#MeToo

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault & Harassment 

The MeToo movement has been around for ten years, started by a black woman named Tarana Burke (more info can be found here), but I didn’t hear about it until this week when Alyssa Milano wrote on social media, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

Within a day, those words echoed throughout my timeline, in a way that was somehow simultaneously horrifying, traumatizing, and comforting. Horrifying: to know that so many others had suffered the same way I had. Traumatizing: as many of their stories made me re-live my own experiences. Comforting: to know it wasn’t something I did, some inherent failure in my person that caused these things to happen to me.

So here, if you can stomach it, is my list of some of the worst times I’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted. (I know many women have had worse experiences than these, I feel like mine are kind of “average,” which in a way makes this even grosser.) I’ve never had the nerve to report any of them, except the first incident, which quickly taught me how rigged the system is against the victim.:

  • Age 10 or 11 : boys at school started a butt-pinching & pu**y-grabbing game called “squeaking.” (You can read that whole story here)
  • Age 12: multiple incidents of walking to the corner store or grocery stroe alone and being cat-called or honked at, often by men older than my father.
  • Age 14: was followed home and groped by a 12-year-old kid I’d gone to elementary school with. I tried to physically fight him off, but he was stronger than me. I only got away when I announced his full name loudly and told him I was going home to call the cops on him.
  • Age 15: the 17-year-old playing my boyfriend in our community theatre insisted on “realism” by groping me during every performance (there was a part where I got to hit him in the play, and I regularly put my all into it). Same production, at the opening night party the musical director cornered me and told me I was so beautiful he was missing his cues, he spent all his time staring at me.
  • Age 16: creepy old doctor insists I take my shirt off so he can use his stethoscope “properly.” I’m there for a busted ankle.
  • Age 17: a teacher (I wasn’t in any of his classes, thankfully) started flirting with me/hitting on me so hard, I was scared to go to the caf on the weeks he was on lunch duty.
  • Age 18: a boy on  my co-ed softball league knocked me down (accidentally-ish) hard enough to knock me out and cause my first concussion. He then told everyone he “took me out” and I “went down” for him.
  • Also age 18: I worked in a donut shop at the intersection of two highways. It was well known that the place was always staffed at night by a lone teenage girl. Guys would come and sit for hours in the shop, hitting on me, staring at me. I was terrified one day one of them would go farther. On the worst nights, I’d call friends and family to come and sit in the shop during my shift, and bribe them with free donuts. When they came, the guy(s) would leave immediately. I stopped taking evening shifts.
  • Age 19: A friend’s dad got drunk at a wedding and grabbed me and kissed me.
  • Also Age 19: a manager at my job who was always making lewd remarks called me and another girl in to the office to show off his birthday cake. It was an erotic cake.
  • Also also age 19: went to Montreal with my English-only-speaking grandmother. Taxi drivers would hit on me in French, say lewd things. To this day, I don’t take taxis unless there’s no other way/other people in the car.
  • Age 20: I invited a date over to watch a movie. We started kissing. He pinned me down and wouldn’t stop. I finally got him to stop, but then he wouldn’t leave my house. I locked myself in my room with a chair under my doorknob and didn’t sleep. The next day he walked me to work (where we both worked) and implied to everyone we’d slept together.
  • Age 21: I got sent across the country to help train new store staff, with a manager and a male co-worker. We stayed at a B&B. The manager spent the whole week pressuring me for sex (“It’s just sex. Loosen up.”), even in front of my co-worker. I quit shortly after we got back to our town.

There are more that I can’t even bring myself to write. And others I’m not sure are worth the energy (the dozens of times complete strangers have rubbed themselves against me in bars/clubs/buses, for example. Or the (again) complete strangers that start by striking up a “friendly” conversation, that turns into a compliments session, that turns into angry name-calling if you won’t give out your phone number/agree to a date.)

