willkommen! bienvenue! …you get the idea

From Elen Woderose of the Industrious Barony of Thescorre, come greetings unto all who enter here. [switching hats] Hi, I’m Cass, and I’ll be your blogger this evening. What can I start you off with?

I have a rich fantasy life. I write fiction and some verse; current works-in-progress include the bloody doomsday thing that isn’t really doomsday after all and the heavily-edited Immigrant Songs, poems stretching over oh ye gods it really has been eight or nine years since I wrote some of those. I indulge in fanfiction from time to time. I’ll be writing songs this year. I don’t promise they’ll be hits, but I’ll try not to offend your artistic sensibilities too badly.

My pop culture interests bridge the gap between geek and chic. I’ve gone vaguely boho and vaguely prep (see Gravatar), and my favorite trousers are basically a skirt cut in two and stitched up the middle. Send me your old, worn-out peasant skirts with drawstrings in and I will make more skirts. Uh, tell me in advance if you want them back. ;) I sew chiefly by hand, and I have been dragging my bottom on that, so I’d better hop to sometime this month.

I’d like more Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife, Archer, Grey’s Anatomy, Lost Girl, and Bomb Girls (that one’s a long shot). I don’t know whether The Mentalist got cancelled. I know The Good Wife is coming back, which, yay! My idea of a good horror film is a few hours’ worth of Public Information Films. Or Threads. (The Day After is a little sanitised.)

I finally think of myself as this woman in this place and from it, but I cannot forget, not ever, that the path to serenity wound through a lot of brambles. I’m only technically native to Western New York; for all intents and purposes, I’m a German immigrant. We moved before I began to form memories, and as a result, yes, the worst culture shock I’ve ever had was coming here. I still don’t get a lot of things, but I have friends now, and a beloved man, and for them I would put down my roots.

In order of fluency, I have English, German, and French; I can usually make sense of Spanish in context; I read Nasta’liq but can’t tell you whether that is written Urdu, Farsi, or Arabic proper, nor can I differentiate between Arabic dialects. I address my loved ones using Russian diminutives and my liege lords and ladies by their titles.


h/t Rue Morgue on Facebook, I give you:


Reasons to have been admitted to an insane asylum. Let me count the ways:

♥ hereditary predisposition: On both sides.
♥ immoral life: I grant you, that is subjective, but according to the morals of the day, oh, yes.
♥ laziness: Because I prefer books to dishes.
♥ medicine to prevent conception: What the sodwockets were they using?
♥ mental excitement: I take it that’s what they called panic disorder?
♥ novel reading: Unrepentant.
♥ over action of the mind: Sometimes I can’t quit.
♥ over taxing mental powers: And sometimes it hurts.
♥ dissolute habits: Oh, lovey, I am positively louche some days.
♥ domestic trouble: You can’t say our home life is brilliant.
♥ suppression of menses: A nifty side effect of “medicine to prevent conception”.
♥ superstition: Last night I went a bit mental looking for the third in a set of three blue feathers that I’d found. Not because I wanted to fletch an arrow. Because I was afraid that throwing away the third feather in a set represented throwing me out of a polyamorous relationship.
♥ grief: Not just for people!
♥ self abuse: Using multiple definitions.

Suspect I would have remained an inmate for life.

the missing stair

Disturbing thing I realised while watching Francesca, Baby: Francesca’s mother is flaking on throwing Francesca’s sister Kate’s birthday party, and Cess tells Kate she’ll take her shopping for all the things she needs. Cess has just got in from the shopping. This “missing stair” dynamic is familiar to me.

This winter my car stopped working. I renewed the registration in March but I never got it inspected because I couldn’t drive it and I didn’t have AAA anymore. I was having issues. Dad was having issues. Mum was… coping with us having issues. Fast forward to feeling well enough to fix things. The registration is missing. Instead of looking for it in the mail I didn’t get, I’ve reordered it. I was not up to having the car taken to the garage, so for a little while it was a battle of the missing stairs; in the end, I told Dad to have it done (because my depression was worse at the moment) and he did.

