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Don’t rock the boat, Amy.

That is the message with which I was raised. Lie low, don’t make trouble, stay quiet, pretend what’s happening isn’t really happening. At all costs, please people. Make them like you, or at least make them not notice you exist. Same difference.

Don’t rock the boat, Amy.

Which is perhaps why I find the implications behind the #KeepYAKind campaign so disturbing.

Quick recap: A critically acclaimed YA writer said a troubling and sexist thing in a public interview. Several critics have said that this writer’s portrayal of female characters leaves something to be desired. I have not read his work. (I was supposed to back in January, actually, as his latest critically acclaimed novel was a book club selection, but because I had heard of its problems, I decided to sit out that month. Life is too short, and I have way too many books to read.) As a result of this public interview, there was a public conversation about the problematic nature of this writer’s public comments and his work. There may or may not have been inappropriate behavior (aka harassment and bullying) towards this writer. I haven’t seen any evidence of it myself, but I didn’t spend a lot of time looking for it. #KeepYAKind was a Twitter campaign aimed at stopping the public criticism and conversation. The Booksmugglers write in more detail about it all.

Don’t rock the boat, Amy.

Photo Credit: Putneypics via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Putneypics via Compfight cc

It is easy to imagine that whoever started #KeepYAKind had the best of intentions. We all like kindness, right? We don’t want to live and work in a community that supports bullying, do we? Of course we don’t.

The problem with #KeepYAKind is that, like many things on the internet, it lacks nuance. It distracts the focus from one problem–sexism in the publishing industry and YA fiction–and puts it on another problem. And it does so in a muddied way that, whether intentionally or not, works to shut down the conversation about sexism. In such a way it defends the status quo. It says, “Be quiet, women. You’re not allowed to talk about this problem because it isn’t nice.”

No, it isn’t nice. That is the entire point. Sexism isn’t nice. Being seen as a mysterious creature who is stranger and less fathomable than a giant alien insect isn’t nice. Being told not to discuss problematic things in fiction, even if you are a professional reviewer and THAT IS YOUR JOB, isn’t nice. (And, I mean, shouldn’t we all be allowed to discuss problematic things in fiction? I think so.)

But don’t rock the boat. Never mind that it’s sprung a leak or ten.

Whenever I see #KeepYAKind, I think #KeepYANice. Nice is don’t rock the boat. Nice is be a doormat, don’t stand up, don’t enforce your boundaries, don’t speak up when there’s a problem. Nice is not expressing an opinion that might be uncomfortable or difficult or controversial.

#KeepYAKind ignores the reality that sometimes the obvious act of kindness is not the best nor correct nor sustainable thing to do. Amy of a few years ago would have been shocked that I’m saying that, but I sincerely believe it to be true. Kindness is great, but sometimes you have to protect yourself. Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself. Sometimes you have to stand up for other people too.

Sometimes you have to point out things that are problematic. Sometimes it’s your job to review and analyze a novel or a play or a movie, in which case it is certainly not your job to be kind. It is your job to be insightful and to shed light. It is your job to tell us your opinion. And some people are going to think publicly discussing a negative opinion isn’t very kind either. That’s their prerogative. It doesn’t change the job of those of us who analyze culture and media and society. We aren’t here to sugarcoat. We are here to talk about the things that need to be talked about.

Don’t rock the boat, Amy.

Someone told me recently that acknowledging problematic stuff gives it power. I couldn’t disagree more. Because when we aren’t allowed to acknowledge that something is going on, then nothing will ever change. The problem remains invisible. The status quo is effortlessly maintained. And when everyone is working together to pretend the problem doesn’t exist, it makes us begin to question ourselves, spending our energy on feelings of confusion and isolation instead of on positive change. Keeping busy ignoring a problem DOES NOT MAKE IT GO AWAY. I know some people think it does. I tend to not get along very well with those people.

Now, maybe this writer truly is a very nice guy. From all accounts, he is. And I have compassion for him, because saying something stupid in a public interview and then having the internet fall on your head can’t be very pleasant. Having to really deeply think about the fact that you find giant grasshopper aliens to be less mysterious than women can’t be very pleasant either. And I’m sure some people made disparaging remarks and the like, and that sucks. The internet kind of sucks. Being a public figure kind of sucks.

