Author: gccummings25

The pain in your left side is back.

It’s not as sharp as it used to be. But is that because you’re better, or because you’re used to it?

You’re not sure when it started. Doctors look annoyed when you tell them this. You annoy yourself too, like a crappy Internet ad–“Doctors HATE her!” But all of a sudden, your appetite just . . . dried up. Your husband rolls his eyes at you when he asks what you want for dinner. “Let me guess–you’re not hungry again.” Your stomach feels raw and dusty, like a seasoned chicken breast, like that summer you spent in the desert where you would watch the salt from your sweat form a film on your arm rather than beads.

When you do eat, it makes you nauseated. You’re petrified at the idea of eating in front of people. You’re already so skinny. They’ll judge you if they don’t see you eat. It’s your birthday meal and you’re out with your office and you have to ball your fists up to keep them from shaking. It’s difficult to look like you’re enjoying your birthday when your nails are digging into the heartline on your palm.

You eat a “normal” amount, get a to-go box for the rest, and politely excuse yourself after the meal to go throw up what you just ate. Not because you hate yourself–well, you do, but not this way, not anymore, you’re no longer the teenage girl who used to skip a meal for every B on a test and throw up for every C and D. You don’t really care what your body looks like anymore. You just want it to work.

People who don’t know anything about anything tell you you look great because you’ve lost weight. You tell them to fuck off ah, you know, just your new FitBit and all.

So you go to the doctor. “Are you pregnant?” “No.” “Are you sure?” “Yes.” “Pee in this anyway.” Pregnancy tests are $30 when performed at a doctor’s office. It’s negative and you’re out 30 bucks.

The doctor discovers that your lymph nodes are enlarged and your spleen is swollen. She’s worried, you’re weirdly relieved. The confirmation that you really are fighting something is affirming.

The tests begin. Blood sample one. Drink this sour liquid and breathe into this bag. Blood sample two, ultrasound one, of your upper belly. You look on the screen along with the technician. You watch your lungs rise and fall.

At a doctor’s follow-up between tests, your general practitioner warmly but sorrowfully tells you that they are looking for a tumor. You buy and read a bunch of cancer books to prepare yourself. You open up your copy of The Fault in Our Stars and see well-wishes from family members on the inside cover. You read Thor comics. You buy When Breath Becomes Air. The kind bookseller who sells it to you says, “Are you ready for something heavy?” He means the book. You think. You never gather the courage to read it.

Blood sample three. CAT scan and MRI. The CAT scan technician asks if your Star Wars sneakers come in a size 13 for her fiance. You talk about the pain in your side to an Emory doctor and he says to stop doing ab exercises. Didn’t y’all treat Ebola?

Endoscopy. You binge-watch “Stranger Things” as you come off the drugs because you’re full of good ideas. Ultrasound two, of your neck, because your doctor felt a lump. The ultrasound found nothing but sometimes, watching TV at home or at red lights, you, too, aimlessly feel for that lump.

The bill comes in the mail for the endoscopy. You and your husband are not destitute but it’s a lot to pay at one time. And if you two did “everything right” by American standards–got good grades, went to college, got good jobs with health insurance–and could have your apple cart upset by this, imagine the people who look both ways before crossing the street and were hit by fruit trucks.

Later, you are in a strange city and you are feeling the worst pain you have ever felt in your life. You are curled up in a fetal position in a hotel bed, pressing into your left side with your palm. You wonder if you should go to the emergency room. But then you think of that endoscopy bill. You make some bargains. If you wake up alive the next morning, you will be a better person. You will actually make that donation you said you would make during the Ice Bucket Challenge. You will tip servers way more than 20%. You will volunteer more.

Just.

Make.

It.

Stop.

You wake up alive the next morning, not with a new lease on life but pissed off because you got no sleep. You arrive to work five minutes late. Your coworkers side-eye you. You grouchily drink your Starbucks.

You have a doctor’s appointment after you get home, with Dr. Emory Abs-Hurt. You tell him about the Incident. He brushes it off and diagnoses you with gastroparesis. You follow up with your GP. You don’t mention the Incident. Maybe it was just gas and you’re overly dramatic.

She says IBS, and then anecdotally tells you about a different patient in the practice whom they diagnosed with IBS who actually had pancreatic cancer. She sees the look on your face. “But he was a lot older than you.” Well, Patrick Swayze was a lot more fit than you, and it didn’t save him from pancreatic cancer.

They recommend more tests. You ask them about the cost of tests, perhaps too angrily. They look like wounded puppies. “Your insurance company determines that,” they tell you. You don’t schedule the tests.

You follow the diets they put you on and you feel a little better. You still have some Incidents but you can eat small meals again. The good with the bad. The good with the bad.

All of this goes down during an election year. Healthcare used to not be your cause, but you find yourself telling this story over and over and over again to people who Do Not Seem to Get It.

In “On the Radio,” Regina Spektor sang “This is how it works/You’re young until you’re not/You love until you don’t/You try until you can’t/You laugh until you cry/You cry until you laugh.” And you’re healthy until you’re sick. A vote against healthcare is a wager that says you’re never going to get cancer or in a car wreck, or that you’re going to have easy pregnancies with healthy children.

And the House always wins.

And the pain in your left side returns.

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The Books We’ll Need to Survive a Trump Presidency

(That is, in addition to Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, 1984 . . . )

My general mood post-November 9 has been more or less like this:

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To be fair, I have a certain amount of privilege that will mean I come away from this election cycle (mostly) unscathed. It is such an  English-major-white-girl thing to write about how we can fight fascism with ~<3*books*<3~ rather than doing the dirty work of putting our money where our mouths where our safety pins are. The only thing I can think of that’s more English-major-white-girl-y than this is a toss-up between getting drunk at a party and arguing over who started reading The New Yorker the youngest (“I started at 14!” “Well I started at 13!” *clueless bio major walks over and thinks you’re talking about when you started your periods*), or writing about the ennui of being a sexually liberated young woman, complete with droll descriptions of past lovers, for a creative writing class.

But I digress. When our President Elect attacks the fourth estate, it’s hard not to let one’s mind wander to what else he wants to censor. It doesn’t become a question of if the world will turn dystopian–it becomes a question of which one. Will all our homes be fitted with “parlor walls” à la Fahrenheit 451, with one wall showing nothing but our President’s tweets? Should I get used to the fact that I’m no longer in “Georgia” but rather “District 11”?

So here are my picks for books we need to read before our Orange Overlord–or, more likely/worse, our peers who voted for him–take them away:

John Lewis’ March Series

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This recommendation is actually divorced from recent events, though they provide a context for Trump’s unfounded “all talk” comments. They cover Lewis’ time as a Freedom Rider, lunch counter-sitter, speaker at the March on Washington, and Edmund Pettus Bridge march participant, among other things. There is no excuse for people to not read these books.

“But I don’t like to read.” They’re graphic novels and they read fast.

“But I don’t have time.” You’re reading this, ain’t you?

“But I don’t have money.” Libraries, or shoot, borrow my copies. (Give them back, though, they’re signed.)

It’s also very important for liberals to read these books, too. No one is saying your safety pin over your heart isn’t in the right place, but real change takes real work, like what Lewis and his peers did. So most of us didn’t vote for Trump, okay well . . . where are you? Hopefully not buying one of these shirts.

The Wave

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The number-one question following the election was how?!? and the answer lies in this book a lot of us read in middle school (. . . but apparently didn’t retain). Based on true events, a schoolteacher creates an experiment to illustrate how people fall for fascist movements, only the experiment spirals out of his control.

