Post Round Up

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In addition to writing here, I also post in a few other places across the internet. Since some of you don’t know of my other writing ventures, I thought it would be useful to you all to compile some of what I’ve been writing elsewhere. So here they are friends: what I’ve been up to elsewhere on the internet.

Over at The Mighty, I now have 7 posts up, including two recent ones I’ll highlight here.

To Anyone Afraid To Eat Thanksgiving Dinner
Some thoughts, tips, and suggestions for people with eating disorders on one of the worst holidays in the year. I personally prefer not to even try enjoying myself because the day is everything I dislike.

When I Decided To Stop Hiding the Physical Scars of My Mental Illness
“For years I carefully arranged my clothing so people couldn’t see my scars. I would go to the gym and have small anxiety attacks every time my shorts rode up. I invested in pairs of leggings so no matter what I wore I could be sure I was covered. I was so afraid someone would see and I would be “found out.”

But this picture marks the day I chose not to be afraid.”

Feel free to pop over to my author page to see what else is living over there.

I’m also a regular contributor at Skepchick, so make sure you’re getting over there to see what I’ve got up. Here are a couple of posts I feel pretty good about.

Accessibility 101
This is actually a recap post of a workshop I co-led over the summer, but since then Skepticon has very openly used a lot of that info to adjust their accessibility policy and had great response for the most part, so I’m INCREDIBLY happy with the results of the work I put into this and I’d love it if other organizers (of events, cons, or groups of any size) took a look.

You Must Be Fun At Parties: The Myth of the SJW Party Pooper
Spoiler alert: SJWs have more fun.

Empathy and Sympathy: What’s What and Who Deserves It

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In this week’s episode of “my boyfriend and I had an interesting discussion and now I will use my online platform to tell him why he’s wrong”, we come to the case of Snape (sorry Jacob, it really just means I find your ideas engaging enough that I want to write about them).

The essence of the question is whether Snape is a sympathetic character or not. I’m going to start with some nitpicky details about empathy and sympathy, feeling bad for someone, condoning actions, and understanding reasons. Because these are all very relevant to why Snape is such a divisive character and how we as human beings can both hold people responsible for bad actions while simultaneously understanding in a deep way why they engage in such actions.

First, the difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is about feeling compassion for someone, or commiserating when they feel down. It often can have an element of pity in it, but it’s generally the feeling you get towards people when you haven’t experienced the same things that they have. Empathy on the other hand is to put yourself in their shoes and feel what they’re feeling. Now some definitions specify that it also includes compassion, but it seems entirely possible to me to be able to put yourself into someone else’s shoes, feel what they’re feeling, and still be frustrated, angry, or otherwise not compassionate towards that person.

As an example, I can certainly empathize with people who are depressed. I can feel their feelings fairly easily. But depending on their actions, it’s also very easy for me to be angry at how they’re behaving, or feel as if they’ve made bad decisions that are the cause of some of their problems. It’s especially possible for me to understand someone’s emotions and still think that they’ve behaved abominably (for example threatening suicide to keep a loved one close, or blaming someone else for their depression). I’m uncertain whether that means I feel compassion for them, whether I feel bad for that person. I can certainly feel sad for the circumstances that hurt them, or for the brain that makes it hard for them to be happy, but the choices that people make that are actively bad for them and that hurt the people around them are things that don’t make me sad. I do not condone their actions, even if I do understand their reasons.

The long and short: being able to understand how someone is feeling and why is not the same as feeling bad for someone or even feeling sad about their situation, nor is it the same as condoning the actions that come out of that feeling. Sometimes the ability to empathize with someone in the sense of putting yourself in their shoes can actually make it harder to accept their actions or feelings, as your own choices and reactions would be so much different.

So what on earth does all of this have to do with Snape?

