On motherhood and voice and being heard

So there’s a strange thing that’s been happening since I became a mother. Specifically, many people seem to have more trouble hearing me than before parenthood.

I understood my time would be tight for a long while, of course, and that I wouldn’t have as much time to speak up, online or in person–most of my writing time is saved for fiction these days. What I didn’t understand is that when I did speak, many people would hear my words–even my words that had nothing to do with parenting–only through the lens of motherhood, and not through the lens of, well, me.

It works like this. I’ll either talk or post about A Thing. It doesn’t really matter what I say specifically–it could be a critique, a complaint, or simply an observation. What matters is that if there’s even the slightest hint of discontent in my comment (and sometimes even if there’s no discontent at all), someone or other will too often proceed to utterly fail to hear me.

Not only fail to hear me, but proceed to tell me how happy they are for me. Even if I was speaking about something I was either unhappy or neutral about.

So maybe I’ll mention my writing time being tight now. Along with sympathetic comments, someone will say something like, “Isn’t parenting wonderful? Enjoy!”

If I mention some parenting challenge (usually in person, because I tend to keep most the actual details of my family life offline), someone will say, “Oh, I’m so happy for you!”

“How wonderful!” “Isn’t it great?” “What really matters is that you’re a parent now!” It seems that if post-motherhood I also express any unhappiness, even passing, trivial, daily-life ordinary-griping unhappiness, even if that unhappiness has nothing to do with my child, someone will often assume what I really need is for them to tell me how happy they are about, well, my unhappiness.

Before I was a mom, those were moments that called for sympathy or empathy, as I recall.

I do get it. This is lovingly done, for the most part, these cheerful responses to less-than-cheerful statements, an attempt to express love and support. I appreciate love and support. But when the words I have actually spoken get ignored in an attempt to remind me to be happy, what that says is not I love and support you but I don’t hear you.

Having my voice heard truly is tremendously important to me. It’s why I write.

I’m guessing I’m not alone. I’m guessing there are at least some other moms–writers or not–who feel the same way, which is part of why I’m posting now.

Parenting is awesome. I love my child, I love watching the day to day changes, I love seeing our family and household grow and change too. There’s a lot that’s amazing in my life right now, and I am genuinely and deeply and beyond-words grateful. Maybe I don’t say it enough, especially online where my focus is more on the professional than the personal, especially when I assume that everyone of course knows I feel that way. So I’m saying it again now.

But the rest of my life didn’t cease to exist the moment I met my child, and the rest of my emotions and observations and the whole of my me-ness didn’t cease to exist the moment I became a parent. Being a mom is an addition to and expansion of who I am, not a replacement for who I am. I am not some generic what-a-mom-is. I am me and I am a mom. There’s a difference.

As mothers, part of our job is to learn to listen to our children. It’s a wonderful part of our job.

But I don’t think it’s too much to ask that those who care about us don’t forget how to listen at the very same time that we’re learning it.

For many new parents, now, more than ever, is the time that we want and need to be heard and seen truly.

On recent events

I haven’t had the time to post much these past weeks, and so I haven’t said much in the wake of events in Ferguson–instead I’ve been listening, thinking, listening some more.

But here’s one thought I had: Donors Choose, a site for funding classroom projects at schools around the country, allows one to sort projects by city/town. Wouldn’t it be awesome of we could get all the Ferguson school projects funded? I think it would be. Amazing numbers of people have turned out to support Ferguson’s library and buy books for its shelves this past week. Helping support the community’s schools seems the next logical step, to me. Especially since public school funding has always been more about economic privilege than we like to admit.

And here’s another, less comfortable thought: I’m grateful that I haven’t been seeing the same degree of outright racism on my social media feeds that some of my friends have seen on theirs in the wake of the Ferguson decision. But I have seen something else, and so I feel this has to be said: Saying or implying that because you see some degree of (very different, non-equivalent) bad behavior on all sides this means that either 1) no one is right or wrong or has any moral high ground, or 2) that we all need to just stop all this uncomfortable disagreeing and just behave / get along — are ways of, intentionally or not, to shutting down debate and discouraging the speaking and hearing of uncomfortable truths about racial inequalities that still very much exist in American society, at a very high cost.