The Handmaid’s Tale

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You know Mike Pence masturbates to the thought of the government in this book. You know it like you know the sky is blue.

To distract you from that deeply disturbing mental image, for which I apologize, I would like to nerd out and point out that time when the new Hulu show’s Twitter account followed me:

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“But you could have easily Photoshopped that.” Bih take my word for it. And, for what it’s worth, they have since unfollowed me. But I wonder what drew them to me–my profile says I’m a book lover and I tweeted something pro-IUD three years ago that had conservative women breathing down my neck, so maybe that? Well, whatever it was, it worked, because you bet I will be watching, and reading, The Handmaid’s Tale.

Cosmos

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You guys, Trump’s cabinet picks really depress me. Somewhere along the line during this past election, raging against “elites” translated to raging against genuine experts and professionals. It begs the question of where the line is drawn on who is an “elite”–do you not listen to your plumber because he’s a “butt crack and water elite”? Is your hairdresser a “cosmetology elite”?

The “elites” that seem to consistently draw the most scorn during a Republican presidential administration are scientists. My retired public-school science-teacher mother didn’t watch The Day After Tomorrow monthly during the wane of the Bush years because of a love for Dennis Quaid, y’all. So in addition to social justice-minded texts, I read scientific texts during these administrations as well. Carl Sagan’s is my favorite because his storytelling is so accessible (to everyone, not just scientists. Recall, I was an English major) that you forget you’re reading about friggin’ astrophysics. Nah, he’s just taking you along a journey of wonder for exploration and how amazing our universe is. So pick this up and learn how to make an apple pie from scratch. Just remember kids,

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. . . and literature isn’t either.

Books by and about people who aren’t like us

The cruelest thing we can do to another human being is say we don’t relate to their experience, yet we do this all the damn time with the media we choose to consume. There’s been a lot of ink spilled about the “echo chambers” both sides have created politically, but this goes beyond politics. Several years ago, I laid into a friend of mine who said he didn’t listen to female comedians because he couldn’t “relate” to them. Sure, as a cisgender heterosexual male he couldn’t relate to some of their experiences, like what it’s like to date men or problems with one’s vagina or such, but to shut out their voices based on this alone, to not give the female comedians a chance to show that he and they might have some experiences in common is, frankly, sexist. He could have “related” to them on gender-neutral matters of, for instance, annoying coworkers or nagging parents, but what matters is that he didn’t want to stick around to find out.

Let me illustrate this with another example. I watched a couple of episodes of Insecure when I was at a conference. Yeah, I didn’t relate to Issa’s issues with race, but I also wasn’t meant to. I did relate to her awkwardness, her friendship with Molly, her desire to find an “out” for her job. I am not, nor was I ever, saying you should stick with a story you don’t genuinely relate to, I’m saying you shouldn’t write anyone off because you think you might not relate to them. “Echo chambers” may come from unfollowing all your Trump supporter friends, but they also come from the realization that the last five authors you read were all white men. The post-election narrative was at first that Trump’s victory was due to poor white people screaming to be heard, but then it came out that the victory was secured by well-off, educated white people who want to keep narratives that are not theirs subdued and quiet. So really, seek out any narrative that is not like yours to throw a Molotov cocktail into their efforts.

People can surprise you; I’m hoping Trump surprises us and does well. But I’m not holding my breath.

Disney Princess Movies Have Always Been Feminist, You Daft Dimbos

I more or less alway have a post like this in my drafts, because there is more or less always a moral panic about how Disney Princess Movies Are Ruining Our Girlchildren. Today’s word salad specials: this Cracked article and this BuzzFeed article, on top of dozens of blog articles about how Moana is terrific (true) because it’s not like those other Disney Princess movies (. . . eh . . .). On the list of things that are Ruining Our Girlchildren, Disney Princess movies rank like a 96. In fact, the biggest feminists in my life are also the biggest Disney nerds. Hot take: it’s almost like they became feminists because of Disney Princess movies, not in spite of them. Funny how growing up seeing media of young women achieving their dreams makes one want to break down societal barriers so women can achieve their dreams. Funny that. So, here is my entry into the word salad specials:

The way American culture treats cartoons is weird. We’re supposed to treat them as if they’re beneath us when we’re adults, but we have higher expectations for them than other media because they ~*shape our youth*~. A bad action movie or romantic comedy quickly fades into obscurity, but a bad cartoon movie makes everyone indignant, as if the parents that allow their children to watch them must also use safety-recalled car seats and gluten-filled baby food, quelle horreur!  Merely knowing about Sausage Party angered a lot of parents, even though it never lied about what it was in promotional materials and press junkets, because how could a cartoon movie, a medium for children, be so . . . adult? (South Park’s been a thing for 20 years, people, get with the program.) And, on the surface, a lot of Disney Princess movies have themes that make adults queasy–I bet the first thing that came to your mind is the first that came to mine, which is “Beauty and the Beast is about Stockholm Syndrome!”* It is also admittedly hard to defend the three classic princess movies (Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty) for feminism.

But to act like feminism in Disney movies was a thing invented in the aughts is disingenuous. I’ve written before how people acted like Frozen was blazing new trails when it really wasn’t, and it’s looking like more of the same with Moana. One of the things I appreciated about Moana was that it subverted Disney Princess movie tropes without putting blinking neons signs that they were subverting them like Frozen did. Frozen made a big deal out of the “you can’t marry a man you just met” thing, while Moana has no romantic relationship for the main character and it’s incidental. No one mentions it. It’s not the first Disney Princess movie to do this either, like some people are saying–there’s been some infighting about whether or not Mulan does this, and I’m on the side that it doesn’t. Sure, Shang has a cute crush on Mulan and the Emperor says “You don’t meet a girl like that every dynasty” with a tone that implies “don’t mess this up, fuckboi,” but a Shang/Mulan marriage is not imminent by the end of the movie. A relationship, yes, a marriage? No. (Although, sort of ironically, Mulan begins her movie as a bride.) People also forget that Pocahontas ends not with a marriage but with a clean, healthy, mutual breakup. That’s super useful for kids to see!

But you’re not here for my Moana review, so back to my point: Are Disney Princess movies feminist? Yes. Even the older ones? Yes. Allow me to elaborate:

A lot of people complain about Disney movies because they overly focus on marriage as a goal for girls. And that’s fair, but it’s throwing Disney under the bus unnecessarily because there are so many strong female characters in literature who are still defined by marriage, usually by spurning it, e.g. Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennett, and Jo March. Girls–and boys, considering how many non-Disney-Princess properties show the male protagonist “getting the girl” in the end–will still get a cultural message of (hetero)romantic relationships or marriage as the end-all, be-all of human existence even if they don’t see a single young lady aged 14-20 sing about wishing for something with an animal sidekick. That’s not to say this aspect shouldn’t be criticized, it should, but to rest this solely on the shoulders of Disney movies ignores the real problem that it’s friggin’ everywhere.

Plus, focusing on the marriage aspect misses the point that, with the exception of Snow White and Aurora, none of the princesses start out wanting to be married (and even with Snow White and Aurora, it’s more girlish daydreaming than putting things in motion to make that happen, kind of like how people plan Pinterest weddings while not being engaged). Cinderella, as that famous Pinterest graphic states, wants a night off and a dress, Ariel wants to explore the human world, Belle wants adventure, Jasmine wants to be free, Pocahontas and Merida want to have adventures before they get married (and to get married on their own terms, not their family’s), Mulan wants to please her family (while, again, she is literally dressed as a bride at the beginning of her movie, what she wants is to please her family, and she thinks she’ll get that through marriage), Tiana wants to open her restaurant, Rapunzel wants to see the lanterns . . . you get the gist. And they set out and eventually get what they want, picking up a cute man along the way who doesn’t hinder them from getting what they want. You know, like . . . life. I met my husband in college, and I know several fellow feminists who met their spouses in college, but accuse them of going to college to “get their M.R.S. degree” and watch the hackles raise. So why do it to imaginary women?

