Monday, August 20, 2012

The Computer Mommy

Today's post is a moment in the life of a mom. Specifically, nursing at the keyboard (or trying to get any writing done with a baby in the room).

Usually, at this point, my screen is full of the letters a or m. These seem to be Kat's favorite keys.
And caps lock will be on.

Do you find yourself facing similar difficulties?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Musing on Hate

Hate is a loaded word. When I "hate" I'm thinking of something I absolutely abhor to the point of pain. Or rage; fury. I was raised that "I hate you" means "I'm so fucking mad at you that I want to hurt you." My sister took that phrase in a different way. As a result, I try very hard to get that word out of my vocabulary, but there is one time where I will use it.

Hate is racism. Hate is heterosexism. Hate is fat-phobia, ablism, agism... any -ism that places a person in a position of superiority over another. This picture popped up in my feed on Facebook and inspired this post today:

Courtney Blair holds a sign during National Same Sex Kiss Day at Chick-fil-A on Richmond Avenue in support for love, equality, and the real definition of family Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, in Houston. (Cody Duty / Houston Chronicle) Photo: Cody Duty / © 2011 Houston Chronicle

Unfortunately, many people don't believe this. Their definition of "hate" is the traditional that involves strong emotions. They insist that since they are not feeling strong emotions, the word is not applicable.

That's semantics.

It's a simpler word to describe an idea that is prevalent throughout human history. Just because you have never perpetrated a legally defined Hate crime does not mean that you have not perpetuated the ideas, beliefs and motives that cause them.

We're not talking about the emotion. We're talking about "separate but equal." We're talking about discrimination. We're talking about making second class citizens in a country that is supposed to be free of such things. We're talking about saying that a family that is dissimilar to your own is not a family worthy of the same rights.

You cannot say that someone else's family is making yours lesser by its existence and legal recognition. You are making their family lesser by attempting to do so. You have become the problem. You may not have beaten the gay boy in the halls, but something you are saying was once said to the bullies that did.

Racism is a pervasive parasite in this culture that is still rampant today, if not as visible if you're white. I have plenty of mixed-race families or ethnic minority families that are my friends and when I hear about their children having Hate words thrown at them... it makes me rage.

If you've ever read the Help (regardless of your feelings of the "Mammy" feel) and just wanted to punch those women in the face as they sat there with their separate-but-equal 'acceptable racism' / 'social racism' comments, but turned around and said that gay people should just agree to 'civil unions' regardless of what their religion says about gay marriage (deal with the wiki link, it was a fast, easy collection) is the exact same thing. We just haven't been raised to think that way... yet.

I'm not talking about those of you who think the government should not be a part of marriage at all. You guys go to your Libertarian happy place. That is not how this country works. Marriage has been a civil right and a religious rite for its entire existence in every religion and country in which it is practiced. Saying that it's exclusive to Christianity ignores that it existed in countries where Christianity had not reached or was outright banned (such as Japan in the feudal ages). Saying that the government should not be involved is... Well, it's not logical. I do agree that the government should make no laws dictating the romantic pairings between consenting adults.

It doesn't click in the minds of those practicing the discrimination that that is what they are doing. I get that. You don't consider yourself part of the problem because you don't have negative feelings about gay people or their "lifestyle" (or worse, "choice"). You don't want anything bad to happen to them and you don't condone the violence (or, some people, at least not out loud) done to them. You just don't want 'them' to be allowed to marry.

That is a very similar thought process to those who didn't want 'them' marrying 'outside their kind' back in the 50s (interracial relationships). Interfaith relationships have also been deemed 'wrong' by various churches.

Children learn these ideas and they process them, then regurgitate them to their peers. The first time I heard the word "homosexual" it was preceding the word "wrong." It was by a peer. I internalized it. I played homophobic. I parroted my peers because I had never even come across the concept, really. Sure, two chicks kissed on Roseanne. I didn't understand it. I didn't understand why I wanted to kiss other girls. But because something about me was Wrong, I immediately buried it and learned very quickly the amount of vitriol my peers had for 'that kind of people.'

