Ursula K Leguin has died. She was the first sci-fi writer I read who was a woman. I was 13. I had read some fantasy stuff before but nothing could have prepared me for the brilliance that was The Dispossessed. She blew my mind. She made me hunger for more. Not just more sci-fi,. but more sci-fi like that. Playing with stereotypes, challenging tropes, and questioning our cultural mores. I honestly could not believe such writing existed before I stumbled upon her. She blazed a trail that was so necessary yet so welcome. Until I “found” her, I didn’t even know you could write things like that (and be popular!) She gave me hope and something to look up to. But it wasn’t just her books, it was her essays, her introductions for other authors and her missives she sent out for her fans. She was a bright spirit, despite what her writing was like,. with a quick wit, a sharp perspective and a very warm personality. I always wished I could meet her just to let her know how important her work was to me. But I take solace knowing that she knew, even if she didn’t know it was me personally, that her work was needed and loved by so many. The best part was knowing how happy she was to be doing what she wanted; sending messages to society, shouting into a void that whispered back in lines of gratitude and love. I am glad I was able to be a part of that. I will miss her. Even though I never knew her, she knew me.
1) I get worried I will die and my loved ones won’t have any current pics of me at my best
2) I want to remind myself that I don’t look as hideous as the world makes me feel sometimes
3) when I look good, I want to record it. Not so I can gloat about it later, but so I can build up a library of “i was looking good that day” – sometimes I will look back a month later and swipe through thinking “actually I had a lot of good days!”
4) Sometimes, it really is nice to have people say “wow, you look great!”
5) it helps counteract the reactions I get on the street sometimes
6) mostly I do them without makeup (or much makeup – sometimes I hide my face-picking which I think is totally fair) so later I can remember that I can look nice without exaggerating anything. I look okay as JUST ME
7) I imagine someday Lil Miss will look through my pics and maybe she’ll see her own looks peeking out behind my eyes and i want her to not be afraid of looking bad when she gets old
8) Some days I just feel good about myself and want to record that feeling
9) I remember looking at old photos of my parents (My step-mom and my birth-mom) and thinking many thoughts, all of them warm and wonderful. I want to pass that moment on to my kids
10) sometimes a selfie is a reminder of something that happened that was important. One of my favorites was “this is the face of someone who has taken her last final” – the day I earned my bachelors by taking my final final. It was a unique expression and I love looking at it because I feel that feeling all over again
11) I like to record how my hair changes
12) I notice how little my face changes
its weird being single mom again. or rather I guess I should say its weird being a single mom who is *old*. No, I know 50 is not really that old but becoming a single mom is something I did in my youth- I was barely out of my 20s and it was perfectly acceptable for me to go dancing and partying and hooking up every night that my kids were gone. At my age, nobody would look sideways at me for doing the same now I suppose but it would feel different (it wouldn’t be new) and also its not what I want to do. I don’t have the same energy levels or good health that I did back then too so there’s that slowing me down.
WHat’s really different though, what really matters this time around is how I feel about everything else. WHen I was a single mom before, I cast aside the notion of companionship as some kind of luxury item I had no time or patience for. I couldn’t see much advantage to having a partner other than emotional and possibly financial. Eventually I decided to try again for both of those reasons and really not much else. I wanted certain things in life that are far easier to get when you have a decent partner. I also wanted a friend to come home to every night. It was something I had gotten used to with all my roommates and I wanted it again. My second foray into domestic bliss went even worse than my first. I suppose some of that was simply due to our different aims. I got what I wanted from teh arrangement but I had to deal with all the messy details that come with having a partner. I didn’t MIND the details themselves, but I did very much mind the person I ended up with. His version of love, partnership and commitment are very different than mine. So another attempt at partnership failed.
Looking at it now, I realize that what I want out of partnership at this point is a *very* different thing than what I wanted the first time I got married. Its very different than what I wanted the second time. Its very different than what I wanted the two times I entertained the notion but did not complete the act.
So this time around, being a single mom has a very different flavor than it did before I got married the second time. OBviously there’s a grave differnce in how parenting is for me as well: I’m a different age, in a different circumstance and have kids who are very different than they were back then. The world is somewhat different too but really not that much. Not enough that I can point to that as being part of what makes my experiencce feel so …odd.