Of course, this is not to say these movies are perfect. There’s a laundry list of racism alone in them, for instance. (Here’s looking at you, Pocahontas and Aladdin.) And don’t even get me started on the body image stuff. But to act baffled that Millennial women nearly unanimously grew up to be feminists despite aggressive Princess Indoctrination (registered trademark) when they were young means you haven’t really been paying attention. When I was growing up, you kind of had to take what you could get in terms of female role models in media that was child-appropriate. Sure, there was Princess Leia, but there was also Princess Leia’s gold bikini. I remember being nine and seeing The Phantom Menace in the theater and leaving upset that there were no women on the Jedi Council (on top of, of course, being upset at having just seen The Phantom Menace). Since all the Jedi we had seen up until that point had been men, I was kind of hoping it was open to women, too. (Yo, George Lucas, make THAT edit to a special edition.) There was Harry Potter, of course, aka “Harry Potter and the Notion That It Should Be Hermione’s Series Because She Does All the Work.” There was Ripley and Buffy, technically, because my childhood coincided with when they came out, but I wasn’t allowed to watch them. So here comes a batch of young women who are stars of their own stories and go on cool adventures–of course I lapped that shit up. You don’t get to squawk about how the Disney princesses are terrible or how an all-female Ghostbusters is “unnecessary” but then leave all the well-written strong female characters for the grown-ups. That’s too little, too late.

Moana is great. Moana passes the Bechdel test and does “everything right” for a piece of feminist media today. But she is not peerless; rather, she has her foremothers to thank, as this excellent BuzzFeed article articulates:

 What has actually changed over time is not that each princess has rejected everything that constrained the princesses who came before her, but rather that, starting with Ariel, the princesses all seem more human, in part because there were greater numbers of real women creating them. Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, Anna, Elsa, and Moana are each distinct; there is no anti-princess because there is no one way to be a princess, and there hasn’t been for nearly 30 years. Each imperfect character gained a deeper humanity because of women’s work behind the scenes.
[. . .]
Moana is strong and smart and brave and single not in spite of her princess peers, but because of them — and the women who demanded more.

Disney uses in their promotional materials a lot that Disney teaches you “how to dream.” The Disney Princesses taught me and my Millennial feminist sisters how to dream, certainly, but more importantly, how to achieve.  The Disney Princess panic will always be there, but the Disney Princesses will always be there, too. Let your daughter be Belle. She will be fine.

 

*This is very “college freshman”-esque media criticism, because it’s edgy, but everyone who says this can’t seem to elaborate on it past “well, she falls in love with her captor so it’s obviously Stockholm Syndrome.” Like . . . no. Stop. It was very important for the storytellers of Beauty and the Beast to show how Belle stands up for herself to avoid accusations that this was a Stockholm Syndrome story. Plus, the legendary Howard Ashman poured his heart and soul into the film, making it about how one can be loved even as an “outsider,” which is poignant considering he made this film as an out gay man dying of AIDS. But sure. Keep saying that Beauty and the Beast is about Stockholm Syndrome. Now put that red Solo cup down and break out your acoustic guitar, we’d all love to hear your “Wonderwall” cover.

Men Are People

To your average feminist, this seems redundant. Of course men are people. Western literature and history have told us hundreds of stories about the struggles of men. Granted, it’s a worryingly recent development that men who aren’t white, straight, and/or Christian are people, but yes, men are people. What we should really be focusing on is how to get more people to see that women are people, right?

Except . . . do we actually see men as people?

Trump recently came under fire for being recorded saying that you should “make moves” on women regardless of marital status and, most infamously, that you can “grab them by the pussy” and get away with it because you’re famous. He dismissed this as “just words” and “locker room banter.” (But I thought he had the best words? . . . I digress.) He was saying this is just how men are. Men are animals, what can you do?

And herein runs the two parallel veins of sexism: Either a.) men are superior to women, or b.) men are less than human, men are animals subject to urges that can’t be controlled, and women should just learn to deal with it. “A” gives birth to things like mansplaining but is, fortunately, increasingly going out of vogue. “B,” on the other hand, perpetuates everything from the “doofy father/husband” stereotype on sitcoms to rape culture. But men are more than animals. Men are people.

Men are people. You’d think that the most resistance from saying that would come from snarky feminists, but in my experience, sexist men bristle at this the most. It’s not that they’re explicitly saying that men aren’t people, but rather that it’s easier to buy into the culture of toxic masculinity that says men are simple creatures. Because being a person is messy. Being a person means having feelings, thoughts, hopes and dreams. I look into the eyes of the men I love, I listen to what they’re saying, I listen to what they’re not saying. I see their pain, their insecurity, their body hangups, their tenderness about their spouses and children, their dreams. I believe in them and their desire to make the world better for the people they love.

It seems tone deaf to urge people to believe in men more—after all, wasn’t believing in the potential of men too much what got us into the Brock Turner snafu?—but we owe it to ourselves to unpack men from the small but mighty box of societal expectations placed upon them, just as we are working to liberate women from the box of societal expectations placed upon them. Men are only “allowed” two feelings, horny and angry, and their bottling up of all the other emotions is, quite literally, killing them, whether directly through suicide or indirectly through heart disease. I realize that I’m preaching to the choir to a lot of men, but I see men trot out these statistics to try to show women that they shouldn’t complain about feminist issues, which is the wrong way to go about this. My desire to see my female friends and family not harmed by men and my desire to see my male friends and family also not harmed by men are not mutually exclusive.

Men typically think that calling out one sexist man won’t get rid of all sexism in the world, and one’s wife, daughter, sister, aunt, mother, and female friends will still have to fear for their safety and well-being, so why bother? But the onus has fallen onto women to make men better for far too long, just like the onus on educating white people about racism has fallen on Black people, and if a man won’t listen to a woman, he will sure as hell listen to another man. He may call you a White Knight because ugggggghhhhhhhh but your words are not “just words.” If you really believe in “#notallmen” as a concept and not a derailment tactic, you would tell a Trump apologist that no, not all men treat women this way. You would also tell a Bill Clinton apologist* that, but—and this is a big “but”—you do not make it Hillary’s responsibility to “get her man.” See above: placing the burden on women to make their men better when it should really be the responsibility of men to make themselves better. All this to say that if you really are one of “the good ones,” then, you know . . . be one of the good ones.

It’s funny to me that feminists get a bad reputation as “man haters” because the great majority of us love men. We’re friends with men. We marry men. We carry  and raise men’s children (on our own terms). A lot of us are men. To translate “we want to hold the bad men accountable” to “we hate all men” is tragically insecure, buying into toxic masculinity so much that pulling you out of it would be like that scene in Spirited Away where they have to wash that spirit made of mud. But there is hope for you. Trump is too far gone, but there is hope for you. And it starts with seeing women and yourself as fully realized human beings.

*A Hillary supporter =/= a Bill apologist, and if I see one more goddamn pissing contest on social media over who’s the bigger sexual predator, I am going to scream. It’s such a terrifically unproductive way to come at this issue.

 

The Truth About Interracial Marriage in 2016

Yesterday, when the shooting of Terence Crutcher started going viral, I posted this as my Facebook status:

“All my Facebook memories are about how [husband] and I were going to get married in a week this time last year, or how we were about to celebrate our one-year anniversary six years ago, but all I can think about is how I’ll have to hold him a little tighter tonight.”