If you find yourself instinctively doing this — wanting to say either “let’s not argue” or “everyone’s acting badly” I recommend stepping back and working to listen for a while instead.

If you’re white that means (if hearing race mentioned at all makes you instinctively uncomfortable that means) especially listening to voices from the black community and other communities of color.

There’s more than one reason I’m trying to listen more than speak right now.

And finally what seems to me a very relevant quote:

“Now I wanted to say something about the fact that we have lived over these last two or three summers with agony and we have seen our cities going up in flames. And I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results.

“But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

–Martin Luther King Jr.

And now, back to listening.

Buy Nothing Friday, Small Business Saturday

I will, once again, be celebrating Buy Nothing Friday this Black Friday, and actively avoiding both the crowds and the idea that the more we buy, the better, or that we need as much “stuff” as so many would have us believe.

Saturday, I’ll be supporting the idea that when we do buy (less than we think we need), we can try to do our buying locally as part of Small Business Saturday.

Specifically, from 2-4 p.m. Saturday I’ll be at Tucson’s Mostly Books, recommending books to YA-inclined customers, as well as signing my own titles.

If you are out shopping, come find me there!

But, you know. If you choose to take the whole weekend off from consumerism, I respect that too. But when you do whatever holiday shopping you choose to do, do keep your local bookstores in mind. Most will even let you order online these days, just like less local booksellers do.

And Arizona makes 30

When I got married, just a few years after moving to Arizona, I took doing so rather for granted. To say my spouse and I were happy to be together would be a vast understatement–we were overjoyed, giddy, beyond-words about being together–but the actual act of marriage, the filling out of paperwork to make official what we already knew, that we took rather lightly. We were going to be together forever, after all, whether or not we had a piece of paper saying so.

I don’t take that piece of paper for granted any longer. Not because anything above is any less true now than it was the day we got married, but because along with the rest of our country we’ve witnessing couples fighting for that piece of paper I once so easily dismissed. I know there are those who worry that marriage equality will lessen the sanctity of existing marriages, but to me it’s a reminder of how valuable and worth fighting for the right to marry is–something that makes marriage more precious, not less.

But before and ahead of any of that, marriage equality is a fundamental civil rights victory. And that’s why I’m thrilled that today, Arizona has lifted its ban on same-sex marriages, and that right now, downtown in my own city, marriage licenses are being issued.

On why I won’t be doing much mommy blogging

There’s so much I want to tell you about our child. Small things, big things … for more than two decades I’ve been sharing and processing life experiences online. Doing so has become pretty instinctive for me, and becoming a family is pretty much as huge a life experience as there is.

I could probably do a pretty decent job blogging about this new journey. Writing is, after all, the thing I’ve spent the past couple decades living and breathing and learning. If I chose to tell our family’s and our child’s story online in the years ahead, I would do it well. A part of me wants to do just that.

But there’s one thing I can’t do well: tell that story in my child’s voice. This journey isn’t just my journey, after all.

There are parenting bloggers out there doing a good job, bloggers whom I’ve read and learned from, so I can’t quite take a hard and fast stand against all parent blogging. Many of these blogs work hard to maintain anonymity, too, which I think is the very least one must do when talking in any depth about children too young to give informed consent. I also know that there’s a difference between sharing trivial surface observations about things common to most children and sharing the intimate details of of a specific child’s specific life, and I’m not drawing so firm a line as to say I’ll never do the former.

It won’t be often though, and when I err, I hope to always err on the side of protecting my child, rather than of entertaining or bringing insight to readers. This post is, on one level, a simple reminder of that commitment. Young children can’t weigh in about what they do and don’t want shared, so it’s up to us to hold their experiences close and safe for them.

There’s also a larger issue here that’s more adoption specific: that adoption journeys are already too often framed in terms of the perspectives of adoptive parents instead of those of adopted children. I see this in adoption picture books that emphasize parental longing over the child’s emotional journey. I see when people tell adoptees they’re “lucky” to be in a family (as if complete strangers have the right to tell them how to feel or where their gratitude should be placed), or worse, that they’re “lucky” to be loved (as if adopted children don’t have the right to take love as much for granted as any other child, and also as if they didn’t receive and give love before they ever came to their final families). I see it, as I work to become a better and better listener, in the communities where adoptees are speaking up with increasing frequency about feeling like their own voices are far too often considered the least important voices in discussions of their own lives.

