Prejudice and promiscuity, and my own fictional archetypes

I’ve been thinking with some concern about two issues relating to my webcomic “Abby and Norma.”

One is the simplicity and one-dimensionality of some of the minor characters; their tendency to serve as cardboard cutout counterpoints to Abby’s arguments, and whether I should just let them be what they are, or try to build them into something more complex and interesting, if not realistic.

The second is one particular facet of that simplicity: the sexually promiscuous nature of Abby’s enemy Cathy.

The term “slut-shaming” has gained a lot of ground in recent years. People are becoming more and more aware that the world is cruel to those who have many sexual partners. Promiscuous women are labeled as “sluts” who have no self-respect. Promiscuous men are generally treated better, but still not great: they’re often seen as sexist “womanizers” who have no respect for their partners.

These characterizations are, of course, unfair, though they’re based on grains of truth. It’s totally possible to have lots of casual sex and still be careful, responsible, and respectful of everyone involved. Sex is perfectly fine as long as you’re honest about what you’re getting into, and considerate of other people’s happiness and well-being. It’s true that many promiscuous people break these rules, but that doesn’t mean promiscuity in itself is bad.

Certainly I didn’t intend for Cathy to be a slut-shaming stereotype. As I’ve said before, the character of Cathy is a mixture of all the things my school-age self found distasteful in other students. And back when this mixture was being formed, I had little or no knowledge of slut-shaming. In fact, in my own personal high-school and college experience, the very opposite seemed to be happening.

Maybe my view was warped by my social difficulties, but to me, in school, it always seemed that having a wildly active sex life was considered normal, and that I was considered a loser because I didn’t; because I focused my attention on nerdy, uncool things like art, writing and schoolwork, instead of sex. Everything I observed in high school and college indicated to me that being a slut was cool, popular– all the things I wasn’t.

I don’t remember ever seeing any slut-shaming. Maybe I just couldn’t recognize it, or maybe it wasn’t common in the state I grew up in or the schools I went to, or maybe the popular kids never did it around me. But I do remember a lot of virgin-shaming, aimed at me and other geeks.

Back then, the only social distinction I really saw was the distinction between nerds and non-nerds. From my perspective, the girls who had one long-term boyfriend, the girls who had a different boyfriend every month, and the girls who had one-night stands every week were all blurred together. To me, they were all just “the girls who looked down on me for having nothing.”

I realize that they probably didn’t look down on me as much as I thought, at least not for that reason. But at the time, I had a very long memory for all the moments when it seemed as if they did. I felt as if sluttiness was the prevailing world order, and I was the downtrodden underdog who dared to consider my grades more important than my sex life.

When I learned the word “slut,” it felt like a weapon of the resistance, a way for oppressed geeks like me to fight back against the insanity that was considered normal. It felt like learning that I could use the words “sheep” and “conformists” to insult those who followed social rules. I didn’t feel that I was oppressing sluts, I felt I was rebelling against their oppression of me.

Of course, being who I was, I didn’t actually go around calling anyone a slut. For the most part I stayed buried in my books and drawings, ignoring and ignored by my so-called peers. But sometimes I thought dark thoughts to myself about the popular and promiscuous. The word “slut” may have made its way into some of my internal rants.

I did eventually outgrow this simplistic hatefulness. As I grew up and built a more diverse and sophisticated circle of friends, I began to distinguish between promiscuity and virgin-shaming. I learned that people are complex, and not everyone who sleeps around is a nerd-abusing cheerleader or jock. But somewhere inside me remained the old, simplified view, the traces of how my schoolgirl mind had divided the whole world into geeks and antigeeks.

And even once I knew better, Cathy rose up out of those ancient feelings and took her place in the comic, because the feelings were too old and ingrained to stay out of all the things I created. The more I write Abby and Norma, the more I realize that Cathy is not like any real person I know, and that some people might even be hurt by her portrayal of promiscuity.

Cathy is evil not because of her slutty ways, but because she tries to force them on others, insulting and belittling Abby for not being slutty like her. She is what I used to think all normal students were like, back when I was in school and trying to figure out the world.

Abby is often a caricature of me, expressing opinions that are exaggerated versions of opinions I have or used to have. Abby’s mom is a caricature not of my own mother, but of the annoying traits of some other mothers I’ve known. Likewise, Cathy seems to be a caricature of non-autistic students, taking some of the things they occasionally do and exaggerating them to ridiculous extremes.

I don’t know how, or if, I could ever develop her into a more realistic character. I don’t know if “Abby and Norma” is even supposed to be the kind of comic that has realistic characters. But I felt I should write something to shed light on the origins of Cathy, and how the way the world looked to me as a teen and young adult is quite far from the way it looks to people today.

SpringCon again!

This year, for the second time, I am participating in Springcon: a local comic book festival at the State Fairgrounds in Saint Paul, on the weekend of Saturday May 17th and Sunday May 18th.

I’ll have several of my self-published books available for sale, including the big Abby and Norma collection:

and all the cheap little Abby and Norma Minibooks:

I’ll also have some Abby and Norma merchandise and some jewelry for sale!