But we are still accountable, as artists and writers and human beings, for the words we say and the work we create. And that sucks too. It is hard to hold yourself accountable and still be brave enough to create. It’s hard to be an artist knowing you’ll screw up and make mistakes and probably say something really stupid in public someday. It’s hard to admit that perfection is not achievable, and that all we can do is the best we can, and then try to keep learning. It’s hard to realize that our work can be part of the problem, even if we had the very best of intentions.

But that doesn’t mean we should stop talking about the problems in our literature and our pop culture and our society. That doesn’t mean we should stop thinking critically. That doesn’t mean we should look away when there’s a problem, burying our collective heads in the sand. It takes a lot of bravery to be an artist, and it also takes a lot of bravery to acknowledge a problem when it exists so we can work toward increased awareness and change. Both of these roles are important.

Don’t rock the boat? Whatever. I’ve already flipped the damn thing over.

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This weekend I went to a party that was basically a room full of Buddhists…and me.

Does that sound like the set-up for a joke?

Anyway, I really enjoyed hanging out with these people because they were all kind and authentic and heartfelt, and also there was a lot less small talk than usual at a party where I don’t know anyone, and as we’ve already kind of touched upon, small talk tends to bore the crap out of me, especially in large doses. (And as an aside, I haven’t gotten to ask anyone yet about the coolest thing they’ve ever done, but I am SO looking forward to it.)

Photo Credit: ~C4Chaos via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ~C4Chaos via Compfight cc

I also had to speak in front of the group, in impromptu fashion, and I mentioned in passing that I had found my own way to work towards wholeheartedness. Afterwards, more than one person was very interested in hearing about my “practice,” and I found myself struggling to put it into words. I didn’t have a convenient sticker like “Buddhism” to slap onto myself and how I move through life.

And yet, it didn’t seem like an odd question, because I do have a practice. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time probably know a lot about it because I tend to write a lot about it, but it doesn’t have a specific label. It is a combination of many different parts, some of which would be very familiar to a Buddhist: mindfulness, introspection, and compassion, as well as a focus on priorities and strategies and investigations into how the world works and how I work.

But what I found myself saying more than once was this: I am an artist. That is my practice.

I am an artist. That is my community.

Music has always been my foundation and solace. It reminds me how joy feels. And writing, well, writing changes me. There was that moment when I realized I couldn’t separate myself from my writing. I was in my writing, whether it was in these essays or in my fiction, and therefore I wanted to strive to be the person I wished to see in my work.

And art is a practice. It’s all about practice, whether you’re repeating vocal exercises or the difficult end passage of that aria, or whether you’re memorizing music, or whether you’re writing two essays a week and a thousand words a day. Art is trying new things and challenging yourself, pushing yourself to your limits and then coming back tomorrow and finding your new limit and pushing yourself again. Art is in the way you see the world, and it becomes entangled in the way you interact with the world.

For me, there came the point where I saw my entire life as one long continuous work of art. It’s a fun way to live.

In thinking about all this, I also realized how important community is to any practice. Because yes, writing changed and continues to change me, but I don’t know that I would have had the courage to let it without the writing community by my side, helping me and educating me and supporting me and cheering me on. It is hard enough to transform without doing it in isolation. It is easier to challenge yourself when you are surrounded by people who understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Aside from a renewed sense of gratitude for my own community, I left the Buddhist party with the following awareness: that there are so many ways to travel in the same direction and so many ways to reach the same, or a similar, destination. There are so many ways to have and cultivate a practice. There are so many ways to embrace change. There are so many ways to strive and grow and learn.

There is no one right way.

The Buddhists and I, we’re really not all that different. In that room, we each of us had a practice, parts of which were different and parts of which were the same.

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Person I just started dating: “You said you were easy to find with a Google search, so I took a look, and I’ve been reading your blog.”

Me: “That’s…great.” Oops.