Well I have almost no sympathy for Snape. I don’t feel bad for him, I don’t feel that his story is particularly tragic, I certainly don’t think he was a hero. I can empathize with him in many ways: it’s hard to have unrequited feelings for someone, he came from a really nasty home, and the Marauders were fairly shitty to him. I know what it’s like to be lonely and socially awkward. All of those things suck.

But the problem with Snape is that all my sad feelings for him dried up round about the time that he called Lily a Mudblood and started spending all his time with the Death Eaters. He made horrible choices that drove away the people who actually cared about him (Lily), and hurt innocent people, felt little to no remorse about those choices, and then stayed bitter at everyone else because he thought it was their fault he was alone (James). Which is why I deeply disagree with people who assert that we should feel really bad for him, that he’s a hero, or that he is the center of a tragic love story.

We only have a little bit of information to go on when it comes to Snape, but what we have indicates that he’s not a very nice person. Lily befriends him as a kid, but he’s mean to Petunia because of her bloodline, and even shows some hesitation about Lily due to her parentage. He continues to show a strong preference for those who will eventually become Death Eaters while he’s in school, including Avery, Mulciber, Evan Rosier, Wilkes and Sirius’s cousin Bellatrix Lestrange. These are the only people we know that he was friends with. While we can’t absolutely make pronouncements about someone based on the company they keep, his use of the word Mudblood as an insult to Lily when she tries to help him, his treatment of Petunia, and his choice of friends don’t paint a rosy picture of young Snape.

So Snape grew up in an abusive household and was bullied when he got to school. These are shitty, shitty things. His response? To double down on some of the most vile aspects of his personality and insult his oldest friend in a racist, horrible way. No sympathy Snape, no sympathy.

The weird part of this is that the flashbacks seem to indicate that Lily and Snape weren’t horribly close at this point in time, yet Snape continues to nurse his crush for Lily, not making any efforts at dating anyone else and appearing to blame James for the fact that he doesn’t get the girl. So where there might have been some sadness for Snape about the fact that he had an unrequited crush, he made 0 attempts to move on, to be nice to Lily, or to take responsibility for the fact that maybe she didn’t like him because he said some utterly horrible things to her.

Some people have suggested that it’s incredibly romantic that Snape continues to care for Lily and acts to protect her son later in life. If this seemed to be a good faith attempt at being a nice person because he cared about someone I might be more swayed to feel sadness about his final fate and loneliness. The problem with that interpretation is that Snape is the one who brings the prophecy to Voldemort, and only gets angry when he realizes that Lily might die too. He goes to Dumbledore only seeking asylum for Lily, even though he knows how deeply she loves her family. And he only grudgingly agrees to care for Harry after Lily is dead (which he’s angry about and seems to have no joy that her son survived). He proceeds to make Harry’s life miserable, out Remus as a werewolf, attempt to subject Sirius to a Dementor’s kiss, and generally act like a petulant five year old because when the Marauders were kids they bullied him.

That’s not to say that their actions were good, but rather that Snape is now an adult who needs to behave like one rather than using his childhood as an excuse to put others in danger. In order to have a measure of sympathy, a person has to be able to grow, or at least attempt to grow over time, hopefully from the bad things that happen to them. Not every experience has to result in a major personality shift into a better person, but responding to hardship by blaming others and digging even deeper into bigotry, loneliness, and bitterness is really not charming.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the Snape redemption narrative is that he claims to love Lily, but proceeds to seriously hate her son. He treats Harry horrifically throughout the books, even after knowing that the supposed love of his life literally gave up her own life for this kid. If Lily were still alive and Snape treated Harry in that fashion, we would clearly understand that he was being manipulative and potentially abusive.

It’s certainly possible to empathize with Snape, to understand how he fell into the path that he did out of shame for his own mixed blood, out of fear of people like James, out of a certainty that no one would love him after he drove Lily away. But with that understanding comes the understanding that Snape made choice after choice that was cruel and unethical, and actually made his situation much, much worse through his own lack of empathy and care towards others. So I have very little sadness left for Snape as an adult who made his own choices and now is suffering the consequences.