I will be sharing a table with Aaron Poliwoda, a local comic artist with whom I’ve collaborated on a few projects.

Getting there isn’t too hard. From most places in the Twin Cities, you can get to downtown Minneapolis by bus. Once you are there, this is the route you take.

The rest of the route, from downtown to the fairgrounds, is only one bus: the 3B.

This is where you catch it:

It goes like this:

and you get off when you see this:

and then you just walk through the State Fairgrounds until you see this building:

Have $10 with you for the fee to get in, plus enough more to shop for cool comic-related stuff! There are lots of awesome vendors at this thing.

Enjoy, and I hope to see you there!

More freaky coincidences, and the meaning of art

Either I’m the master of dumb luck, or my subconscious is a much more thoughtful artist than I am.

Maybe someday my subconscious will be revered as a great painter. Perhaps, years from now, the seemingly nonsensical system that decides which paintings are “great” will somehow latch onto my acrylic-on-canvas dabblings and the meanings that my subconscious inserted so insidiously into them.

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.

Cybermoths and phallic Daleks: My complex love of puns

What I mean is that I’m not an indiscriminate pun-lover. I am a pun connoisseur, a pun gourmet. I love puns passionately, but I have standards.

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.

I am not the archetypal author: Why “in character” has no meaning

I realized that, if I had written about this experience and included it as a scene in one of my works of fiction, many readers would accuse me of “inconsistency” and “not staying in character.”

As a real, non-fictional person, of course, I don’t have the concept of “in character.” I’m not any of the fictional archetypes– not even the more complex archetypes, since none of them are as complex as a human being. Whatever rules I come up with to describe my behavior, there are always exceptions, and even I can’t always define where and what those exceptions are going to be.

The rest of this essay has been taken down for inclusion in my next memoir. Stay tuned for updates.

Another Christmas tradition

It started when I began to notice that every time I gave my mother-in-law a gift, she neatly folded the wrapping paper and gave it back to me “to use again some other time.”

At first, I confess, I was annoyed. Her intentions were good, a truly laudable desire to reduce waste and promote sustainability. But I didn’t really need extra wrapping paper, and I knew it would get more worn-out and ugly with each use, and it really bugged me to re-use things that were meant to be disposable.

But then I realized– why use something disposable in the first place?

When something’s designed for re-use, I delight in re-using it. And there are lovely fabrics out there, beautiful cloth ribbon, even pretty brooches to hold the seams and decorate the package. All can be found at thrift stores for next to nothing. It was a whole world of creative wrapping-crafts, waiting to be explored!

I went to my local Savers and picked up some brocaded red and green satin napkins and tablecloths, and a grab bag of assorted fabric ribbon in a variety of colors. And the fun began.

It was easier than I’d imagined! Two napkins could combine to wrap a medium-sized gift, one napkin sufficed for the smallest, and a tablecloth (folded a few times if necessary) could handle pretty much all of the larger sizes. If a length of ribbon was too long for a particular package, I didn’t have to cut it and reduce its potential for reuse; I could just make loops of the excess and tie them together again and again, creating a handmade bow.

So if I give you a wrapped present this year, feel free to give me back the wrapping to use on future gifts. And if you don’t want to, feel free to keep it and use it on your table– or give it to your local thrift store, or pass it forward as the wrapping on the next present you give!

Breathing in a Balloon: The economy when you’re thinking in pictures

When I visualize the economy, I think of a big air-filled balloon we all live in. We float around, breathing in, breathing out, the air flowing from place to place. It’s possible to imagine a world where we could get by without air, but here in the world of this balloon, we all need air to live.

We’re all part plant and part animal in this balloon, because after we breathe air out, anyone else can breathe it in and get the same benefits we got from it. The air passes from person to person, circulating. The whole thing should be a self-sustaining system.

Lately, though… there have been lots of people building additions onto the outside of this balloon, little extra bubbles. Air savings accounts. Now this is fine in moderation, if you have a nice small bubble, just big enough for you. It sets aside a bit of extra air in case you need it later. But some people are taking it to an extreme, making big bloaty bubbles sprout on the outside of our balloon, which begins to look like an inflated rubber glove with hundreds of big fat fingers.

These air-hoarders don’t actually use most of the air they set aside in their bubbles. From time to time, one of them might start a business that pumps a little bit of air back into the main balloon, but for every little bit it pumps in, it pumps more back into that air-hoarder’s bubble. And the bubble gets bigger and bigger, just sitting there not being breathed.

As time went on, the hundreds of people who had huge bubbles on the outside of the balloon gathered so much air into them that there wasn’t enough air left in the main balloon. It got small and soft, like a balloon that’s been leaking air for days, while the air-hoarders’ bubbles stayed fat and shiny. Things got tough for the millions of people who lived and breathed inside the main balloon. Some people went around feeling faint all the time. Some actually suffocated to death.

