Tits up

The scene: It’s early March of this year and I’m sitting in a doctor’s office for the third time in three weeks and we’re talking about surgery.  Specifically, we’re talking about her performing surgery on me.

Doctor3: The good news is that this surgery has the highest patient satisfaction rate of just about any procedure.  The bad news is that it has one of the hardest recovery periods.

Me: I know.  I’ve talked to a lot of people who’ve done this.

Doctor3: It takes about two months before you can return to your normal activity levels.  And many find the recovery very painful.

Me: I’m not really afraid of pain.  I’m in pain all the time.  That’s why I’m here.

***

The scene: I’m twenty years old and standing at the registration desk of a pediatric hospital.  I’ve got an overloaded backpack hanging off my right shoulder, ratty cargo pants hanging off my hips, and I’m looking a bit fuddled because I don’t exactly wander off to children’s hospitals in the middle of the day as a normal thing.

Receptionist: Where’s the patient?

Me: Right here.  It’s me.  I’m the patient.

Receptionist: (Clearly skeptical) Oh.  Are you sure?

Me: Pretty sure, yeah.  I don’t think I had a kid and forgot about it.

***

The scene: I’m thirteen and meeting physical therapist in their professional capacity for the first time.  Other recent firsts?  That chronic nagging pain I’ve had in my left shoulder since I was seven turning into my entire left side locking up so badly I can’t turn my head or torso.  Also, adults believing me about there being something wrong with my left shoulder.  That’s new, and also exciting.

Physical therapist: Your problem is probably that you carry your backpack on one shoulder.

Me: No, that is not the problem.

PT: I know you kids want to look cool, but it’s terrible for your back.

Me: I started carrying my backpack entirely on my right shoulder in fifth grade because my left shoulder was getting so bad I wanted to take the strain off.  How I carry my bag is a response, it did not cause this problem.

The physical therapist gave me a lot of exercises.  I did them faithfully for about two weeks.  I also had muscle spasms for the first time.  Every day for two weeks.  I decided the PT didn’t know what she was talking about and stopped doing the exercises.  The muscle spasms went away.  My left side still locked up on occasion, but not often.

***

The scene: Me at 20, having successfully checked in for an appointment at a children’s hospital and convinced not one but two receptionists that yes, I am the patient and yes, I do know what kind of facility this is and yes, I am aware that they generally don’t see people over 18, but this is who the orthopedic referred me to when I pointed out that her diagnosis didn’t account for any of my actual symptoms so yes I would, in fact, like a second opinion.  The specialist I’ve been sent to is a very nice older man with a salt n’ pepper beard and a teddy bear hanging off his stethoscope.  He’s been chatting with me about my symptom history while he twists my hands and wrists and fingers.

Dr. Teddy: I bet you can put your hands flat on the floor without bending your knees.

Me: Well, yeah.  I do martial arts and I am, in fact, baseline physically fit.

Dr. Teddy: That’s not baseline.  Not at your age.  You are abnormally flexible.  I’m going to describe some things.  Tell me if this sounds like you.

Then he proceeds to tell me the story of my life.

Turns out my ligaments don’t do their job very well, so my joints are constantly sliding out of place, and the surrounding muscles take a beating as a result.  Usually it hits people in their knees and hips first, but shoulders aren’t unheard of, especially not since kids started carrying such heavy backpacks.  But, my ligaments will naturally tighten as I get older, so I’ll age out of it.  Eventually.  Probably.

My hips started to go the next year.

I can’t do martial arts anymore.

***

The scene: I’m coming home from sixth grade.  That’s after I adopted single-shoulder carry but before I visited the PT.  It was hot.  My shoulder was in the “sentient-knot” stage, so I dressed accordingly.  I walk into the house and mom has just taken her first look at me for the day.

Mom: You will not ever leave the house like that again.  Do you understand me?

***

The scene: I’m getting my third ever massage.  I’ve got nifty health insurance that’ll pay 50% once a month as a perk, and I basically can’t stand up straight or walk anymore, so massages are great.  Also, they’re undoing a lot of the perma-locking most of my muscles have settled into.

Massage Therapist: What was that?

Me: My rib just slid back into place.

MT: Did that hurt?

Me: Yeah, but it feels better than having it out of place.  Thanks.

MT: Does your bra do that to you?

