Expectations and Harrassment, A Girl’s Thoughts

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I want to talk about the Aziz Ansari thing because, to me, it’s not about sex. Well, it is, but it’s really about gender expectation and all the pressure that comes with that.

I don’t think I know a single person who doesn’t have one sexual encounter in their life diary that they regretted, felt shitty about, and/or wished had never happened. That waking up and feeling nauseous or violated. It’s so common that it rarely gets talked about, until now, and it has everything to do with feeling pressured to do something you are not comfortable with and don’t want to do, but you do it anyway. We often write it off, and the excuses are as varied as the situations: I was drunk. I was too tired to argue. It was pity. Blah, Blah, Blah…

Why do we feel the pressure? And this applies to men and women in a variety of scenarios, not just sexual ones, though that’s the one I will be speaking to because it is the reason I wrote Knowing Joe, a story about a Girl who doesn’t want sex, has no interest in sex, and was comfortable in her own skin until an extenuating circumstance had her questioning whether or not there was something wrong with her. Queue the Pressure.

How many guys have been out to the bar with their mates and felt pressure to pick up a chick and take them home because they didn’t want their mates to call them a loser or gay?

How many women felt the need to make restitution for a dinner or a movie or simply because they didn’t want the ‘nice’ guy to dislike them, or worse, tell all their friends that “that chick was a prude … a frigid bitch.”

How many girls go wild in their early twenties as a direct revolt against their parents’ beliefs about what girls should be and how girls should behave? The same applies to boys.

The mates might not have even been teasing the guy at the bar. The Nice Guy might have truly been one and would never have badmouthed her to his friends anyway, but the expectations of how a guy and a girl should behave was in their psyche, so even if the pressure was internal, it was still very very real, insidious, and manipulative because that guy could have told his friends to fuck off, and the girl could have just ended the date when her protests went unheeded. But they didn’t. Telling yourself to fuck off is a lot harder.

Why do people want to engage in sex with people they barely know? Is it some kind of biological imperative that we simply have no control over? Or is it pressure we feel? External and Internal?

Where does this kind of pressure come from? Our Peers. Society. Our Parents. Our Religion. Our Laws. Even Our Own Damn Psyche.

It comes from all those places because it comes from expectations. Expectations that have been cultivated down through centuries. Expectations that are entirely based on outdated gender roles. And by outdated, I mean, are no longer even remotely necessary for the survival of the species. Men are expected to be virile, aggressive, strong, and intelligent. A warrior. A hunter. Women are expected to be pure, beautiful, accommodating. A wife. A mother. A housekeeper. A concubine. Men are expected to want sex and take sex. Women are expected secretly want it and to give it when it’s desired by the man. And if men and women didn’t behave according to expectations, they were sick, and thusly sent for shock therapy. Then came the sexual revolution and the feminist movement and all hell broke loose. Now we have dating apps where we ‘order off the menu’ and we expect that what’s delivered is what we wanted.

Throw in the fact that sex is everywhere and you have a clusterfuck of epic magnitude. It was bound to go nuclear eventually. Movies, books, magazines, porn, strip clubs, nudie fireman’s charity calendars. Seriously people. Pressure.

When I started writing Knowing Joe, none of this Sexual Harassment stuff was in the news, and if it was, you barely heard about it. At that time, I was writing erotica under a pseudonym, and I bought one of the most quintessential books on the subject of male sexual fantasy for research purposes. I was interested in sexual expectations. How early were they formed, and how much they were influenced by external forces. Men in Love, by Nancy Friday is a difficult book to read when you begin to understand how young we are when our sexual impulses and expectations are subject to manipulation. Every proclivity, every fetish has a line that can be traced back to its beginning, which is often what an adult would consider benign: an off-hand comment, a mother’s shoe, a dad chiding his son to man-up.

The pressure was everywhere, and to make matters worse, I had bought a used book. The entire text was furiously underlined and annotated by a women who had very specific expectations of her boyfriend, Joe.