Of course there’s sadness for the kid he was before he made all the shitty choices. But as an adult, even when there are bad things in your past, you’re responsible for what you do. And unless you make at least a little bit of an effort not to be an abusive shithead (especially when you’re in a position of power over other people, like a teacher with power over kids like Neville), you become at least somewhat responsible for how bad your life is.

I hope it’s obvious at this point that I’m not just talking about Snape. All of us have shitty things in our lives. Some people manage to turn out decently, or at least make the old college try to get better. Not everyone is capable of getting over all their baggage. That’s ok. The problem is when someone unrepentantly blames their past for their bad actions, or when they don’t even make an effort to deal with the bad things. It’s important to find the balance between empathizing with someone and understanding where they come from, while still holding them responsible for what they’re doing now. That’s where Snape becomes informative: I see bits of him in lots of men who have been hurt in the past but who use that hurt to turn against other people. And I no longer have sympathy for how much they’re hurting because they have actively made it worse, held on to the hurt, and probably caused a fair amount of it.

None of this means that someone who’s brought pain on themselves doesn’t deserve respect or to be treated decently. But they do deserve to be held responsible for their actions.

 

How To Have Depression In the North

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Summers will be great.

Wear dresses and shorts and splash your feet in every body of water you come across.

In the summer, you must never work past 5:00, and every evening should be spent with friends.

Drink sangria and go to lakes.

The calendar says you have three months.

The weather never gives you three months.

There are two weeks of fall, and you will be melancholy.

Kick the leaves everywhere you walk and wear your coziest boots.

Breathe deeply: the air smells differently in the fall.

One month into winter, the sky will be gray and you will start to forget what it felt like to smile.

You will sleep for 10 hours at a time, and yet never have energy.

Cover every inch of your body with scarves and mittens and jackets whenever you leave the house.

Don’t leave the house.

If possible, don’t leave your bed.

Purchase as many blankets as possible and cover yourself with all of them.

It’s safer inside.

Two months into winter, you may remember that you have friends.

If you are feeling ambitious, now is the time to call them

and ask for rescuing.

The rescue will last you to Christmas, at which point family anxiety will ruin you.

January is hell.

Once you have survived hell, you will be numb.

Don’t bother imagining spring: it will never come.

Stop shaving because you need the extra warmth

(or because you can’t muster the energy to pick up your razor)

When you go outside, try to ignore the sloppy piles of mud/snow that line every sidewalk

Profess your hatred of winter sports, which got old in December

Spring will appear some time in April

It will feel like a miracle

every breath tastes like growing

and you will put on shorts at 50 degrees.

Feel no shame.

Dance.

Wait for the glorious summer.

Early Signs

This morning I had a memory

Lightning, striking fast and disappearing to leave glassy clarity behind.

When I was a child, sitting in the back seat of my father’s car

I would look at the door handle.

Whizzing down the highway at 60mph, I’d wonder what would happen if I just opened the door.

I would sit on my hands to stop them from twitching towards the lock, the handle, the open air outside

And yet magnetically my eyes wandered back, driven by the need to let myself fall out into the wind.

Early signs.

 

I had surgery when I was six. They cut into my stomach and moved some things around.

All I remember is waking up in the night, crawling out of my bed to pee blood,

and softly telling my mother to go back to sleep, I didn’t need help.

I didn’t want to disturb her.

Early signs.

 

The first day of first grade, I was put in a time out.

I can’t for the life of me remember what I did wrong.

But I remember the wash of shame, the conviction that this meant the end:

I would never win back the year, the respect of my teacher.

I was doomed to failure.

Early signs.

 

When I was ten, my brother convinced me to lick a metal fencepost when it was below zero.

I have always been trusting, and without thought I did as he asked.

When I pulled away, I left half my tongue behind.

Quietly, I swallowed the blood and listened to my mother berate him.

But I mumbled out “I’m fine”.