That's right. The exact same words used by racists. I heard sentiments that ranged from 'they just need God to fix them' to 'they should all die.' By my friends. While I struggled in confusion, wondering how God could make me Wrong. So I told God to go fuck Itself and became an atheist.

It made me so miserable. It wasn't right. It wasn't who I was and it wasn't what I believed. Eventually, I realized that these people were not speaking for God. I wasn't listening to God, I was listening to brainwashed children recite what they believed God had said/felt.

These children I went to school with are now probably parents. My children will not be exposed to theirs if I can help it. Regardless of their sexual orientations, they will not grow up to be bigots. And yes, wanting 'separate but equal' (or worse) treatment of someone else makes you a bigot.

Those sentiments trickle down from marriage into any relationships. And your child could very well be gay. Or their cousin, best friend or just a classmate. And they hear you.

Who knows how many of these children heard those very things from their parents or other loved ones:

lesbian suicide
What do we all have in common?
We loved. We felt happiness and pain,
but more pain than happiness.
We all took our own lives.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Musing on Change/Newness

So, I was thinking about my "change" and "introduction to new things" process. I'm not an early adopter. Once upon a time I was, but I've gotten old and crotchety. So, today, I bring you a lighthearted flow chart mapping my process as I deal with The New.

A handy chart on what to expect when introducing me to new things ;) Or my reactions to everything in general. Now you can look to see where I probably am on it and not freak out at me that I don't just go straight from A to Z! :D

Friday, August 10, 2012

Three Surprisingly Healthy "Unhealthy" Foods

In these times, basically everything we eat is going to poison us or cause cancer somehow and it seems like that is all anyone focuses on. However, the trend is changing to focus on the positives in food and I want to encourage this, so here is my contribution. Many foods we've been taught are unhealthy have surprising health benefits!

photo courtesy stockxchng
One of the happiest discoveries for sweet lovers was the benefits of chocolate. Of course, we all know this means "in moderation," but it's still nice to have permission to enjoy the yums! And, of course, dark chocolate has the greatest amount of health benefits.

What it helps (and how): It helps prevent tooth decay, it protects your skin, helps with depression by providing serotonin and stimulating endorphins, improves heart health, improves blood flow like aspirin, decreases stroke risk, has vital minerals, is full of fiber that helps you feel full, may help fight diabetes, lowers blood pressure (and thus, reduces the risk of pre-eclampsia), and can quiet coughs.

How much:  Well, no one is exactly sure. I've read anything from a square a day to a few pieces a week. So, that's not a box of chocolates a day, but you don't have to feel guilty about a little bit here and there.


photo courtesy stockxchng

Much maligned by dieters, coffee actually has many health properties.

What it helps (and how): Coffee may help reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, may lower stroke risk in women, lowers your risk of dementia and Alzheimer's, may reduce the risk of certain kinds of cancers (esophageal, pharyngeal, oral, breast, endometrial, prostate and liver), is possibly an effective treatment for ADHD (note: studies on caffeinism have been performed on neurotypical persons and cannot be used to contraindicate treatment for persons with ADHD), provides healthful antioxidants, may help reduce the risk of death from heart disease and may help men reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease (note: a recent study has found that it is a gene that activates the effects, not hormones as previously theorized).

How much: Well, that depends on the effects you're looking for, but moderation does not seem to be helpful with coffee benefits. Most studies found 2-6 cups of coffee a day were the magic numbers. For people with a normal reaction to caffeine, this might be unhelpful, as it can lead to caffeinism, however, only a few benefits were not found in decaf (ADHD, for example, is dependent upon the caffeine, and certain cancers are not protected for by the beans used in decaf brewing)!

photo courtesy stockxchng
The egg has bounced from one hand to the other--it's good for you! It's bad for you! Only eat the white! With all the mixed information on eggs, let's look at its benefits.

