Black Ariel

Silhouette of an armed mer-creature

Let’s talk about black Ariel. First, my credentials:

Disney’s 1989 The Little Mermaid was the first legitimate VHS tape I ever owned. It was gifted to me as a Christmas present because I had been so abjectly in love with the film when my grandparents took me to the theater, and I proceeded to watch it at least once a day, every day, for nigh unto all time. The tape developed a noticeable squeak by the end of year one. My parents probably still twitch if any portion of the sound track comes on within ear shot. I knew that film forwards and backwards, and to this day can still quote the whole thing at you, as I heard it and learned it when I was five. (That is to say, there are places where the script turns into nonsense syllables.) I did not have all the Little Mermaid merchandise, but everything I owned was Little Mermaid. It was my monochromatic color choice before I found black. My entire social life centered around the fact that I was the chief authority on the film and its source texts. That made me god-king of the playground, and I was a fierce and benevolent leader.

My first aesthetic, philosophical crisis as a child was when, at the age of eight, I realized that Beauty and the Beast was an objectively better film, and had to decide whether that made me a traitor. I concluded that I could acknowledge the ways Beauty and the Beast outstripped its predecessor while still faithfully loving the other one, and thereby achieved, at the age of eight, levels of maturity the internet would still lack a quarter of a century later. Good job, humans.

Gustav Wertheimer's  "The Kiss of the Siren" wherein that sailor is totally getting drowned in a moment.

And, frankly, humans behaving like a stupid sack of salted rocks is why you’re getting this rant. Because, excuse me, Ariel can absolutely be played by a black woman. White skin is not an intrinsic element of the character. Red hair, and the color of her tail (invented specifically for her by the Disney animators, a fact I learned while despairing of ever finding its match in a crayon box while coloring in pictures of her) are the only pigments that are in any fashion intrinsic to Ariel. She’s just white because Hans Christian Anderson was and Disney, in 1989, didn’t have the guts to handle fragile white-folk pearl clutching in 1989. (To be fair, it’s not that they have those guts now. They’ve just figured out a a different marketing model from the one they were operating under then. Like you do, over the course of thirty years.) In fact, the creators were pushing boundaries by making her a red head instead of a blonde. Everybody at the time thought mermaids had to be blond, and the creators rebelled. Ariel’s been a pigment-boundary-pusher from the start. (My source: The DVD extras on the special anniversary DVD edition my sister gave me for my birthday to replace the poor, squeaky tape. I promptly watched everything.)

None of what I have already said, or am about to say, actually needs to be said, because the people having a panic attack over this, while entitled to whatever emotional hyperbole they care to indulge in, ought to be keeping it to themselves and sparing the rest of us their idiotic tantrum. But you don’t spend the formative years of your childhood obsessively trying to figure out the land version of a sea-witch who can get you access to another world where you fit in, then let this nonsense go unchallenged. So, let’s instead flay the stupid, point by point.

Photo of the famous Little Mermaid Statue

Ariel is white in the source material.

Did you really just make an argument that Disney should be faithful to the source material? Are you out of your head? Have you missed the last century of film production by that company? Do you know the ending in the source material? (It’s better, right up until it’s worse.) Take that stellar rhetorical point scoring of yours and eat matches.

It doesn’t make sense for there to be black mermaids in Denmark at that time.

First of all, stop learning your history from faux-medieval fantasy novels, and your idea of population migratory patterns from antebellum anti-abolitionist hacks. Second of all, what actually doesn’t make sense is a white mermaid in the first place.