There are so many reasons to err on the side of protecting all our children and their stories until they can tell them for themselves, especially when speaking in public places–and a blog is just about as public as it gets. For more than two decades, I’ve been living a part of my life here and in other online places. Now, I’m reminded that there are parts of life that need to be lived offline, too.

So that’s what we’ll be doing.

While posts about writing, the Arizona desert, and any number of other things will, of course, continue as they always have.

On doing a thing I needed to do

As many of you know, my first sale was to one of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover anthologies, and that sale gave me my first glimmer of hope that I could build a professional writing career. I recently had a story appear in a second Darkover anthology, produced by MZB’s estate, and I tremendously enjoyed returning to one of the places where my career began.

As some you also know, this week Marion Zimmer Bradley’s daughter revealed in public that her mother abused her.

I read and reread her daughter’s words this week. I read, too, portions of MZB’s own court deposition (from her husband’s trial, also for child abuse) that I hadn’t read before. Then yesterday I took a deep breath, and I added up the advances from my two Darkover sales, my Darkover royalties, and (at his request) my husband Larry Hammer’s payment for his sale to MZB’s magazine.

And then we made a donation to the anti-abuse charity RAINN for that amount. I’ll donate any future Darkover royalties, as well.

I remain proud of the Darkover stories I’ve written, and I respect the many fellow writers who also got their start on the pages of MZB’s anthologies and in her magazine. MZB played a huge role in many of our careers, and it’s not my intention to deny that, or to deny how deeply many readers were touched–and in some cases saved–by MZB’s work.

But I also can’t deny the harm caused by the flawed creator of that work. What I can do is see to it that my having written in her worlds goes towards fighting those same hurts and abuses in the places they’re happening now.

So that’s what I’m doing.

And I’m posting about it here–though this feels more like a personal decision than a public one–because silence about abuse creates the illusion of acceptance, and illusions gain power over time, and so sometimes, speaking aloud is more important than staying comfortable.

On the Amtrak residency: residencies versus contests, dreams versus desperation

When I first heard that Amtrak was considering having writers-in-residence on its trains, I was pretty captivated by the idea. I find trains deeply evocative, liminal, even mythic. I loved the idea of hopping on board for a multi-day trip (instead of my previous several hour or single-day rides), of watching the landscape roll by, of chatting with my fellow passengers, and of, presumably, writing up a storm. So I figured I’d go ahead and apply. Why not? I knew the Amtrak Residency was a PR move from the very start, but I’ve worked in business communications and I actually thought it was a brilliant PR move. I’m in favor of train travel, so it wasn’t like I’d be promoting something I didn’t believe in.

Along the way I priced out some sleeper-class tickets for long-haul journeys, because if I really wanted to get in some train-writing time badly enough, there were of course ways to do that even without Amtrak awarding me a free ticket. I looked at the prices, for sleeper cars especially, and … realized that I actually didn’t want to do this badly enough. Not as badly, anyway, as the many other things I wanted more that I could also do for the cost of a long-haul train ticket. At this point I still planned to apply–a few days writing on a train would still of a heckuva lot of fun–but I’d clarified that this wasn’t some great life priority for me.

Then the Amtrak Residency application went live, and I saw that this wasn’t so much a writers’ residency as a writers’ contest–complete with the requirement, common to many contests, that entrants give over legal rights to the application. The rights Amtrak was demanding from writer-entrants were non-exclusive (cool), but they also included the up-to-10-page writing sample attached to the application (not cool) and, worse, those rights would be given up simply by applying, whether or not one was awarded a free ticket (even less cool). I stepped back and thought it through. A sleeper-car train ticket is actually reasonable compensation for a 2000-3000 word article, given the cost of a ticket and going freelance rates. But an entry in a contest for a possible train ticket is … not.

Writers have been applying in tremendous numbers in spite of the rights issue and the low chance of compensation for same, eight thousand of them last I heard. With that many applicants and those terms, the whole business feels less and less like a group of professionals and would-be professionals applying for a residency, and more and more like a group of hopefuls buying rather expensive lottery tickets.