I was hoping to give people a little glimpse into my reality, but I’m not sure everyone got it. So let me spell it out for you: I have to hug my husband a little tighter because he’s Black.

***
I have admittedly not been in an intra-racial marriage but I am constantly trying to show people that my marriage and theirs are not terribly different. My husband and I bicker about the normal things: chores, his front seat driving, whose responsibility dinner was on that particular day. We were asked about our biggest, most recent fight in pre-marital counseling and my husband said, truthfully, that it was about Sansa Stark’s character growth, or lack thereof, on Game of Thrones.

But the differences are pointed—notice how I said “front seat” driving earlier? That’s because I drive us everywhere. On paper he is the better driver; I have a few fender-benders on my record, and my husband will tell you that he has witnessed us almost get into many fender benders in the duration of our relationship. The short answer for why I drive everywhere is because he has terrible car anxiety. The long answer is I have terrible car anxiety, for him.

We are fortunate enough to say that we only have one sour experience with law enforcement. When we were sophomores in college, my husband was pulled over. We were running late for a play because the local Chinese restaurant had taken an hour and a half to make our food for pickup. He legally passed someone on the dotted yellow line, not going above the speed limit to pass. (And this was a small state road, so the speed limit was 35. For my husband to pass someone while still managing to go that slowly means the person he passed was going REALLY slowly.) We drove to outside the theater on the college campus, he put his hazards on, and I dashed back to my dorm room to get the tickets to the play.

When I got back, there was a cop car with blue lights flashing. The cop and my husband were arguing, benignly but bitterly, that my husband had been speeding. I sat down in the passenger’s seat and in my sweetest, most innocent Southern belle voice said, “What seems to be the problem, Officer?”

The officer said that my husband had been speeding. I said I was there and I had not seen the speedometer go above 35. The officer looked between us and let my husband go with a warning dripping with racist contempt, even using the word “boy.”

Some people I tell this story to ask me with dramatic wonder if I think my presence saved my husband’s life that night. It’s one of those questions that reveals more about the asker than the answerer. I’m his wife, not his white savior, but I digress. I don’t think it would have come to that, but a dark voice in the recess of my mind says, “So did all the victims of recent police shootings. They didn’t think stopping their car on the side of the road because it broke down or reading a book while waiting for someone would ‘come to that’ either.”

And that’s what makes my bones feel like concrete when these stories come out. My husband and I got the same degree from the same prestigious university. We were both on the dean’s list. We got the same academic awards. He was an RA all four years in school—yes, even as a freshman—and former bosses, from Taco Bell in high school to his current position, consistently say he’s the best employee they’ve ever had. He is a son, a brother, an uncle, a husband, a human being. He loves video games. He is an excellent, inventive cook. He sings as frequently as you or I might breathe. He’s not even aware he’s doing it most of the time. Where there is air, he must fill it with song.

But if the wrong cop feels the wrong sort of way, all of that won’t matter, and my husband could answer for it with his life. All that we have worked for and will work for could be gone in an instant. Marriages that don’t end in divorce end by one of the partners dying before the other, and I am frankly tired of feeling like my days with him are numbered.

It hurts to see friends and family champion “family values” and then go on to use the hashtag “#BlueLivesMatter” or “#AllLivesMatter.” They write about how police officers have spouses and children who worry that their loved one might not make it home tonight, and I want to scream that I have the SAME EXACT FEAR for my family, but no, my fear is “unfounded paranoia” despite hours upon hours of cell phone footage that says otherwise, I and my husband have nothing to be afraid of if we really haven’t done anything wrong.

It’s not that I don’t respect and admire cops. Far from it. I’d say 90% of my interactions with them have been positive despite the fact that cops, like doctors, often see people during the worst moments of their lives. It’s just that people bristle when I demand that cops treat me and my family with the same respect and that seems . . . off.

It would save us all a lot of time if these “family values” people would just come out and admit that my little fledgling family doesn’t have value to them.

***
On Saturday, my husband and I leave for our honeymoon. I will drive. We are visiting relatives in Selma, where the Edmund Pettus Bridge is, and then we will get to the beach. We’ll agree that he should stay in the car if I have to get gas in rural south Alabama. He doesn’t need me to “save” him like the person I wrote about before seems to think, but my white bullshit-tolerance is higher than his.

A couple of months ago, I had a dream about our son. We don’t have kids yet but there was no mistaking that this child was half mine, half his. He had dark ringlets the size of pencils. Big brown eyes that will just make you melt. A dimple in his left cheek like his father and I both have.

I woke up in pain, not normal-stiffness but those concrete bones. Something has to change before we meet this kid. Something.

Why Hillary Clinton Lied About Being Ill

2016 is the year of the bizarre. It’s taken away the good bizarre—David Bowie and Prince—and given us the bad bizarre—Trump’s presidential candidacy. But a bizarre experience I had recently was sitting in the waiting room of an imaging center, still feeling warm from the contrast given to me for my CT scan, waiting to be called back for an MRI, and reading the comments on an article about Hillary Clinton saying she thought her pneumonia diagnosis would not be “that big of a deal.”

Many comments were par for the course—people angry that their loved one died of pneumonia and it IS “that big of a deal,” women relaying their experiences being sick and still living their lives, people saying that of course this happened because Clinton is a lizard person who didn’t think she was susceptible to human diseases, and one train of thought that really stuck out to me.

“It’s not that she’s sick,” said one woman. “It’s that she lied about it. Why would she lie about it, especially knowing so many people depend on her?”

Sweetheart, I know exactly why Clinton would lie about it. I’ve been doing it myself for months.

Now, some people, like Trevor Noah, have said they’re upset that Ms. Clinton lied because she could have gotten other people sick, and that IS a fair point. Others are upset because this is the cherry on top of the Clinton lie sundae, and that is also a fair point. But others are upset just because she lied, like she owes them something. That is what I take issue with.

I won’t regale you with the sordid tale of the mystery illness I’ve had for the majority of  this bizarre Year of Our Lord 2016, just know that it’s not contagious. I’ve typed out and then erased my symptoms and how I feel because I don’t want to bore you, or worse, have you feel sorry for me. Or, even worse, have you deem that I’m exaggerating or playing the “victim card” because the way I feel doesn’t reach some sort of threshold for illnesses you’ve arbitrarily set. You figure that if I am not lying in a fetal position moaning in pain right this second, then it must not be “that bad.” You’re not alone in the way you feel—the great majority of the medical community—male and female doctors alike, mind—believes women are in less pain than they are. If we live in a culture that believes there’s “two sides” to every story about rape, then you are definitely going to think I’m just “whining” about a “tummyache” if I were to tell you about how I’ve been feeling.

Therein lies my solidarity with Ms. Clinton: this situation is very “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” If news had broken out when she first got sick, she would have been told to “suck it up, buttercup,” because many of the early symptoms of pneumonia are not unlike the common cold: cough, fever, chills, chest pains. I can see the Internet comments now: “Take some Dayquil so you can go back to deleting e-mails,” “Why is this news?” I had been having symptoms of my own illness for months before I went to the doctor, afraid that they would condescendingly tell me I was just “stressed,” or that what I had come down with was a chronic case of fetus incubation, or that I was just stressed about said fetus incubation. And they did accuse me of just that, but a physical examination made them realize that none of these makes one’s spleen swell up. Spleen-swelling is apparently pretty serious, so then the doctors barked at me, “Why didn’t you come see us sooner?!”

