Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On being gimpy

My body hates itself. And sometimes I hate it.

Since adolescence I've had problems with my joints, especially my legs. I'm flat-footed and knock-kneed (among other things) because of loose tendons. When I was probably 14 I developed bad knees, in part as a result of a couple years being a catcher in softball. Doctors told me I just needed to lose weight--keep in mind that while I've always been above the "acceptable" BMI, I've never been visibly obese. I probably don't need to tell you what hearing "just lose weight" from all sides does to an adolescent girl. I didn't, really. My weight in proportion to my height has remained the same pretty much throughout my life. I've gone to a chiropractor on and off since I was 15 or so because of my bad knees and big tits, which put extra strain on my back. (I told you my body hates itself.)

When I was 19, I injured my shoulder and then my lower back while fencing and ended up in physical therapy twice. After seeing me walk, the physical therapist looked at my legs. He said, "Did you know your left leg is a lot shorter than the right one?"


No. I did not. It turns out that my left leg is 3/8" shorter, which is a significant difference. It's been a major cause of pretty much every lower body problem I've ever had. The physical therapist said some people had surgery to correct it, but unless I absolutely had to, he recommended that I take the much-simpler route of getting a heel lift. I immediately flashed back to visions of my art history teacher from a couple years before, looking at her right shoe. The sole was a good inch thicker than the left one, and I always wondered what was up with that. Well, now I knew. The therapist must have noticed the look on my face because he said the lift was just a shoe insert. If I wanted to wear heels, he recommended having the right one cut down 3/8" to compensate. That simple.

Well, for a long time it really was that simple. The heel lift has really done wonders for my lower body comfort. My chronic knee pain has all but disappeared except for occasional flare-ups. My hips hurt sometimes, but mostly when I was PMSing--likely a symptom of yet another body rebellion, PCOS. Within the past year, though, I've been experiencing more and weirder symptoms. Last summer I avoided putting on real shoes for weeks at a time, mostly wearing flip-flops. I started experiencing pain at the top of my left foot. I figured out through Dr. Google that it was likely caused by a severely over-pronated foot (something I already knew). I bought some arch braces to see if they would help, because ten bucks for braces is a lot cheaper than a couple hundred bucks for a doctor's visit and x-rays. I avoided wearing heels. That helped for a long time.

And then in May this year I did something really dumb, for me. I walked six miles in a day. I hadn't walked that far or that long in well over a year. And I did it without the arch brace. (Told you it was dumb.) My foot came back to haunt me. Well, okay, back to the arch brace. A week later and my foot was feeling much better, only my hip now despised me. It feels approximately like there is a nail sticking out of the top of my femur into the side of my hip joint. Dr. Google and I suspect hip bursitis, but since this happened after I lost my insurance (of course), I can't afford the doctor/specialist/x-ray/whatever combo. The hip starts hurting about 20 minutes into my daily walk and keeps hurting until I stop. It's also impossible to sleep comfortably without a very firm body pillow to prop my hip, and even then I have to turn regularly during the night like a rotisserie chicken. Awesome.

The whole reason for this round of body bitching is that today I woke up and my hip was achy before I ever really started walking around. Fuck this, I thought. I broke down and bought a cane. Nothing would do but I also go to another store after I bought it. And I'm pretty sure I've never felt so self-conscious in my life.

People stare at me a lot. Most of the time I'm not sure why--maybe it's because I'm an Amazon who is just non-white enough to confuse people. Most of the time I find it amusing, but this time was different. I'm pretty sure as I was walking through the store the reason for the looks wasn't "weird tall girl" but "OMG Y U HAS CANE U NOT OLD!" This was rather starkly demonstrated when I passed an old guy with a cane and he gave me the hairy eyeball.

Well Jesus. I'm sorry. I know I'm only in my mid-twenties and all, but my body fucking sucks.

Maybe I'm over-thinking this, but it seems like if you're young and in a wheelchair or on crutches or have a white cane or a guide dog or whatever, people stare, but their discomfort is laced with pity. But I couldn't help thinking these people didn't pity me--they didn't think I was legit. I kept wondering, am I not gimp enough? What is it about a walking cane that's different from any other assistive device? Is it that I don't have any obvious signs of injury like a cast or a brace, or that canes are often associated with old people?

I don't get it.

The part of me that is always amused when people stare for no reason thinks, fuck you guys, stare if you want to. But the insecure part of me thinks, maybe I'm not legit enough. That's not going to stop me from using the cane, because I'm tired of my hip hurting and I don't want to do more damage, but the self-consciousness is not so different from the kind I felt when the doctor told me I just needed to lose weight. I keep thinking, oh, I probably did this to myself. It's not that bad. I certainly don't need to advertise it.