*

A thought I’ve had in the middle of a flirtatious conversation: “Oh, you’ve totally been reading my blog to try to figure out if maybe you want to date me/to find out if I’m available. That doesn’t make me even vaguely uncomfortable.”

*

On an online dating website: “I’ve been following your blog for quite some time, and it would be great to have a conversation with you.”

Me: “Am I professional Amy or dating Amy right now? I am SO CONFUSED.”

*

“This totally inappropriate thing I did was inspired by you and one of your blog posts.”

Me: “Um….” ???

*

I love my blog, but I do not love having my blog and dating. I try to pretend it’s not weird because sometimes the best strategy is to bluff your way through something, but in reality, IT CAN BE PRETTY WEIRD.

It’s a question of a balance of information.

Whenever I write a blog post, I ask myself if I’m okay if the whole entire world reads what I’ve written. That is my base assumption, not because I think that will ever happen in a million years (it won’t), but because I want to do my best to remember how very public this blog is (even though it doesn’t always feel super public). So I’m sanity checking whether what I’ve written is something I’d be willing to say in public, even knowing whichever person I’d least like to might, in fact, read it.

So it’s not that there’s anything of which I’m particularly ashamed on the blog. I’m sure I’ve said some stupid things sometime in the past, because in four and a half years, that’s pretty much a certainty. I’ve probably also said things that I no longer agree with, because hey, in four and a half years I’ve learned new things and changed my mind and become aware of more nuance in certain issues. But overall, I don’t find the blog embarrassing.

What I don’t like about having the blog and dating is that at the beginning of getting to know someone, I think it throws off the balance. An enterprising person can read four and a half years of more and less well-thought-out essays from me. Surely most people won’t have the time for such an undertaking, but even so. Even if they don’t read all or even most of my essays, there are still an awful lot of them.

And meanwhile, what do I know about them? A few emails worth of carefully curated information? A single conversation’s worth of anecdotes? The flow of information is the opposite of balanced in this situation.

And then there’s the problem of assumed intimacy. People read this blog, and over time, perhaps they feel like they’ve gotten to know Blog Amy. And that’s as it should be. I’m happy when you get to know Blog Amy. But the people I’m dating? I don’t want them to get to know Blog Amy. I want them to get to know Personal Amy. Preferably by talking to me and spending time with me. I want to share my stories and opinions myself instead of past Blog Amy getting to have all the fun.

It’s not even that I don’t want the people I’m dating to read my new blog posts as I’m publishing them. It’s more that I then want to talk to them about those posts. I want to have a conversation about those subjects, because if they weren’t interesting to me I wouldn’t be writing about them. I want to talk about what was hard about writing them, or how people responded differently than I thought they’d respond, or how no one is interested in reading about such-and-such a subject.

Meanwhile, I don’t want to think of my backlist of four and a half years at all.

Blog Amy or Personal Amy?

Blog Amy or Personal Amy? Sometimes it can be hard to tell.

I’ve actually thought about whether to continue the blog, given the potential dating weirdness, and you can see the answer to my deliberations in my continued blogging, and even my new willingness to blog about dating. My discomfort, when it comes, is the price of maintaining a public persona, however obscure, on the internet. And I’m willing to pay the price.

I’m willing to stand behind this blog, and say, yes, this is part of who I am. I am a writer. And dating a writer can probably also be weird. Take it or leave it. The blog leaves no room for anything less. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

*

Person I’m dating: “So I saw your most recent blog post. On dating.

Me: “Oh….”

Person I’m dating: “I didn’t read it.”

Me: “There’s nothing about you in it.” Please don’t freak out. Please don’t freak out.

Person I’m dating: Doesn’t freak out. Starts a conversation based on the headline of the blog post instead.

Me: Sometimes mature communication wins.

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This weekend at ConFusion I found myself crying in a public bathroom.

Now, if you have never cried in a public bathroom before, there’s some stuff you should know. You’d think from the way characters cry in bathrooms in novels and on TV that this is a decent option. But it is actually fraught with difficulty!