Early signs.

 

The first time I read The Golden Compass, I nearly started crying.

I remember the longing I felt for a daemon, how deeply I wanted someone to share my soul with.

I knew it was fantasy.

But I spent hours willing the world to make a space for the other half of me.

At night, when I couldn’t sleep, I whispered for my daemon.

 

Early signs.

 

Maybe I always should have known.

Assorted Poetry (TW: Self Harm, Eating Disorders, Ennui)

Note: No one freak out about mentions of symptom use. These are all just capturing feelings, not literal.

 

 

Last night I took a blade to my skin

Blood letting for the soul

The foul humors escape.

There is more life within me than the flimsy walls of my body can contain

Bursting and breaking through in fits

A quick slice so much easier

Draining an abscess

 

Have you ever felt a nostalgia so melancholy your breath flees?

Or fallen in love with the golden caricatures of humanity?

Do you walk the streets in the twilight, breathing in the scents of rain and promise

And wonder if you could live forever?

Have you ever run your hands over your body and wondered

How easy it would be to rip it open

off

just for the freedom?

 

Sometimes when I love too hard, I refuse food

A quiet prayer that my body disappear

To give me more space to stretch and love you more deeply.

Did you know that a body can burst if you fill it with enough loves?

 

Some girls bend their bodies into contortions, hoping to confuse the fire within

into fading out

Their skin paper thin

They glow as lanterns

Until they concoct an emptiness to kill the flames.

Their insides were yearning for people, for places

So they replaced passion with need

for size 2, for vodka, for death

And now their skin simply crinkles, hollow

 

I let the heat bleed out of me when I can’t carry the weight

But I can breathe flames on days I am strong enough to stand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A single face, glimpsed

A face that might be the face of one I once loved

is enough to leave me shaking with nostalgia

 

At night my feet know that it’s time to leave

but my mind has no destination.

My heart supplies the names of everyone I have every shown myself to

truly

and my feet anxiously trip through memory and longing

 

I can’t escape the way that feeling so much is always pain

And the flood of insecurities that returns with each face

I am sitting alone in the dark

The razor blades of my eyes cutting over each ounce of fat

And everyone I’ve ever loved is not here

Object permanence has escaped me, and they are lost

 

I am more, I am more than ennui

I could be more, and perhaps I could collect each face for good.

But I am already too much

And they cannot fit into my long list of labels.

I cannot chase lost souls.

Sensations and Confusion

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Most people would not describe me as a sensual person. I think I come across as fairly cold, definitely stand-0ffish, and distinctly touch repulsed. I’m not a hugger, I’m pretty lukewarm on cuddling, and I really like having a large personal bubble (which no one gets to be in unless I explicitly invite them in). I’m a picky eater, like soft and comfortable clothes, and am uncomfortable with looking and acting sexy.

But oddly enough, this stand-offishness is actually because I am incredibly sensual. I’m ridiculously sensitive (if you try to tickle me I will likely elbow you in the groin. Unintentionally). Sometimes I feel sensuality so hard that it hurts. When my cats are being particularly adorable I get the desire to cuddle them so hard that my jaw starts aching and I get shakey shivers through my spine. Sometimes I have to grind my teeth or bite down on something to keep myself from pulling a Lennie. (Don’t worry my kitties aren’t in danger, I just love them a lot and sometimes have to restrain myself).

Scents can change my mood completely. Petrichor will immediately make me nostalgic and full of feelings I can’t quite put my finger on: infinity I suppose. Some scents are home, and others are fear. The smell of a certain deodorant will always be my first boyfriend and will always be violation. Lilacs are childhood, and spaghetti is safety.

And sounds. Sounds are amazing. The sound of someone chewing will make me more violent than anything else in the world. But music can make me feel things I can’t explain, powerful, sexy, beautiful, deep, broken, joyful, empty…music and dance and rhythm speak to me on a level that nothing else does. I will remember the words to a song after just a few repetitions, I will learn the muscle memory of movement better than anyone I’ve met.