But what’s truly disconcerting is the way more and more applicants are talking about the residency, tossing around phrases like “this would be a dream come true for me.” Just this morning I saw one person claim he would just die if he were selected, and another claim she was salivating at the possibility of being one of the “Chosen,” and I couldn’t help feeling like somewhere along the way, realistic perspective about this whole business had been lost.

Either they’re (some of them) making all of this up to make their applications look better–because, really, of all the grand dreams in the world, how many thousands of people really put a domestic U.S. round trip train ticket at the very top?; or else this really is their (some of their) grand dream–because, okay, dreams are highly personal, and just because this isn’t at the very top of my list doesn’t mean it’s not at the top of a whole bunch of other writers’ lists.

But the thing is, if something really is your grand dream? Entering contests and buying a lottery tickets isn’t the usually way to obtain one’s dreams. (I dream of returning to Iceland, too, and so I’ve entered contests for free IcelandAir tickets, but I’ve never seriously believed that was the way I was really going to get back there.) A dream as grand as some Amtrak Residency applicants seem to believe this is calls for strategizing, and marshaling/saving one’s resources, and thinking through what else one can do if saving resources isn’t enough. (Maybe a shorter journey is required to make it happen, or sleeping in coach, or getting off the train at the end of the day and sleeping in hotel rooms or a tent in the towns one passes through.)

If the trip is truly that deeply, earth-shatteringly important to a writer, maybe it even calls for striving to sell one’s work at fair market price in order to put the profits towards making it happen, rather than blowing that work and those profits on lottery tickets.

The problem with wanting a dream this badly and thinking a lottery ticket is the only way to get it is … then you become desperate, and willing to pay too much for the lottery ticket you think is your only shot. I hear that desperation in other comments in that online discussion, comments along the lines of “don’t you want to be read?” and “it’s not like you don’t have other work” and “what’s the big deal, it’s only ten pages?”

That air of desperation may be what’s making me most uncomfortable, and what’s taken the luster away from something that was, initially, a nifty idea. Because train rides are a heckuva lot of fun. They’re just not worth selling my soul or even my words for a one-in-eight-thousand chance of getting one.

On the defeat of Arizona’s SB1062 and the importance of local voices

So this week Arizona’s governor vetoed SB1062, which would have allowed businesses to choose who to serve based on their personal beliefs, and which would especially have made it easy to refuse to deny service (in restaurants, in medical offices, in countless other places) based on sexual orientation, because of the lack of other anti-discrimination legislation that would have protected the LGBT community in the face of that bill.

As one does when one’s elected representative does the right thing–even if I didn’t personally elect her, and even if I disagree with most of her decisions–I thanked her, both on social media and with a call and letter to her office. (I’d also written and called, earlier in the week, to register my opposition to the bill.)

A few people suggested that thanking Governor Brewer was inappropriate, essentially because, they said, she only vetoed the bill at all because national pressures shamed her into it.

Well, actually, our governor did veto a similar bill about a year ago with far less national attention focused on the matter, but never mind that … national pressures did play a huge role in the veto of this bill, and we’re grateful for them. But local pressures played a huge role too. So did the fact that not only Arizona liberals but also many Arizona conservatives outside the state legislature–including both our U.S. senators–as well as Arizona interests such as the Phoenix economic council (hardly a liberal stronghold) urged her strongly to consider a veto. Pretty much everyone–well, not everyone, but huge huge numbers of people–in Arizona outside the legislature, with a few exceptions, was urging a veto.

I say this because I think there’s a tendency, when a conservative state does something deeply troubling, for the liberals in less conservative states to see it as their job to “save” us. And that’s both true and not true.

I’ve had liberal friends in other states offer to write editorials to my own papers for me and sign my name to them, under the assumption that this was something we, I don’t know, just couldn’t do this for ourselves. I’ve had them come here to monitor our polls, not asking whether there were those already here in sympathy with her views who might be perfectly capable of doing so. Just recently I had a friend in a liberal state actually tell me proudly how in her state, the Sanctuary movement was ever-so-much-better, because in her state, everyone supported it and there was no need for secrets. I managed to get my jaw up off the floor long enough to explain to her that actually, Sanctuary began in Arizona. And over and over again, I have friends who share my political views ask me, directly and indirectly, “How can you live there?”