I felt for her. I felt for Joe. Both of whom were clearly under pressure and lacked the communication skills to resolve their issues.

We need to get better at this. We need open dialog. We need to stop blaming and shaming. We need to discard definitions. We need to discard gender expectations. We need to get better at articulating, up front, what we want and don’t want. We need to stop assuming shit. We need to stop putting pressure on people to be something they don’t want to be, to do something they don’t want to do. To dress, speak, or act in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. It’s a psychological problem. It’s a definition problem. A communication problem, and it’s most assuredly a pressure problem.

Knowing Joe is about a Girl who felt that pressure all her life.

Knowing Joe is about a Girl who was brave enough to challenge what it means to be a girl.

So Kudos to all the Girls and Guys making that challenge right now. There’s a lot that needs to change.

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Fun Fact About Knowing Joe

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Joe3-DKnowing Joe has been in the works since 2012, but I was running Apocrypha & Abstractions Lit Mag at the time, so it was only getting pecked at really; then, it got put on hold for a year and a half so I could focus on Rupert’s rehabilitation and some issues I was having with my own health. I was able to eke out a first draft in August 2017, and it’s taken me four months to get through the beta read and editing process.

The story didn’t sit idle during the pecking days and that year and a half hiatus, though. I was nervous about writing a comedy (not my normal death, destruction, and mayhem) so I excerpted, rewrote, and submitted those excerpts as flash fiction so that I could test the subject matter and the stylistic approach to the story.

Those excerpts were subsequently published at Salt, The Legendary, Danse macabre du jour, Change Seven, and during The Lit Bulb Festival by Pure Slush.

I have to thank those Lit Journals for giving me the confidence in my writing and in the story so that I could keep trudging on to the finish line, which is almost here.

Happy Whatever You’re Celebrating

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We are working hard to get our manuscript ready for our editor; not much time for holiday festivities or blog posts. We are looking at a Valentine’s Day or thereabouts release for the new book. Seems fitting for a not sexy sex satire.

So, here’s to the 5 people who read this blog and have put up with my cat insanity for the past two years.

 

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Copyright Cheryl Anne Gardner. That’s my asshole Elf.

Me, You, and They

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I drink the sound of you — begging
In the darkness.
Begging for what I’ve given,
And for what you’ve taken — from me.
I pray now for the silence
To overtake
Your blackened heart.

Nightmares | N G | Flickr

Nightmares. | N G | Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

You didn’t know that’s what I was writing on that piece of parchment stained with your blood. Things have been a blur lately, all emotions, anger, and don’t touch me because I’ll scream. It wasn’t the first piece of parchment I’d burned and buried under the light of the full moon, but it would be the last. The last words I would never speak to you.

“You clumsy fucking worthless piece of shit!” wasn’t the only peevish and pedantic phrase you used to scream into my face after a long night of booze and pills and dangling your cock at every skanky twat working the freeway. Your dinner was cold. You didn’t like the way I vacuumed the carpet or cooked your special meat. I might have forgotten to record your favorite program, or maybe I’d simply bought the wrong kind of beer. You liked to call your fits of rage an intervention, when you humbled me with your fist. Said it would make me a better lady, wife, and someday — mother. Said the discipline would save my soul from the voodoo spirits that had borne me out of some trailer trash womb, but it wasn’t an intervention, and it wouldn’t save me. It was simply your way of justifying the use of all the angry words you had become addicted to.

I didn’t have to listen, though.

I had this place I liked to hide whenever you got in one of your moods and decided to kick-start a marital uprising. I liked to go there when it was dark and snow-covered. I prayed there, sobbed there, and bled there. In the dirt on the floor, I would scratch things down in inches of minutia and then straightaway cross them out. I would leave pieces of myself in the corners — dissected thoughts and bits of hair and fingernails mixed with mud and saliva. I’ve piled up the worry stones over the years, on the stoop and up in the eves. I’d even written and re-written your obituary and passed the judgments I wasn’t entitled to pass, but nothing ever happened.