Why hasn’t the registration turned up and why can’t I just hunt it up? I get my hoarding/OCD tendencies from Mum’s side. Her big cannot-do is deal with her papers. I offer repeatedly to do the dealing, because I have organisational schemes coming out my ears. She absolutely cannot cope with other people getting into her papers and disturbing them. There is no way around her on this. I’m probably getting my own post office box by year’s end just to separate my papers out — what papers I can manage to change the address on! And that’ll be some job. But I’ll have to do it. I don’t want a sunroom full of cannot-do.

. . .

My inner social worker is kind of repulsed by the advice these Alateen kiddies are giving Francesca. Is it really empowering to hear “So you don’t have the all-American family? Too bad!” when someone in your family’s an alcoholic? This was the seventies, but I have to wonder where the real help was for these kids. Cess’s mum nearly burns down the house at one point because she blacks out in bed with a cigarette in hand. The Alateen advice — “don’t make it your problem anymore” — doesn’t actually fix the missing stair issue. At the end of the day, no matter what Cess says to her mum, Cess’s father still works out of town and Cess’s mum still drinks. Cess is still raising her sister. “You should have an escape route, in case your mother sets her bed on fire!” Uh, how about “you should go to Social Services about this because your mother is incompetent and your father is unwilling”? But we probably had a terrible reputation even then, so nobody would’ve wanted that.

My household consists of three adults. We have admitted to our issues. Dad’s in therapy. I’ll be back there this week. Mum could use it, but she’s not keen, and hers isn’t so bad. For all that we malfunction, we know we malfunction, and we do what we can to mitigate it. We also don’t have children left in the house to raise. There are three of us encouraging each other to be better. I might understand “missing stair” somewhat better than Joan Surname, but I also understand “fix the missing stair”.

I have also paged through the Orange Papers, so Cess’s mum admitting she needs AA is not a Happily Ever After. My dad had a psychiatrist through the VA who thought twelve-step programs were all that and a bag of crisps, and I’m sorry now that I agreed at all with her. We were all in a low place. Allow me instead to promote the Sinclair Method, which worked well enough for Claudia Christian (aka Ivanova from Babylon 5). I’ll take science over mumblety-peg any day.

thank you thank you thank you

They gave me the option to swap back to classic mode and I’m all yessss, I can code in-text because yes, I really have got used to typing out the tags for italics and bold and whatnot. I was prepared to adapt and move the H on, but you know? I will take this classic mode thing for my ease of use. Not everything has to change all at once.

Because changes are coming and boy am I nervous.

Well. Not nervous, exactly. That would imply a much higher level of unease than I’m currently feeling. Uh. Sort of confused? No, I understand the changes for the most part. My ears are up, then. My ears are up and on swivel. I am alert. There. And I’m still rolling with other changes that have happened like, oh, the radical unfscking of the guest room (so, uh, now we have a guest room) and the same going for my room (which impressed Eleven no end). Mama’s dragging her feet on doing other rooms and I bet she’s just as freaked as I am. I get my OCD/hoarding tendencies from her side, not Simon’s. Plus, this is the first time her sister will see her house this century, and without their mother along for the ride. Tante Rosi is coming strictly to see us.

I’m pleased as punch, but I have all this cool shit to run around and show her, so it’s not like I have any reason to be nervous about that. I’m very much a “take me or leave me” woman. Here is my space. It is laid out just as I like it. Here are my sarongs on the walls. The one without the necklaces dangling from it was a gift from Eleven. The blue one over the head of my bed I bought in Virginia Beach in 2002 (pre-panic by one day). Those round things look like CDs. They’re not. They’re my art. I used acrylic paint, decoupage, permanent marker, and nail polish. The wooden medallion on the black string with the three beads is an award from Their Excellencies Aquila and Bronwyn for achieving the rank of Archer. The metal coin-looking piece on the black ribbon is the event token from last Pax; I will be running the next and you will not be here to see that, my aunt, but I’ll get my dad to take all the pictures he can and maybe a little video to send you. The bar of grey stone with the strips of red and cream running through it also came from Eleven and I love him, I do, and you will meet him.