What it helps (and how): Eggs may help prevent macular degeneration (number one cause of age-related blindness) and cataracts, egg lecithin has a lot of anecdotal evidence showing a reduction of pain associated with loosened ligaments (particularly in pregnancy), eggs (from hens that eat bugs and weeds) are full of Omega 3 fatty acids that can help with depression, may help prevent breast cancer due to choline (this also helps regulate the brain--and is heaviest in the yolk), boost the immune system with naturally occurring vitamin D (though you'd need 10 to get your daily dose), may lower coronary risk, may help diets (and are part of a healthy diet) and help your hair and nails stay beautiful.

How much: Well, that depends on the rest of your diet. An egg contains 5g of fat, so two eggs is good for a low-fat diet, but studies have shown no difference in negative health outcomes between people who eat one a week and those who eat a few a day. So, keeping your caloric and fat needs in mind, you can judge how many are good for you at a time.

Tip: Eggs are healthiest when organic or at least farm fresh from chickens that roam outside, eating bugs and weeds with their feed. Caged, overproduced chicken eggs are going to have the least amount of healthy benefits. Despite the hype, color doesn't matter and is determined by the breed of the hen.

In reading up for this post, I found a lot of fascinating studies and articles on the benefits you get from everything from tea to bacon (yes, even bacon!). It's always nice to know that some of our vices aren't as terrible as we've been told.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Musing on Writing

In 1994, I opened up a notebook to jot down some words that were floating around my brain. They rhymed and fell into a poem I named "The Game." I closed the book and ignored it until words started invading my brain again.
In 1996, I had a teacher who noted my scribblings and gave me free access to the class computer to write out an entire book. I loved it. The book was horrible, of course (I was only 16), but as much as I hated the driving words in my brain, and I dismissed the thought of ever actually publishing anything (after all, it was common knowledge that writing was worthless--a hobby, not a "real job"), the actual act of putting words onto the page was intoxicating.

This tendency was encouraged by many of my teachers, from that history teacher to my English teacher, my theatre teacher and even my Biology and Botany teacher. Even then, when I had to go to the library and sift through aromatic tomes rather than ordered lines of text on a screen, I loved to research for my writing. A poor student in standard classroom work, if given alternative assignments, I thrived and went above and beyond.

I filled notebook after notebook, and it was years before I renounced the pen(cil) in favor of the keyboard, but hand cramps were a large factor in that decision. There is something missing from a computer that the scrawled fonts and sketch-strewn pages of a composition book can give you--emotion flows into the pen visually. 

My editor-aplha-reader commented, "Your drafts are so crazy clean, you freak," which got me to thinking about the writing process. For me, I'd say that I spend quite a bit of the day with my muse buzzing around my brain, whispering not-so-sweet nothings that I feel an almost obsessive compulsive need to document, but how much of that is actually spent writing?

Courtesy hisks on stockxchng
Well, for one, that depends on my knowledge of the subject matter. Assuming that I know the location well enough, the local culture, the language, idiosyncrasies, professional terminology and procedure... I can shoot out 500-1200 words an hour. I can put out 5,000+ words in a day (my personal best appears to have been 8,671). 

I get caught up in the details a lot, though. I'd say that writing my current project is about 3-4 hours of writing content and 4-5 hours of research--largely because I'm writing about places I've never been. But sometimes I'll end up spending an hour reading up on something that I only need one sentence worth's of information for. Why? I'm weird, that's why.

I was the same way when I wrote fanfic. I think that is what I have to largely thank for getting to the place I am as a writer now. I started out immature, messy, never letting anything be seen until my beta (a nice Australian lady who had me spelling colour her way while she tried to deal with my atrocious American spelling) had cleaned it. Alternately, I also offered my own services as a beta reader. I only offered to authors who had some serious talent, and it tended to be a huge commitment, but an invaluable experience.

