Don’t Discount Yourself

Dear self,

I’ve noticed a habit you have, and I want to talk to you about it. It’s not a good habit, or I’d be congratulating you for being awesome. It’s a bad habit, but not one I want to slap your wrist for, because, knowing you, you would just apologize.

And you already apologize too much. (Don’t apologize.)

This habit is similar, because it makes me so sad for you—and it’s such a hard habit to correct, because it comes from a place of genuine modesty and even kindness. It’s a habit many women share, a habit we’ve all developed because we don’t want to overstep ourselves or seem bitchy or whatever it is we’re all trying to avoid.

Have you figured out what it is yet?

It involves a few words and phrases that seem innocent enough. Only. Not really. Just. Well. Words we use to prevaricate, words we writers systematically eliminate from our books because it means we’re not sure what we want to say. But. Sort of. Kind of. Enough. Yet.

Still confused?

It’s the habit of discounting yourself, of evading compliments, of not taking ownership of your accomplishments, however small you may think they are. You think you’re being modest—and most of the time you really do feel that your accomplishment is not worthy of praise. But you’re selling yourself short. You’re telling whoever wants to compliment you (and the rest of the world with them) that you do not deserve praise, that you have not created or accomplished something worth noting. You are saying to the world, “No, I am NOT worthy of your praise or even your notice.”

I’ll stop now, because you’re giving me that look that says, “Well, I’m just being honest, and I’m really not that—”

Well (I can say well, too!), JUST STOP IT. Just stop and listen to yourself.

“I’ve only been dancing for about a year.”

“I’m not published yet.”

“Well, it’s not really that hard to make.”

“I haven’t done enough reading to make me an expert, but…”

“It’s sort of goofy-looking.”

“It’s just the pattern; I only knit it.”

You see what I’m getting at here, or shall I go on?

You’re not the only one to do this. Many of your friends do the same thing. It’s something we’re trained to do, I think, though I’m not sure when the indoctrination starts. As kids, we’re taught to say “please” and “thank you” and all the rest. But when are we taught to deny compliments all together? Was “thank you” not sufficient for expressing gratitude, and we decided we debase ourselves in acknowledgement of praise?

Trouble is, when you bow out of a compliment, you’re essentially saying that the giver has no taste. Think about it:

Person A: “Wow, you made that?! It’s gorgeous!”

You: “Well, you can see that some of the wires are loose, and I was really just following a pattern.” (Subtext: “You’re clearly blind, and anyway, this is something so commonplace, a monkey could make it.”)

Person A: “Whatever, think it’s nice.” (Subtext: “And here I thought it was pretty. See if I try to compliment you again!” Or, worse, “And here I thought it was pretty. I must have horrible taste! Now I question my entire belief system…”)

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but no one wins in this situation.

I can see you feel bad now, so let me give you a little advice. You won’t want to hear this, I know, but try to listen and accept what I’m saying without trying to dismiss it or wave it away with the rest of the nice things I tell you. So listen up:

You are talented. You are skilled. You are worthy of praise and deserving of notice. You work hard and earn the things that come to you. You are amazing, and you can say, “THANK YOU!”

Now you’re rolling your eyes and telling me that’s not advice. So here’s your mission:

Accept praise. Express gratitude for compliments. Stop trying to deny your own worthiness, skill, and creativity. Take responsibility for the good that you do, as well as the bad. The next time someone says something nice about you, smile, and say your thanks. You can do it—you’re a talented and gracious woman.

So, there, self. I hope you listen to me and take my advice. This is one of those instances where you’ll want apologize for something that’s not that bad and pretend none of this ever happened, but I know it’ll light a little fire somewhere inside you. Maybe the next time someone compliments you, you’ll think of this moment and offer thanks.

Maybe you’re saying thank you right now. Telling me I’m wise and you should listen to me more often.

And you know what I say to that? THANK YOU.

Sincerely,

Your self

The Worst Possible Advice to Give a Shy Person

I am both shy and introverted.* Dreadfully shy and extremely introverted. I used to get nervous calling to order pizza. As a newspaper reporter, I would shake violently before interviews. I’ve overcome a lot of this, but I still have to fight against my own nature when dealing with social situations.