Yes, the Jesus on my rosary is disabled. If Christianity and its whole “made in God’s image” is right, then surely one of the correct ways to depict Jesus as God’s son is missing his right forearm.

This is my desk. It has some desk things on it and some not-desk things. Yes, that’s a poster of the Berlin Wall. The somewhat primitive statue is one I sculpted aged fourteen and exploring Paganism for the first time; it’s a man and a woman backed up to each other holding hands. See her pleated skirt? See his trousers? Those dabs of white on their heads and hands are coconut oil, anointings made in the hope of better days to come.

And this is a microphone. You should get one, too. You should get headphones. You should get a laptop. You should get a Google account. Then we can talk face-to-face for free. It won’t be awkward because I’ll have Translate open in another window for the things I mean to say but can’t. You’ll be able to see my expressions and the hand motions I make when I’m reaching for a word that I know I have somewhere but can’t find. Little Georg who is not little any longer can set it all up for you. He’s really very good with computers. After all, Gärtnerei Neubauer has its own domain name dot d-e.

I know one of the charms of the world is travel, and how large our world really is, but I need it to get smaller in some respects so I still have my family Over There.

File all that under “did not intend to say these things”. Not regretting the words, though. Not one bit no never.

sometimes you have to face the void.

So, I cited the paper in this article last semester. I spent a whole depressed semester navel-gazing about depression and I discovered a concept that is really very important to understanding how depression hits me: motivational anhedonia

I’m going to tell you how the process of repairing my car would go for a neurotypical person:

♥ Renew AAA membership. 
♥ Call desired garage, ask if they’ll take my 2000 Chevy Cavalier with very few miles on it but a few issues.
♥ Call AAA, get them to tow it there. 
♥ Wait for phone call saying everything’s fine and I can come pay for it now. 

And this is how it goes for me:

♥ Realise AAA membership has expired.
♥ Go back to bed because I can’t make that phone call today. OR stare at a computer screen doing sweet f.a. for hours. 
♥ Resent not having a car for fun things like Ingress (because walking to portals in this neck of the woods just ain’t happenin’). 

This is how most people handle finalising important essays for their degree:

♥ Reread essay.
♥ Edit essay accordingly.

This is how I am doing it:

♥ Reread essay.
♥ When checking on grad school requirements, discover that I do not actually have as many options as I thought in that respect.
♥ Spend a good month and a half panicking about that part, even though the other grad school I’ve been looking at has no such requirements. Look for even more grad schools? Why would I do that? 

I turn around and there’s, well, a month and a half gone. I had a decently busy June and early July, no question. The trouble with “decently busy” is that it does require support, and in early July, my therapist dropped me. He decided that, instead of continuing my care with the next student in line after him, I had achieved so much that I couldn’t possibly need help with anything else. I am decent at NONONONO except when I think it will make me look like a flaming hypochondriac. Then I am really very much of a yes-girl. 

That has come back to bite me in the bum. I was not ready to go it alone. My therapist did not, in the end, understand that a lot of what looked like my achievements were things that happened to me or occasions to which I rose. I didn’t overcome anything. I coped with things that took me about a yard outside my comfort zone. Given the choice between working on my performance anxiety, because music and I will never part ways, and working on my, um, functioning anxiety? I need the functioning. I really do.

He also seemed impressed that I was in the early days of what turned out not to be a relationship after all. Here’s how I perceive the way monogamous people think about dating:

♥ Meet person you like. 
♥ Engage emotions.
♥ Start going steady for the foreseeable future.
♥ Wait, we’re supposed to be determining how our lives will mesh. Crap. 

Some poly people date like this, too. I don’t. I date more like this:

♥ Meet person I like.
♥ Get to know each other.
♥ (preferred step) Meet person and OSO(s). Talk about everything.
♥ Go on one date. Keep talking. 
♥ Decide whether it’s safe to engage emotions at this point. If YES, continue dating.

I hate NRE. I avoid it where possible. I don’t like the butterflies. I like situations where all quantities are known (as much as one can do this with humans) and everything can just tick along nicely. A lot of monogamous people look at me in the early steps of my process and decide I’ve found a new SO. Eleven does not assume this, which is part of why the process went so smoothly for us. We date the same way. 