I don’t have any good solutions, except that maybe if people start to realize how pervasive the problem is, we as a society can start to effect a change (but also, if you can’t bring yourself to post #MeToo because of the trauma involved, that’s cool too. Everyone needs to do what’s best for their own health).

For my part, I’ve already started teaching my kids (male and female) about consent and respecting boundaries so we have a basis for future lessons. My greatest wish is that my kids never have a #MeToo status to post.

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The Green Eyed Monster Rears Its Head

The past few weeks, my timeline has been filled with good news from friends and writing idols: book sales, book launches, awards, movie deals, interviews, and celebrity encounters, among other things. It feels like everyone I know (and lots of people I don’t know) have exciting book news to announce. And I’m super happy for their successes. I’m glad they’re getting the attention they (and their books) deserve.

But…

Deep down inside there’s this little tiny part that wonders, When will it be my turn? and What if I’m just not as good as them?

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by those kinds of doubts. To let Imposter Syndrome convince you you’re the last person who should be writing. I think it’s part of the reason that, while my MG revisions have been slow, my YA draft is non-existent. (“I just need to plot some more,” I say everyday, even though I’ve already filled one whole notebook.)

(Of course another reason is probably the unending headaches – it’s hard to concentrate enough to draft when your head feels like it’s being crushed – but it’s more than just the pain stopping me.)

So what can I do about it? Well, pretty much I just need to snap out of my funk. Suck it up and get over myself. Other people’s victories don’t take anything away from me – if anything they open up more opportunities for the future.

Instead of focussing on all the things outside of my own control, I need to concentrate on things I can control: like writing the next book.

What about you? Have you faced down the green-eyed monster? Have any tricks for beating it you’d like to share? Put them in the comments.

The Storm

So, it looks like I may have ticked off more than just the head injury gods last week (How? I don’t even know).

The last few weeks in Ottawa have been unseasonably warm – hotter than the summer. All that changed on Wednesday as a cold front rolled in at the end of the school day. Standing there with the other parents waiting to pick up kids, I watched the dark clouds whipping in and we took bets whether we’d make it home dry. Occasional gusts of warm wind made me wonder if my flimsy mid-thigh-length skirt had been the best choice of clothing (spoiler alert: it was not).

When the bell rang, and the kids ran out, the sky was still was still blue enough that some parents hung around to play on the playground. I ran inside to check with my concussed kid’s teacher about the next day’s planned activity day (they told me to keep him home). As I got back outside, a few raindrops fell lazily from the sky.

The kids and I hurried toward home, less than ten minutes away. By the time we reached the sidewalk, the rain was heavy enough to need the umbrellas I’d brought, just in case.

A gust of wind hit my umbrella and tried to flip it inside out. I shouted for the kids to cross to the side street – a route that’s slightly longer, but more sheltered from the wind. We caught up to another family, who hadn’t brought umbrellas, and my daughter matched pace with them, determined to share her own umbrella, leaving the boys and me in her wake.

Thunder boomed overhead.

About a minute later, at the bend in the road, the wind swirled around us so fiercely it picked up my skirt in one motion, turning it completely inside out, and plastering to my abdomen like a second shirt. If anyone could have seen out their windows, they would have got a good look at me in my underwear.

I didn’t even try to push it down, but just pressed on.

The boys were having trouble walking against the wind. They were still struggling with their umbrellas – now completely inside out – and I screamed at them to put them down and run. I couldn’t see my daughter anywhere.

The world around us looked like footage from a hurricane. Solid walls of water, moving sideways, trees leaning, barely any visibility beyond a few feet. There are no sidewalks on the road, and I was terrified a car was going to come out of nowhere and hit us.

Within ten seconds of putting down my umbrella I was drenched. I didn’t have to worry about my skirt flying up, it was far too sodden to go anywhere. My running shoes were filled with puddles. I urged the boys forward, but the concussed boy (Boy #2) fought my demands to hurry, since he was under doctor’s orders not to run.