And I get a lot of advice about how to deal with my shyness, most of it unsolicited and still more of it unhelpful. But the cruelest, worst possible advice you can give to someone who is shy?

“Don’t be shy.”

People say this to introverts and shy people alike, and every time I hear it, I want to punch the person who says it in the head—but of course, I’m far too shy to either threaten to do so or to act on the threat.

Think about that piece of advice. Really think about it. When you say that to a person who is shy and can’t help it, you’re telling her to turn off one of the most powerful and crippling parts of her personality. If she could turn it off, she would.

It is NEVER that simple. Tell a person who is scared of heights to just stop being afraid. Tell an alcoholic to quit drinking. Tell anyone to stop being who they are, and you’ll get nowhere, and probably offend them in the process.

Being shy is not a choice. Being shy is part of who I am.

Over the weekend, I was at a festival all on my own. I had lots of acquaintances there, of course, as well as a few friends, but for the most part, I was attending all by my lonesome. And when I’m surrounded by people who know each other, I tend to pull deeper into my shell.

At one point, I called my husband and said, “You know, I think X-Person sees that I’m shy, and he tends to treat me like you treat Portia (our timid cat): like I’ll freak out and run away to hide at any moment. Is that how people see me? Do I really seem that scared?”

“Yes and no,” Drew said. “X-Person knows you’re an introvert, and he’s trying to make you comfortable. But you do seem nervous in crowds.”

I sighed. “I feel like Portia right now. I feel overstimulated and freaked out and I want to go sit in the corner and groom myself frantically until I feel better.”

And I did. (The sitting in the corner part, not the frantic grooming part. The frantic grooming seems to cause hairballs and vomiting. At least in cats. I haven’t really experimented much with this stress-management technique.)

But in humans, it’s a common trait of introverts that we feel drained, exhausted, and nervous in crowds: overstimulated, like we say of our cats when they start freaking out and have to hide in the closet. That’s a normal thing, and I’m not being antisocial when I have to step away from a crowd.

“Don’t go hide in the dark,” people would tell me. “Come sit with us.”

They didn’t often understand that sometimes I hide in the dark because I have to. Because I’ll start weeping with exhaustion if I have to sit in the middle of a laughing, boisterous crowd any longer. Because I just cannot handle that many people around me for long periods of time.

I write all this to tell you that it’s normal to need a break, normal for an introvert to need to step away from a crowd. I know these people meant well, but they were telling me to change a part of who I am.

So next time you’re dealing with someone shy or introverted, think about what you tell them. Appreciate their need for space. Go slowly. And take it as a compliment when they start to open up to you, because that means you’ve made them comfortable.

 

*I include a note here because I’ve noticed that it’s become trendy common for people to post articles about how they are introverts but not shy, and how introverts are harder to spot than you think. Every time I see someone who is the life of the party sharing one of those articles, I want to cry for those of us who identify as shy AND introverted: they’re throwing the curve off and changing expectations for the rest of us.

Frazzled Friday

Ghost town blog. Photo by Sebastien Dooris

You may have noticed the echoing silence ’round these parts the past couple weeks. I’m not trying to excuse myself, but I thought you might enjoy knowing where the heck I’ve been.

1. Last week, I was revising my latest book, Oasis, so I could get it sent off to my awesome agent. Revisions are labor intensive and nerve-wracking, and, with my other commitments, akin to having a second full time job. Agent-sending also requires a synopsis and some other front-matter for the manuscript itself, so that’s still more work being done.

2. Next week is Lughnasadh, a neo-pagan High Day, and I’ve been preparing liturgy and devotionals for the Solitary Druid Fellowship, of which I’m now the organizer. This is another project and a half, and one that’s very important to me… and quite literally on a deadline.