I've written over 60 short stories, ranging from a little over five hundred to over eighty-three-thousand words. I'd tried and scrapped multiple books before I came across the one that clicked. I'm sad that the book I spent 13 years writing is probably total trash, but if I'm honest, I'll admit that it's more than likely. 

Writers are always asked for advice on writing, so there's a ton of varied, awesome and conflicting advice out there. But one thing all writers can agree on:

Just write.

courtesy hoboton on stockxchng

The single most important thing you can do as a writer is write. Every day, even if it's something simple, small. It doesn't have to be fiction. It can be a blog post, some musings on twitter or livejournal, lively debate on the flammable internet. Or it can be fiction--poesy, fanfic, short stories, or, if it's November, head on over to nanowrimo (well, you can head over there any time of the year, but the biggest activity will be in November).

I hear the most, "Well, I have ideas, I just haven't gotten around to writing them down."

Why not? Seriously, even if you're just jotting down notes, writing an outline or whatever your process is, don't say, "some day." Open up a word processing document and start writing. Don't worry about it being just so, just do it. Don't let fear or uncertainty stop you.

If, like me, you write in a linear fashion (which is apparently quite rare), then some of Stephen King's tips might help: Crank it out and don't let more than 3 months pass between beginning and end (while he apparently is a stickler, I say set your own goal, as there is no cookie cutter for a writer) and then let it sit. This is actually pretty important for me: if I go right back into something I've written, depending on the length, I'll pick up a few errors here and there, but I won't be able to clean it, not thoroughly. He suggests months and honestly, I agree. As much as that hurts when you really want to get out a piece, you can't do a healthy revision while it's still fresh in your mind, and your brain is autocorrecting you.
"Read a lot." Another sound bit of advice from Mr. King. If you're like me, you have severe ADHD, and your brain gets kicked into the right mode while reading, and then it goes skipping off down the lane, leaving behind the world you were trying to engross yourself with. Even if you don't have ADHD, this might be the case. At the very least, the more writers voices you get exposed to, the more your own can grow. The more your vocabulary grows, as well as your punctuation and grammar skills.

Most of the rest of his advice really describes why I hate him as a writer (that's right, my favorite advice comes from a writer whose voice I abhor, though I love his stories). He's the anti-Anne Rice. "Brevity. Adjectives are the fucking enemy." Above, I linked to Laurell K. Hamilton's advice and she's a third, totally different type of writer.

Anne Rice is The Perfectionist. She does exactly what Laurell K. Hamilton says is the death of a book. She won't let herself proceed until it's polished to a gleam (she's another person with a writer's voice that I cannot tolerate). She also violates Stephen King's call for brevity. On a Nathaniel Hawthorne level. LKH violates his admonishments on adjectives. He violates her gold-shit balance rule (he only kills 10% of his darlings, to her 20%-70%). These are three major authors and they write nothing alike. Their 'rules' are antithetical to each other's process.

Where do I fall? Somewhere amongst it all. I naturally write with brevity, but rife with adjectives. I cull as I go. If I have any break in writing the story, I go back and reread it from the beginning. This gets me back in the mindset of the characters and gets their voices back in my head (no matter how easy it is to peek in on their world, I feel this is critical for me). Every day, I reread the most recent bit that I did before breaking for the night to get my pace back on.

When editing, after I go through it 5-6 times with at least a few weeks in between revisions, I get nitpicker guides and go through seeking out the biggest literary geek complaints. I check out all my word usages, and to be honest, I still missed stuff that I'm correcting for post-publishing revision (which I can only do because I'm self-published).

And on that--why am I self published, you might wonder? Is it because I don't have confidence in my work? No. I know my work is good. I believe in my story, my characters and my premise for the target audience. Is it a lack of patience? Oh, yes. I cannot wait to get my work out there and share it with people. Let me share a quote by Stephen King that I came across while finding a good link to his advice:
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”
I write to entertain. I believe that entertainment is one of the most important things in life. For me, it goes: air, water, food, sex, entertainment, stability... Yup, it's that high up there for me. This might sound like a first world issue, but it's not. In the third world, entertainment is just as alive--stories told at the fire, sticks drawing in the dirt, clay painted on the body, beauty in necessary work--the muse does not have an income bracket. It is born to its artist regardless.

