Thursday, June 15, 2017

So Effing What?

At about this time last year, I went through a marathon X-Files viewing, revisiting the greatest alien-themed love story ever told (and realizing that Fox Mulder is kind of a dick, sadly).

Though I'd never seen it during the original airing, I was delighted to be introduced to the mediocre-yet-hilarious (and very very 90s-rific) episode Syzygy. It's the story of two 17-year-old girls, who for some astrological reason that is never well explained, receive magical murder powers. Also, everyone is really crabby, which leads to one of the greatest moments of bickering between Scully and Mulder.

One of the subplots in that episode revolves around a local pediatrician who is a cross-dresser. The small town becomes convinced that he is behind the murders because he is clearly hiding something, and everyone comes bearing metaphorical pitchforks while he is dressed up.

Watching this episode in the modern era makes the doctor's dilemma seem sadly quaint. So the man enjoys a lovely frock and some lipstick. So what? So What? is a perfectly reasonable reaction in 2017, and even though I know it wasn't back in 1996, I'm still having trouble remembering why.

Had this poor pediatrician been able to So What? about his clothing preferences in the 1990s, no one would have ever suspected him of murder. He could have done rounds in dresses, and helped kids recognize that the pants-are-for-men rule is entirely arbitrary. Being able to say "Yeah, I like taffeta and tulle and sequins and eye shadow. So what?" would have released that poor man from a lifetime of shame and embarrassment. (And yes, I recognize that this pediatrician is entirely fictional and that his lifetime lasted approximately 7 minutes of a 45 minute episode of a show. Nevertheless.)

So, I am a big advocate of doing you, no matter who you are, when it comes to that kind of biggish stuff--and when it's about someone else. For me, getting to the So What? is a little tougher.

Idle Hands

For instance, I have a deep-seated fear that I am lazy. There is a part of me that knows I'd rather sit under a shady tree with a book and a tall glass of lemonade than do anything else, and I'm horrified by that part of me. There are things to do! Items to check off of lists! Productivity to accomplish! And if I'm not productive, then I am a lazy-ass bitch who has not earned her spot on this earth.

There is a big man named Spike on his way to roust me out of bed and force me to be productive. He'll be here any minute now.

Under the sane and relatively normal surface that I present to the world, there roils a belief that my only real worth is tied to my ability to get shit done.

Of course, I didn't invent this weird-ass belief. After all, how many times have we all uttered the phrase "productive member of society"? I just perfected the neurotic reaction that dictates no matter how much I manage to do each day, I go to bed at night fearing that the time I spent on Facebook or the nap that I took somehow subtracts from my overall worthiness as a human being. Because that's a rational response.

But here's the thing: being able to proudly admit that I'm a lazy-ass bitch who would rather sit under a shady tree than *do* shit helps negate that shame. It makes me realize I get one go around in this world, and if I want to spend my time snoozing on a blanket under fluffy white clouds or under a blanket while accompanied by a fluffy white-and-gray cat, that is my choice to make.

I've been working on proudly wearing my laziness on my sleeve. It's an uphill battle, but realizing that I can be who I am--even if who I am is a lazy bitch who really will do nothing today, thanks--is pretty awesome. It helps take the sting out of anyone who tries to call me lazy, even that bitch of a taskmaster who lives in my head.

I'm lazy. So What?

Book Shame, I Hardly Knew Ye!

Of course, rooting out any kind of shame is tough, especially when you don't even realize the sensation you are feeling is shame.

I have long lamented my reading tastes in my formative years. Why did I waste my time reading (and rereading and rerereading and rererereading) Barbara Michaels and Elizabeth Peters and Susan Isaacs and Alisa Craig and Charlotte MacLeod and Mercedes Lackey and Minette Walters when I could have been filling my impressionable head with really good writers. If I'd been consuming "good' literature then, I'd be writing "good" literature now, instead of having stalled on a writing a romantic thriller for the past nine years that I can't seem to bring home, in part because I'm ashamed of it.

It suddenly hit me this week how very ashamed I am of my literary tastes. That bitch of a taskmaster in my head is apparently not just mistress of impossible to do lists--she is also arbiter of literary worth. She has me convinced that there was some sort of bright and immutable line separating "good" literature from "bad" literature and that I was doing nothing more than indulging my baser self by staying on the wrong side of the line.


No, seriously, WTF, taskmaster bitch? I can't like shit that I like?

The Divine Ms. Barbara Mertz

Image courtesy of NYT
My book shame realization came to a head this past week as I was considering the long career of Ms. Barbara Mertz, aka Barbara Michaels, aka Elizabeth Peters. Between 1967 and 1987, Ms. Mertz wrote two books a year, a pace that only slowed down slightly through the 1990s and 2000s, until her death in 2013.

All told, she wrote nearly 80 books of romantic (and sometimes slightly paranormal) suspense, and I believe I have read every single one of them. After reading Crocodile on the Sandbank when I was about 13, I was hooked, and I would borrow one or two of her books from the library just about every weekend until I finished her oeuvre and started over again with the stuff I liked best.

Her heroines are funny and smart and really well educated and her heroes are funny and kind of arrogant and also remarkably well educated. Her books are painstakingly well researched, and I know what I know about subjects as varied as the gold of Troy to vintage rose gardening to designer jewelry to seances to Egyptology to pre-historic American history to Ozark magic to country music because of her. She loved animals and included cats or dogs in most of the books. Nearly every one of her novels ended with a young couple in love.

Ms. Mertz is probably my biggest literary influence.

(I actually had to take a deep breath before writing that.)

I love her books and they have shaped how I think about stories, and I've been pushing that away for a long time. The novel I've been trying (unsuccessfully) to write since 2009 is very much influenced by her books (Into the Darkness in particular)--which means I'm probably going to have a much easier time of things if I recognize and embrace my love for her books rather than run away from it.

So, here it is:

I like to read and write well-researched romantic suspense novels.

So. Effing. What?

Now, was that so hard?

If you'll excuse me, I need to go sit under a tree with a glass of lemonade and a Barbara Michaels novel.

(And taskmaster bitch, you'll kindly have a seat and keep your damn mouth shut.)

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