Let’s set aside the whole truckload of problems with the notion that you can handle the existence of mer-civilization and talking fish, but not black ones, and look at this from a reasoned, biological point of view: It makes absolutely no sense for Ariel to be white. Assuming her pigmentation on her human parts are driven by human evolutionary processes, she’s black, and I don’t mean “Acceptable for Hollywood light-skinned black.” Mutations that have created the variety of pigmentation present in human phenotypes are driven by a variety of environmental factors, most notably, interaction with the sun. This is not a pressure present in people who live at the bottom of the ocean. I don’t know how mer-folk are getting their vitamin D, but it’s not through direct manufacture via sunlight. Maybe, maybe some random mutation got preserved for another reason and Halle Bailey can swan in as a perfect pigmentation match. There’s no chance you’re winding up at a “Plausible to hysterical white people for the north sea” complexion.

The prettiest little great white shark you ever did see

And if their pigmentation doesn’t follow human evolutionary patterns, but aquatic ones? You’re stretching to either the beluga whale, or the great white shark, as your paths to a white mermaid. Whales actually do routinely interact with the surface, so you have some legs on a north sea-based argument there, though siren stories tend to trace mermaids south, not north. As for great whites? They’re mostly kind of a dull gray, with white bellies. That sure is one attractive mer-fish you’re designing there.

This is all just a campaign to make liberals happy.

And, so what if it is? That’s not an argument so much as a pile of scrap tin with one leg. Liberals have money. They buy things, and boycott things and like to see the world as they understand it reflected to them. You see, they’re human. Unlike mermaids. It is totally within the rights of an old, global megacorporation to decide that seeking out the dollars of “liberals” is worthwhile, even if if means making you, tiny numskull cretin that you are, uncomfortable. Go back to sucking those rocks from earlier for comfort if you need it.

This is more proof that political correctness has gone too far and people are being forced to comply with new groupthink standards and pass virtue tests.

Yeah, Disney looking at the massive success of Moana and deciding to make sure they don’t shut themselves out of that global audience when they once again prostitute a beloved element of my childhood for untold lucre is totally a return of Hollywood Blacklists and McCarythism. Because we’re having congressional hearings where we publicly lambaste people just for being friends with white supremacists and then rendering them unemployable for the rest of their lives, right? No? What are you whining about?

White castle gates

The idea that you can defy the supreme legal authority of your realm, treacherously make a pact with a known national enemy, then seek to form a binding alliance with a foreign, hostile power, and all your dreams come true as a result, is an intrinsically white narrative and should be portrayed as such.

Nobody made that point. But you could, and I’d still respect you after. My response to it is, simply: Sometimes art has to be the vanguard and drag reluctant reality behind it. Let’s open the doors of privilege and consequenceless-recklessness aristocrats of all races.

An Open Letter to the Parasite in my Sister’s Uterus

Dear Erasmus,

Yeah, I’ve used that title before.  And you’re the second one to get called Erasmus, too.  Get used to it.  You’re in for a lifetime of being the second one to get things.

I’d have written this sooner, but it’s been hard to figure out what to say.  I was pretty enthusiastic about your mom having a first kid.  I was pretty against her going back for more.  She didn’t like being pregnant, or giving birth, and taking care of a baby wasn’t her cup of tea, either.  I’d have been perfectly happy to be an only child, and I’m sure the same is true for your sibling.  Don’t take this the wrong way, but I care about your mom miles and miles more than anybody else, including you, especially when you aren’t even alive yet.  There didn’t seem to be any point in putting her through all that again.  But she didn’t listen and guess what: so far, you’re way worse than your sibling was.  Cut that out once you get here, okay?

All the things I said about intentions and childhood and whatnot in the other letter apply to you, too, of course.  But I remember your mom being annoyed by hand-me-downs so I don’t want you to get a hand-me-down letter.  I still had my own room in your mom’s house until she started prepping for you to show up, and now I have to stay in the same guest room everybody else uses.  That’s on you, kid, not your sibling.  An affront like that deserves a personalized response.