To that I say, because our culture doesn’t allow women to be sick. To be fair, it doesn’t allow men to be sick either, because our healthcare system is so messed up that many feel you have to be inches away from death to seek attention. Otherwise, how would you justify the cost? We’re like an entire culture of the Black Knight from Monty Python.

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“Your whole arm’s off!” “Well yeah, but that’s only because I couldn’t afford to go when just my thumb was off.”

But there’s more of an insidious sexism to how we as a society treat sick women. If sexists say that women are too weak/hormonal and unfit for public office when they’re healthy, they’ve just gotten more ammunition when one proves to be less-than-healthy. This woman is weak, however temporarily, and because inexplicably one woman speaks for all women, they must all be weak, delicate flowers.

And this is to say nothing of the weird feminist guilt you get when you’re physically sick. There’s a feeling that you’ve fed into the patriarchy if you ask for help when you’re physically ill, that you are the weakling the sexists say you are. It’s not sexist men who are joking that men are “babies” when they have colds while women keep going when they have colds. Ms. Clinton didn’t admit she was sick not only because the sexists would have jumped on her case, but also because she felt like she would be letting down all the women who are working despite having conditions more serious than hers—she didn’t think her pneumonia was “that big of a deal” because she knows that out there is a single mother battling cervical cancer while working two jobs, and that is a big deal. And if you were to ask the single mother battling cervical cancer, she would say thank you for calling her strong but she knows of an elderly woman who is watching her husband of 60 years battle Alzheimer’s and that is what’s tough. And the elderly woman will say thank you for calling her strong but she knows of a woman who just had to bury her son and that’s a big deal . . . and so on and so forth. Like I wrote earlier, not everyone’s pain threshold is the same—your “crippling” may be someone’s “minor scrape,” and vice versa—so it is much easier to omit details of your illness than to try to hit someone’s moving target of what kind of pain is “acceptable.”

And finally, though this applies more to me as a private citizen than it does to a public figure who we might be counting on to lead the free world, I’m lying by omission about my condition because it’s none of your damn business. My coworker thought I was missing work so often because I was interviewing at other companies, and it took all I had not to look him in the eye and say “Boy, I wish.” I knew for a fact that due to a terrible car accident he was in a few years ago, his pain threshold is higher than mine, so he won’t take me seriously if I tell him. (My boss knows, of course, as does my husband and parents and some close friends.) I wonder about the day I finally receive a concrete diagnosis, if I’ll announce it on social media or not.  I’m a thin, petite woman with a meek demeanor, so people already write me off as weak, therefore I don’t reveal to them my illness because they’ll be disappointed that I’m actually even more weak than I appear. Some might thank me for the bravery it takes to be vulnerable and admit stuff like this, but others will accuse me of playing the victim and that I should be grateful that I don’t have it worse. It’s a stupid-ass mentality—no one approached me on my wedding day and said I shouldn’t be happy because other people have it better than me—but that doesn’t stop them from thinking it. And, to be frank, I lie by omission because I don’t really have the patience for this mentality. I didn’t write this so you’d feel sorry for me, my illness is what it is, I wrote this so you might understand why Hillary wasn’t so jazzed about telling the world that she has pneumonia. She seems like she doesn’t need the stress right now.

Get well soon, Ms. Clinton. It’s okay to admit you’re suffering, so long as you don’t suffer fools while you do so.

25 Things I’ve Learned by 25

Now that I’ve tricked people into thinking they clicked on an Odyssey Online article with that headline and stock photo . . .

I turn 25 in a week and, honestly, I’m pretty excited. Twenty-five is my second-favorite number after five (the number, not the time; I don’t have a different favorite number during the workday). Sure, there’s some angst that I haven’t accomplished as much as “I should have,” but the e-mails from the admissions offices of law and art schools (I’m  . . . an enigma) are reminding me of that, not my age.  I’m honestly pretty happy with where I am in life: some lovable dork not only agreed to marry me but actually ASKED ME LIKE WHAT EVEN, I have a job in my field that allows me to travel, and my cat is just the. Cutest. Thing. I suppose I’ve learned some things about things along the way, so here goes:

1.) Know enough about science so that you can kind of wrinkle your nose when someone is trying to sell you something that will get rid of “toxins.”
2.) Adulthood isn’t about knowing everything. It’s about knowing maybe like three things, tops, and getting gainful employment for one of those three things so you’ll have enough capital to hire professionals to take care of everything else.
3.) No one will know the suit is from H&M if you get it tailored.

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4.) Everyone is the protagonist of their own story. This piece of knowledge is fundamental to empathy, but also to dealing with your average white man, who is used to being the protagonist of . . . everything.
5.) Don’t bitch about having to go to a lot of weddings when you’re young, for in about 30 years, you’re going to start going to a lot of funerals, and that’s if you’re lucky.
6.) Knowing your personal style is important. For instance, for work mine is “ModCloth had sex with the J. Crew catalog and the resulting child grew up to be a librarian,” for play it’s “Geeky former camp counselor who can’t give up Chacos SHUT UP, THEY’RE COOL NOW.” (Plus your future kids will love looking at pictures of you being fly as hell.)
7.) The best things in life require a lot of work: marriage, training a cat to use the toilet, food presentation.
8.) Your grandparents are so baller once you get them to talk about when they were younger. One of my grandmothers grew up in Nazi-occupied Germany and then learned four languages to become an interpreter, and the other gave birth to my dad and finished her master’s thesis in the same year. You come from good stock; own that.
9.) Get a weird haircut/color when you’re young, preferably high school or early college before you do a lot of internships. You don’t want to be stuck in an office job where the dress code says “only hair colors found in nature are allowed” but your heart’s like, “well purple is a color found on flowers found in nature, boom, bitch!”
10.) Don’t hitch your identity to what you consume but what you create . . . Yeah, Fight Club was really good, why do you ask?
11.) The “sisterhood” is not of the traveling pants, nor is it exclusive to Black women. It is the look you give other women when a man says something dumb.

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12.) There will always be cute young men and women who can harmonize and/or play instruments and the ones from your youth (or your parent’s youth) aren’t objectively, technically any better than the ones popular now.
13.) Only eat the very best junk food, and be healthy the rest of the time. Life is too short for “just okay” potato chips and mediocre pizza.
14.) Don’t get too worked up about articles about how Millennials are terrible or Baby Boomers ruined everything. The older generation will always treat the younger generation in a “whoever smelt it dealt it” sort of way and the younger generation will always treat the older generation in a “whoever denied it supplied it” sort of way. It is the circle of life and it moves us all.
15.) Disliking someone because they’re “awkward” is a piss-poor reason. To paraphrase Mia in The Princess Diaries, it’s easier to grow out of awkward than mean.
16.) Your hobby doesn’t have to be a “side hustle” for it to be valid, but gurl, I get wanting to break even on those Michael’s bills.

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17.) Even though most methods of travel are booty, travel is still very, very worth it.
18.) Never piss off a bunch of coffee snobs.
19.) Everyone who complains about people posting “Single Ladies” lyrics when they get engaged definitely posted “Nobody likes you when you’re 23” when they turned 23. #GlassHouses
20.) Get healthy, if not fit. Nothing’s quite as humbling as getting married and people on “baby watch” looking at your belly after the wedding, only to have you explain to them that it’s a food baby and they really don’t want to know when it’s due.
21.) The world owes you nothing, and you owe the world nothing (exception: when you see a really cute dog, you are obligated to tell someone).