I often wonder how odd I really am… how many other single moms are there out there who have grown kids AND a elementary age kid? How many are geeks? How many are bisexual? how many are monogamous? How many are starting a second career? How many have experience with chronic health issues?
Its not that I think I am so terribly unique (beyond the obvious) but that I wonder how this oddness keeps me from connecting.
When I was younger, it was easy for me to float through different cultures and subcultures – I was a retail store manager and wore a femme suit every day to work. I was a shooter girl in a strip club and rocked the “whore look” every night. I was a student and threw on whatever smelled reasonably fresh. I was a class mom and wore suburban blah-clothes. I was a weekend Goth and had a good collection of black dresses and boots. I was a baby butch and sometimes stepped out as a man.
Now I just want to find a group I can chat with and not worry about how I look, whether I have the right clothes or attitude. I just want to feel like I already am “there”
So every day I start over with what I’m going to present as.. am I femme? Butch? Tight-ass corporate? slightly slutty? Haphazard egghead? Wise crone? Ditzy student? know-it-all mom?
I don’t know… I wonder if all those years I drifted through groups I was wasting my time.. did nothing leave a mark on me? Why do I feel like i have no culture of my own?
I thought it would at least be parenthood… but that’s not working either… I’m older, uglier, more tired, less intense and less patient than every other parent I meet. Children are the only thing in my life that has never stopped being important to me yet I still don’t feel like I really fit in with other single moms….
…. who will I be tomorrow?
THere are times I still want to find someone and unload all the pain of my marriage onto. All my friends already know, they’ve heard it all many times over. I want new validation, I want to feel less alone in this. I’m certainly not the first, only or most wrong divorced woman on the planet (or anywhere) but sometimes I feel the wrongness of it all over again. It makes me wish it were a tangible thing, this darkness that I could cast out, throw it somewhere and have it stick instead of staying inside me. I do believe time heals in a way, but it doesn’t cure. Old griefs don’t ever go away and old wrongs are never righted; they just erode slowly into a past that you can remove yourself from. You take steps forward in life and the pains of the past get that much smaller and easier to look at head on.
Yes of course I think about all the things I did wrong. Yes, I look inside myself and check to see if those unsavory parts of myself are still there, still ruling me because if I catch even a whiff, then I have things to do, boulders to push uphill again until I feel safe that those flaws will not crush me should my time for love ever come again.
But even knowing what I know about myself in the past, even being able to recite all the things I did “wrong” I come back to the same pain, the same plaintive persistant question “was I *so* wrong that I deserved to be treated like that?”
After two years, I’m certain the answer is “no, I did not”
The failure of my second marriage may not have been “all his fault” but the failure of our partnership was in fact, his fault. I believe that with all my heart. I carry the blame for ending things and I accept responsibility for my flaws and mistakes but I know without a doubt that even perfection could not have made that relationship work. This is something I remind myself of still to this day – as I did every day since deciding to end my marriage: a partnership is TWO people. If one person cannot carry their weight, cannot support the other, cannot hold the other’s heart with love and respect, then there is no way it can work. A partnership is TWO people. Hard work, communication, therapy, kind words, gestures of love – none of them save a relationship when they are one-way. That is reality no matter how much it hurts.
And it did hurt, knowing at the end that no amount of increased effort on my part was going to change things. No matter how much I loved him, no matter how much I tried, no matter WHAT I tried, I could not make that man love me as a partner. Maybe he never loved me, I doubt he even knows for sure, but to be sure, at some point, he could not love me as a partner. And that is why my marriage failed. Because marriage is a partnership and a partnership is two people who work together. He did not want to work together because it would have meant focusing on someone else in a real tangible everyday fashion. Something he would never be capable of doing. Hollow temporary gestures are not aspects of love they are only smoke and mirror shows designed to impress whoever was around at the time. Romantic moves are not aspects of love, they are only silencing methods designed to shame the other person into acquiescence.
Aspects of love are mundane, natural and feel as real as the sun on your skin, as comforting as a warm drink on a winter’s day, as secure as a blanket around your shoulders, as poetic as a snuggle in front of a fire in the middle of the night. Aspects of love are plain and simple and show up as often as a text during lunch “hi how is your day?”, as sweet as dishes washed when the partner is putting the kids to bed, as common as checking schedules together so we can go see a movie on date night.