Everybody in the family, possibly the whole world, knows your mom and I are very close.  That’s a big part of why she didn’t listen to me when I told her to stop at one child; she wants her children to have the kind of relationship we have.  But that’s exactly what’s made it hard to figure out what to say to you, and what made the prospect of her having a second child distressing to me in a way the first wasn’t.  We’re as close as we are in large part because of how we grew up, and you’re not going to have the same experience.  Your mom is good at being a mom.  She listens, and thinks of your sibling as a person.  Even when he can’t communicate what’s happening, she tries to figure out what’s going on inside his head.  I don’t know where she learned how to do that.  And I dunno, maybe she’ll lose track of doing that once you come along, but I don’t think she will.  She and I are as close as we are because we had to be.  That won’t be true for you.

Part of me hopes you and your sibling like each other but, ultimately, you’re more indifferent than not.  That you get along fine as children but go on to be adults and live your own lives and you chat amicably a big family events but that’s all.  That if you are close, it’s the same as when people stay friends with the people they met on the school bus in kindergarten, instead of the kind where the first time you move out, you’re a little bit glad you had to go back because your younger sibling doesn’t know how to cope with life without you and you need to teach them as quickly as possible before you go for good.

As charming as it is that your mom is nudging your older sibling into Little Mermaid fandom to make him like me, I don’t want either of you to take after me.  Or her.  Even if you do things that are similar in shape or effect, I don’t want it to be for the same reasons.  Childhood intrinsically sucks, but yours is going to be better than ours, and I want that to matter enough that you come out different.

Yes, part of me will be deeply satisfied if you’re neurotic, co-dependent, clingingly lonely, and constantly bite the shit out of your mom.  She deserves some time on the other side of that.  It’s okay if you do some or all of that.  It’s okay if you don’t.  Just like it’s okay if both you and your sibling decide to get married and have kids, or neither of you do.  At least one of you should be loudly and abrasively sarcastic, but that’s just because loud and abrasively sarcastic people are good to have around, not because you’re destined to iterate generational patterns.

I do have this for you, and just for you: don’t let being younger define you.  It’s just chance that you’re the second and not the first.  It’ll have an impact – your parents are not going to be the same parents for you they are for your sibling.  That’s how time and experience and humans work.  That’s not on you, so don’t take responsibility for it.  And don’t ever, for even a second, give credence to anybody who sets you up to compete against your sibling.  Friendly rivalry is fine, that’s not what I’m talking about.  But the moment somebody says, “If you were Neil…” or, “The way Neil’s better than you…” just stop listening.  It doesn’t matter how much better you or they think he is compared to you on any given thing.  The premise is nonsense, and the person spouting it is, at best, being temporarily stupid.  Don’t put up with it.  (Neil, if you’re reading this, you have your Aunt’s permission to take a swing at anybody who tries this on either of you.  Don’t embarrass me if you do.)

You’re already the kid who made your mom give up sweets while pregnant.  You hit rock bottom for popularity before you were born.  It’s all uphill from here.  You’ll be fine.

With wry anticipation,

Me

Sara Foy

My Grannie was born in a house next to a graveyard.  The graveyard wasn’t there yet, but it wasn’t long in coming.  The land the graveyard is on was their orchard.  But the town needed a bigger cemetery, so her daddy sold the land and in exchange had a job as its keeper.

She’s Grannie because I’m her oldest grandchild and I said so when I was five and learning to spell.  ‘Y’ is a letter you can’t trust, but you can trust Grannie.


According to her, there were three things Grannie wanted to accomplish in life: build her own house, visit England, and have babies.  Babies are an obsession of hers.  She worked on the church nursery so long that a significant number of the people you run into in town, when they find out who my grandmother is, go, “Oh, Sara Foy!  She changed my diaper.”

As long as I’ve been alive, she’s been a white haired old lady.  The kind of stereotypical grandmother who thinks astonishingly ugly sweaters are just what you want to wear, who clips on flimsy sunglasses over the large, clear plastic frame of her eyeglasses when she drives, who will not let her purse out of her sight because that’s where her lipstick lives and a woman should always look her best.  It’s easy, if you don’t pay attention, to think “traditional fifties housewife, cliché in all the ways except playing bridge.”