And none of that has anything to do with graduating from therapy, to be honest. Relationships aren’t achievements. They’re an ongoing, evolving piece of a person’s life. I could have used my therapist to help me evaluate what happened next — but he had other places to be and, I guess, thought it would be unnecessary to train a successor.

But I could always call and get set up with someone else if I needed! Now run that through the motivational anhedonia machine:

♥ I need help. 
♥ Argh, getting help the first time was such a hassle. I don’t feel like calling today.
♥ Stay in bed/stare at computer screen until life has all but spiraled out of control.

What did it take for me to find a new dentist? Lying in the chair screaming from behind a dental dam because the dentist-at-large at my practice couldn’t numb my tooth for crap. “Everything okay?” the staff kept asking when I made stuck-pig noises. No, nothing was okay. I was in pain. It was a ten. I was not merely psyching myself out. I kept kicking the chair: help me. They were drilling and filling a live tooth (as opposed to a tooth whose electricity has been shut off for the nonce). I came out crying and barely coherent. That broke through the barrier long enough for me to hit up Google and dial a number. And then I fell asleep, because holy Hannah, hurting on top of the sedation left me exhausted. 

What did it take for me to tell Dad, “I have a problem and I need you to kick off the change”? Bizarrely, it was the suicide of Robin Williams. It hit me like lightning forking through my body, looking for ground. It was one of those “no way, man, that might’ve been me” moments, because let’s face it, we’re not very far removed from the last time I had those thoughts. Not comparatively. I’m somewhere between remission and relapse. Maintenance? And maintenant, you may be amused to note, is French for “at this time”. I am at this time, taking it one stressor at a go, neither gaining nor losing. Maintaining. Able to see clearly what the last month and a half of sleepiness and fog has been, when I haven’t caffeinated myself to cover it. (Lord, some people need cocaine…) 

This may be the most coherent thing I’ve written all summer. 

For those of you playing along at home, yes, I’m going to autocrat next year’s Pax Interruptus. No, this is not going to aggravate the motivational anhedonia. One of the best ways through it is close guidance, and that is exactly what I will have because I am an autocrat-in-training. This is SCA parlance for “Lady El has never run an event before, so she will have a mentor to show her the way.” Also, and this is perhaps weird, the part of me that is Lady Elen Woderose has very little trouble getting things done. I’m being trusted with something huge, yet I know I can trust in return that if I need help, I will find it. 

Maybe the SCA knows something about growing up that the rest of us have left behind in our rush to be modern and detached. Maybe there’s something to an interdependent society after all, only we’re fiercely independent, break-your-plate people. Well, not my family. Come to think of it, the families I’m seeing in the SCA tend to embrace multiple generations of adults coexisting closely, sometimes to the point of living in the same household.

I don’t think living with my parents is weird because none of my cousins bothered leaving home either — but that’s the German half. In America they do things differently, only I’m discovering a possible exception, and a survey worth undertaking at some point. Hm. 


something I literally can’t learn

and I speak freely when I write this
if a black emcee examined race there goes half their fan base, white kids
and this is so true. and we didn’t even have to fight the system
we just went and picked up the microphone too
and we got good at it so we should be rapping
but only supporting them is like burning Jimi and buying Clapton
now Clapton’s incredible. but no Jimi no foundation
so here comes history and the cultural appropriation

I reread Born Confused on the regular. That book blew the appropriation debate wide open for me, brought it down to a place I could understand from the ivory towers. The title described me so perfectly, too, in those fighting-fierce jingo-scarred years, 2001-2004.

What was I? White skin, blue eyes, dyed wild hair. Two mother tongues, a third that came too naturally: it wasn’t for the GPA or the college credit but the joy of fluency that I took French my junior year. I didn’t even take the AP exam at the end of the year. Even then I was skeptical of all this testing, I guess.