3. Speaking of druidry, I’m also working through the pre-clergy training program for ADF—I’d really like to get my preliminary coursework done by the end of the year, and every class requires some significant research and essay-writing… and still more revisions! In addition to that, I’m coordinator of a subgroup of ADF and mentor to another student, so I have a few other ongoing responsibilities there, as well.

4. I’ve been acting as Game Master for the completely magical and fabulous Magetech troupe, and we’ve been putting our game sessions up LIVE on the Searching for Superwomen YouTube channel. (Link to our first play session, where you can see me giggling madly and acting sadistic.) Gaming is a hell of a lot of fun, but GM-ing is quite a bit of work.

5. Over on Spellbound Scribes, we’ve increased posting frequency, so that means more work and more fun there, as well. Have you seen our story in the round? You can see my piece of it here.

And all of those things are in addition to yoga, belly dance class, an upcoming festival, attempting to see my various friends at least once a month, reading fiction, cooking, cleaning, spending time with my husband, and trying to conquer the ever-increasing pile of laundry in the bedroom closet.

We’re all busy, I know. But sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the blogging. Hang in there, readers. I’ll be back.

Mothers and Daughters

If you’re reading this, you have a mother. It’s an indisputable fact. It’s also an indisputable fact that here in the United States, it’s Mother’s Day. Today is a day when we honor our mothers. We thank them for what they do and did for us, and we generally spoil them as they’re never spoiled for the rest of the year. Today’s the day to thank your mom for all she’s ever done for you.

It’s also an indisputable fact that I’m a daughter. (Yup. I am female. SHOCKING.) And I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I say that I invest a lot in fictional characters and their relationships. Because of this, my Mother’s Day tribute is a top 10 list of fictional mothers and daughters. Fiction, fantasy, classic, contemporary—here are some of my favorite daughter/mother pairings.

What others can you add to my list?

This list is worth reading, but lest you read something you regret, I warn you…

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10. Scarlett and Ellen O’Hara, Gone with the Wind

“It’s only natural to want to look young, and be young, when you are young.”

Poor Ellen. She’s setting a wee trend on this list: the long-suffering mother whose death forces her daughter into adulthood and maturity. Ellen is the mainstay of the O’Hara family. She keeps Gerald in check, she reins in Scarlett, she oversees the morals and health of the entire plantation. Her calm, steadfast presence is Scarlett’s rock, the safe space Scarlett longs for once the Civil War really gets going (read: impacts Scarlett herself). Although she dies, and Scarlett fails in her attempts, Ellen is Scarlett’s role model and unchanging idea of virtue. She is the daughter’s ideal of her mother.

9. Jaye and Karen Tyler, Wonderfalls

Karen Tyler, heart of the family. Sorta. Okay, maybe it’s the housekeeper. But still.

Sure, Jaye has a ‘sode, works in a tourist shop, hears/sees inanimate objects talk, and isn’t quite what hyper-successful Karen expects from her children. But Karen loves her all the same and, at Jaye’s request, grants her youngest child more words in Karen’s newest book’s bio page.

What I’m saying makes no sense? Yeah, that’s the joy of Wonderfalls. But whether or not you understand that reference, the Jaye/Karen dynamic is one of my favorites in contemporary television. They push and pull against each other, but they love each other all the same.

8. Paige and Max Connors, Heartbreakers

A typical day in conning. Yup, normal mother-daughter stuff.

I am a longtime devotee of Heartbreakers. I saw it in the theater in 2001, bought the DVD when it came out, and continue to love it wholeheartedly. (The John Lennon song from the wedding night scene—erm, one of them—was the song I walked down the aisle to!)

Paige and Max’s is about the weirdest relationship on this list. (See #6.) They compete, seduce and con men, and, well, lie generally. But when push comes to shove, Max puts Paige’s welfare above their conning success, and she encourages her daughter to come clean with the man of her dreams. If you haven’t seen this underrated flick, check it out.

7. Toula and Maria Portokalos

The horror of wedding-planning. The horror! THE HORROR!! … and the joy.

Well, she’s not your pretty, normally housewifely Greek woman. She wants a new life, works with computers, and fights against her heritage. But Toula loves her family, and the biggest conflict in her semi-unconventional life is her perceived need to choose between her family and desire to break with tradition.

