When I was a kid, I figured out pretty quickly that I was not like the kids around me. I preferred reading to yakking on the phone. I had crushes on boys who made the Honor Roll every quarter instead of the ones that made touchdowns on Friday nights. I didn’t like movies unless there was something a little woo-woo about them. I listened to “Sultans of Swing” and “All Along the Watchtower” when my classmates were listening to “Le Freak” and “Stayin’ Alive”. We were in different worlds, them and me.
Not much has changed in the thirty-odd years since I graduated high school. I still like movies with a little magic in them. I still prefer my men to be on the brainier side, and I still would much rather read than talk on the phone. The difference is that I’m older, and I just don’t mind so much that I’m in the minority. But now and then I notice there are things about my life that are harder because of what I love.
For example, my family recently celebrated Christmas (as did many other families in this country.) My family knows what I like, so I received some nifty presents that delighted and amused me. When I returned to work a few days after the holiday, the common question everyone was asking each other was, “So what’d you get for Christmas?”
Now I could answer honestly, that I was given a Technomancer hoodie and a Gipsy Danger action figure and the Hollow Crown DVD set. I can say this with great glee at a con, and fourteen people will ooh, ahh and express well-meant envy. But if I say that in the company of my coworkers, I’m most likely to get back a glazed stare of incomprehension. Grown women are supposed to want clothes and shoes and household goods, according to the majority opinion. So admitting I wanted and received toys? Not so easy.
I ended up telling my coworkers I received a beautiful scarf from my husband, books from my son and a gorgeous dress from my parents. This is true, and easier for them to accept. But there’s a little part of me that still wants to spend ten minutes squealing about my way-cool Gipsy Danger action jaeger that now sits on my desk. Because it’s seriously the coolest.
When I was a kid, we always took a weekend trip to Georgia in August. We stayed with my grandparents and visited with uncles and aunts and cousins, but the main focus of the trip was watermelons. Someone would bring what seemed to be a truckload of watermelons to my grandparents’ house. The mothers laid newspaper on the picnic table and on the low concrete block wall around the patio. The older cousins got to light the citronella candles in hopes of keeping the mosquitoes away, and when all was ready, someone would start cutting huge slabs of juicy, red watermelon. My mother always sprinkled salt on hers. The boy cousins had seed-spitting competitions and we girls became adept at avoiding the flying seeds.
It’s been years since those watermelon days. My grandparents have long since left this earth, and I haven’t seen most of my cousins in a long, long time. But today we brought home a watermelon, and as soon as I took a bite, it all came back to me. There is nothing so sweet and refreshing as a watermelon and the memories of happy times.
Last week I responded to a Facebook post in a way I meant to sound reassuring. A woman had asked about taking her teenaged daughter to DragonCon. She wasn’t familiar with cons, and worried that in light of the recent discussions about harassment and sexual abuse at cons, she ought to stick to smaller cons until she’d figured it all out. I told her that I’d been to DragonCon three times, once with a girlfriend and twice with my husband, and I’d never experienced any problems. So more than likely she and her daughter would be perfectly safe. But in the last couple of days, it occurs to me that I should have phrased my comment differently.
So often, people who suffer harassment and mistreatment are told that they imagined it or they’re overreacting, or perhaps making it up just to get a “good person” in trouble for silly maliciousness. This kind of reaction teaches the abused that they will not be believed, so they tend to keep it to themselves instead. I was a victim of bullying behavior in my younger years, and now that I’m all grown-up I refuse to allow that sort of thing to happen around me. But what if my comment sounded to someone else as if I was claiming none of the harassment really happens? That’s not what I meant at all, but people are triggered by all sorts of things and I would be horribly unhappy if my words caused anyone harm or pain.
So if you saw that comment, or if you’re reading about it here, I want to clarify. Yes, harassment happens. I would hate to say DragonCon (or any con) is perfectly safe, because I can’t promise anything of the sort. There are jerks everywhere, and there’s not a lot you can do to keep one from targeting you if that’s what he or she decides will entertain him that day. Fortunately, the vast majority of people at cons are seriously cool. I’ve had people help me in all sorts of thoughtful little ways, people who didn’t know me and never saw me again after our thirty-second interaction. They’ve led me to the building I needed, brought me a cup of cold water when I felt shaky, and laughed with me over the frightening crowdedness of the elevators. The odds are good that you will spend four days surrounded by 40,000 people who like what you like, and who are committed to being sure that the smiles outnumber the tears. If the jerk finds his way to you, report him to the Con security. I happen to be personally acquainted with some of them, and these are incredibly wonderful people. They will believe you. They will help you. And feel free to tell all the other people you’re conning with. Don’t let the jerk fade into the shadows. Point him out. We’ve all got your back.
And THAT’S what I meant.