We hit the edge of the road, a straight run on sidewalks to our house, and I screamed for Boy #1 to run home as fast as he could. I grabbed the hand of Boy #2 and ran with him at a slow jog – worried for both our heads – but by now the rain was already easing up. My feet sloshed with every step.

As I turned the corner to our house, visibility had returned enough to see the streets were filled with bits of trees. The Girl ran up to me in a panic. “Mama, look!” she pointed into our side yard.

Had we just walked home in a tornado?

But no. At least not according to the news. It was a “micro burst.”

Inside, we discovered we had no power – but the power company’s message assured us it would be back on within two hours. I called my husband to ask him to pick up food, and checked in on others.

Sirens filled the air outside, along with the smell of smoke. We locked ourselves in, windows closed, and waited.

The power didn’t come back for almost 24 hours. We went for a walk that night to see the damage and were astounded: tree and power lines down, eavestrough ripped right off houses, and a house that caught on fire (from a tree knocking a live power line onto the roof). Plus, I’m told a child from my kids’ school was hit by a falling tree. It’s almost a week later and (at the time of writing this) the wooded area near my house is still closed due to the amount of damage from the storm.

The storm lasted less than ten minutes.

It seems almost unreal how much damage was done in such a short amount of time. How lucky we were not to get hurt (a large tree came down on the faster route home, so it was a very good thing I chose the more sheltered, if longer, route), or have more damage to our own property.

And it also made me think about Puerto Rico, and how much worse it is there. How much longer and stronger their storm was. How hard it was to feed my family with no power for 24 hours, when some of the stores around me still had power – and what it would be like to be without it, potentially for months… Not to mention the added luck we had, that the storm brought cool weather with it, so we didn’t have to struggle in the heat without electricity to help keep us cool.

We were lucky, but the people of Puerto Rico weren’t, and now they need help. Some fabulous kidlit people have got together to raise money via an auction that ends tonight (Thursday October 5th at 10pm), so if you want to help out and maybe score some cool kidlit prizes, check it out here.

In the meantime, maybe start thinking about some small changes you can make to affect your environmental footprint. If we all do a little bit, maybe we can slow down climate change before these storms become everyday occurrences.

Tempting Fate…and Losing

So, remember how last week I wrote about my big pet peeve of head injuries in media? Well, it looks like I must have ticked off the head injury gods, resulting in one of the worst weeks I’ve ever had.

When I wrote last week’s post, I said I’d just come out of a five-day-long migraine, but it turned out I was just in a reprieve. It ended up being nine days of pain at or above 7/10 on the pain scale, that only ended when my neurologist put me on a course of steroids (which have dulled the pain down to a 2-5, and are currently tearing up my guts, but hey, at least I can see straight again.)

How bad did the pain get? Well, by Day 9 it was so bad, just walking around shook my brain so much it brought me to tears. Fun times.

To make matters worse, Boy #2 decided to copy his twin and run headfirst into the gym wall on Friday, earning us a late-night trip to the ER for a concussion of his very own. (He’ll be okay, but we had a quiet weekend of no screen time, and he’s in for a week of no recess or gym class at school.)

Needless to say, I haven’t been getting much work done.

My focus has been scattered, to say the least, making it tricky to edit my MG up for critique. Instead, I’ve just been saving all the crits in a file to look at later, hoping they’ll make more sense to my brain when it’s not pulsing with a migraine.

I’ve also started plotting out a new YA Contemporary, a fairy tale re-telling, that’s pretty slow-going. I’d love to start writing it soon, but worst-case I might make it a NaNo project this year. (“Worst case.” Did I just tempt fate/jinx myself again? Probably. Sigh. When will I learn?)

Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for Bri to read my other YA Contemporary, to see if it’s ready to go on sub, so keep your fingers crossed I’ll have some news on that soon.

