddenly, that broom leaps into your hand, and you Disney-dance with it all through the kitchen.  Suddenly, your bedroom floor is not only visible, but clear as a bright winter sky.  Suddenly all the laundry is washed and folded and put away.  The sink is empty of dishes and the counters sparkle.  Even the bathroom glimmers.

You, my friend, are a dirty ignorganizer.  To avoid investing your precious efforts into one big push and to turn aside that inner voice calling you a lazy lump, you have mastered the art of ignorganization, putting off important tasks by way of cleaning.  Those reports need to be on a desk by tomorrow?  Don’t get in front of the computer, rearrange your work area!  Have a Halloween costume you still need to make?  Don’t sew; organize your gardening supplies!  You can even use your powers on related tasks, gaining even more deflective credibility: big trip coming up?  Instead of actually preparing, clean the car instead.  You’ll need the space, right?  Even though the car is going to sit at the airport for a week, or get driven back home by your friend, you need a place to put all your one bag that the airline still allows you to carry on.  You’ll thank yourself later.

I know you all have tasks to avoid, so I’m going to let you finish your ignorganizing in peace.

Revocation of My Adulting License

I sat down yesterday amid the wedding preparations, the acres of cloth for my fiancé’s dress, and the mess we’d left in the kitchen that was screaming at me to clean (I obstinately parked my ass next to the fabric and ignored the yelling; I hope the dishes realize I’m snubbing them) and it occurred to me that I am an adult. 

I know, right?  Me.  A grown-up.  In my thirties.  I have green hair, for chrissake.  I watch cartoons.  Sometimes, in the supermarket, I wave my arms haphazardly over my head while trying to keep my balance on the cart I’ve pushed like a skateboard down aisle 9… crying “WHEEEEEEEEEE!”  I think that’s strikes against my adulting license.

It’s not just that I don’t match the traditional description of an adult.  I don’t feel like I’m a grown-up.  This isn’t some “hey, I’m Peter Pan, la-la-la,” not feeling like a grown-up, either.  This is that full on imposter syndrome “oh shit, when they find me out, they’re not going to let me buy alcohol anymore and void all the contracts I’ve entered!” not feeling like an adult. 

So in a moment of panic, I called my mother.  I don’t normally do this.  For one thing, liberal though she is, we have a difference of opinion on issues of gender and religion.  Sometimes it’s just plain hard to talk to her, unless I want also to know the mind of god.  Most times, it’s fair to say I didn’t sign up for that (…except the times when I’m feeling like a particularly combative asshole).  But in this case, she has thirty years experience on me.  That’s nothing to scoff at.

After we made our small talk, I nervously ventured, “Mom… when did you first really feel like an adult?”

There was a pause on the other end of the line.  My stomach took that time to ooze through my toes.  Then she laughed, “Honey, I still don’t feel like an adult.”

“You raised two kids!”

“So?”

“Shit.”

“Watch your mouth.”

This Is not a Video Game

It is a mile wide and an inch deep, this land of Tamriel.  There are moments when I get the impression of keen awareness of human nature, and others where quests and dialogue seem slap-dash enough that I wonder if any thought went into them at all.  But the real reason I’ve been continuing to play, led on and on past scenery porn and glitched quest triggers, is because playing it gives a sense of reward.  Because it’s “fun” and you build a character through your play style, and there’s supposed to be traces of myth and legend and… it’s fallen short.  I am playing through quests that ask me to shame women for their sexual behavior.  I am playing through quests that show men to be lecherous drunks.  I am playing through quests asking me to fight evil that is never explained.

This is not to say I am against video games.  Like books, they fueled my childhood.  But there seems to be something of a potential lost in most of the titles I come across these days.  Vast shallow pools of very pretty water.  Empty outlines of the same tales again and again.  Not just the damsel in distress, but the same war stories, the same hero-savior tales over and over.  That can’t be the only way to approach a tale you interact with.  I makes me want to sit and simply play Minecraft, and browse only through indie titles.