Aspects of love aren’t showy, flashy or loud. They are small, and full of kindness.
THere were no aspects of love that I did not pay for in my marriage. Everything was given not in kindness but in quid pro quo. And no one deserves that kind of treatment.
I don’t happen to think Jenner is brave. Not because its a competition but because she came out AFTER the kids were grown and out of the house and her investment portfolio is securing her mega-huge income for life since the show was over with. She waited until she had absolutely nothing to lose. Where was Jenner during the decades when the queer community was fighting to stay alive? Did Jenner ever do or even SAY anything helpful? NO. So yay for Caitlyn Jenner but let’s not pretend she did anything risky at all. She didn’t. She made damned sure there was as little risk as possible.
I don’t think Caitlyn Jenner was brave at all. The definition of brave is taking risks. Transitioning is a brave thing to some extent, yes, but Jenner was about as non-brave as it gets. THAT’S OKAY. No one is *required* to be brave about such a personal journey. I do not fault Jenner for that. I DO fault the media for propping her up as a darling of the trans community. Before she was outed, she never did a damned thing for anyone in the queer community. That was her choice and I am okay with that. Sometimes bravery is not worth it. No one should make that choice for you. But let’s not make fools of ourselves pretending she was exceptionally brave.
Let us not forget, either, that Jenner purposefully married Kris Kardashian knowing full well he wanted to eventually transition fully yet he did not reveal that to her until after they were married. Jenner wanted to have a cover and that’s what Kardashian was. Kardashian was not at ALL happy about that. The kids from Jenner’s previous marriage already knew about her transition goals and they felt the reality show was a terrible idea because of all the exposure it would bring to everyone involved whether they liked it or not. Jenner did not exactly handle this with other people’s feelings in mind. That was Jenner’s choice and I don’t know her internal life so I can’t judge, but I can say it doesn’t fit the definition of “brave”
If I was going to pick a transperson in the spotlight I think is brave I’d choose Wendy Carlos. She was a respected composer of electronic New Age music when she transitioned. She had been transitioning for years by the time she won grammys. There was no way she could come outt privately unless she chose to give up touring and posing for pictures. This was in the late 80s. She had in fact been outspoken for the queer community before transitioning. Once she decided to do it, she went back and changed all the labels on any recordings still being printed so they all had her name and picture current. That wasn’t cheap and it couldn’t have been easy being shunned afterwards. The type of music she does is respected but not actually that popular and she wasn’t any kind of millionaire either. Her interview in Playboy magazine was extremely brave considering how shitty the interviewer was to her. She’s still very private because of how she was treated but she was never secret.
If you doubt my claims about Jenner, read her own words:
My earliest memories of being a geek are of Star Trek. My father is an engineer and a quintessential geek. He loves science, taught me about binary code, logic and the scientific method of inquiry at an early age. I loved listening and learning from my father as a child, he could explain anything or if he couldn’t, he knew how to find out what we wanted to know. All this before personal computers and before the internet. IN fact, before personal computers were a Thing, my father bought a kit and built his own computer. He gave me books on how computer languages worked. I coded my first program in machine language when I was 12. By the time my private school had Apples, I already knew BASIC.
But before even all that, there was Star Trek. In 1978 Star Trek was in syndication and getting more popular every year. By then, Roddenberry was making noises about bringing it back and making a movie as well. Our local UHF channel was showing it every day at 4pm. I made sure to be home every day after school and so did my father, so we could both watch it. We’d talk about each episode afterwards and my father would invariably have some kind of science and/or sociological lesson for me to glean from it all. I started reading fantasy and science fiction. I discovered the joy of short story anthologies. The library was literally down the street from us and the librarian was sci-fi fan too. Her daughter was about my age and she had a certain fondness for me. It was glorious.
Then, Star Wars came out.