I must have been seven or eight when, one Sunday at the dinner table, she scolded me to take my elbows off the table.  “Grandaddy has his elbows on the table,” I protested.

“That’s okay for him.  He’s a man,” Grannie said.

“Then I’m a man, too.”

Years later, when I’d ask my sister about a strange interaction I had with a cousin, my sister would answer, “Oh, that cousin just didn’t get the memo.”

“What memo?” I asked.

“That you’re a man.”

I hadn’t noticed.  But she was right.  I’m pretty sure “Take your elbows off the table,” was the last time Grannie chided me to be more ladylike.


In 1998, when Gone With the Wind was briefly rereleased in theaters, Grannie took my sister and me to see it at the artsy theater in Richmond.  We’d seen it already, on two VHS tapes we watched on successive nights in her living room, but this was an occasion.  We’d been to that theater before, too, but never with her.  Never with somebody who remembered when they still had the organ the play the music along with the movie.

She had a copy of the book, too.  I borrowed it from her the summer before I started college.  It was old, the binding cracked, the pages yellow and disintegrating.  The dust jacket was more dust than jacket.

When I was in Richmond at the beginning of November, Grannie was looking everywhere for her copy of Gone with the Wind.  She couldn’t find it.  “It’s probably disintegrated,” I said.


Grannie loved working in the yard, going to historical society lectures, listening to opera.  She organized the local seniors social group until she was in her eighties.  She was the oldest person in the group when she retired from doing it.  They disbanded rather than find somebody to replace her.  Until three years ago, she sang in the church choir.  She couldn’t read music.  She did it by ear.  She loved to sing lullabies, because she loved babies, and music.

“I think I’d like to see my great-grandchildren,” she told me once.  “So hang around and see them,” I said.  Another time, “I want to live until I see you girls settled.”

Then, when my sister got engaged, I told her, “You know, Grannie’s waiting to see her great-grandkids.  If she waits for me to give them to her, she’s going to be immortal.  If you settle down and do the marriage and kids thing, you’re basically killing her.”

“That was incredibly mean, even for you,” my sister said.


Grannie was thirty-nine years old when she had her first child, my uncle.  In 1959. She’d just about given up on having children.  The medicine she was on for the rheumatoid arthritis she had in all her joints interfered with fertility.

“I had a terrible time getting pregnant.  But once I did, everything was easy.  I loved being pregnant.  And I loved being a mother.  Being a mother is the best thing.”

“If you say so, Grannie.”  She never once, not a single time, asked me when I was going to get married or have children.  She never referred to male friends I introduced her to as my boyfriend.  She never demanded anything from me beyond, “When are you going to write a best seller?  You should get on that.”


Three years ago, just before Thanksgiving, Grannie fell on the walk in front of her house.  She broke her arm and hip, had to have surgery to repair them, and lived in a skilled nursing facility for rehab until the following February.  My sister had just given birth to her first child.  I’d already planned a long trip to Richmond to help her cook and clean and wrangle her infant.  Instead, I spent hours a day with Grannie.

For about a year after, when I’d call on Sundays and we’d talk about that time, what Grannie would remember and comment on was visits from my sister and her precious child.  Who was just the most adorable thing.  My sister is such a good mother.  Don’t I think she’s a good mother?

It stung. But Grannie loves babies.  She was in pain and on drugs most of the time I was there.  She’s still fairly sharp, but her memory isn’t what it used to be.  Mostly I’m glad she remembers good things from then.  The rest of me is glad that, “She’s seen the next generation, and now she’s fallen,” wasn’t a portent.

I don’t know what changed, whether somebody mentioned something or the memories reshuffled in her head or what, but one Sunday she goes, “You spent an awful lot of time with me when I was in there.”

“I did.  I was there and I could.”

“That was so nice.”  And then, because she’s still sharp, but her mind does wander, “Do you remember when I took you to see Gone with the Wind?”