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22.) Getting along with family is good practice for getting along with coworkers, for family also often eats sandwiches you said were yours, MATT.
23.) If you’re not excited about going to Walmart at least once a week for the rest of your life with that person, don’t marry them.
24.) Don’t give someone shit for not acquiring a taste that you’ve acquired. You weren’t born liking beer or coffee. (And if you were . . . are you okay? Do you need to talk to someone?)
25.) And finally, there’s a belief when you’re in your 20’s that you have to get all your adventuring and career-hustling out of the way, at least if Thought Catalog/Elite Daily/The Odyssey Online/whatever navel-gazing flavor-of-the-month Millennial website is to be believed. While I’ve gotten a lot of adventurin’ and career-hustlin’ under my belt at this point, if I stop all this when I’m 30, kill me. Seriously. Your person is not set in stone at 30. You will still grow and change. And, if my 30+ year-old friends are to be believed, you give fewer shits once you hit 30, and I am REALLY looking forward to that.

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6 Things Editors Wish Writers (And People Who Think They’re Writers) Knew

You: a mild-mannered “writer” who hasn’t written anything of note save for a grocery list yesterday while your Great American Novel floats around in your head. Me: an editor with three years of professional experience and six of high school and college newspaper editing experience. Let’s talk shop:

1.) The editing process takes a LONG time.

My professional title is that I’m an editor for academic journals, with some freelance experience flicked onto sandwiches for flavor. Or, as my friend in the research field put it, “Oh, you’re . . . one of those.”

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Yes, I am quite aware of how stupidly long the academic publishing process is. I, too, wish I could poke referees with hot pokers to get them to turn in their stupid reviews on time . . . but I digress. Whether you’re an academic or a creative writer, don’t go into the editing process expecting a quick turnaround. You need a lot more than a simple grammar check (see point 3) and the more you fight an editor’s opinion on your plot, character development, etc. to maintain your artistic vision (see point 2), the longer it will be. The academic editing process usually takes a year from submission to final decision. The creative editing process takes two to three years.

2.) Keep your ego in check.

When I first started out editing, I had faith in the system. Having just come out of a creative writing program, I valued constructive feedback and my author ego resembled a shriveled little raisin, whereas before the program it was a plump grape. I assumed other writers were like me. An author goes to an editor for a professional opinion much like a car owner goes to a mechanic for a professional opinion, right?

Then I had a client who would rather be sued for libel than compromise his or her artistic vision. They had written their life story and described a foster brother who had allegedly* molested them. They didn’t name the foster brother or give him a pseudonym, but they used their own real name in their byline and their publisher was worried about being sued. The publisher and I told the author the same thing: you HAVE TO change some elements of the story OR your author byline or risk getting sued. The author kept saying they “had to tell [their] truth” and wouldn’t budge. The author fired me because I agreed with the publisher, so I don’t know what became of that situation, but it was nuts.

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That’s what I didn’t account for: people may go to mechanics for a professional opinion on their car, but they also didn’t build their car from scratch as a labor of love.

“Well, yeah, of course you’re dealing with a big ego, the person wrote their life story,” you say from your armchair. The truth of the matter is, in the editing business, for every novel you edit, there’s about 10 memoirs or autobiographies or, especially in my area, “uplifting Christian non-fiction self-help” where the person writes about how finding Jesus saved them from [insert terrible thing here]. Even if you edit a novel, there’s usually an author self-insert character that they’re very precious about.

If you’re a writer and you want praise for your story, don’t go to an editor. Go to your mom. I’m not saying that to be mean, I’m saying that editors are professionally obligated to see your life story or labor of love as a product and help polish it so it will sell. If that sounds cold, you’re not ready for an editor to look at your work. Sorry.

*Oops, is my journalism background showing?

3.) You need a lot more than just a “grammar check.”

To elaborate on that “uplifting Christian non-fiction self-help” genre, I once had a client who was writing just that and he or she wrote EXACTLY in the style of the King James Bible. That is to say, clunky, old-fashioned, and vaguely Shakespearean. Not great for a modern audience who needs “No Fear Shakespeare” from Sparknotes. The person said, “If this grammar is good enough for the Word of God, it’s good enough for me.”

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Fortunately, unlike the other client, he or she eventually came around. But this comes back to not being precious about your work. When I was a writing tutor in college, I had a lot of people come into the office in a hurry, pleading that they “just needed a grammar check” real quick before class and then give me a sob story about how they were up all night writing this paper as I was checking their paper. I usually spotted things in their paper that couldn’t be fixed in a quick grammar check, but let those among us who haven’t stayed up all night to write a paper in college cast the first stone, so I told them “no contractions” and sent them on their way.

A few of those students angrily came back to me and said they still got a bad grade on their paper.* Oh, honey. A gramatically correct turd is still a turd. A first draft NEVER needs “just a grammar check” or your teenage niece as your only beta reader. As someone interested in writing, you would think this would be obvious to people, but I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had who’ve made my suggested edits on a draft and have been disappointed when I had just as many or more edits on their second or third draft. I might not “get” why you did a certain thing in your novel, and goodness knows literature is littered with stories of editors and publishers making dumb suggestions (for instance, did you know American publishers passed on George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” in the 1940’s because we were still friendly with Russia and didn’t want to offend them? Ha. Hahahahaha. Ha.), but, again, your novel is a product to us, and we have your best interests at heart because we, too, want your story to reach as many readers as possible. And that starts with having characters that aren’t stereotypes and overdoing tropes in your genre that would make your potential reader roll her eyes and put your book back on the shelf at Barnes and Noble.**

*And, in the interest of schadenfreude, I should tell you about the few times I edited the papers of people I was in classes with . . . and they got higher grades on their papers in the class than I did.

**Guilty.

4.) More often than not, we’re writers too.

A lot of people in my profession use editing as a front for drug trafficking for their own gains as writers. They want an “in” in the publishing world, which, like most arts and entertainment industries, is very networking and “who you know” heavy. They want to know the system so they know what sells and then game the system.

What I’m getting at is, as mean as we may be to your manuscript, we want to see you succeed, because then that means maybe we can succeed as authors, too. We send our manuscript queries, hoping that we can take what we dish out. I have met very few people who just LOVE grammar and correcting people, but I have met dozens who are good at grammar and use editing to pay rent while they spend their off time working on their own novel. Which leads me to my next point:

5.) We know why you haven’t written “your novel.”

When people discover you’re an editor, they either say,

a.) “Oh, I HATED English in school,” which . . . okay? What on earth am I supposed to do with that information? Convert you to English-ism?

b.) “I am SUCH a bad speller!” which, see point 6 about that,

c.) “Can you look over my novel?” Yes, if you pay me,

or d.) “I have an idea for a story I’ve always wanted to write, but I just don’t have time to write it, you know?”

Oh yes, we do know. But as much as I complain about clients who wouldn’t know what a split infinitve was if it bit their ass, I respect them more than the people who might be the next Ernest Hemingway for all we know but if only they could win the Powerball lottery and hole up in a cabin in the woods with only their Macbook and a tea kettle. That’s because bad writers have at least. Put. In. The. Work.

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The only people who think writing is relaxing and glamorous are the people who are not really writers. Writing doesn’t care if you have time. It doesn’t care about your job, or your family, or the NFL football season or the Hip New Thing to Be Offended By on Social Media or anything else that is pulling you away from it. Writing is messy. Writing is burning dinner because you were searching for a scrap of paper to write this fantastic piece of dialogue in your head. Writing is then losing that piece of paper because your spouse thought it was trash. Writing is getting a chapter done at work but naming the document “Annual Report” so your boss doesn’t get suspicious. Writing is having to take your earbuds out during your train commute because the words in your head are shouting over the lyrics you’re listening to and it’s about to drive you insane. Writing is hand-typing every copy of your manuscript to send to publishers because you can’t afford to print copies, something J. K. Rowling did when she was first starting out. Writing is getting up before your job and your family to write. The writing life isn’t as Instagrammable as waiting for a nice rainy day when the chores are done and a fresh pot of coffee is brewed and your cat is curled up next to your laptop, #writing, #workflow. It IS rewarding, but like most things that are rewarding, it’s rewarding because of the sacrifices you made to make it happen.