Truthfully, the reasons I self-published were: 1. I get royalties immediately. Sure, I might only make $50 for the life of my book, but I get that first check a lot sooner and a much higher percentage.

2. I control my work. No one is naming my book for me (well, I suppose that's only partly true--I did have a poll and ask my friends to help me pick a title) or telling me that something vital to character or plot development is unnecessary. I'm a little Anne Rice there, I suppose. 

3. I really care more about getting it out there to the people who actively seek out the topics I write on--who genuinely want to read something interesting and out of the box.

Would I like to be picked up by a real publisher, despite all that? You bet your Aunt Fanny. It's just not my top priority. Especially since that requires something that I am lacking: schmoozing skills. You have to woo your agent to get that work out there. I'm disabled and part of that is that I have serious anxiety.
If I wasn't a major extrovert, I'd probably be a recluse. While I love socializing and get out as often as I can, I cannot do what I've read is required to attract a good agent. I wish I had Jim Butcher's humor and tenacity with the subject.

My advice? Read a bunch of advice from professional authors and use LKH's 30/70 rule. 30 percent of it will help you and 70 percent will be trash. Write and find out who you are as a writer. Set goals. Adjust them. Drop them. Fail. Succeed. Don't expect to be any of the authors I've mentioned in this post. Don't believe that you can't be, either. Don't judge yourself by other people's rules for themselves.

Don't let this scare you--let it inspire you.
Never let the first person to read your book be someone whose opinion could crush you. Never be afraid to listen to criticism and ask why. If someone can't tell you why, they're either 1. reading something they shouldn't have been (not something they're interested in) 2. an asshole/troll 3. just not a fan of your writer's voice or 4. correct, but shouldn't be giving out criticism because they clearly aren't capable of writing if they can't describe or explain something.

Above all: Don't over-think it.

And buy my book.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Modded Mama

So, let's step away from hot topics (I think!) for a minute and talk about one of my favorite topics: Body Modification. Lots of people have opinions on it and one out of five Americans has at least one tattoo (40% of people born between 1966 and 1980 have them). The number of people with at least one piercing is much, much higher (73%-83% of women alone have their ears pierced).

Many of my friends have tattoos. Their reasons range from just liking the picture they chose to a deep story about each one. I fall into the "each of my tattoos has meaning" category, personally.

My first tattoo took me 10-11 years to decide on
I don't remember when I saw my first tattoo, but I do know that by age 10, I wanted one. By 11, I was thinking hard on what I actually wanted to permanently etch into my skin while applying fake tattoos left and right. Music was an incredibly important part of my life, as long as I can remember. From my first desire to be a drummer at 3 to my desire to be a rock star by 5, the only thing I cared more about was being a mommy some day.

So it only makes sense that, eventually, the first tattoo I would get would be a band tattoo. Stabbing Westward helped me through some of the hardest parts of my life--the parts I almost didn't survive. Shortly before seeing them onstage for the first time, they put out an album with a symbol for the band that I thought looked great and thus, my first tattoo was born. I scanned the symbol, recolored it to my favorite colors and after an hour and a half, I had ink!

Yes, my boobs are huge--I have macromastia--you're
supposed to be looking at my ankle
When I planned to meet my husband (then, long distance boyfriend) for the first time, one of the things he expressed to me was a desire for his own tattoo. So, our first date, we went to my tattoo parlor and he got his first and I got my second tattoo. An ankh--a symbol of fertility and the afterlife. Now, if I get decapitated, they know to let me live forever anyway.

I drew this tattoo myself. I was not pleased that
the artist didn't redraw it and I would like to get it
touched up to a nicer design. This is 8 years later...
In 2010, my husband's gift to me for Mother's Day was my third tattoo. We met on a Star Trek: Voyager list and the words "Voq Je bang" along the bottom are Klingon for "truth and love." I designed the tattoo myself, right down to drawing a map of my favorite constellation, Orion (which, when the design was blown up, wasn't centered right, but that's okay, I love how it turned out) and each star represents a member of my family.