By now you’ve heard about the controversy over fake geek girls, the assertion by certain obnoxious persons that women can’t possibly like fantasy and SF and roleplaying games and all the things nerdy types love, because they’re…you know, girls. Which is a lot of crap and I won’t bother repeating what’s been said over the last eight months or so.
Today I saw a video on Upworthy, made by geeks of all genders and notorieties. And it brought me to tears. You see, when I was a kid, I liked reading books better than anything. Sure, I played with dolls and rode bikes and worked puzzles, but if you gave me the choice, I’d read. Worlds opened up to me in the pages of books. I read Nancy Drew and the Happy Hollisters and Trixie Belden. I loved The Four Story Mistake and Misty of Chincoteague and Missing Melinda. I immersed myself in Poe and Tolkien and Shakespeare. A Christmas with nothing but books under the tree was a Christmas straight out of my happiest dreams.
In high school I moved on to science fiction – Asimov and Herbert and Zelazny. The summer I was 15, my mother went off to an education conference and brought me a book she thought I’d like – The 2nd Edition D&D Player’s Handbook. I had not one to play with, but I read that book over and over, learning all the spells and perusing the charts. In junior year of high school, I finally found a group of people to play the game with, and once a week, I was utterly over the moon. I was a cleric in plate mail armor, fighting the forces of evil and helping my compatriots to succeed. We had such amazing adventures, and I always wished I could tell people about the fun I was having. But I couldn’t talk about such things at school. When I did, I was labelled a weird kid. It was okay to talk to me in class, but beyond the walls of the building, I carried social plague. I didn’t get asked to parties and I dated rarely. Boys could like SF and RPGs. Girls were supposed to like curling their hair, shopping for shoes and watching soap operas. I was just too odd to be friends with.
Luckily high school is not real life. I went off to college and met the man who became my husband when I joined a new D&D game on campus. I spent a whole year going to midnight shows of The Rocky Horror Picture Show every Friday night. I screamed at the screen when Riker gave the order to fire on the Borg ship carrying Picard, knowing I had three months to wait for resolution. I waited in the bookstore the day the Unearthed Arcana arrived, gripping my hard-earned $20 that I’d saved for just this purchase. I learned to make my own garb so that when I went to the local Renaissance faire, I would feel like a part of the fun. I took belly dancing lessons, and eventually joined a troupe. My husband and I cried together when we watched the last episode of Cowboy Bebop. We spent an entire weekend in front of the television when the Firefly season discs arrived from Netflix. I decided I wanted to pursue a writing career, so I joined a writing group and when a couple of the members questioned the sense of writing about female pirates with magical ability, the rest of the writers backed me up enthusiastically. It took years, but I’ve found the way to be who I am.
However, the pain of being told I was too weird has never quite gone away. Some days I feel it, poking at the edge of my self-esteem, hoping to find its way back in. It pisses me off to an extraordinary degree. When I’m feeling that “you’re weird for liking what you like” vibe, it’s anyone’s guess what might happen. I wouldn’t recommend you try me when I’m in that state. And what can put me there faster than almost anything? Dissing the things that saved me. Books and D&D and faire, all the fun that made me look weird when I was young. Those things kept me from going off the edge. Somewhere there’s a woman in the same situation I was in then, and I’ll be damned if I’ll allow that. So let me tell you…if I ever overhear you telling a woman she’s not a real geek, I’m liable to go off. In a dangerous way. Because no one can tell me or anyone else what to love, or how deeply to love it.
So Mysticon was wonderful! I participated in great panels, and I had a particularly fun time at my shared kaffeeklatch reading with John Hartness. Why? Well, we were accompanied by tiny plastic pirates, with which we acted out each other’s readings. Tiny Pirate Theater was a hit with the crowd, and I’ll definitely be doing that again at a con near you! (You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a pirate-shaped redneck monster hunter fighting with a pole dancer in miniature plastic. Trust me.)
And this past weekend was ConCarolinas. It’s my home con, since I live 30 minutes away and get to sleep in my own comfy bed every night. It’s also old-home-weekend for a lot of us, since it’s the only time all year that most of the Magical Words crew is physically in the same place. We didn’t get a lot of time to hang out together, but I enjoyed getting hugs from David B Coe/D B Jackson, Faith Hunter, Kalayna Price, John Hartness, A J Hartley, Edmund Schubert, Gail Martin, Stuart Jaffe, Carrie Ryan, James Tuck and many more wonderful folks. It was also the debut of the Magical Words seminars. David, Faith and I joined together to teach hour-long seminars about choosing the right language, prepping your first five pages and finding your voice. We were grateful and pleased to have standing-room-only crowds!
And now the summer begins. Time to get some projects completed. I have a short story due to Davey Beauchamp for his latest Writers For Relief project, an essay for a proposed anthology, my own ebook of short stories in Kestrel’s world that has taken me far too long to get finished and of course the Wild-Wild-West-with-magic novel I hope will wow the potential new agent.
Y’all don’t forget to come see us at Magical Words!