It’s like when people complain to me that they “don’t have time”to read. At me. A professional reader. I read all day at work, and then I read during my commute home, and then I read some more to relax at home. You would think I would be sick of processing words in my head all day, but I do it because I can’t NOT read. Like Scout says in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

What you’re really admitting to me is that reading and writing are not important to you. It’s okay if they’re not. But if you’re offended, then prove me wrong. I would love to read your novel.

Okay, another Shia gif:

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And finally, the point you’ve been waiting for:

6.) We don’t judge your grammar on social media or in text messages.

Like, seriously, I could not give less of a shit about your grammar on Facebook. But I’m really a descriptivist at heart. Sorry that you keep running into prescriptivists. Just friggin’ leave the period off the end of your text messages already.

 

Four Unsolicited Opinions About “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Hi, my name is Grace and I like ‘Star Wars.’ I know this makes me an outlier in today’s society, so please bear with me as I express some thoughts on the nuances of this little obscure indie film:

1.) People. People. Rey is NOT a “Mary Sue.”

This complaint has become the nerd Starbucks cup controversy in that I’ve seen wayyy more people complain that people are complaining about this than there are people complaining about this (it’s the circle of whine, and it moves us all!), but the initial complaint is really, reeeeaaaally fascinating to me because with all

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the shit

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women get

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telling them they’re not good enough

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you have the nerve

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to complain

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that a woman is “too perfect.”

If you genuinely believe that Rey is “too perfect,” say it to the face of a girl or woman you love and just watch the incredulousness fall over her.

. . . But I suspect that you’re complaining about this because your impression of women comes from the Internet and not real life, so here is a gif to illustrate how that would look:

Are there some flaws in how Rey is written? Yes, but they’re nowhere near the definition of a “Mary Sue” that the Internet has defined. For starters, “Mary Sue” is supposed to be an author insert, which, considering nearly all the people who had a hand in writing Rey are men, has interesting implications. And the “classic” Mary Sue is a character who shows up in the middle of the action and out-heros the heroes, which Rey very clearly does not do. The classic “Mary Sue” is someone like a redhead named Rainbow who has two different-colored eyes and who showed up at Hogwarts in the middle of the school year but can’t be sorted into any one house because she’s too different and mysterious* and Snape asks her to guest-lecture in Potions class because she’s unnaturally talented at Potions. But of course the term has taken on a meaning of “any woman who is too good at anything” because the wimmins need to know their place. “Rey is a Mary Sue” is a weak-ass argument that hints at something deeper and more misogynistic in the complainer.

(I do like when people argue against Rey being “too perfect” by saying “Luke is too perfect when he first uses the Force!” because are we all forgetting about this below?)

(Similarly, some people have said “Harry Potter is a ‘Gary Stu,'” but it is well-established within the Harry Potter universe that Harry is only really good at the Expelliarmus charm. He could easily be beat if wizards had wrist wraps for their wands like Wii-motes.)

2.) “The SJW agenda ruined Star Wars!”

I thought this story was funny WAY before Jimmy Kimmel ever got his paws on it: http://www.themarysue.com/mra-wars-jimmy-kimmel/

To sum up, a blogger for the MRA website “The Return of Kings” estimated that due to a Twitter poll of 565 respondents, 55% of which said their coverage of the “SJW agenda of Star Wars” affected their decision to see the movie, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” lost out on $4.2 million in ticket sales. So, they applied the results of that poll to their readership of 900,000** people who clicked on Return of Kings pages from November 21 to December 21 and somehow got $4.2 million . . .

Huh. So this is what school dress codes are for. Boys really can’t learn math and science if they see a teenage girl’s errant bra strap.

Which brings me to my next point:

3.) Elaborating on the “SJW agenda” of Star Wars

Modern storytelling is in a bit of a bind. When a character is a POC, not heterosexual, able-bodied, and/or (to a lesser extent) a woman, the only stories that sell are about how hard it is to be oppressed and how the character overcomes this oppression. Take, for instance, the roles of African American women who have won acting Oscars: Lupita Nyong’o–slave, Halle Berry–single mom on welfare, Octavia Spencer–maid in the 60’s, and so on and so forth. You never just have a minority leading character where their race/sexuality/disability is a non-issue.

Unless you release the new Star Wars movie and you have three! Blammo!

The three leads have not been without controversy (like . . . did you read my first point, or . . .?), but thank goodness they’re there. Political correctness may be the trend nowadays, but when you peel off all the layers of people’s inane opinions on it (my own included), you’re left with a little piece of childlike wonder at seeing someone like you doing cool things. Doesn’t everyone deserve that? If you’re a straight white man, you’ve had that feeling, like . . . a lot. To the point where it may have given you entitlement issues, some argue. You think the new “Star Wars” is “too PC”? Okay, then, just watch “The Lord of the Rings” for the story of someone like you. Or James Bond. Or anything else.

(And, typically with the “this is too PC” argument, I say “Well, someone’s not destroying the original, not-necessarily-PC thing”–for instance, Hermione being played by a black woman on stage somewhere doesn’t mean someone casted “Obliviate” on the movies and books that had white Hermione from our collective memory–buuuuuuut George Lucas actually IS trying to “Obliviate” our memories of the original films with his remastered re-releases, so . . .)

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is not without its writing flaws, but thank goodness Rey didn’t have to overcome being female, Finn didn’t have to overcome being black, and Poe didn’t have to overcome being Hispanic (and gay? Maybe?) to save the day. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the film made money solely on the back of this–it’s not just a film “with a female lead” or with “POC leads” that made money, because the new Star Wars film would have crushed records even if a Tribble*** was the star of it–but it’s a step in the right direction.

4.) I actually . . . like that Kylo Ren isn’t some big baddie?

Hear me out:

One of the main complaints people have with Kylo Ren is that he just looks like your average late-20’s, early-30’s guy trying to “find himself.”

First of all, if you were in the theater surprised by what Kylo Ren looks like outside the helmet, allow me to show you this picture from May 2015’s Vanity Fair:

where the caption is literally, “Next-generation bad guy Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) commands snowtroopers loyal to the evil First Order on the frozen plains of their secret base.”

But I digress.

We have plenty of “big baddies” in media, in Star Wars, even. Certainly we have plenty of “big baddies” in human history, too–Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Vlad the Impaler, etc.–but I’d like to propose we have more “little” baddies in literature. You can only remake Hitler so many times.

What do I mean by “little baddie”? In real life, the people most likely to harm you are your friends, family and acquaintances. Innocuous, nondescript, harmless people who suddenly get evil motivations for whatever reason. Villains like that in literature are fresh and interesting. The relationship between Han and Leia regarding Kylo is very “We Need to Talk About Kevin“-esque and there is so much as-yet untapped potential there.

We already have Space Hitler in Darth Vader, and I genuinely hope you see the irony in hoping Kylo Ren lives up to your expectations that he will be like Darth Vader.