***

The scene: Last Monday.  Pre-op appointment with the doctor.

Doctor3: Nothing that raises your heart rate.  Nothing that will raise your blood pressure.  Don’t drive.  Don’t sign contracts.  Don’t…

Me: I’m a real estate broker.

Doctor3: Don’t give people advice about contracts.  You can resume a desk job after two weeks.  Maybe one if you’re doing it from home but don’t count on it.  Don’t lift anything that weighs more than ten pounds.  Don’t submerge in water.

Me: I’m getting to be a fanatical swimmer.  It’s about the only thing I’ve found that helps with the pain without also damaging something.

Doctor3: Don’t submerge in water.

Me: (Aside) I’m going to die.

***

The scene: I’m 25 and following a friend who has gotten a little fanatical about a new shop she’s found.  We go in, and the place is depressing.  Like, clinical depressing.  It’s that way on purpose.  Among other things, they do specialized bras for mastectomy patients.

Shopkeeper: You’re wearing a 36DD from Victoria’s Secret, aren’t you?

Me: Yes?  That’s my size.

Friend: (Who is significantly more endowed than me, sniggering) They told me that, too.

Turns out 32J is a size.  Mine, specifically.  And they start at $60/each.

But hey, now my ribs only slide out of place some of the time.

***

The scene: In a senior in high school, getting fitted for a costume.  I’m playing Louisa May Alcott which is hilarious because Little Women was the very first book I ever put down with no intention of picking it back up.

Costumer: Good god, your tits are huge.

Me: Yes.  I know.  Everybody has been telling me that since sixth grade.  (Especially my mother.)

Costumer: Yeah, but they’re bigger than I realized.  You carry them well.  Do you like them?

Me: I guess?  I don’t know.  They’re fine.  If they get any bigger though, yeah, I’m cutting them off.

***

The scene: Very early March, a week before meeting with Doctor3.  It’s the same meeting, but at a different hospital with a different doctor.  This is the first time I’m talking to a surgeon about this and I’m not sure it’s a good idea, or that my insurance will pay for it, or that doing a thing that will inevitably mean being couch-bound for at least a month, and maybe two, in the middle of the summer is a good idea for somebody who makes her money selling houses.

Doctor2: What is your goal for this surgery?

Me: I would like to not be in pain all the time.  But I’m concerned about losing sensation in my nipples, and generally suspect my expectations might not be reasonable.

Doctor2: And it would be nice to be able to wear button down shirts.

Me: Uh…yes?  What?  Were you listening when I mentioned that the ribs under my bra strap slide out of place and my shoulders frighten massage therapists?

***

The scene: The week before Sasquan.  I’m the only one from Strange Horizons who’s going to be there and we’re up for a Hugo, so if we win, I’ll be on stage.  Which means I should wear something nice.  I’m trying on a dress I haven’t worn since high school.

Me: Hrm.

Roommate: What?  Does it not fit?

Me: No, it fits.  Except it’s mashing my boobs.

Roommate: You’re probably wearing a different style of bra from what you wore then.

Me: I am.  But this is more mashed than that.

It would be hard to find a clearer practical demonstration for “yes, your boobs have gotten bigger than when you were Louisa May Alcott.”

***

The scene: I’m rambling at my poor, put-upon roommate after meeting with the first surgeon.  They’re nodding supportively and periodically grunting to indicate attention.

Me: And then he was all, “But if I get you on the table and decide that won’t look good, we’ll do something else,” and I’m a little bit, “Er, no way do I want to be unconscious while you’re making those decisions.”  Also, this is probably incredibly shallow of me, but the look of him was disconcerting.  His hair was too perfect, he was tanned suspiciously well, and I’m pretty sure he’s had his coworkers doing work on his face.  Are surgeons like drug dealers, where you should avoid the ones who use their own product?  I dunno.  I shouldn’t even bother.  I don’t have time to do this anyway.

Roommate: Are you ever going to have time?