I remember that night clearly: my brother was not even four years old but we brought him with us to the theater anyway. I think my father felt like this was going to be a historic event and didn’t want my brother to miss it. It was summertime and I had been spending most of my days at the local pool and so my hair was brittle and my eyes were blurry from chlorine exposure. I remember my father being SO excited about this movie… he kept talking about all the other science fiction movies he’d seen, going through nostalgia like a grandmother remembering her children as babies. I heard about 2001: A Space Odyssey, Fantastic Voyage, Planet of the Apes, Dr Strangelove, Forbidden Planet, The Day the Earth Stood Still, ZPG, THX-1138…. I think my father was afraid this new movie was not going to live up to the “greats” (especially 2001: ASO)
My brother lasted all of five minutes and then proceeded to eat snacks while sitting on the floor. Every now and then he’d pop his head up when the soundtrack got loud with obvious sounds of battle. My mother split her attention between the movie and my brother. I squinted at the screen and caught most of what was going on. My father just watched everything with a huge grin and wide eyes.
I remember how exhilarating it was. I remember how BIG it seemed on the screen. I remember how fluid and perfect the space scenes were. I remember how unpredictable all the action was and how surprising some of the dialogue was too. I’d never seen a scoundrel quite like Han Solo. Luke was so child-like I felt a kinship with him. The robots were hilarious. Obie-Wan-Kenobe was the kind of man I always imagined my grandfather would have been for me. Darth Vader was truly frightening.
Then there was Leia. For once in my life, I was watching a woman who was powerful and smart and taking charge in the midst of nothing but men. Her character wasn’t a woman acting like a man, she was a woman who belonged right next to the men, hell she clearly belonged in charge of the men. She was beautiful, capable, quick-witted and still had deep emotions that she didn’t apologize for. I loved her. She took what Uhuru was always hinting at but never allowed to be. Leia was the woman I imagined I’d grow up to be. It was natural that Han Solo was going to be her boyfriend. He needed someone sharper to be in command. They were an amazing pair. But Leia was amazing all by herself.
It did not escape my notice that there were no minorities in the movie. It did not escape my notice that Leia was the ONLY female in the movie. It did not escape my notice that the story was superficially presented as a “save the princess” tale in space.
All that didn’t really MATTER so much at the time. Because I was 12 years old and I had come to expect these failings in the world of movies. And considering all the amazing flash and brilliance I was seeing, I was willing to let it go and just take in this breathless beauty of a game-changing film.
After Star Wars, I became a typical fan: I got the toys, the books, the games, the puzzles and whatever else I could wheedle out of my parents. I dressed up and played Star Wars with my friends. We used our action figures to re-enact the movie over and over again. I remember even creating our own version of the movie with an old-fashioned shoebox filmstrip theater. We had seen the movie so many times (not hard to convince my dad to take me and my friends during the summer) we knew all the dialogue all the way through. But even that wasn’t as much fun as playing with the action figures to expand the story we’d seen. True geeks, you know?
Its almost like I forgot about Star Trek. But I hadn’t. Its just Star Wars made Star Trek look old. The sets, the acting, the stories… all so cheesy and badly done. Star Wars was slick and cool and fast and… it was sexy.
When the first Star Trek movie came out, OF COURSE we went to see it. OF COURSE we loved it.
But it was a wholly different animal from Star Wars. It seemed like Star Trek: the motion picture was a different attitude. It wasn’t really that flashy or exciting or exhilarating. At least, not to me, a 12 year old geek. But for my father, the old love and reverence had not abated at all. For him, it was a kind of affirmation after so many years of being patronized by the movie industry – science fiction was finally getting some serious recognition. I remember hearing my father talk about how as much as he liked Star Wars, it didn’t hold a candle to Star Trek. I thought he was crazy, in a way that only the very young and naive can think.
So for many many years, Star Wars was my *love*. Despite the fact that Billy Dee Williams was an obvious sop to the “libruls” and the rehashing of the old trope of “I didn’t kill your father I AM your father” (Oh come ON you couldnt’ see that a mile away back in the first movie??) The showing of Leia flying a fighter ship and fixing engines and making tactical decisions and being snarky towards Han and just generally kicking ass all over the place… it held me. It resonated with me in a way that the Star Trek movies couldn’t at the time. I needed to see Leia on the screen being the awesome woman I wanted to be someday. Star Trek showed me many things but it couldn’t fill that need for me. As much as I loved Uhuru, they just didn’t give her the play that Leia got. Subsequent Star Trek movies still left me wanting, and to be honest a large part of that was due to Kirk; I had never really liked Kirk as a character and the movies revolved around him in a way I didn’t care for.