When we were kids, Grannie took my sister and me to Lurray Caverns.  And Monticello.  She drove us down Skyline drive and told stories about visiting the mountains when she was younger.  We learned to navigate by road atlas and highway markers.  She’d take us to Jamestown and Williamsburg.  To the Science museum in Richmond, and to Maymont.  We’ve watched the park at Henricus change from just a park to a reenactment site with a working model village on it, because she’s been taking us there since we were small.  She’ll tell stories about having picnics with the people who lived in the house there, where all that’s left is the ruined foundation.

Out to lunch with Grannie and my sister and her child.  The child is two, has made an unholy mess, his face covered in his lunch.  “Neil,” Grannie says, “You should kiss your mother.”

I glance at my nephew.  At my grandmother.  At my nephew.  “Grannie, you’re a terrorist.”

She shrugs.  “You have to spread your wings.”


I mentioned to a cousin a while back that I was planning to, someday, move back to Chicago.  That cousin mentioned this to Grannie.

“Where’re you?” Grannie asked right away, when I called her the following Sunday.

“In my living room?”

“Where are you living?  Haven’t you moved?”

I silently cursed myself for opening my big mouth when I shouldn’t have.  “No Grannie.  I’m in Seattle.”

“But you are moving.”

“Someday.  It’ll be a while.”  We did this every week for months.


My last trip to Richmond, after the great search for Gone with the Wind came up empty, my sister and I made the rounds of used book stores.  I picked up copies of The Illiad and The Odyssey to give Grannie as Christmas presents, because she mentioned that she wanted to reread them, she hadn’t read them since she was a teenager, but she couldn’t because she didn’t have copies.  We looked for copies of Gone with the Wind, too, but didn’t find any suitable ones.

“Would you like your Christmas present early?” I asked her on my last day of the trip.

“Oh, yes!”  I gave her the books.  I hadn’t bothered to wrap them.  She lit up, excited to have them.  “Have you read these?  I don’t remember anything about them.”

“I have,” I assured her.  “All you need to remember is that one is about how you should never get between Achilles and his boyfriend, or his girlfriend, and the other is about how you shouldn’t keep a plate warm for Odysseus.”

“Was he late for supper?”

“Very.”


Grannie is where I get my interest in history from.  Her interests are fairly narrow: all things Virginia, and all things England, with dabbling in Scotland and the rest of American history, too.  She will tell you, repeatedly, about how they had the first Thanksgiving in Jamestown two years before there was anybody at Plymouth.  Her stance on Civil War monuments was, “If they want to take them down, just take off the people and leave the horses.  I like the horses and they didn’t hurt anybody.”

She wasn’t a housewife. She loved being a mother, it’s the best thing in the world, but she worked.  She spent years working for a lady doctor.  The doctor’s husband had died, leaving her with a little boy to raise on her own.  Grannie thought that was tragic, but it’s one more baby in her life.  The boy is all grown up, older than my parents, living in Oregon.  Grannie is what he has for family.  He surprised her by flying out for her 95th birthday party.  She was flabbergasted and charmed for months after.

At Christmas, she made gingerbread and iced sugar cookies.  The Joy of Cooking recipe for applesauce cake was her standard cake to have on hand or take to potlucks or send home with you.  She stopped cooking after she fell, when my uncle moved in with her to take care of her so she could live at home.  But she still loved ice cream and lemon chess pie.  If you asked what she wanted for dinner, she’d lean toward you and confide, “Oysters.”  Then grin, because she knew you weren’t going to do it.

Last time I cooked her dinner, I made a stir fry with oyster sauce.  One smart ass deserves to be answered by another.


“You know, Sara’s doing very well,” my other grandmother said.  “I really think she might live to be a hundred.”

“She has stomach cancer. I’m crossing my fingers that since my sister’s pregnant, she’ll hang on to see the new baby.”  That’ll get her to late March, just past her next birthday.  She’ll be ninety-seven.