It’s pretty disheartening to have accomplished so little now that I’m officially back on Almost-Full-Time writer duty, but that’s life with chronic illness/injury (not to mention kids). All I can really do is keep plugging away in the small amounts that my head allows, in a slow-and-steady kind of way and hope to eventually hit the finish line.

And maybe also hope that my neurologist can find something that takes my pain away.

(By the way, did I mention that because of the stomach meds I have to take with the steroids, I’m going through everything this week without coffee, chocolate, alcohol, fried, or greasy food? Talk about pushing me to my limits. Whatever gods I offended are super vindictive, let me tell you.)

Anyway, I hope you all are having more productive weeks than I am. Hopefully next week’s blog post will be more cheerful.

 

 

 

My Biggest Pet Peeve

As most of you know, I’m currently in my fourth year of a concussion right now, and since I just came out of a five-day-long major migraine, it felt like a good day to talk about one of my biggest pet peeves in books, film, and TV. (If you’re a writer, you can consider this writing advice; if not, just let it be food for thought.) Ready?

Head injuries.

Specifically, people being hit in the head so hard, they’re knocked unconscious, then suffering no lasting effects once they wake up.

(I’m looking at you, Giles.)

Look, as the not-so-proud experiencer of three separate concussions (and mom of a once-concussed child), I know that you don’t have to be knocked out to get a concussion (only one of my three concussion hits included a loss of consciousness). But, chances are if you do get hit hard enough to pass out, you’re going to be left with one.

And that means you’re probably not just going to be able to jump up and run off like nothing happened, when you wake up.

I admit, concussions are pretty unpredictable things, but odds are you’re going to be left at least a few of the following symptoms: headache, dizziness, nausea, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound, and trouble focusing your eyes.

Now, in fairness, not all symptoms show up right away, (my son didn’t start feeling nauseous for about an hour after he hit his head), so maybe  you could make a clean escape before the pain set in, but if I don’t see the head injuries starting to take a toll at some point? *shrugs* Well, it’s a disbelief I’m not prepared to suspend.

I mean, I’ve only been knocked out once (playing softball, if you’re interested), and at this point, I’m not allowed to drive, suffer pretty much daily from headaches and/or migraines, and can’t leave the house without wearing sunglasses, so I’m a little sensitive about the damage head injuries can do.

Okay. Rant over. *Gets off soapbox*

What about you? What are the pet peeves you absolutely can’t handle in media? Let me know in the comments.

 

The Sorting Hat is Proved Correct

This week I finally started back with my online critique group after a year away. (When I took a break last September, it was only supposed to be for a few weeks while I scribbled out a first draft…but then things spiralled out of control on a personal level and while I was writing, I wasn’t coming up with anything I felt I could show other people.)

I *love* critiquing. I really enjoy finding ways to make stories stronger. And reading other people’s critiques of the same piece will often give me valuable insight for my own writing. Revising is by far my favourite part of the writing process (I know, I’m such a weirdo). But first drafts for me are always filled with so much doubt…revising is all about improvement and striving for perfection.

Which is probably explains why I’m such a Ravenclaw. Yet, in all the sorting quizzes I’ve done, Slytherin has come a close second (once it even came first, but if Harry can choose not to be Slytherin, so can I). I’ve never really understood how I keep landing there. I mean, I guess I’m ambitious, in that I want to be a published author and I’m working hard toward that goal – but I wouldn’t sell a friend out to get there or anything.

And then came this week’s critiques. Don’t worry, I didn’t go all Simon Cowell on them, if that’s what you’re thinking. I promise you, my crits were perfectly constructive and encouraging and appropriately-worded.

No, it was the content.

Like, apparently I have very strong thoughts on the proper way to torture someone for information?

No joke, I think I wrote about half a page on why the methods used wouldn’t result in information, and then recommended an alternate course of torture that would inflict the most pain but the least incapacitating damage, to allow the suspect to talk.

I kind of scared myself.