First of all, is the bathroom empty? Because if it’s not, you have to cry very, very quietly. Or you might be interrupted mid-cry. Luckily I didn’t have this problem. It was late enough that no one else was there, and I made my way to the big handicapped stall at the back and locked the door. But then came another issue. Where was I supposed to sit? I didn’t want to sit on the floor (ick) or on the toilet seat that had no lid (ick), so I ended up leaning against the wall. And then all that’s available for tear-catching is low-grade toilet paper, and there’s glasses to keep track of, and I kept thinking about the fact I was wearing mascara, and was it running down my face in long black streaks, and if so, would I be able to remove all evidence of it with rough paper towels before going back out into public?

Also, everything just seems worse when you’re crying about it in a public bathroom. Because in the back of your head is the awareness that you’re so upset you couldn’t keep your shit together long enough to decamp to a more private location. And that just sucks.

Photo Credit: madamepsychosis via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: madamepsychosis via Compfight cc

So, why was I in that bathroom in the first place?

Well. Someone said some not-very-nice things to me. Some personally judgmental things. And I let it get to me. I tried to recover, but these not-very-nice things hit me on a tender spot, and I was exhausted from traveling all day, and I hadn’t seen it coming, and and and…. I let it get to me. I cared when there was absolutely no reason to do so.

This also sucks.

Then my brain saw an opportunity to take my emotionally vulnerable state as an excuse to stage a fun little field trip into the Land of Impostor Syndrome. “Why are you even here?” I asked myself. “You’ve been working so hard at being a writer, and all people know you as is the person who knows everyone. You don’t belong here.”

Other people who have gone on this mind trip will not be surprised to learn that shortly thereafter I was on the phone with a friend back home (yay time zones!) insisting that I was failing at everything that was important to me in my life. EVERYTHING. FAILURE. DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL. YES I CAN BE DRAMATIC, I’M A WRITER, WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?

I hate telling you about this. I want you to think that I’m always together, that even when life is hard, I always bounce back instantly with my silver lining generator and my recap of lessons I have learned. That as I write a novel, and then revise it, and then write another novel, and meanwhile collect a lot of rejections, I am always just fine.

But this simply isn’t true. No one is together one hundred percent of the time. No one. If they say they are, they are lying. If they look like they are, you don’t know them well enough yet.

And reaching for things that are difficult to achieve–going full-out–is really fucking difficult, emotionally speaking. Not settling for what you know you could have, and instead pushing for what you want to have? Can be completely brutal because success is not a guarantee. It’s not even always particularly likely. Trying to make art out of absolutely nothing, and knowing you’ll be heaped with criticism for even trying? Artists are insane. People with ambitions are insane. We are all freaking insane.

And into this turmoil creeps impostor syndrome. It slips into our behavior in both subtle and embarrassingly apparent ways. It makes it harder to put our full effort behind something. It blinds us to opportunities. We worry that if we talk about it, it could damage our careers. It could make people think they shouldn’t bet on us. It makes us afraid.

Well, forget that. I’m supposed to be working on caring less about what people think? Fine. I had rampant impostor syndrome this weekend. I had to take more alone time than I usually do, and I needed to talk about it with friends, and I needed a few pep talks, and I still feel a little shaky, and my brain is being less kind than usual. I also participated on all my panels as planned, and visited with my friends, and talked business.

I am speaking about my experience with impostor syndrome because it is something that is true, and those are the things most worth talking about. I know that like me, many of my readers are reaching for the stars instead of settling for a sure thing. As a result, many of us face impostor syndrome repeatedly. And having this experience does not mean we are any less capable or reliable or skilled. It’s just part of the territory of having vision and doing big and splendid things.

This weekend I ended up crying in a bathroom. Today I sat down and wrote. Tomorrow I will sit down and write some more. This is what matters: to stare our doubts in the face and acknowledge them and then, in spite of them, choose to go for it with everything we have.

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When I first started blogging seriously back in 2010, I read so many blogs. I wanted to see what other people were doing, and I wanted to get ideas of what to talk about, and I followed lots of blogs from which I read almost all the entries.

Then at some point I stopped. I can’t remember if it was early this year, or sometime last year, but I do remember I was falling behind and I decided to take a break to catch up with life. And then I found I wasn’t missing most of the blogs I read, so I never came back to my blog reading in the same way.

