O is for Overwhelmed

{Click here for the full alphabet of intersectional feminism in romance.}

The first time someone told me I was worthless because I was a girl, I was five years old. The person telling me was my next-door neighbor. He was six in chronological age, but years older than that in pure unmitigated jerkdom. Apparently, because I was a girl, it was wrong for me to play with the He-Man toy whose chest armor would flip to look dented when you hit him. I didn’t have the vocabulary at the time, but three words sum up my reaction: This is bullshit. Over the next few years, I boyed it up as hard as I could — scraped knees, sports, climbing trees, GI Joe, psychically controlled dinosaurs with laser armor — just to prove to that kid that I could be just as good as he was. It was never going to work, and that kid never ever changed his mind, but I was borne forward on a mixture of self-defense and a stubborn, grumpy anger that smoldered in my heart like a charcoal briquette.

One of the hardest things for me to unlearn is the idea that I have to personally refute every stereotype about women in order to prove that feminism is valid. As though the theory’s credibility is called into question every time I wear pink, or feel hurt or anxious about something, or decide I don’t want a high-powered corporate job where I have to wear suits and use words like “synergy” and “conference call.” There is a strong temptation to be All Things Good to prove that all women are capable and strong — as though other women’s humanity is dependent upon me, as though my individual abilities are admissible as evidence in the constant debate called Women: Do We Really Have To Treat Them Like Humans Or What? And part of the reason this is hard to unlearn is that there are people who believe this is, as the cartoon says, How It Works. I’m not wrong to conclude that people expect this of me: I am only wrong to conclude that I have to play by their shitty, shitty rules.

Yep.

This zealous impulse dovetails a little too nicely at times with my innate perfectionism and tendency to take on more than I should. I’ve had to learn over the years how to back out of things, how to decline work requests, how to allow myself to make mistakes or take extra time if I need it. I’ve had to teach myself how to stop before I get to the point where I feel overwhelmed and panicked and end up wailing incoherently at three in the morning because there are more things to do than time to do them. I published my first book three years ago, and in the time since I’ve not only published four more strange little novellas but I’ve also become a board member of my local RWA chapter, worked on two conference planning committees, and given workshops at the Emerald City Writers’ Conference for the past two years. It looks pretty intense written out like that, doesn’t it? But I always feel like I’m lazy, like I’m falling behind, like I could do more or achieve more if I just gave up time-luxuries like video games or Scrubs reruns or making jewelry out of tiny beads. Who do I think I am, using my time for enjoyment and personal relaxation?

This blog project has already been hugely rewarding, but I’m a slow reader when I’m reading critically and I’m starting to feel the time pressure. So I’m giving myself a day to catch up and/or play video games and/or work on my Fancy RT Necklace — whichever I feel like doing — because it’s important to remember that in a world stacked against us, prioritizing our own needs can be a radical and subversive act. Self-care is feminism turned inward. Not to the point where we lose sight of collective action and meaningful protest, but just to the point where we remember we’re humans and humans need a break every now and again.

I did get some marvelous recommendations for the letter O. Calque suggested Octavia Butler’s Wild Seedand on Twitter Sunita suggested Line and Orbit. Author Sunny Moraine has a brave post about reactions to the latter, and learning from mistakes, and fighting against one’s own privilege when creating fictional worlds.

And let me take this opportunity to suggest you check out my books page to see if anything catches your eye, because it’s also hard for me to remember that brief, frank moments of non-invasive self-promotion do not make me a sellout or a nag or shill. Let me also say that if someone wants to turn the tables and give one of my romances the same critical treatment I’ve been giving other authors’ works this month … Well, I’ll be over the moon, is what. Turnabout is fair play and highly encouraged.

Thank you so much to everyone who’s retweeted and commented and listened so far, and see you again tomorrow for our regularly scheduled post, brought to you by the letter P.

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9 thoughts on “O is for Overwhelmed

  1. Heh, I was sure you were gonna link that opening to writing because writers have the same impulse to defeat all stereotypes by writing the opposite, etc. Beautiful necklace btw!

  2. I think O is for Olivia Waite.

    Because you are awesome, these posts have been awesome, and that jewellery is frankly amazing. So yeah, you don’t have anything to prove to anyone.

  3. Go and relax, breathe deep and enjoy your day. Your challenge has been one of the most in depth I’ve read this month and I’m loving every word of it (even though I skip the spoilery parts because I want to read the books!) I’ll be back tomorrow for P. 🙂

  4. I have really been enjoying this A-Z series and the thinking that goes with it – yours and leading me on to think for myself.

  5. I found your blog from the A to Z challenge. I’m also an RWA member and involved w/ my local chapter in Chicago area. I’m listening to some old RWA Nationals conference recordings and YA author Simone Elkeles makes a passing statement in her workshop that if you are a woman who writes you will be told writing is your hobby.

    This kind of thinking is so deeply ingrained in our society I think we just have to do our best to change that perception with the people around us. While my husband is hugely supportive of creative endeavours and does not view my writing as taking away from expectations in my life, I have had other people mention the hobby thing, and they are women. It’s probably a lack of understanding about publishing in general, but it’s like we are expected to do everything and do it well, and these stories we bother ourselves with, well that’s all nice and good but if you put that away then maybe you could be 1. a mother 2. a better mother 3. married 4. a better wife 5. more career-focuses. Whatever. We are always fighting something and I frequently feel like the pressure comes from within our own gender.

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