Yes, nerd glasses--Lilly and/or Naomi snapped the stems off

Of course, tattoos aren't the beginning and end of body art! I currently have 8 piercings, comprised of 9 holes and I've had my lip and tongue pierced in the past, but they are retired (my tongue reacted badly and my lip started driving me nuts when Lilly was a baby, from clicking on my teeth).

Now, onto some commonly asked questions from moms:

Is it safe to get a tattoo or piercing in pregnancy?

Not really. Overall, your risk is very low of getting a disease from a tattoo parlor (all metal equipment should come from sealed autoclave bags, opened in front of you; ink should be freshly squeezed into new little cups and the artist should be wearing gloves at all times), however, that risk still exists and therefore, you shouldn't put your baby at risk for something that can wait. If a tattoo can't wait 10 months, you shouldn't be getting one. These are forever. Don't go into it thinking "I can just get it removed," -- tattoo removal can be painful, can leave massive scars and is expensive. If you're worried you won't want to do it in 10 months, you shouldn't do it at all.

As for piercings, let me start by saying don't ever go to a mall piercer or anyone with a piercing gun (read: glorified stapler). I've never had a problem with the four I've had gunned that I didn't have with a needle, but that doesn't mean you won't. The problem with getting pierced (and this applies to tattoos, too) during pregnancy, aside from the risk of infection, is that your healing factor is greatly reduced during pregnancy. This increases your risks of infection, rejection and will considerably lengthen the healing time. This is another procedure that can wait.

Do I have to remove my navel piercing while pregnant?

No. There's a whole website devoted to the pierced, pregnant mama. You can get a flexible bar made of PTFE. Unless you experience discomfort or severe migration, you should be able to stay pierced right up through baby's arrival.

What about my genital piercing?

Yes, those should be taken out, sorry! Generally, you will not tear up through the clitoral hood, but it has happened and the swelling will greatly affect labial piercings, as will any tearing (if it occurs). You can keep them in right up until you think you're in labor or toward the end, if you like, but when it comes to actually giving birth, most providers (OB or midwife) prefer them to be removed for your safety. Some women just use a longer bar for hood piercings, but again, this can be a risk and in your postpartum time, it will just be easier to care for your vulva without them in.

Can I breastfeed with nipple piercings?

Well, that's more of a personal choice. Most women certainly can! Some say it helps their milk flow, even. Typically, piercings should be removed during the nursing session for the baby's health. Bacteria can live on the metal and more, it isn't going to be comfortable in his or her tiny little mouth. Some babies are little hoovers and if you have a CBR/BCR, there could be concern for the baby sucking the ball right out (or if your barbell balls are loosened--I've had plenty of barbells fall out because somehow, the ball got loose and I have to regularly check the tightness). Some remove them during the whole nursing relationship and re-pierce them after and some simply remove them before each nursing session. It's up to you! Beware the twiddler baby, though--shiny objects attract babies and if you don't like having yours tugged, that can be a problem!

To the non-modded audience members, remember: look, but don't touch! Appreciate, but don't demand a story for every tattoo you see. Yes, these are problem behaviors--just as most mamas don't like having random strangers come up and touch their baby bump, most people with tattoos don't want you to come over and start touching them, no matter how awesome you think their ink is. The people who have very large, prominent tattoos don't always, as is the common myth, do it for attention. Most are simply an idea of beauty, art and/or personal expression. Sometimes, even when the tattoo is visible, that is private. So if they want to tell you their story, that's great, but let them offer.

Are you Modded Mama (or Dad)? Feel free to talk about it here and show them off!

Note: I will not address non-consensual body modification procedures such as infant ear piercing other than to say that I do not support anything that infringes upon the bodily integrity of another without their consent.