Lost when I looked around me in WASP America/rejected by it since I was seven. Lost in online social justice circles because I spent my babyhood around people of color and languages not English. The typical social justice warrior argues from a place of indoctrination, white Americans passing down white American attitudes. Mum might have been white but she was German and passing down something well different. I didn’t have relatives here until we uncovered the Petersons when I was ten or eleven so the doses of culture I got were hyphen-American because hyphen-American experiences were what I’d known, and I gravitated toward the familiar. I read everything, not just what was meant for my age and sex. I watched documentaries and BBC/ITV imports, not just sitcoms and seldom Disney (though I must say Nickelodeon was delightfully subversive in my youth).

My English is the bastard child of all the English-speaking places I have ever encountered, cultures and subcultures inclusive, because there is a piece of my brain that was activated when I was a baby and I can’t turn it off. I am the bastard child of everywhere I’ve been, everything I’ve done, everyone I’ve loved. God forgive you if you hate me because I have pieces of me that don’t match my appearance.

hip hop is gentrified and where will all the people live

The thing is that I do genuinely love and appreciate what I appropriate. I learn from it because to take the culture without the learning is pointless at best. At best. This song? This is not the only hip-hop I love. I love music that speaks to me and it was speaking to me before Macklemore. But I can’t not examine my place relative to the places I go and the people already in them. I found ways into places I shouldn’t belong; was I only running into those places because I got kicked out of the ones where I was meant to belong? Or did I click on that Bollywood film because I loved Shah Rukh Khan in My Name is Khan and wanted to see another aspect of his work? And would I even have wanted to check him out in a Bollywood film if not for Bend It Like Beckham? What drew me to that film in the first place? Paths winding through doorways we don’t expect.

When I shop at the Indian grocery because nobody else is selling lychee juice, on the one hand I’m supporting a local business; when I shop at the Indian grocery to get my fix of the smells and the sounds, what am I actually doing? Does it matter that my dreams have been filled with international grocery stores most of my life? Does it matter that if I won the lotto tomorrow, I’d invite all the ethnic grocers in Rochester to become partners in an effort to import even more from wherever home happens to be? Walking into a store like that, a Wegmans of the world, would be the literal fulfillment of my dreams. But intent isn’t magic, right?

But I look at my feet, these feet that have walked on the ground of four countries. I think of my mother’s toe and the donkey in Ibiza and my wails of disappointment not riding that donkey back on the trail with everyone else. I think intent at all is better than careless disregard. I think I should have researched Germany instead of Northern Ireland when I was sixteen and seventeen and writing papers for Global Studies. I should have taken my Friedlander and explored Aktion T4. I should have researched how Germans took the rise of Nazism instead of assuming they were all okay with it. I have only ever voted in a sharply divided America, where in 2000 an election came down to a Supreme Court decision, not the will of the people.

Intent. Will. What do we intend when we explore, and if that exploration hurts someone else, what do we do?

I said I’m gonna be me so please be who you are
but we still owe ‘em 40 acres now we’ve stolen their 16 bars

No love I bear to any culture erases the hurt my people caused. I can be caught between them, understanding the roles of oppressor and oppressed. So I would have been lucky to survive T4 (and I want a black triangle patch with those letters in white) — that doesn’t make me less a descendant of a people who sought to erase the Jews from the face of the earth. I will never not be sorry about that.

I can resent the shit out of everyone who ever thought eugenics was a brilliant idea. I can stop it happening again. I am a woman bearing the historical burden of genocide. I consider myself obligated to witness and to fight back against such injustices. We’re all people, no matter the words that describe us. We are one. I celebrate the words and love what those words mean while I acknowledge the similarity between us: that we are all people equally deserving of basic human rights, not just to survive but to thrive.

Every time I borrow, I have to learn. I balance the shiny with the gut-punch truth. “Because it’s cool” is not a good enough reason for me. That’s not to say you need more of a reason. It’s just that I do.

And now I’m only rambling; we have trod these paths before, you and you and you and I. Go forth and sing those sixteen bars. Go forth and look for little ways to give back the forty acres. Be willful, if you cannot be right. Don’t just stumble through your lives. Do what you do on purpose.

something like healing (womanifesto)

I was going to write about Zero again, and consent, but I went wandering down mind paths having nothing to do with him and found I wanted to talk about me.