Nothing good, anyway.

Just dark, and cold, and quiet.

Maybe it was like they said, when the shadows came to me hollow-eyed in the misty dawn. Maybe I wasn’t soulful enough, hungry enough, willful enough … to leave the memories well enough alone, but I wouldn’t stop trying.

Praying of them.

Begging mercy of them.

I took your hair and fingernails while you slept. Scraped your semen from my bludgeoned cunt when you finally said you’d had enough of me. I’d even collected your fallen eyelashes when I pretended I loved you and kissed you softly, and your spit when, in anger, it hit my face. I’ve stood in the circle, called the watchtowers, and drew down the moon a thousand times since we took our vows. Since then I vowed to put you in your grave. I thought I might try arsenic and old lace. It grew wild and beautiful in the abandoned field behind our house. That’s when they first came to me, when I was barefoot, gathering weeds in the wood. They said they wanted the meat, but I didn’t know what they meant by that. Just the meat — no hair, no bone, no gristle — only meat. So I made offerings: rats, chickens, even your dog. Gutted it with my bare hands in the mid-day sun, but I got nothing in return, except a beating — from you.

Until now.

I went to the shed, you see. Even though you told me not to, ever. I found your “things,” wondered how many you’d tortured before me. I couldn’t remember you ever being that quiet, when I put the claw hammer in your skull. Couldn’t remember you being this heavy when you lay on top of me, or that your skin was this tough. I was clumsy, like you always said I was, hacking away at you until the sun was set and the crickets had started chirping in the field. I lit a candle with my bloodied hands and just stared at your meat in the flickering light. You looked different to me then. I could finally see a softness in your glistening sinews.

They came for you that night. After all the years and all my tears, they came, clicking and clawing their way out of the shadows to gnaw upon your rotted meat. They were hungry and waiting … for me.

I would never starve them like you did.

Previously Published (2011, August 6). The Carnage Conservatory

Revisiting the Process…

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Of writing, that is.

Since my manuscript is out with the beta readers, I be twiddling ’til the feedback comes in, so I thought I would revisit my process via an interview I did with The Lone Writer: Shannon Yarbrough back in January 2015.

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My Writing process, i.e. word-smithing. We call it that, but it’s more word-smashing, word-fumbling, and word-nervous-breakdowning, so I guess I’ll start with what I don’t do. I don’t write on a schedule. I don’t have a daily word count. I don’t have a set writing space or way I prefer to write, and my muse is a douche. I suppose this is because I am very anti-rule. I like art for its anarchy, and so my process is very fluid and flexible and free from constraints, self-imposed or otherwise. This is probably why I can’t seem to crank it out like some authors. If I try to stuff myself into an official process, I freeze up creatively. I’ve tried, and since I don’t need to write for a living, I don’t worry about it too much. Maybe hobby writers, like me, have more freedom to take risks. We don’t have to worry about marketability, or deadlines, or royalty payments. We write and publish because we love it, and just so I’m clear here, hobby doesn’t mean unprofessional. Most of us are professional writers; we just don’t do it for a living and we are ok with that.

As far as my process goes, I can say that I’ll write anywhere about anything. I used to have notepads and a flashlight by the bed, but now I use a note app on my phone and my tablet. Whenever something sticks in my head, I always have some way to jot it down, even if it’s post-it notes and gas station receipts. I used to use a digital voice recorder, but transcribing my voice is about as painful as transcribing my incoherent late night scribbling.