Yeah. That is some deeply flawed thinking. Thanks, doctors, for helping fuck that one up for me.

I have no conclusion to this post other than to state that I'm frustrated with my body and my thinking right now.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Are you f-ing kidding me? Why I will not buy or sell a 99 cent e-book

Photo by jhritz, from Flickr Creative Commons
Nathan Bradsford created a poll asking readers what a fair price for an e-book is if a hardback costs $25. (http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2011/06/are-attitudes-about-e-book-prices.html). It actually relieved me somewhat that half the respondents said that e-books should be priced at $5-$10, which seems to me an acceptable range given the lower production costs of e-books vs. print. Several people mentioned the 99 cent e-book trend. While there were no obviously WTF comments there last time I checked, it reminded me of how much this trend bothers and disturbs me.

A mass market paperback (the small kind) costs around $8-$10 now. They're fairly cheap to produce, but given the price of materials and labor, that $8-$10 starts to seem fairly reasonable. E-books can be produced much cheaper because there are no "real" material production costs. However, if a book is published by a press, the press has to pay editors, copy editors, proofreaders, formatters, cover artists, etc. The press also has to make money to operate. It costs a lot of money to run a business, yo. Distributors also take a cut (nomnom). After that (and only after), the author gets paid royalties.

But that's the thing. Authors should get paid for all the work they've done. And the cheaper the book, the less money the author makes. Let's see. I've spent 14 months on The Wicked Instead. If I could count up the hours I'm sure I'd be boggled. This is before cover art, copy editing/proofreading and formatting. So if my book is priced at 99 cents, what does that say about how much I value my own work? Yes, please give me 45 cents for fourteen months of work and a hundred thousand words.

I don't think so.

Now, you might inform me that if a mass market paperback is sold for $8, then the author, receiving 10-15% royalties, probably isn't getting much more than that per book. Well. Here's the thing. We (those involved in the publishing world) have to decide who will benefit from the lower production costs of e-book pricing. It really ought to be the authors. I don't just say that because I'm an author, although yes I would like to get paid for all that work, thanks, but because it's fair. Who does the bulk of the work? The author. I'm not discounting the invaluable work of production staff, who also deserve to get paid, but it the fact of the matter is, it's the author who actually produced the piece to be sold and the author who pretty much continually gets shafted. The salaries of production staff get paid by the company, who gets revenue from multiple sources. The author has that one source of royalties. One.

E-book publishing has a lot going for it in terms of flexibility. E-pubs can take risks because if something flops, they're not forced to eat the cost of all those unsold paper copies. What does this mean? Well, it ought to mean that the industry becomes more author friendly. The spirit of entitlement that comes with buying and selling ridiculously books baffles and angers me. If I sell a book for 99 cents, I'm telling you that that is all my book is worth, so you, the consumer, will start to believe it.

You know what? We pay for things. This is how we get on in the world. I mean, let's face it, the market is already pretty reader friendly. Readers can buy print books from second-hand shops (a practice I fully support, by the way) or borrow from friends or get books from the library. Yes, e-books are harder to trade or lend. I don't dispute that and I think the industry can go a lot further than it has in making these practices accessible. But again, these practices ought to benefit the author in some way.

I would venture to guess that most people wouldn't think twice about paying money for any other item crafted by human hands. I mean, hell, I've paid $50 for a hand-made decorative clay bowl before because it was freaking gorgeous. I'm paying the people who produced that gorgeous bowl. I am not entitled to pay any less because maybe the potter got clay on sale. That means, yay for him, that he can make more money, keep his business open and keep producing gorgeous clay bowls.

Call me crazy, but to me the purpose of e-publishing is to be different and better than traditional publishing, not just to be a clone. The publishing industry ought not to be just about selling a product, but about supporting the person who created that product. Feeling entitled to buy things for less than they're actually worth is consumerism at its very worst.

Authors: if you believe in your book, price it like you believe in it. Readers: if you believe in books, pay for them like you believe in them.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I'm a bad motherf--shut your mouth. A few simple rules for conversation.

I'm a supporter of shutting one's mouth when appropriate. I do not, however, believe that those appropriate situations are as common as many people think they are.

People tend to avoid conflict at all costs. It's instinctive, we're social creatures and think disharmony or lack of consensus is detrimental to a group, blah blah. And yet Americans, at least, often like to remind each other that this country was founded on the principles of freedom of thought and was built on difference rather than similarity. You can't have it both ways, people. What I mean is, you can't support freedom of thought and difference and avoid conflict at the same time.