I remember learning, as an adult, that during the civil rights protests of the 1960s, Mississippians and Alabamans had mixed feelings when northerners headed south to fight the injustices there–because national action did make a huge difference, but the south also had their own home-grown activist community already there protesting before the northerners arrived, and that got forgotten a little as outsiders came in and took over. I was startled at the time–being from a northeastern state, I’d been raised on stories of how we did save those less right-minded than us–but after a couple decades in Arizona, I get it.

We want your help. We need your help, and we value it. But we’re not incompetent children who are standing by idle waiting for you to swoop in and save us. (Did you know we were protesting the legislative shutdown of our Mexican studies program for months before the national media finally noticed?) We’re activists, too, and of course we’re working to change things. I’m not working nearly as hard as many … mostly I’m writing letters these days … but since moving to Arizona, I’ve regularly met people who through the years have put their lives and livelihoods and freedom on the line to do the right thing–far more than I ever met living in the northeast. When I’m asked by those who share my views how I can live here, more and more often I want to ask them how they can live their comfortable lives–lives where they don’t have to fight for or put anything on the line for their beliefs, or have them questioned by friends or neighbors or acquaintances, or even learn that most basic skill of how to get along with people who disagree with them–and then ask that question.

When I called my governor’s office to register my disapproval of SB1062 and my hopes for a veto, her staff asked me for my zip code. They were paying attention to who was calling from within the state and who was calling from outside. Had there truly been no protest at all from within, no way would that bill have been signed. The fact that I live here and registered my protest, in however small a way, mattered. If I left Arizona–if I left this gorgeous soul-filling desert and the fabulous community that live here–there’d would be one less local voice here to do so.

What I’m saying is this: National voices mattered for this battle. They matter for many of our battles. We need allies, and we couldn’t have defeated this bill without you. So thank you for that.

But you need to know that Arizona voices mattered too. And you couldn’t have done it without us, either.

On hesitance and power and apologies

First, Melissa Marr talks about emails that start by apologizing for asking questions: “Please don’t apologize for being inquisitive or for having opinions. Be proud that you’re curious and clever. It’s good to have thoughts & questions. It’s just one if the many ways that people can be awesome. Be assertive. Admit to yourselves that you do, in fact, kick ass.”

On her email page Tamora Pierce says the same thing, only differently:Please don’t refer to yourself or what you say as ‘pathetic,’ ‘boring,’ ‘stupid,’ ‘ordinary,’ ‘insignificant,’ ‘weird,’ ‘strange’ … In this wonderful world, there will be people lining up to put you down, belittle you, and treat you badly. Please don’t give them a head start by talking that way about yourself.”

Then Idina Menzel talks more about why women tend to hide their power and retreat behind apologies: “… where Elsa and I meet, is wrestling with being a strong, powerful, extraordinary woman. Also, we worry about having to hide that, in fear of hurting other people. I understand and relate to that. I think as women, the smarter and more powerful we are, the more it can be threatening and alienating to other people … It’s not until now, and in the past 10 years, honestly, that I’m finally not apologizing for all the different things that I do.”

For many women, not apologizing for our opinions and our power doesn’t always come easily, what with the people on the one hand who tell us (directly or indirectly) that we’re getting above ourselves and those on the others who tell us that we’re hurting them by being too forceful. But being confident doesn’t make us unkind or uppity, and neither does owning the things we’re genuinely good at without apology.

I know too well that it takes work not to apologize for the many things that don’t require apology (existing and taking up space at all being not the least of them), what with all the training we get to apologize at every turn. But these habits can be unlearned. It takes work, and it’s an ongoing process. But I believe, strongly and without apology, that it’s worth doing.

Media sharks

It occurs to me that a peaceful shark migration, dominated by species not generally associated with attacks on humans, could be a feel-good sort of wildlife biology story. Humans detect migrating sharks, sensibly put out the word so other humans can get out of their way, and the sharks successfully migrate, as they do every year, in spite of this year’s migration being a little later that expected.

Instead of the deadly-dangerous-sharks-swarm-Florida-beaches story I saw on TV at the gym this morning and continue to see through other online news sources.

How about more coverage of the migration itself instead? As a Southwesterner I didn’t know until now that the Florida coast had such a massive and regular migration of blacktip and spinner sharks. Sounds pretty awesome, actually.

Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on sharing the water with sharks.