I finished my note with “I swear I’m a nice person, I just read a lot of bad books! :D”

Seriously, though, it was a window into a terrifying part of myself.

But, fortunately, that’s not the kind of book I’m interested in writing. As dark as the themes of my YAs might get, so far they’ve stopped short of torture. So I’m sticking with my Ravenclaw status. After all, as J.K. Rowling says, “It’s our choices that show what we truly are…far more than our abilities.” (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)

PS. My critique group includes books for all ages, and I believe this book is actually an Adult historical fiction (for those worried about torture scenes in children’s books)

PPS. If I’d been sorted at age 11, I’d probably have been put in Gryffindor, since I was quite the gutsy stand-up-for-yourself-and-others-at-the-risk-of-everything kind of kid. But these days (and ever since high school, I’d say) I’m definitely a Ravenclaw.

How to Write When the World Might Be Ending

*Please note: this is written as advice for anxious people like me who are stressing out at the daily influx of terrible news and looming possibility of nuclear war. If you are dealing with, or preparing for, any of the *actual* disasters to have hit our continent this week (including those of policy), then obviously your priorities will be to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Writing is hard, y’all. Like, really hard. Even on the best days, it’s a job and a half to string together words into works that are powerful, emotional, fun, funny, not to mention sensical (spellcheck tells me this isn’t a word, but then what’s the opposite of nonsensical? See what I mean about hard?).

But these days, when every other news alert feels like it’s bringing closer to the end of the world? It’s practically impossible to get words down on paper/computer.

I’ve blogged before about how hard it is to write contemporary fiction right now, when the world seems to be changing on a practically daily basis, but the futility of writing when there might not be a world left at all? That’s some really existential angst there, my friends.

And I’m not the only one thinking it. Someone on Twitter (I think it was Matt Haig, but I can’t find the post now) recently wrote: “Writing advice: write like the world will still be here when your book is finished.”

And it’s good advice. I mean, are you going to put your whole life on hold because there *might* be a nuclear war? Let your whole life slide into futility? I mean, if the world is ending, why bother eating vegetables, or going to work, or signing your kids up for swimming lessons?

Imagine if everyone had given up during the 80’s and the Cold War with Russia. How many books wouldn’t have been written. How many people would have got scurvy.

Okay, that’s the pep talk portion out of the way. Now for some practical advice on how to keep writing.

  1. Get prepared – I’m a planner, so it helps my state of mind to feel like I’m prepared for things. Look up what to do in case of nuclear attack (hint, it’s not get your car and try to escape), and make sure you have a basic emergency kit prepared (you should have this anyway, though it will likely be different depending on where you live. We’re prone to snow & ice storms here, so we usually check ours at the start of winter). *Bonus tip*: try and look up how to prepare without reading about all the bad stuff that happens – it’ll just make you panic more.
  2. Avoid the news – let’s face it, the news is a business, and their job is to make things as exciting (ie scary) as possible so people will tune in. There’s a fine line between wanting to be informed, and becoming a ghoul, transfixed by the daily horrors on the screen. Try to find the level that works for you. (This includes social media, which has become an outrage factory of late, and certainly has been adding to my anxiety. If you have to take a break for your peace of mind, do it.)
  3. Eat the cake – or drink the wine, whatever you need to do to relax. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I said not to despair and give up vegetables, but no one’s going to argue if you need a little cocoa-therapy to calm your nerves.
  4. Just write the book – back to the pep talk. There comes a time when you just have to tune everything else out and write the darn book. Because if and when all this is over, you don’t want to be sitting there with a blank computer document when you could have had a novel. It’s okay if the words don’t come as quickly or easily as they did before, so long as they still make it into the world.

So that’s my advice. Good luck, keep writing, stay strong.

 

P.S. A note for those who think I’m weird for stressing over this when I don’t even live in the States: Do you really think a nuclear blast or EMP is going to respect imaginary lines on a map and stop at the border?