***

Weird facts about me and my boobs:

  1. Contrary to the story I tend to tell, I did not in fact go from 0-massive overnight.  I had about eighteen months at “small enough that nobody but me has really noticed” and then sprouted to massive in about six months.
  2. My parents started telling the family not to talk about my boobs because I was self-conscious about them.  I wasn’t self-conscious.  I was just confused about why anybody was talking about my boobs, let alone all the time, and why it was suddenly gross for me to leave the house without wearing a garment nobody could see and which was extraordinarily uncomfortable.  My problems with puberty weren’t so much the changes in my body, but the changes to how everybody else thought I should exist in my body.  Also, everything started to hurt more.
  3. I get hits to my website from people searching anaea, boobs, without having blogged about my tits.  This is monumentally strange since the most common anaea other than me is a kind of butterfly and invertebrates don’t have tits.
  4. I’m weird for getting a breast reduction in my thirties; too old for the women who got too big during puberty and too young for the women who got too big after having children, or have put it off until they were done breast feeding, or had to get over baggage around appearances.  Which I guess makes sense since I’ve met a metric ton of women in their forties who’ve said, “Best thing I’ve ever done.  Wish I did it ten years ago.”  Hi.  I’m ten years ago.
  5. I would cut both tits clean off, myself, then joke about Shylock, if it meant my shoulders stopped knotting up so badly that I routinely traumatize massage therapists who haven’t had a patient like me before.
  6. Almost every fucking thing on the internet about breast reduction surgery is obsessed with talking about how much better you’ll look and the scarring isn’t so bad, really.  WHO CARES?  (Everybody, apparently.)

***

The scene: Back to the pre-op appointment last week.  This doctor is a pretty big contrast to Doctor2.  She doesn’t tan, or wear makeup, or bother to smooth her hair to prevent flyaways.  (Me either!) She started the interview by asking for a pain rating and a symptom history, and other than calibrating how much of  a reduction I want (as small as you can go without significantly increasing the risk of nipple damage) hasn’t talked about the aesthetics at all.

Doctor3: Doom, gloom, disaster, misery, and three days after the surgery we’d like you to start taking frequent short walks.

Me: (perking up) Wait, stop.  That’s the first good thing you’ve said this entire appointment.  I must be misunderstanding something.  Please define “short walk.”  Is that, “Three blocks to the library?”

Doctor3: Around your living room.

Me: No really, I’m going to die.

***

Which makes this the world’s longest out of office note.  Surgery is tomorrow.  I’m told I’ll be out of commission forever.  I don’t believe them.  But I am ignoring everything that isn’t critical day job stuff, a book, or DVDs of The Americans, until after Memorial Day.

A Long Fuse to a Slow Detonation up at the Overcast

explosion-123690_1280It’s spring, the season where plants fornicate with everything and in revenge we cut off their sex organs as tribute to the dinner table needing sprucing up a bit.  You should honor the season with checking the Overcast’s production of A Long Fuse to a Slow Detonation, a happy story about dead people and blowing up space ships.

I did too just use the word “happy” correctly.  This story is as happy as spring and sunshine are great.

Last year the Overcast did a great production of Turning the Whisper, so if you remember that, you have some idea of what to look forward to.  And if you want to read along, you can see the text for Fuse where it was originally published in Waylines.

May you derive comfort and entertainment in this time of pollen.

Hear Ye, Hear Ye, Two Hour Transport

laser-gun-155598_1280When I moved to Seattle I set to work right away on ensuring that I met one of my most important priorities: finding all the good tea shops.  And Seattle is rich in options for public consumption of tea.  But after a few months I noticed a certain trend amongst my fellow patrons.  It’s something that has taken on the weight of quintessential-Seattle for me.  So much so that I chose to immortalize it in fiction.

The resulting story such a perfect encapsulation of my deep and nuanced feelings about the culture of my current stomping grounds that I’m going to overthrow my normal custom for public readings.  Next week at Two Hour Transport (happening at Cafe Racer, a noble Seattle institution if ever there was one) I shall treat the audience to a dramatic reading of “For the Last Time, It’s not a Ray Gun.”  Normally I’d let the audience choose what to hear, but in this case I didn’t want to give them the chance to make a bad choice.  There’s a joke about Portland in it.  You should come.

Event details, including the bio for my fellow invited reader, here.

Civic Temple: Alpha Release

After several drafts wherein I try to explain my reasons for doing this and then decide that typing variations of “Fuck everything,” over and over again isn’t an introduction, I’m going to keep this short and sweet.

Has your inclination to call or write your various government representatives taken an uptick of late?  As in, a major uptick?  Do you want it to, but find yourself intimidated by not knowing what to say or how to say it?  Here’s a thing that might help.