It took me a long time--most of my life--to learn this lesson. Most of my formative years were spend growing up in a household in which conflict or difference of opinion was not allowed, so I had to STFU. As I've grown older, though, my tongue has loosened and now, well, I kind of have a hard time shutting my mouth even when others think it might be appropriate to do so. I suppose I got tired of not being allowed to express myself, so I slowly found ways to do so. I distinctly remember my mother sad-facing over my first tattoo, telling me it would make it hard to find a job. I told her that if there was a workplace that didn't want me just because of a non-offensive tattoo, I didn't want to work there anyway.

This growing inability to STFU got me in trouble when I moved to Minnesota, where shutting your mouth is the order of the day--I venture to guess that it was a big part of why I'm now jobless. I was encouraged to lay low and not make waves, along with other various cliches, but I...didn't. And here I am. Do I regret it? No, because again, if they don't want me as I am, I don't want to be there. Does it suck? Well, yeah. But I suppose my tolerance for letting people treat me and the things I care about however they want has come to an end.

And that's really what it comes down to. How much do you care?

When involved in a discussion, the two phrases guaranteed to make me want to punch you in the face and pull your eyeballs out with my fingers are, in no particular order, "I'm sorry you feel that way" and "Let's agree to disagree." There is no faster way to invalidate me and what I am saying and make yourself look like an asshole. What you are saying, essentially, is, "I don't like what you're saying so I'm going to stop talking about it."

You realize that instantly makes you a jerk, right? If you are having a discussion in which you disagree with the other party, the goal should be to come to a mutual and respectful understanding of one another's viewpoints. I've come to the realization that I'm never going to change anybody's mind. You have to change your mind yourself, or not. But what I can do is help the other person understand what I am saying and why, and maybe s/he will come to a decision on his/her own. But if I get shut down with "let's agree to disagree," we can't come to that mutual understanding. And neither of us have learned anything. Again, you can't support difference/diversity and avoid conflict or disagreement. No two individuals are going to share the same opinion about something. You can agree not to attempt to come to an exact consensus, but agree to come to mutual understanding.

Don't shut the discussion down. But by the same token, don't be a dick about dragging your conversation partner through the mud of your opinions, either. As I mentioned above, you're not going to change anybody's mind all by your lonesome, especially not by beating someone with an Opinion Bat.

So here are a few guidelines for when to shut it and when to open it.

Shut it when...

  • Someone presents solid, credible, factual evidence to the contrary. What I mean is, if you present something as fact and someone proves you wrong, be a grown up and admit you were wrong.
  • You will wound someone unnecessarily with your words. I'm not talking about challenging someone's beliefs, but if your intent is to wound, just STFU.
  • You can't provide enough logical or empirical evidence to support your claim. In other words, don't present your opinions unless you can prove you know what you're talking about. Do your research. Form your logical claims before you express them
  • You are not (yet) prepared to have your beliefs challenged. This is okay, believe it or not. I won't get into in-depth conversations about things I don't know enough about, or things I'm still trying to figure out, with a stranger.
  • Someone else is talking. This seems like such a simple thing, but if you expect respect while you are speaking, give it.

Open it when...

  • It's important. Especially if it's important to you.
  • It bothers you. But be prepared to defend why it bothers you.
  • You believe in it. See caveat above.
  • You think it's bullshit. See caveat above.
  • You have something to offer the conversation, whether it's knowledge or insight. This is not a free pass to spout off about whatever you please, but if you have something to say, "I don't want to make trouble" is not a good enough excuse not to speak. People need to hear your voice, believe it or not.

Long story short: listen first. Talk second. But talk.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Life decisions and new beginnings and all that

Well, it's been a while. Between May 23rd and now, I've made some big changes. The biggest is my decision to move to Seattle and take a break from teaching. I'll be applying to PhD programs (in Seattle and elsewhere) with the hope of beginning PhD work in fall 2012. I have no idea what exactly I'll be doing in the meantime. Okay, scratch that, there's plenty I can do in the meantime, but as far as work goes, whatever.

I also gave On a Twisted Tree a new title: The Wicked Instead. Tiger and I have decided that we're writing parallel stories that will tie together later on, so Twisted Tree will be the name of the series. I've often joked that I can't write a short story without it turning into an epic series, and...it's so true. We've mutually decided to go the self-publishing route. I'm not sure when I'll be planning to release The Wicked Instead, but I suspect it has a bit more editing to go through before it will be completely ready for formatting, etc.

The last but certainly not least important piece of news is that I've started the second book in my branch (no pun intended) of the series. I'm waffling between titles at the moment, so I'll just tag it Tree Book 2 for now. I'm 1700 words in. I expect to post excerpts now and again on my Tumblr. If you haven't followed me there already, I hope you do.

That's all for now, I think. I've been working on another substantive post for a good long while now and hope to finish it in the next few days.