Nala also doesn't read many blog posts. But she does have incredibly fluffy paws!

Nala also doesn’t read many blog posts. But she does have incredibly fluffy paws!

I still read a few blogs regularly. I read my friend Rahul’s blog because he is always making interesting observations and giving great book recommendations. I read my friend Ferrett’s blog because he is always doing strange things and giving great insight on social interactions. I read Theodora Goss’s blog because I feel like she’s teaching me how to lead a modern fairy tale life. I read Captain Awkward because I went so long wishing for an advice column that actually gave healthy advice and now I have one and it is so interesting and sometimes applicable to my life.  I read Nick Mamatas’s blog because he’s such an iconoclast online and that is fascinating to me. (Also, iconoclast was my new vocabulary word last week! I would probably pronounce it wrong if I tried to say it out loud.) I read Stina Leicht’s Feminist Mondays because she compiles a great list of links and backs them up with relevant commentary.

Other than that, I check in on an economics blog a few times a week, and I click on posts that people share with me on Twitter and Facebook. I’m more likely to click on said links if they’re for essays by Kameron Hurley and Robert Jackson Bennett or if they’re on io9 or if they’re shared by Mary Anne Mohanraj or Juliette Wade, but I end up clicking on all kinds of stuff.

I stopped reading some blogs because they got repetitive. I stopped reading other blogs because it was obvious the blogger was pretty messed up, which was compelling at first but then eventually mostly made me feel tired. I stopped reading most writing advice because most of it I either already knew or had nothing to do with me. I cut back on book blog reading because I’m so far behind on my to-read list (although I am hoping to catch some of the Book Smuggler’s Smugglivus this month because I do love year-end lists and reflections, what Rahul calls wrap-up season).

I still hear writers saying that they should really start their own blogs, but now I tend to respond, “Well, if you think you’ll like it.” Because it’s becoming more and more clear to me that blogs are driven by having a unique voice, just as much good fiction is. But I don’t think having a unique voice for one of those things necessarily means you’ll have it for the other. I mean, there might be some correlation, I don’t know. What I do know is that the short essay, suitable for most blogs, is its own form and as such, requires study and practice. So if you aren’t compelled to write it, I don’t know that there’s a strong argument for doing so anyway.

As we all know, I am compelled to write in this form, and all of this does beg the question of my own blogging. “What if I’m getting boring?” I wailed to my friend this weekend. He obligingly told me I wasn’t getting boring, thus proving his awesome quality of friend supportiveness, but it’s a question that is always in the back of my mind. That being said, none of the blogs I’ve stopped reading seem to be in any jeopardy, so I suppose the answer is that readers cycle in and they cycle out, and that’s as it should be.

I don’t miss the blogs I no longer read, but I do on the whole still enjoy blogs with a strong sense of voice. Perhaps I’ll stumble across some different ones that will enchant me all over again.

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It’s time for me to start work on a new writing project, aka a new novel. And this endeavor has forced me into taking a look at the writing angst I’ve been feeling for the last month or so. It hit pretty much the moment I finished the previous novel.

Something I’m fond of saying is that one of the most important parts of being a writer is learning how to emotionally manage yourself. Because being a writer can be emotionally brutal (as can being a musician, as can being most kinds of artist). So if you want to be in it for the long haul, you’re going to have to learn how to deal with all the fun experiences that go along with it: the rejection, the waiting, the insecurity, the criticism, the solitary nature of the work, working on big, long-term projects, being able to finish, finding self-discipline, finding focus, handling the inner critic, etc., etc.

I had such a lovely time writing BEAST GIRL that most of my writer neuroses have been exceptionally quiet all year. My biggest worry was that my moving would derail the rough draft, and once I got over that hump okay, I had a relatively easy time focusing on the writing and revising in a calm fashion. A calm that shattered once I no longer had any work to do.

Suddenly the decision of the next project seemed a lot more weighty than it had before. I came up with a bunch of ideas, and then I came up with a bunch of reasons why I shouldn’t do any of them, or why I should do all of them, just so I could spend a nice period of time dithering and working out all that pent-up writing stress. (This makes it sound like I did this on purpose, but I can assure you it was entirely accidental.)