When I write in the long-form, I do use a bit more structure. When an idea hits me, I scribble that down somewhere and then start thinking about the characters and the overall story arch. I research locations, tack up pictures to look at for focus and inspiration, and I do use an outline. Nothing too detailed: I write a paragraph about each character’s particular eccentricities, what they look like etc., and then I create the chapter titles and write a paragraph describing the plotline for each chapter. This is how I rough out the flow of the story. After that, I sit and write. And write. And write. Until I have a rough draft. Since I self-publish my novellas, I actually write in book format versus standard manuscript format. It’s easier getting it print ready and eBook ready that way. There is less screeching-expletive-hair-pulling that way. After that, I put the WIP away for a while. I need at least a month to clear my head, sometimes longer. With Death Dreamt Us All, I put that manuscript away for a year. The subject matter took me to a very dark place, and I needed a lot of time to detach from it before I could even start editing. My current manuscript was put on hold for two years so that I could do some feral cat work. Letting the words sit for a while allows you to come back at the story with a clear head.

As for editing, I do on average ten rounds. The first five really just fill out the story and move chapters around if need be. At that point, I send it out to my trusty beta readers. When their comments come back, I start editing again. Once I am finished with my final edit and I am satisfied with the story, I send it to my official editor/proofreader. It’s a long process for me. A 20-30k word novella can take me the better part of a year.

When I am writing flash fiction for publication, the process is complete and utter chaos. Most of my flash fiction averages 500 words give or take a 100 or so. I might write a story in a day, edit the next day, and send it out on submission the day after that, or it might take me a good week or more before I feel ready to submit anywhere. It really depends. If a story gets rejected, I never let it sit idle. I give it another round of rewriting and then send it somewhere else. When editors are kind enough to reply with a personal rejection, I take their suggestions to heart. As an example: on occasion, I’ve written the porn and discovered that the story worked much better when rewritten into horror. Weird, I know. I just keep an open mind. Stories are changeable and every reader will interpret a story differently, so write what matters to you, and write it how you want to write it, but stay flexible. That’s my motto.

Lastly on editing, I do use a style guide. My favorite is Words Into Type, but most use the Chicago Manual of Style, which is what I use editing and proofreading at my day job. That said, I try not to rely too much on the style guides. Language is fluid and needs to fit the story. I feel a writer should have some artistic freedom with the language. If everyone wrote a sentence the same way, literature would be pretty boring, IMO.

As for inspiration, I get it from all over the place. I read widely across many genres. I am a huge indie and foreign film fan. I’m a lousy painter, but love the fine arts in a geeky sort of way. I listen to music when I write and when I don’t write, and I pay very close attention to the world and how I feel about it. Even so, when things click in the ole brainspace, sometimes it’s simply a trivial connection that’s made. Logos was inspired by an African mask I purchased at a local dealer. Death Dreamt was inspired by the controversial argument as to whether or not exposure to violence desensitizes us. Antiquity came about when I was watching a program on archeology, and Thin Wall was based on a de Sadien idea involving sexual freedom. You can read my reflection about that book here. My current manuscript was inspired by a book I picked up at a used bookshop.

 

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My Muse Be Chillin’

As for the flash fiction, most of my inspiration comes from the news. I also love to use word and picture prompts. Word strings are my favorite because it works like word association automatic writing. Writing flash fiction has allowed me to unwind and flex my narrative voice. It allows me to move effortlessly from character to character and topic to topic based on our ever-changing socio-political climate. I don’t feel confined like I do when I have to spend years with a particular character or a specific plotline. I can write to current events, which, as an artist, makes me feel in the moment versus outside of it, voyeuristically interpreting it from afar. It allows me to experiment with points of view, with time and space, and with style. In flash, I’ll write about anything, including farm animal castration. Yeah, you heard that right. Super short fiction like flash defies all the rules of writing and yet embraces them at the same time in a way that doesn’t constrain the artist. I wrote flash exclusively for a few years and had enough published stories for two short fiction volumes.

As I said before, I don’t make my living as a writer, but that doesn’t mean that I have an easier time of it. Writing is wonderful and uber stressful no matter what kind of writer you are. We tend to aim for perfection, that perfectly fluid sentence that when read, blows a reader’s mind. We all want our writing to have impact, and sometimes that means we have to do battle with the words. It’s an elegant process at one turn and greased-pig wrangling at another. Some writers work better with a regiment and others like me do not.