So today, I turned off the computer after having slayed yet another surprise dragon who swooped in during my fight with a vampire and his thralls who’d led an attack on the town.  The neat behavior/reward cycle created by games had gone all haywire.  I felt like a lump of a person.  I felt like I hadn’t deeply engaged any new ideas.  This is because I hadn’t.  I’d only been absorbing the same ideas over and over, about trite characters and my own place as the hero.  Instead of diving into tasks that society deems “useful,” I did what any self respecting lazy bum of a writer would do.  I scanned my book shelves, pulled a title I hadn’t yet read, and proceeded out to the garden to read.  After a while, that flowed naturally into gardening, trimming back stray suckers, harvesting the little red gems of my hot peppers, and repotting the seedlings an errant skunk uprooted in her nightly search for grubs.  After I traversed a couple dozen pages and got some dirt under my nails, I felt rested.  Aware.  Useful.

This contrast didn’t come just because I’d been playing video games earlier, but because the games I’d been playing offered me nothing of the richness I craved.  They offered repackaged narratives on par with Twilight.  And I find that offensive, simply because games can offer us so much more.  To see fantastic concepts, potentially rich worlds, and interesting ideas in gameplay hitched to crappy storytelling and regurgitated notions of society is a slap in the face.  Games hold the potential to be great art.  I’ve seen few that as yet live up to that challenge.

But it’s a challenge.  For me, I heard it issued years ago.  I intend to take it up.

Gender and the Notion of a Wedding

So, I’m taking part in this this odd cultural institution that seems to be present in all societies across the globe, though it’s conceived of differently in each one.  I’m going to be getting married.

Now, just saying that comes with a host of assumptions.  Being female-bodied and vaguely identifying in that direction (making me an uncozily cisgendered person), people have asked me about things like flowers and dresses and all that nonsense.  But the fact is, not only are these things that don’t interest me in the least, I’m not the person in this couple whom you should be asking.

My future spouse, male-bodied, and queer identifying, is.  We are sewing him a dress.  With ruffles.  We are pulling out all the stops for him to get to look pretty: sugaring his body, purchasing makeup, investing in more peacock feathers than I can comprehend.  This is all for him to wear.  As a result, we both kind of think of him as the bride.  It’s his day, after all.  No one should be prettier than him.  Or I’ll punch them.

Me?  I’m stitching a skirt out of a rainbow of neckties, that I think of more as a kilt than a skirt.  In more ways than one, I’m really the groom here.  It’s a not so odd reversal for two people who sit oddly with the gender roles they’ve been handed, neither fully accepting nor rejecting them.  It’s one way out of many to address the demands that such roles create.  Our relationship has been one of fluid boundaries and exploration of these ideas because, well, they’re pretty strict boundaries, confusing and uncomfortable because of their rigidity.

The real trouble comes in when our play and redefinitions and restructuring— according to what in all practicality works best for us— butt up against the law.  Or sometimes the lack thereof.  When we applied for our marriage license, there were spaces for the groom and bride.  On the surface, it makes sense.  Floridians went ahead and passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a contract between one man and one woman.  My feelings toward that aside, I had to list myself as the bride on the form or risk invalidating the entire process.  In all matters up to this point, I had been addressed by close friends as the “guy” here.  The magical grill lighter.  She-who-fixes-shit.  The one who gets the bachelor party.  With strippers.  Probably some queer burlesque thing; you’ll either have to ask my best man about what he’s planning, or inquire after the party.  Suddenly, signing a form that asked about a maiden name and labeling me as “bride” made me feel about two inches tall.

There’s also the matter of a name.  Not only am I keeping mine, my bride-to-be is taking this name as well.  We’ll be the “Boyle” household.  But here’s the rub: Florida has no law one way or the other about gender and name change.  It just states that a marriage license is one of the documents that can be furnished when getting a new name on a driver’s license.  No mention of gender.  No language that says “man” or “woman.”  This doesn’t stop employees of the DMV from denying new licenses to recently married men on the grounds that they have to do the lengthy paid name change process.  It’s a matter of desk clerk law.  Whoever sits on the other side of that desk holds the fate of the Boyle household in their hands… well, maybe not fate, but whether this process is easy or becomes stupidly difficult.