Touch is too much for me. I get shivers from someone brushing against my ankle or my wrist. Soft socks can change a whole day for me. Anything less than a slap is a tickle. I can feel your breath on my neck and it makes me wriggle and squirm. I once got off just from the feeling of someone touching my back.

Don’t even get me started on food. I can’t put anything with the slightest hint of bitter into my mouth and I crave sugar like no one I’ve ever met. Once a taste is in my mind I can’t shake it until I eat, and eat, and eat. I once wanted cream cheese wantons for a full year. No matter how many times I ate them, the need never left. Textures can ruin any meal for me. Trying to eat tofu is a practice in attempting not to vomit. I would rather not eat than eat something mushy or gooey or gelatinous.

I crave sensations. Perhaps self harm is an attempt to get a high, a thrill, a sensation. Sometimes when I see a picture of a beautiful person I feel a longing so hard it hurts. Perhaps that’s why I thought I was a sexual being for so long. I WANT so much. But when I stop and think about it, I don’t WANT kisses or sex or anything of that nature. I want to stare for longer, I want to possess the spark of beauty that’s in the face, I want to rub my face on the soft skin just like I do with my cat’s fur. I want to grab ahold of things and squeeze and contain. I crave beauty, I crave speed, I crave movement. I feel the same thrill on a roller coaster as I do whirling on the dance floor as I do looking at the face of that gorgeous movie star.

And it’s confusing. It’s confusing how much I want. I have so much, but sometimes the spaces that I have close in and I feel like I need to run outside and rub my face all that the world is. Sometimes I am afraid that because of what I have chosen today I won’t be able to fall in love over and over with all the things I can experience. The fear makes me nauseous.

How can I contain the feelings, how can I identify, how do I have any grounding when each new experience gives me a whirling high that confounds me? My own emotions are too much to keep me in one place, one person, one body. I can’t contain myself. I wonder sometimes if I love too much because my body refuses to cut out the excess, colors are too bright and tastes are too sharp. People think that minds are separate from bodies, but how can I keep my emotions stable when my body feels so much? How can I not feel so much when the world is full and intense and soft and more than my senses can process?

The longing I feel will always confuse me. I don’t know if I will ever be content.

Infinite

There’s a scene in The Perks of Being a Wallflower in which Charlie and his friends are driving their truck through a tunnel. They stand up in the back while their favorite song plays on the radio. Charlie says “In that moment, I swear we were infinite”.

Sometimes, when I’m walking down an empty street at night and the wind is warm and my skirt is swirling around my legs, I wonder if I am infinite. Unnameable feelings rise in my throat, as if my self were too big for my body and might burst out somehow. As if I could walk to heaven if I just pointed myself in a direction and started going. As if I might be able to see the whole world if I climbed high enough.

In the first season of the rebooted Dr. Who, Rose Tyler looks into the heart of the TARDIS and becomes infinite: she knows everything. Unfortunately, she simply can’t contain it: if it remains inside her it will kill her. No human being can process that much information.

More often than not, I feel like Rose, burning up from the inside with all the bits and pieces that flit through my mind. I jump from one task to the next, my brain racing with answers and analyses and concepts that don’t quite process fully.

I wonder whether I can ever hold on to the infinity, or whether my body will burn up. I want to breathe in the whole world through the pure taste of summer. God smells like lilacs and lily of the valley. The angel choirs are singing 90’s music. In heaven, I dance like Baby from Dirty Dancing.

But my body doesn’t move like that and lilacs die in a week and the 90’s are over. Every night when I fall asleep I remember that I am finite. Sometimes I pretend I can subsist on air to convince myself that I’m god-like enough to hold onto the joy of nights that sing and smirk and dance. Sometimes my whole body deflates and I collapse into myself when the hot air I puff myself full of gives out.

How could I not be melancholy when I have glimpsed perfection and fallen away?