Currently, it’s a spreadsheet with a bit of setup you need to do initially, and a tiny bit you need to do for each specific issue.  However, once you’ve got that going, you’ll have phone, letter, and email scripts for your various officials – no need to look up scripts a hundred different places online.  Better, they’ll be scripts that are personalized to you out of the box, so you don’t have to put too much thought into rewriting the generic scripts circulating.

This is just the slimmest fraction of what I want to do with this project (thus the Alpha designation) but it’s a start.  Long term, I’m hoping have the beautiful, unholy hybrid of something like the Submissions Grinder or Duotrope and Habitica.  Want to help?  Let me know.  I can do this all by myself, but it’ll be a looooooong time before it’s actually done.

Strange Horizons Resistance Special Issue

All week this week, Strange Horizons has been releasing a ton of content for the Resistance special issue.  This includes six fiction stories which, I think, is the highest density of published fiction the magazine has ever undertaken.  The issue is gorgeous and important and we podcast every word of that fiction.  Today is a double-header picked out with today very much in mind.  Need to feel better?  Just knowing we were going to put these stories up has been a warm cuddly blanket of angry glee for me.  I hope it does the same for you, too.

Here’s the whole issue.  I hope it helps.

Monsters

raphaelstmichaelIt’s okay to love a monster.  Love them with open eyes.  Love them with a wish for what they could be instead.  Don’t hope they’ll change; they won’t.  Tell them you expect them to.  Tell them you expect it because you love them.  Love is a leash we tie to the people we care about.  Remember that.  You love them. That comes with boundaries.

It’s okay to treasure your monsters.  They stand as a warning, a lesson you can learn through observation instead of practice.  Turn their claws and teeth and spines away from you, and watch them.  Pay attention.  Lessons from monsters aren’t specific. Find the patterns.  Study the systems.  Guard yourself against walking a different, parallel path. Remember, when you can, to be grateful for what you took from their example.

Remember, always, that love can go both ways.

It’s okay to accept a monster.  Embrace their strengths, their goodness.  Show them where they are strong and good.  If you can, cut them free of their patterns.  If you can’t, let it be.  Not all monsters are your monsters. Save your strength for the others. Accept the strength you get from yours.  Learn from your monster how to understand other monsters.  Remember that their wisdom may be false, but it could be a paving stone on the road to yours.

It’s okay to break bread with your monsters.  It’s okay to take the shelter they offer.  It’s okay to bleed when they do.  It’s okay to mourn them.  It’s okay to wish your leash had been stronger, or that you hadn’t needed it.  It’s okay to need them, to accept their love, to hold tight to who they might have been, if they hadn’t been a monster.

It’s okay.

But it’s not required.

Love is a leash we tie to the people we care about. You can let go of the leash and walk away.  Do, if you like.  If you must.  If you are leashed in turn, walk faster.  Pull the monster by the tether they’ve given you.

Remember that the world is kind to monsters. Remember that the world is cruel to them, too.  Remember that there are others who fight monsters and someday, they might come for yours.  Step aside, when the time comes.  You don’t have to watch.  You don’t have to help.  Step aside.  On the subject of your monsters, that will be enough.

Love your monsters.  Slay the rest.

Have fun with your family this weekend.

So you’re thinking about self defense classes…

mako-mori(I have a lot of friends contemplating this. The following is targeted to them, not the world as a whole.)

Cool.  Go for it.  Now, let me deliver some advice about the best way to do it.

First of all, decide whether you want a one-and-done kind of thing, or something you’ll be committing to for the intermediate-long term.  If you’re looking for a one-and-done, skip the weekend seminars and rape-defense training.  Instead, get a shooting lessons package and go to a gun range.  Here’s why:

All you’re actually going to accomplish with a short seminar is feeling better.  I’m not saying that to be snide.  Feeling better is important.  Feeling better is what might keep you from shaking yourself apart while you deal with other things.  Do what it takes to feel better.

But do it in a way that’s going to be helpful, rather than harmful.  You’ll get no lasting effective skill from a weekend, whatever you do.  But a lot of the traditional self-defense weekend style trainings, or one-off classes are either:

A) advertisement for a school where you can take more classes
B) Designed to make you feel like an imminent victim, often of implausible or low-probability threats or
C) Going to give you false confidence.