Finally, late last week, I decided to talk out my decision-making problem with any writer friends who were willing to listen. I talked and I dithered, I wrote summaries and dithered some more. I’m quite exceptional at the practice of dithering. And by the end of the day, it struck me.

This wasn’t about choosing which novel to write next. It seemed to be about that. That was certainly mostly what I was talking about. But that wasn’t my problem. My problem was in managing my writing-inspired emotions. My problem was FEAR.

I am underneath a giant spider. It is scary.

I am underneath a giant spider. It is scary. And also reminds me of LOTR and Harry Potter simultaneously.

Once I realized this, I was actually much more cheerful, as I have confidence in my ability to wrangle neurotic writer feelings. I was afraid agents wouldn’t like BEAST GIRL. I was afraid no one would like the next novel I wrote either. I was afraid it would be hard, and maybe I’d get stuck, or else I’d just be writing very badly, or I’d finish only to have all the agents say, sorry but I already have several manuscripts just like this one. Which is all fine and good, and the fear is real enough, but there’s nothing I can do about any of those things. I can’t control whether anyone likes BEAST GIRL. I can’t control how smoothly (or not) the next novel goes, or whether it ends up being like other novels that hit agents’ desks a year from now.

Recognizing the lack of control gives freedom. If my problem with choosing the next novel project was fear, then there was a simple solution. Choose anyway, go for it, be flexible, and see how it goes.

In conclusion, I am now hard at work at the brainstorming/researching/outlining/ figuring out stage of my next novel. Am I scared? Yes. Gloriously so.

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This week I’m going to the World Fantasy Convention, and I’ve sat here trying not to write about it and to write about something else instead, but my focus is already over there in DC, so I’ve decided to embrace that.

I’ve been making something of a point of spending a bit more time with writers locally for the last several months, so I am not in dire need of writer time stat, which has definitely been true in the past. But even so, there is something special about WFC, having so many friends that matter to me all under one roof.

I’ve been thinking about why the writer community has been such a robust presence in my life. I don’t have any solid answers, but I think it helps that it encompasses many people and is spread out geographically. And of course, we have our passion for writing in common with each other. And they aren’t as often a part of my daily concerns, which means they enjoy the benefit of perspective.

Perhaps it also matters that writers tend to be people who have thought about harder aspects of life. I mean, we spend tons of time crafting crises for our characters to live through (or not), so it’s much harder to avoid thinking about grief or disappointment or betrayal or what happens to a person when under pressure. As a result, I wonder if there is less fear when someone else brings up one of these topics because we’ve already been forced to take a look at the issues we have with them.

Or perhaps I just meet a lot of writers and therefore a lot of the wonderful, supportive people I know are writers.

Writers in action! Photo by Andrew Williams.

Writers in action! Photo by Andrew Williams.

Regardless, whenever something goes off track in my life, whether it be writing-related or health-related or social-related or something else, I turn to my writer friends and they are there. They give me advice, they offer support, and sometimes they just listen and give me the space to be me in all my messy glory. I share my news with them, both good and bad, and it feels like we’re in this together, this not being publishing or other writing-related things so much as life in general.

All communities have problems, of course, and the writing community of which I am a part is no exception. We talk about the problems a lot, and that is as it should be. And all individuals have their strengths and weaknesses. I am not trying to paint a picture of a perfect utopia here.

But on an individual level, these are people who have my back. They are indignant on my behalf when I am poorly treated, they send me care packages, they are generous and happy to help when they are able to do so. When I am sick, they send me nice tweets. When I am sad, they text with me. When I have great news, they celebrate with me. And I strive to do the same for them.

It might not sound like much: a tweet, a text, a book in the mail. Many of them live far away, and I don’t get to see them in person very often at all. But you all have heard enough of my theories about life by now to know how important I think the little things are. They matter.

So I guess the writer community is a robust presence in my life because I choose to make it so. It makes me happy. And it is filled with people who think the little things matter, just like me.

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