*Bitch would be in Hufflepuff, obviously, but eww Hufflepuff. /sarcasm

**Oof, that’s depressing. Hoping a lot of those are hate-reads.

***Totally, shamelessly trolling. 😉

6 Science Myths that Really Grind My Gears

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My mom is a science teacher, so I grew up with a pretty low tolerance for anti-science BS. Back in fourth grade it was telling people about daddy long legs, now it’s crusading against the anti-vaxxers, climate change deniers, and creationists. Though I didn’t ultimately choose a scientific field to study or work in, you don’t have to be a scientist to be scientifically literate. I wish people got as mad about scientific illiteracy as they do about poor grammar—and this is coming from an editor. Split infinitives aren’t affecting our government and legislation, people, nor are they killing people like the anti-vaccination movement. So here’s Scientific Literacy 101:

1.) “You only use 10% of your brain!”

What inspired me to write this whole thing was an ad on Spotify for the movie Lucy, in which Scarlett Johansson taps into the other 90% of her brain. Not only is the “10% of your brain” trope tired, *cough*Limitless*cough*, but laughably inaccurate. You need all of your brain to function properly, and as college students who have pulled all-nighters before exams know, it is a very high-maintenance organ. Think of it this way: if you got a head injury, the doctor wouldn’t say, “Well, at least it’s on a part you don’t use” (unless he was Dr. Spaceman from 30 Rock). So use 100% of your brain and stop spreading this lie.

2.) “There’s mercury in vaccines!”

I am LIVID about the lengths people go to argue out of vaccines. There is an older generation alive today who can remember people dying young from diseases now preventable by vaccines, and in third-world countries, children walk several miles to receive the very vaccines that proud, stupid first-world parents turn down for their children. WHY. WHY.

Okay, off the soapbox before I burst a blood vessel. The most commonly-used argument against vaccines is that they contain thimerosal (US spelling), which contains mercury. First of all, the CDC, WHO, and other organizations do studies over and over and over again finding that vaccines have no concrete connection to autism—remember, this is time they could be spending researching how to cure ebola, which is having an outbreak right now, or HIV, or cancer—plus, thimerosal has been taken out of vaccines given to children under 6 in the US and other countries. If it seems that autism diagnosis rates have gone up, the relationship with vaccines is correlation, not causation. Doctors have gotten much, much better at recognizing the signs of autism since it was named in 1943, and while the CDC has not found a definite reason for the rise in autism diagnoses, they HAVE found–and, I reiterate, over and over again–that vaccines are not the cause.

3.) “Daddy long legs are the most poisonous spiders!”

I get really sad when I hear adults say this. It’s like you guys don’t even watch Mythbusters. First of all, “poisonous” refers to something that secretes toxins, like a poisonous frog or caterpillar. “Venomous” refers to something that injects venom when it bites you, like a snake or spider. But daddy long legs are scavengers. They have no need to kill anything by injecting it with venom like spiders do. So, in theory they can bite because they have a mouth, but then again, so can you, and you’re not venomous (. . . to my knowledge).

4.) “GMO organisms are the same as domestic animals!”

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding GMO organisms which I won’t get into, but here is one that comes up a lot: “There’s no difference between the genetic modification of corn and the selective breeding we do to dogs, cats, and horses.” Eh . . . there is a huge difference. Genetic modification is artificially inserting genes into an organism while selective breeding is expediting the process of natural selection. When you breed dogs, you find the ones with the most desirable traits for that breed, and you don’t breed the dogs that don’t have those traits. It’s more or less what the dogs would do in the wild if the dogs themselves found these traits desirable rather than the dog breeder. Genetic modification is artificial. If we genetically modified dogs, we’d be putting bioluminescent jellyfish DNA into the dogs to make them glow in the dark. (If that sounds outlandish, Mayo clinic scientists have already done that with cats.)

5.) “The left ring finger’s vein leads directly to the heart!”

This is an old myth that I’ve seen circling Pinterest on the “wedding” boards with a caption like “aww!” Hate to be a buzzkill, but all veins have to lead directly to the heart. If your whole body had to rely on just your left ring finger to carry ALL the de-oxygenated blood back to your heart, you definitely would not live long enough to see yourself getting engaged.

Another sub-myth I want to dismantle as well: the misconception that veins are “blue” and the blood in the veins is blue but turns red when you bleed because of the oxygen in the air. The blood in veins is dark red; your skin makes them appear blue. So really “blue bloods” like Prince William have the same color blood we all do . . . not that you’ve imagined what Prince William’s blood looks like, you psychopath.

6.) “Chemicals are bad for you!”/”Natural is good for you!”

The hippies and I can agree on a lot of things, but this is where they lose me. (We also have differing views on employment and hygiene.) While it’s admirable to live a healthy lifestyle, not everything produced in nature is “good” for you and not everything produced in a laboratory is “bad” for you.

Here are some “natural” things that are lethal to humans:
Toadstool mushrooms
Rhubarb, uncooked
Nightshade berries
Puffer fish liver
Australia. Just, Australia.
Bee venom/peanuts/gluten/tree nuts/shellfish/any number of things a person can be allergic to
Water, if you drink too much

Here are some “chemicals” that are good for you:
Antidepressant medications
Insulin you inject, if you’re diabetic
Vaccines (aha!)
Disinfectants
The adrenaline in an Epi-Pen if you do come across something you’re allergic to
Plus, note that the scientific definition of a “chemical” is literally anything and everything that is matter. The computer you’re reading this on is a chemical. You’re a chemical. Are you trying to live a you-free lifestyle?

To be clear, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a healthy skepticism of mass-produced pharmaceuticals. Side effects are no joke. But blanket statements help no one and forcing your beliefs on others can not only be annoying but potentially dangerous. Your friend on Zoloft is also managing his depression with a healthy diet and exercise (most therapists recommend this), so when you share “Anti-depressants are everything that’s wrong with the world” articles from naturalbeliefs.net or whatever, it’s downright insulting, making him feel like something is even more wrong with him because he isn’t “doing enough” to manage his depression. Forcing your naturally carnivorous cat to eat a vegan diet can kill it. Do your research from reputable sources (scientific journals, doctors, registered nutritionists, etc.) rather than a “natural” blogger talking out of her ass.

Here’s a bonus one: that anything scientific can be a “belief,” i.e. “I don’t believe in evolution,” “I don’t believe the earth is older than 6,000 years.” Evolution and the Earth’s age are facts, or things that have been verified by repeated experiments, and beliefs may or may not be true, but they just feel right to you. To quote the Wikipedia page for Plato’s Theatetus, emphasis mine: “The relationship between belief and knowledge is that a belief is knowledge if the belief is true, and if the believer has a justification (reasonable and necessarily plausible assertions/evidence/guidance) for believing it is true.”

Essentially what you’re saying when you say “I don’t believe in evolution” is “I feel like evolution may or may not be true,” and then you get pissy when scientists present you with facts about evolution. To get them off your back, show the scientists that you understand the concept of evolution and why someone would experiment on it repeatedly. Whether you “believe” it after you are presented with the facts is your business AND YOUR BUSINESS ALONE, FOR THE LOVE OF FAILING SCIENTIFIC EDUCATION ACROSS THIS COUNTRY.

This is why it irks me when someone claims all of science is wrong when a scientist has tested a widely-known fact and shown it to be wrong: A.) congratulations on never being wrong in your entire life, including now, and B.) science itself only works if people have the humility to admit they’re wrong after they face the facts. This is the mark of a smart person, scientist or not: You are open-minded, curious and willing to try to see where the other side is coming from. You don’t dig your heels. You cite reputable sources. You’re not afraid to be wrong. Dumb people are not always people who are wrong all the time, but are also people who always insist that they are right. As Neil deGrasse Tyson said in a tweet, “Never presume that just because you disagree with an idea that you must be correct.” Also, and good Lord, does everyone across the American political spectrum need to remember this:

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