They could do multiple of those.  A is actually a great use of these kinds of seminars (go to lots if you’re shopping for a longer-term commitment), but B and C are dangerous.  C could get you killed.  Not recommended.

A weekend at the gun range, however, means you’re going to have actually handled a gun.  Guns aren’t nearly as scary as a lot of you think they are.  The biggest intrinsic problem with casual gun placement is that they lower the threshold for deadly force to one a toddler can cross.  You are more effective than a toddler.  I promise.  Play with some guns.  Get a feel for their weight, recoil, how they smell.  Take them out of the realm of only-in-movies and only-in-disaster and into the realm of yeah-I’ve-done-that.  You’re unlikely to walk away from a weekend at the range thinking you’re Rambo.  You are pretty likely to be less prone to a freezing panic if you face one later.

And the freezing panic is the thing you actually need to deal with.  It doesn’t matter how black your belt is, or how many heavy-weight titles whatever you have, reflexes are contextual.  If something happens to you, and you fall into “I’m being assaulted,” mode instead of, “I’m a badass,” mode, it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re a badass.  And realistically, you won’t know which mode you’re going to fall into until it happens.  It might not happen the same way every time.  Humans are complex, brains are weird, and it’s probably your muscle memory and extended nervous system that’ll be making all the decisions anyway.  You can tilt your probable response away from panic and toward badass reflexes, but it’s not a guarantee.  The more you practice, the longer you spend reinforcing habits, the more you shift the needle.

Which leads me to my advice for anybody looking at an intermediate to long-term commitment: It doesn’t matter which martial art you do, which school you go to, or what your instructor looks like.  Go somewhere you feel safe, comfortable, invested, and welcome.  Take kickboxing, if you must.  (I did just say that.  And you know what I think of kickboxing.)  It doesn’t matter.  Because if you’re in a fight where your skills at physical confrontation matter, you’ve already lost three layers deep.  Practical skill is handy for the narrow range of circumstances where you took the wrong fork several times.  What you actually need is the ability to keep your head, and then deescalate the situation or get the hell elsewhere.  Actually being able to kick somebody’s ass is incidental to the vast majority of confrontations.  Learning practical fighting skills is only worthwhile for sport, for ego, or if you’re going to be picking a fight (as police, military, armed resistance, or street thuggery, etc.).  Are you planning to engage in the latter?  Then talk to me somewhere the NSA won’t overhear, or find a school teaching Krav Maga.

Look at who the school’s instructors are.  Do you like them?  Good.  Not? Bad.  Doesn’t matter why.  Doesn’t matter if it’s a *real* reason or just a *feeling.*  This can be extra important for people who aren’t het-cis-males.  It’s really common, especially for women, to have to push back against a tendency to corral you into anti-rape training instead of general purpose kick-assery.  Usually the people doing the corralling are well-intentioned.  They’re still assholes.  Don’t put up with it.  Or better yet, don’t sign up somewhere it’s going to happen.  Absence of women among the students is, for you, probably a bad sign.  If all the women are the significant others of high ranking students and instructors, also a bad sign.  (You’ll note, I tend to hang out in places with exactly those problems.  My motives are not yours.  Don’t follow my examples for yourself.)

I’m skeptical of anywhere that will start you on serious knife training out the door.  This is prone to the false-confidence-fail mentioned earlier.  Just about anything you do, (excluding sword/fencing, archery, or similar) should start by focusing on how to throw a good punch.  There’s a lot you can do wrong in throwing a punch.  Getting that right will give you a foundation for everything else you need to learn.  If they gloss over this, and it’s not because you’re already good at punching, be skeptical.

If all of the students are injured, that’s a warning sign.  Depending on what they’re teaching, baseline level of injury shifts around.  You probably aren’t interested in something where the baseline is more than 0.

And my final piece of advice: Stick weapons are fun.  Like, super fun.  Also, if you’re uncoordinated, or lacking in the kinesthesia and proprioception departments (Hi!), they’re really good at giving you unambiguous feedback about what you’ve done wrong.  Most people start stick weapons with foam covered practice weapons or very light rattan or bamboo ones.  (I know I’ve led you wrong with my collection. Your motives still aren’t mine.)  Go for the fun things.  As with any physical activity, it’s probably going to hurt one way or another.  Make it earn that.  Make it something that makes you feel better.