When they complained, sometimes the only answer they got was, “You’re just not trying hard enough to get air. Anyone can have enough air if they try hard enough.” But the less air there was in the balloon, the harder it was to round up enough for yourself, especially when there were hundreds of millions trying just as hard as you, and only enough air for maybe two-thirds of them to breathe comfortably.

It got to a point where people were panicking about the lack of air. Finally most people agreed that there was a crisis.

The government did some things that didn’t help at all, like pumping a bunch of their air in to fill up some of the air-hoarders’ bubbles that had started to leak air back out into the balloon.

The government also did some things that kind of helped a little, like using a magic machine that could create air out of thin nothingness. They made this air and let it loose into the sagging main balloon. Some people said, “That’s crazy. If you make air out of nothing and add it to what’s already in the balloon, there will be too much inflation, and it’ll ruin our whole system.”

And logically that should have been true, but this wasn’t a logical situation. In this crazy illogical situation, it didn’t hurt to add air to what was already there, because a lot of the air that was already there didn’t count, because it was locked away in the air-hoarders’ bubbles, and couldn’t be affected by anything out in the main balloon.

This doesn’t mean that the choice to make air out of nothing was a great choice. It wasn’t the best thing they could have done, but the fact that it didn’t ruin things just goes to show how crazy the whole scenario was.

And so the crisis got a little less terrible. People weren’t panicking as much anymore. The air-hoarders didn’t learn the lesson that their hoarding was ruining the balloon. After the worst of the crisis passed, they just kept sucking more air out into their bubbles as if nothing had happened, as if they couldn’t even see how the air in the main balloon was getting thin again as they continued.

People went on feeling faint, and people went on suffocating. When they complained, sometimes the only answer they got was, “If you don’t have enough air to breathe, then don’t breathe so much! You can survive on less than you’re breathing.” But those same people didn’t say the same thing to the air-hoarders, who were the ones who were really taking a lot more air than they needed.

This really is the imagery I get when I think about the economy. I think in pictures, especially when I’m trying to understand a complex system. And to visualize this system, the soft sagging balloon with growing, swelling bubbles on the outside is the picture my mind makes.

Seeing this picture in my head, it’s incredibly hard not to conclude that the logical solution is for the bubbles on the outside to release their air back in. It’s simple physics. I can’t imagine anything that would work better.

When somebody says, “But the big businesses are creating jobs and putting money into the economy!” I don’t know how I can make others see what I see. As the businesses get more profitable, my mind’s eye can see the bubbles swelling, and I can see the relative amount they’re pumping back in, and it is not enough to help.

When someone says, “Poor people are a drain on the economy because they’re accepting welfare when they don’t need it!” I am baffled, because I can see the tiny, tiny puffs of air that welfare is directing at the poor people in the balloon, and it is practically nothing compared to the big fat rubber-glove-fingers that belong to the air-hoarders.

When someone says “Anyone can become rich if they try hard enough,” I try to picture every person in the main balloon getting really industrious and working hard to build a big fat bubble-account. I try to picture it, but the math doesn’t work– there are too many of them, and not enough air left in the main balloon, and they each end up with just a teeny tiny soda-pop bubble that would barely last them a day.

Am I seeing it wrong? Is everyone else visualizing a different picture? Or are most people not thinking in pictures at all?

My Christmas tradition

When I was a kid, I had a little fake tree for Christmas, and a whole box of cheap wooden earrings shaped like parrots. I’d gotten them on sale at the shop of a bird-breeder friend of the family, and I used them as ornaments.

Gradually the tree and the earrings fell apart, to the point they weren’t worth keeping anymore. But the tradition lives on.

My tree now is made of copper wire, which I twisted into branches and planted in a round ceramic pot.

Each year, I buy a pair of earrings from some independent artist on Etsy: earrings with gemstones and birds. All sorts of gemstones, all sorts of birds, many different artists, supporting a new small-time jeweler every year. Once I bought a big round ring for a tree topper.

I fill the extra space with ball ornaments, but as time goes on, I’ll need fewer of those. I bought and cut the copper wire with serious consideration for the number of end twigs it would give me, and there are hundreds. Copper lasts forever. In another eighty years, the tree may be totally covered with shiny birds.

What you’re in for, if you party with me

Dirty Halloween costumes? Nerdy Halloween costumes? I’m beyond that. I’ll fake you out with a costume that looks as if it’s going to be dirty, then hits you in the face with nerdy.

And then halfway through the party I’ll turn into a leather-clad Romulan, just because.

Also, I’ll eat ALL your caramel apples.

Jewelry site revamped!

In case anyone cares about my weird obsessions: I’ve totally recreated my jewelry website!

I feel that the appearance now fits my medieval sense of aesthetics– my jewelry would sell better at a Renaissance fair than any of the places I’ve tried to sell it, and up until now, the website design didn’t quite reflect that.

Also, I have to say is a *wonderful* shopping cart generator to work with. I had no trouble at all getting it set up and integrated with Amazon Payments, and it’s so very user friendly– little things like saving details I’ve entered on one item so that I don’t have to re-enter them for every item, you’d be amazed at how helpful that is.