Do what works for you. Do what works for the story.

Got Horror Movies

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Since is Halloween Month, I’ve been catching up on my horror movies, and the last couple of selections have coincidentally been fem positive films. I don’t have many critical comments, since they all had equally brilliant moments and metaphors worth the exploration, which each film did in its own unique way.

Bad Batch was wonderfully surreal, though for a film about bad choices, survival, and redemption, it seemed to get lost in itself by trying too hard to be avant-garde, fixating on the scenery versus the characters, who seemed like transient bits of underbrush dragged through the dust for hours. The end choice was interesting though. Which would you choose: comfort in the form of a drug-fueled illusion with a septic system and a fake prophet or an accidental cannibal who loved his child? A cannibal whose people already ate your arm and leg.

Raw was one of the most brutal explorations I’ve seen of a young girl’s coming of age. College, boys, raging hormones, and a scramble of sexual desire and moral conundrums. The title implies everything when it comes to being a girl at that age. Not sure I cared for the clumsy shock and awe ending though. I thought the revelation could have been handled with a bit more tact. You’ll probably figure it all out before the end, which just made the actual ending seem even more awkward.

Finally, It Stains the Sand Red. For a zombie movie, this was astoundingly well played. It is another redemption story. Another woman’s life shaped by bad choices, but here we explore that through regret in the form of a zombie who follows her relentlessly through the desert as she relives the journey through her own personal badlands. There are quite a few ‘shine a fucking light’ moments, tackling female stereotypes, misogyny, and rape culture among other things, so like the other two films, it’s not for viewers who need trigger warnings. My only nitpick here is the end. They should have just left it on the lost highway as she’s driving off on her quest, the hopefulness intact, but no, they had to ruin it with one of the most cliché zombie endings I’ve ever seen. Sigh.

Garden Visitors Update

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In the last post I talked about the Monarch caterpillars that had somehow found my pot of tropical milkweed. Since then, we have witnessed both miracles and tragedy.

Three of the caterpillars made chrysalis under the lip of the pot. Quite ingenious really as they are hidden and protected from the rain. Here is a picture of one emerging and one in chrysalis stage. The last one is set to emerge probably today or tomorrow depending on the temperature.

I had one more caterpillar feeding, and when I went to the wildflower preserve over the weekend for the member’s plant sale, I brought another caterpillar home on some extra milkweed I purchased. Sadly, they both perished, probably of NPV or another bacterial infection. It happens. I’d been finding silk moth caterpillars all over my neighborhood that had fallen to the ground sick, probably from the same virus.

Even still, that monarchs found my lonely little plant and that I had 3 out of 4 caterpillars get to butterfly stage is pretty amazing. 75% success rate in nature is damn good.

I did buy more plants and also more seed to sow in October, so hopefully I can boost the numbers next year.

Until then, here is this years’ crop of baby deer. The pic isn’t that great since I had to take it through the screen so I wouldn’t spook them.

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Garden Visitors

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I’m not doing too much these days except editing, and that’s pretty boring, so I won’t be talking about it. Both the kittens are doing well, so there isn’t really anything new on that front either. The garden, however, does get interesting in the fall while everyone is scrambling to prepare for winter.

This year, I purchased a tropical milkweed at the local nursery. I had a large empty pot on my patio, and the flowers were just gorgeous.

I have heard the rumors about Monarch butterflies and milkweed, but I seriously didn’t think they could find my lone little plant over miles and miles of nothing to eat. Milkweed grows in the park and in pastures and fields, but I haven’t seen any even remotely close to my house. We have wild parsley, which attracts the Swallowtails, so we see them more abundantly than Monarchs.

Imagine my surprise at seeing this. I’ve got 3 Monarch caterpillars on this plant, and I fear it’s not enough to get them to the chrysalis stage, so a relocation to a more plentiful food source may be in order.

 

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Yes, that brown ball is caterpillar poop. Just sayin.