So really, the Star Trek movies we part of why I was such a huge Star Wars fan, willing to let go of some of my ideals in order to keep riding the young feminist high it gave me.
But I still adored the series, and I liked the new series too. Star Trek still had a place in my heart but it wasn’t the LOVE that I had for Star Wars. I had respect for Star Trek, I had adoration for Star Wars. By the time “Phantom Menace” came out, I was full halfsies on them. By then, I was in my 30s, was married and had children. By then I’d seen many sci-fi movies, read libraries of sci-fi books and stories and had a decent collection of geeky things which pleased me. I had been pining for a new Star Wars movie though and was excited to see a new one FINALLY.
Boy was I disappointed. I took my Eldest Son with us to see it but I think even he was unhappy with what we were subjected to. I couldn’t even put my finger on what was bothering me about it although I could point out the many many problems with it. It was just a general discomfort with how the movie had turned out. I figured maybe a large part of my ire was because the return of the franchise had been over-hyped. Its hard to say for sure, but it bothered me. Star Wars was special to me in many ways not the least of which was it was the first time I’d ever felt validated as a female geek. Having grown up in the 70s-80s as a female geek who is disabled (and considered very disturbingly ugly) was really hard. I could not get acceptance from teh few geeks I knew around me (some day I will write out my rant- err I mean story – about trying to get my schoolmate geeks to let me play D&D. Unsuccessfully). I couldn’t get acceptance from teh “normals” and I barely got acceptance from teh punk/goth crowd I eventually fell in with. Star Wars was a huge billboard from the “regular” world that someone like me could exist and thrive in a future that hadn’t happened yet. Not because of Leia alone (she certainly wasn’t ugly or disabled) but because of Leia and Han and the droids too. But mostly because of Yoda and all the other “Aliens” who populated the screen in all the Star Wars movies. Star Wars also gave me something geeky to love that was OKAY to love no matter who I was talking to. And because I had steeped myself in all things obtainable that was Star Wars (at least up until TPM) I actually commanded a bit of grudging respect from fellow geeks when I came across them. So why did The Phantom Menace just feel like a slap in the face?
That question secretly haunted me for years. While I came to appreciate certain aspects of the later Star Wars movies, I never could really get away from teh fact that something about the whole franchise was eating at me. Something was missing and I couldn’t figure it out. Maybe it was the post-editing Lucas did. Maybe it was the inconsistencies in the franchise. Maybe it was just the second trilogy was so bad I just was being one of those classic geeks who couldn’t emotionally handle a change in my beloved franchise.
But whatever it was, I kept it a secret. Because I loved Star Wars and all my memories of what I loved didn’t disappear just because something was wrong with what it had become. But something was wrong with what it had become and I couldn’t figure out what it was.
Meanwhile, I was raising my children to embrace their geekiness. We loved Star Wars as a family, just as my parents and I had loved Star Wars together too. I watched the spin-off material with my boys. I bought the books which explained everything abotu the universe. I GMed a game of Star Wars tabletop (West End Games second edition with supplemental material) I created my own corner of the galaxy too, complete with bible. I ran shortened versions of my adventures at cons. I collected more stuff. I got into the closed beta for Star Wars Galaxies – the MMORPG. I made sure Eldest Son’s first MMO was SWG. We owned SW on VHS in three versions before we bothered to buy the DVDs. I nearly had a crisis of faith when I realized I was really a follower of the Sith Code, not the Jedi Code. I bought light sabers for the whole family one christmas. I sewed a Jedi robe for my toddler daughter to wear for Halloween. I have a video of her dancing to the theme song when she was 4. We all quoted the movies endlessly. whenever someone would start up the inevitable debate of Star Wars versus Star Trek, I was there, guns ablazin to make sure everyone knew that Star Wars was every bit as good and beneficial as Star Trek. I insisted that there were plenty of fans who loved BOTH and there was nothing wrong with that. By golly, I still loved my Star Wars.
But there was still that secret discomfort.
About a year ago, my Eldest Son told me that he planned to join the military. He was nervous and scared but he wanted to do it. So he came up with a basic plan over the course of the next year where he would be tying up loose ends in his life and getting mentally prepared to go. He and I already had a semi-ritual of staying up after his sister went to bed and hanging out with some Chai tea. He started watching Malcolm in the Middle with me until we went through the entire series. Then we decided to start watching Deep Space Nine. I vaguely remembered how much I had liked the show when I managed to catch it on TV (I was never very good about watching TV regularly) so we started our loose nightly ritual of watching it together while drinking chai and eating snacks.