I have a sexuality. It is not the same as yours. It is informed by my experiences, my neurodiversity, and my physical realities. I label it, and myself, as “queer” because it willfully resists anything more specific.

I am capable of saying yes to relationships without wanting the sexual component, either now or ever. I have a lot to learn about relationships without sex but with romance (hint: it’s not called “friendship”). I would like to learn about them.

I am capable of saying yes to sexuality without wanting the relationship, or I was at one point. Has that time passed? I don’t know. Do I want it with a stranger? If this were a different world, I might. It’s not. My informed consent takes social pressures into account as well as my safety and health.

I was more capable of enjoying physical exploration without strings ten years ago. Were things better ten years ago? Worse? Was I just younger? Before I ditched my virginity (like a broken-down car by the side of the freeway) (and I fear freeways now) I didn’t need the strings. I wanted strings with the right person. Failing that, I cannot say I regret the time I was late to Arabic because my boyfriend and I were having fun. I’d have skipped entirely had his roommate not walked in. I didn’t want strings with him; they tied me to him and I didn’t feel we were travelling in the same direction. I could kiss a girl in the middle of the night and go to sleep feeling fine, if a little miffed at my roommate’s grousing.

I might be kink-compatible, but when it comes to power dynamics, I don’t believe I am willing ever to submit to a man. I wouldn’t mind exploring submission to a woman, but there would be paperwork involved, and probably not sex. I have difficulty linking my sexual enjoyment with inequality.

I have gone along to get along in the past. It was wrong. So, however, is acting on my body without my consent. I don’t care if it’s kissing or intercourse. My consent must be free, not coerced (i.e. I must be doing it because I want to do it, not because I’m afraid to make waves) and never assumed. Eleven and I have been together for six years; we have negotiated this territory. Our negotiation is not transitive.

My inability to say no to a circumstance does not make what happened next okay.

Let me say that again, and louder: My inability to say no to a circumstance does not make what happened next okay.

And I am using the past tense for a reason. It might be past, but I’m still tense.

I need to follow my gut. If my gut is wambling, I need to take myself out of the situation. There is no such thing as good panic about relationships. As Cliff Pervocracy put it, “I like love that feels like warm fuzzies and emotional security a lot better than love that feels like gastroenteritis.”

I do not owe any particular expression of my sexuality to anyone. I can expose as much or as little of my skin as I please, as long as it doesn’t get me tossed in jail or off the premises. This means I can wrap my hair in scarves and cover it with snoods if I’m uncomfortable leaving it free. This means I can wear shapeless trousers and tunics or I can wear short skirts and tank tops. I can wear heels or flats, makeup or none, perfume or none. I dress for myself in colors and fabrics that please me. I dress for my health, not your aesthetic. I dress for my ability to function in a given situation, for whatever definition of function I feel the need to apply.

I do not own any particular adherence to any particular philosophy to anyone, which circles ’round again to the labelling in part. I am a feminist mainly because they’re the ones saying “Sure, let’s do equality for everyone.” I don’t presume to tell you what you should think or do until it interferes with my ability to think or do. I say what I think; I’ll tell you outright when I’m telling you where to stuff it, how, and why.

(But I do ask you to respect my stance on the Oxford comma.)

Maybe I should make this required reading for people who want to be deeper-than-friends with me. Maybe I should’ve made this required writing for me a long time ago. Lots of maybes. Only one for sure: I feel better now.

on compassion, in sickness and in death

It’s odd how we fuss about compassion when it looks like God-fearing Americans might die far from home in a horrible manner.

Yes, Kent Brantly and Nancy [ed:] Writebol put their lives on the line. If they didn’t know that they were there for the duration, or that leaving the hot zone would be a phenomenally irresponsible act, they should never have been let in. You don’t go in unless you’re willing to accept the hard truths about a pandemic.

(You damn well don’t bring your family with you.)

We call this act compassionate. To whom? To the inexperienced staff at Emory, who now have to learn how to cope with a disease unlike any they will have expected to see? Ever? To the people of Atlanta? To the sick themselves, whose families still will not be there to nurse them through?