In spite of that, her mother, Maria, fights on her behalf. She argues with her husband, Toula’s father, for Toula’s independence. She welcomes Toula’s “normal” husband, Ian, and his family into their Greek clan with open arms. And she loves her daughter unendingly.

6. River Song and Amy Pond, Doctor Who

Daughter and mother, and…

Mother and daughter, and…

Mother and daughter? What?

Yup, weirdest relationship on this list. Conceived in the TARDIS, River has a time-head and some Timelord qualities. She’s taken away from Amy within moments of her birth, and transformed into a girl we never see again. THEN she becomes a teenager(ish?) and insinuates herself into Amy’s life as her best friend. AND THEN she becomes the fabulous River Song, badass, role model, wife of the Doctor, and… loving daughter? What?

Regardless of all that weirdness, they make it work. They love each other. And that’s what’s important.

5. Jo March, Meg, Amy, Beth, and Marmee, Little Women

There it is, right there: mother-daughter love.

This is the go-to gold standard of mother-daughter relationships. Marmee encourages and reprimands her daughters with tender kindness; she nurses their hurts, she tends their dreams, she waits out their wacky antics. My favorite portrayal of Marmee is 1994 film starring Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon. While some may complain about Marmee’s almost-modern sensibilities, I love her for encouraging Jo to write and “find herself, and for holding revolutionary transcendentalist beliefs. She’s a remarkable character, and what every mother should hope to be.

4. Elizabeth, Jane, Mary, Kitty, Lydia, and Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

Mrs. Bennet and the girls, always waiting on a man.

Whatever opinion you hold of her methods, you have to admit that Mrs. Bennet puts her daughter’s futures in a priority position. Plus, she’s hilarious. She’s ridiculous, outspoken, unenducated, and a little rude, but she’s still a delight, and a wonder of forward-thinking planning. Her first concern is for her daughters(‘ future wealth).

I once read an introduction to one of the many editions of Pride and Prejudice I have lying around that argued that Mrs. Bennet is a far better parent than ironic Mr. Bennet, who openly prefers clever Lizzie to all his other daughters. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I won’t deny Mrs. Bennet’s limitless concern for her children.

Plus, the woman had FIVE daughters. Give her a break.

3. Bridget and Pamela Jones, Bridget Jones’s Diary

Ah, mothers and their gherkins.

Poor Pamela. Bridget and her father have their “grown-up club of two,” always judging and laughing at mad old mummy. But when Pam has an affair, cheating on Bridget’s dad, she does tell her daughter about the, erm, remarkable new relationship. Bridget sides with her father, of course, but she doesn’t cut her mother out.

In the end, Pam wants Bridget’s support and approval. This relationship reminds us that, just occasionally, parents screw up, too. Mothers make relationship mistakes as often as daughters, do, and sometimes daughters have to hold their tongue and let their mothers live their own lives.

2. Cora and Mary Crawley (and Sybil and Edith), Downton Abbey

Nothing brings mother and daughter together like a dead body.

How many mothers would help their oldest daughters carry the body of their dead lovers back to their rightful bedrooms?

Unclear pronouns aside, Cora is a mother among mothers. Yes, she judges Mary. No, she never forgets the awkward moments of carrying Mary’s dead lover’s corpse back to his bed. But she, too, lives for her daughters’ welfare. Cora advocates for breaking the entail on Mary’s behalf, she lives and breathes Mary’s future prospects, and she hates the thought of Mary loving a man she doesn’t love.

She also fights for Edith’s best prospects, and she lives and dies with Sybil’s choices and misfortunes. Cora is, in short, a realistic mother. She is the unconditional, if hopeful, love a mother gives to her daughters.

1. Buffy and Joyce Summers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Loving and accepting, and letting it burn.

“Mommy?”

You knew, YOU KNEW, this one would be on this list. Come on. It’s me, after all.