“I was telling one of my friends that you want to move back to Chicago,” Grannie was telling me.  “And she said, ‘Oh, but that’s a terrible place! Why would she do that?’ And I just told her I figure you can take care of yourself.”

“You should have told her she didn’t know what she was talking about,” I said.

She shrugged that off.  “Have you seen my copy of Gone with the Wind?”


My sister found a good copy a week after I left.  She was bragging to me about how the wrapping paper she keeps is actual brown paper, and her ribbons this year are thin and ropey, so all of the presents under her tree are going to be brown paper packages tied up with strings.

“She won’t stop asking about Gone with the Wind,” my sister said.

“She’s got books on her mind lately.  She keeps telling me how excited she is to reread The Illiad and the Odyssey,” I replied.  By the end of the phone conversation, Gone with the Wind was wrapped.


Last Thursday, about an hour after I first woke up, I got a text from my uncle.  “Call me.  Mom isn’t doing well.  I’ve had no sleep.”

He hadn’t called my sister yet.  He didn’t want to bother her at work.  I called her for him.  “What you’re saying is, I need to take the babe and go see her tonight?”

“It might be nothing but, yeah, I think so.  And this might be silly, but take over the rest of her Christmas presents, too.”


Sunday a week ago, when I talked to Grannie, she was sharp and animated.  She was hungry.  She’d been to church that morning, even though she’d had some stomach troubles the day before.  Generally when she has stomach troubles on a Saturday, she doesn’t go to church the next day.  And generally she protests that everybody is forcing her to eat too much, she doesn’t want to get fat.  (Grandaddy’s mother got fat, and he never liked that, so she doesn’t want to.) This sounds really promising to me.

“They talked about your Granddaddy at church a few weeks ago.  About how he’d do anything they asked of him, and what a good man he was.  I was really glad I got to hear it.”  This is the fourth or fifth week she’s told me about that service.  “What have you been doing?”

“I got a job. I’m moving to Chicago.  I’ll be there in January.”

“Oh, good.  I know you’ve been wanting that.”

“I have.”


There’s this problem with just taking your white-haired old lady grandmother at face value.  Even when she loves babies.  It’s that you make the wrong assumption about what she means when she says “settled.”


My Grannie died in a house next to the woods.  Out back a bridge crosses a small creek, on a path that leads up to an abandoned garden patch with a shed that used to be a pony stable.  In front is a red maple that just finished dropping its leaves, and the tallest magnolia tree you’re likely to see anywhere.

She never unwrapped her new copy of Gone with the Wind.

Helsinki! Tallinn! WorldCon!!

Maybe I should mention that I’m going to WorldCon?  Yeah, I should definitely probably mention it.  Since the convention starts today, and I’m getting there tomorrow, perhaps I should have even mentioned this before now.  Possibly?

I’ve made the best plans for this.  Two overnight flights with a twelve hour layover that gets me to the con a day late, just in time to rush to the only two panels I’ll be on for the duration.  I’m going to be at my utter cleverest, let me tell you.

Liar’s Panel
204, 15:00 – 16:00
Effie Seiberg, John Purcell, J.Robert Tupasela, Laura Pearlman, Anaea LayA panel where the panelists are required to make up outrageous answers to audience questions.

I may just do my best to tell the truth for the duration of this one.  Between jet lag and no sleep, I’ll be so divorced from reality that’s probably the best way to get a good lie in.

Darkness at the Heart of Original Folktales
216, 16:00 – 17:00
Delia Sherman, Linn, Anaea Lay, Michael R. UnderwoodFolk tales have recently got fairly dark retellings, but of course they were very dark originally as well. The panel discusses the dark origins of folktales.

Maybe I’ll share my favorite version of Snow White.  It’s the one where she nopes out of eating poisoned things, then goes back to the palace with her new allies, kills everybody, and becomes a benevolent ruler.  That’s a real version.

After the con, I’ll be darting over to Tallinn for a few days.  I have tales to tell and plan to tell them when I get back.

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.

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.