Truly and honestly, I believe a hospital room on domestic soil is no better than a tent or a hut in Liberia. I think it’s worse for the other patients, to begin with, but I also think it tricks staff into complacency. No, none of you are any safer because this is the developed West. Since you are not operating in a Biosafety Level 4 environment, you must take the same precautions as you would in that tent or that hut.

By the way, this country does have places to put people who have been exposed to the worst of the worst. It has to. We have scientists working with the worst of the worst. Lab accidents mean quarantine, and there are facilities set up expressly for this purpose. Why are we risking a whole civilian hospital when all we need to do is take these patients to those facilities?

Compassion? Compassion is the doctor in Tennessee who thought he might have been exposed — and it sounds like he was sent home against his will — so he’s now holed up at home and will not permit another living soul to come tend him. Compassion is finding ways to provide better treatment in West Africa instead of assuming it’s a lost cause. (Because apparently none of the millions living there by no choice of their own deserve the same standard of care as two missionaries who went there on purpose?)

I think we apply compassion to the people who look like us. I think we apply it to the ones to whom we relate best. For shame, you who are just now bawling about compassion. Seven hundred of your fellow human beings are already dead. What are they to you? I apply my compassion equally across the board. If seven hundred dead in West Africa are just part of the pandemic, so are two dying in America and to hell with exceptionalism. Try directing your compassion at the people who live in the natural reservoirs where this thing breeds. They don’t have nearly the choices you or I do. I can all but guarantee it. Try directing your compassion at those millions who are coping with Ebola not in an isolation unit but right there in the neighborhood. What’s going on in Georgia right now scares me crapless; what would it be like if I lived in Conakry? Put yourself in Conakry or Monrovia.

Much as I fear an epidemic, I’m also willing to nut up, suit up, and help out if it happens. I’m willing to kiss my mum and dad goodbye, tell them to look after things here, and not come back until it’s over. I wouldn’t want them at my funeral. I wouldn’t want a funeral. I’d want a very deep burial, whether I was a sack of virus or a pile of ash. Essentially I’d want what was safest for my community; if it means someone delivers me my tent and my airbed while I turn to sludge, fine. Just pass the propofol so I don’t have to feel it and the convalescent serum so I can contribute something to science.

manic pixie nightmare girl

Briefly this past autumn-into-winter, I aspired to the role of the manic pixie dream girl (henceforth MPDG). It was even my job title on Google Plus for a bit. I could kick myself now, because that role bites women in the ass every time, and has bitten me before. I just never bothered to look for it in the deconstruction of my own narrative.

Turning off the fancy-pants vocab, I was the star of my own repertoire of bloody awful hipster films.

Oh, not in high school. God, I was too ugly in high school, and I don’t say that as a way of fishing for compliments. I was awkward. I had baby fat, but never any tits or arse. Those didn’t hit until what I think of as “second puberty”, like hobbitses have “second breakfast”. Dramatic weight loss when you’re developing leaves you stickish and sickly, because you’ve interrupted some vital processes. My body crept very slowly towards real hips and has never really been gung-ho about the bosom part. Even on Remeron, the best I could do was an entire A-cup. Mind you, that twenty-pound yo-yo was something like a tide coming in and going out, leaving fat in different places. So now I am telling myself “El, you are shapely enough; please quit hating yourself because there are some bitter kittens who don’t understand that every body is beautiful.”

There was only really one boy before I left for Alfred who thought me the epitome of the MPDG, and bless him, if not for some of the creepy on his part/mental illness on mine, it might have worked fine. I think I was more empowered then than in the first four years of my majority. When I think about it, I survived a lot. I worked hard and reaped the rewards. I had my quirks, but I hadn’t yet been presented with the notion of quirky-cute as a way to get on with men. I was more of an Ophelia with a lot of minders (if they were grown) and Hamlets (if they were my age).