Buffy and Joyce have just about the most realistic mother-daughter relationship of them all. Joyce has to accept Buffy’s, um, quirks (“Have you tried not being the Slayer?”), to watch her daughter fight every day and night for her life, and to let her daughter attempt to become a grown-up.

And in turn, teenage Buffy has to watch her mother have her own life. She accepts her father’s flaws and the mutual reasons for her parents’ divorce. She has to release some of the centrality she assumes she has in her mother’s life. And Joyce has to trust her daughter to oversee her (Joyce’s) death with grace and maturity.

As Giles says, Joyce teaches Buffy everything she needs to know about living. And there’s nothing more we can ask from our mothers.

 

Gettin’ Nerdy With It: RPGs

My husband and I reached a whole new level of nerdy yesterday—and for the couple known as ‘the Doctor Who people’ among our local friends, that’s really saying something.

A degrading Changeling: who doesn't want to pretend to be a creepy horny fairy thing?

A degrading Changeling: who doesn’t want to pretend to be a creepy horny fairy thing?

We dug ourselves deep into the land of Storytelling RPGs, specifically Changeling: the Lost, one of the spin-offs of Vampire: the Requiem, and a sort of grandchild to the 1990s game Vampire: the Masquerade.

Whoa. That’s a whole lotta nerdy right up front there, so let me explain a little more for you muggles in the audience. (You muggles know you’re probably way cooler than me in real life, right?)

A Storytelling RPG, to simplify it vastly, is a game for two or more people based on made-up characters engaging in imaginary adventures: it’s not unlike when you and your childhood best friend pretended to gypsy princesses in a fantasy land, but you sit at a table instead of frolicking around the backyard. (Just me? Awkward.) The designated storyteller guides the characters through their quest, and each player rolls dies to determine the success or failure of their actions.

In White Wolf Publishing’s World of Darkness, everything is similar to ours but just slightly askew. Vampires, ghosts, goblins, and fairies are real. Quests generally involve chasing a magical item, seeking spells, and fighting the forces of darkness—or light, depending on your character preference. There are intricate backstories for every breed of character and every aspect of this universe. Game plots make for fantastic reading, as does the world-building.

It’s… an urban fantasy universe!

So let’s pause a moment here. This is a game that involves making up stories about imaginary characters and spinning out the tension in their adventures for as long as possible.

Why the hell aren’t all fantasy writers already playing this?!

Well, there are a few reasons.

1. It’s super-nerdy, and requires nerdy friends. People already think fantasy writers are crazy; we don’t need to give them more reasons to not hang out with us.

2. It’s time-consuming. You have to make up your character, spend ages learning minute rules, and then spend hours on game play… because we all have so much free time to kill.

3. It can lead to excessive nerdiness, like LARPing, which involves dressing up like your characters and pretending to be them in real life. *shiver*

This history of LARPing goes way back to… wait, no, that’s not history. It’s an old-time fauxtograph of people LARPing as Victorians. (Image via Wikipedia.)

Spouse and I started checking it (Changeling, not LARPing!) out because, well, we’re already super-nerdy, and because we want a new game to play with some of our friends.

Now the real question is… how do we convince our friends to play with us?

Being me, I have listed a few reasons why it’ll be fun:

1. We can pretend to be fairies with specific magical powers! They can look like unicorns if we want them to! We can draw pictures and make up back-stories! (This may not work on the menfolk.)

2. It’ll be hilarious. Come on, grown-ups sitting around a table arguing over why Person A’s vampire is a way better candidate to take on that NPC-troll than Person B’s darkling fae? That’s comedy gold.

3. It’s not that different than historical re-enacting, really. (Our friends used to re-enact.) Actually, it’s just like it, but without the real history or the trips to cool places. And we’d rather not start doing the costumes.

4. It involves some theater! We can turn down the lights and pretend my husband (designated Storyteller because only he actually understands the rules) is telling us a scary choose-your-own-adventure story. And when we need sound effects, like gunshots or ghosts moaning, we can totally add them in!

5. There will be alcohol involved!

What do you think, readers? Would you play with us? How would you convince someone to try an RPG?