Deep Space Nine changed my whole geek viewpoint on Star Wars.
At first it started as just a good fun sci-fi show that had references to things I knew quite well (I had watched a lot of ST:TNG) and Eldest of course (in the manner of all modern geeks) took to the internet in between episodes to learn more about the universe it was in. He kept me informed of backstory, species details and character connections while we made our way through all of it. I relearned how much I loved Klingons yet couldn’t stand Betazoids. I marveled at the naive arrogance of the Bajorans and the smooth deception of the Cardassians. The political intrigue was slow enough and simple enough that I could keep track of it (with a little help from Eldest) without getting bored.
I grew to love Deep Space Nine in a way I had never loved another sci-fi franchise.
But as the series went on, I realized that the conversations Eldest and I were having were much deeper and more meaningful than anything we’d ever discussed surrounding Star Wars. I realized that the love I had for Deep Space Nine went way beyond anything I had ever felt about Star Wars, in fact. I realized that Deep Space Nine, and upon reflection much of the entire Star Trek universe, filled a need in me that went all the way back to my pre-adolescent days of watching Star Trek with my father. It gave me a complete validation of myself not just as an ugly geeky female, but as a person who believes that humanity has a bright, beautiful future of integrity, honor and respect. Deep Space Nine showed me a universe that had “people” – not just white male humans who are beautiful and cool but people with overgrown heads, mishapen ears, wrinkled features and even limbs that didn’t work “properly” who were good honorable PEOPLE. Deep Space Nine showed two women passionately discussing their love with no apologies, shame or hesitation whatsoever. Deep Space Nine showed a room of humans who couldn’t understand how to emotionally connect with others somehow finding their strength and still not “solving” their “problem” of asocialism. Deep Space Nine gave me inter-species sex. Deep Space Nine wrestled with the notions of whether God is just a more powerful alien or whether being programmed to worship someone means you truly have faith. Deep Space Nine showed the horror of war, the devastation of caste systems, the stupidity of patriarchy and the hilarity of greed while never ever trying to pretend that we humans are somehow “better” than anyone else.
Deep Space Nine reminded me of Roddenberry’s primary motivation: to show how high we could reach while opening our minds and hearts to those who seem “different”. How much we have to gain from being humble and how great the rewards when we cooperate with everyone. Roddenberry’s vision of a future where people don’t even blink at the shape of your nose, the strength of your limbs or the color of your skin. And those people are the ones who “win” because that’s the future of progress.
But there is Star Wars, still scrounging around on the ground trying to show that humans are the best of the bunch. There’s Star Wars still pushing the notion that the best of humanity is white, perfectly abled and usually male. That the best of humanity has to offer is a sort of powerful energy we use to hurt others in order to police the world. Because everyone knows diplomacy will always fail, bad guys will always kill everyone and making others cooperate is something you have to use force or conniving to accomplish. There is Star Wars proving over and over that we must be afraid of those who are different. Especially those who look different. Especially those who have emotional states we deem “abnormal” There is Star Wars letting us know that true unity can’t exist peacefully. That ALL DARKNESS IS EVIL. There was Star Wars pimping that adolescent message of fear and mistrust.
Yet Lucas had such great promise, such great opportunity. He had an entire universe of people to tell any tale that he wanted. And truthfully, within the expanded universe there were many who did tell different stories. Wonderful stories of growth and acceptance and change. But not Lucas. He just kept serving up the same basic tale that captured my fancy when I was a child. And I loved it dearly when I was a child because it gave me a tiny bit of recognition as an outcast. But I didn’t understand that the kind of outcast I was? The kind I still am? Isn’t a part of Lucas’ vision for the future. In the future I either don’t exist, or my life has no glory, no beauty, no tale worthy of telling.
Star Trek, in Deep Space Nine and truly all through all of the shows to some degree or another, showed me a future that isn’t always glorious and beautiful but is therefore more precious. The message Deep Space Nine gave me was that everyone has a place in the future.
I came to realize that the discomfort I felt for Star Wars and what it had become was actually very simple: I grew up. Star Wars didn’t.