In the sea of terrible injustices out there, yes, these are small matters.  I am well aware that there are those who will point out all the people who can’t marry, people who face jail or death for being gay or trans in countries with bigoted leaders and queerphobic cultures, because they have pointed it out already.  That I shouldn’t complain or talk about my experiences at all because they are “trivial.”

But perhaps it’s more useful to look at it this way: that like anything else regarding boxes, identities, and how people fit, there are firm cultural edifices.  They are walls that we are personally scraped against.  Some people are dashed into them headlong, some people lose limbs dragged across their surface.  My spouse-to-be and I?  We’ve gotten a few bloody scrapes.  They’re ouchy.  We’re not doing it to make a statement, we’re not pretending to be a certain way to stand out.  We, like everyone else, are getting by in ways that work for us.  That fact that we fit somewhere in between gives us certain privileges; it’s closer to the rigid model.  There are parts of us that can squeeze by, only grazing the wall.  There’s less that has to be shorn off in order to jam us in.  But parts have to be shorn off.  That doesn’t make any of it right or pleasant or fun.

Doubt and the Working Writer

This week, as I typed madly at my keyboard adding word after word to this ungainly beast I like to think of as a proto-novel, I did something to one of my texts few have ever witnessed: I surpassed the  20,000 word mark.  Now, this may not seem like much of a triumph, and indeed, for many, this is a chump’s word count.  But I have traditionally dealt in short stories.  Flittered around poems.  Written a fair number of of novelette-length academic papers… and the gorilla of girth in my typing career was my thesis, weighing in at about 30,000 words.  I am prolific, but concise.

I am also a champion worrier.  If worrying were an Olympic sport, I’d be a seven-time gold medalist in the event.  I contend that Shel Silverstein wrote the poem “Whatif” in anticipation of me.  I am so good at worrying, I worry that, in worrying about worrying, someone will surpass my my ability to worry.  This is probably part of why I write.

So, in setting those first 20,000 words down, what could possibly have happened but my old worry machine booted up, scanned the page, and promptly went into spasms.  “Oh gods, Story, how could you write this?!  It’s trash, it’s stringy, and it doesn’t even make sense.  This part no longer makes sense with that other part, and over here your dialog is wooden.  When you write for a while, your descriptions go all flat.  You are going to embarrass yourself.  This is terrible.  You should stick to short stories.  You’re good at those.  This is terrible.”

Except, I knew this would come.  I knew I would have these moments.  This was not the last of them.  I turned off my computer after making damned sure that I saved, and attempted to set it aside for the rest of the evening until I got home.  Then I crept into the back room, uncovered my ancient binder and dove in.  As soon as I opened it, its entire contents flooded out, covering the floor: old pencil drawings, high school poetry, a brief stint with oil pastels, a few hand written first drafts scribbled in graphite.  As I picked them up, I read them.

If you want to exercise your patience, I highly recommend pulling out all your oldest writings.  The stuff from middle school, the stuff from eleventh grade pre-calc, maybe the stuff you wrote during gym class because you were one of the kids who never dressed out.  If you don’t think it’s the most wretched stuff you’ve ever set to page, I guarantee you’re a worse writer than me, and your tastes have not improved.  Either that, or you’re a prodigy, and writers have been sending assassins after you for years.  Or maybe you’re still in high school, in which case I can forgive you.  I held in my hand writing far worse than the stuff I’d just vomited into my word processor.  Writing which I’d gone over and revised at least ten times, if not more.  Writing which, in its final form, I had gotten published.  Then I cried, as any self-respecting champion worrier would.  And, like any proper New England born child, if you ask me again, I’ll deny it.

I suppose this is all to say that from the middle of the process, any endeavor looks like a train wreck.  To some degree, it probably is.  Most people who work through a process like this can tell you from experience what the whole of it tends to look like, but when you’re new to it, you don’t have that luxury.  I have to tell myself as I continue to work— the worst that can happen is I get through the fourth draft, hate it, and chop it into a series of finely crafted short stories.  Then I have short stories.  And I know I’m good at those.