The summer before university, I changed from big round Coke-bottle wire-frames to black plastic with narrower lenses. You know, the shape I’ve been wearing for the last decade. What can I say? It suits me. But I did something I didn’t expect: I got pretty. Ish. Er. Not mainstream pretty. Just a hell of a lot less painful to look at than before. I got stood on some pedestals while standing people on others. For whatever reason, that old latent borderline personality issue came to the fore.

D’you know what kind of power it is to realise you’re pretty enough to matter? That when you dance you’re elegant, you can learn style, and there are boys who think your traits are interesting? It went in waves: I’m quirky and cute and looking/Oh God, what have I done?/Some attention is better than no attention at all…

…and maybe that’s why I was prone to the negative as well as the positive.

I had two faces. I was solicitous and sweet, sweeter than I should’ve been, if he was the Right Guy. I put up with quite a lot just to be desirable. I justified it because I thought he would rescue me from my sorrow. He never did. Never. Once. And the other face, the one with the Cane of Doom, Silk Hiding Steel, the Motherfrocking Ojou, she despised the MPDG. The Ojou went to therapy and learned about boundaries. The MPDG threw that knowledge out the window whenever she found herself entranced.

I know when they battled to the death. Or to the outgrowth. I know when the MPDG grew into the Cool Big Sis, and they decided to call a truce and let me be me. That’s when Eleven fell in love with me. He loves that I care deeply about him and cannot see him hurting without trying to help. He also loves that I’ve enough spark in me to fight him on things that matter, when we don’t see eye to eye. He loves that I have a backbone. He loves my good sense and my moral compass. He loves the Melinda May in me as much as the Skye and the Simmons, all three of whom are gorgeously realised female characters and all three of whom I adore.

He’s seen me through awful things as well as fantastic. I have had long spells of “not so fantastic”. He has been my rock until I could be my own again. When I find my feet again, I remind him that he can lean on me, too, and he does. We try not to pull the rug out from under each other’s feet. I’d have to go against things I stand for in order to really surprise him, and I like it that way. Stability is wonderful. I never wanted Grant Ward, who was pretty but fucked-up. I had a moment of lust after Fitz, who is loyal but still so very young. If I’m sticking with the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. metaphor, here, I fell in love with Agent Coulson. That’s my type: strong, steady, perhaps a bit on the odd or geeky side but not to the point where it overshadows him. (I do not yet have a female type. I’ll let you know if I meet her.) Balanced. Mature. At least forty. Something happens around that age, and I don’t know what but it’s magic.

So why did I ever want to be the MPDG again, once I’d found Eleven?

I got restless. I got in a rut. I’d been treading water for so long — sick in 2011, rebuilding my family from mid-2012 forward — I needed to escape some of the things I’d built up around me. I bound myself too tightly to some of my morals and I had to rethink them. I did it in a way that wasn’t smart. Never have your roughly-quarter-life crisis in a way that’ll hurt someone else. I tried to be someone I wasn’t. I feel I need to write a long letter, by post, and apologise for being an idiot and to explain who I am now, after the Saturn Return, properly a woman now. I couldn’t call myself a girl or think of myself as one without laughing, now, because it’s a bloody joke. Too close to thirty, seen and been too much, closer to Mother than Maiden. Responsible. Mix between Rational and Social Good. Pursuing social work and you can’t still be a girl for very long in that field. You have to grow up because the people you will meet have some direly unmet needs and it’s going to be your job to help them meet those needs. The stars get knocked out of your eyes fast when you think about people not having enough to eat or a place to sleep. Or enough will to live.

I know I’ve got some conventionally unconventional looks going for me. I’m third-culture, fourth-culture if you count fandom. I make leaps of logic and connections between the oddest things. But I wear these glasses because contacts are a pain in my arse. I wish I had been a WASP sometimes because the WASPs around me came out of their childhoods in far better shape than I did. My leaps and connections have real-world purposes (because the girl who dreamed of being a doctor is now the woman who wants an MPH after her MSW/NCSW).

Never take me for what I’m not. Never doubt that I know what I’m doing, or that I know who to ask when I’m a little lost. Never ask me to toss my rational side out the window. Leaving the MPDG behind helped me become a person — a person worth knowing — a person I didn’t hate. Meeting her again only taught me how little I missed her.