How I gained some understanding of feminist views on rape (Trigger warning!)

For a long time, I got depressed every time I read the comments on articles about rape culture and how to stop sexual violence.

Of course it’s normal to get depressed reading the comments on any article. (I am eternally thankful to my pet starling Sirius, for perching on my mouse hand and pecking at my scrolling finger whenever I’ve been sitting at the computer too long!)

Rape is certainly not one of the more pleasant things I could be reading articles about, and articles on gender politics of any kind are bound to get inflammatory discussion in the comments. Read them, and you’re going to end up seeing some viewpoints that are so opposite to your own that they drive you crazy. It’s a world of roiling conflict in there.

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Creepy midnight memory

This is another repeat post from my old blog, this time from July 2012. It was weird enough that I thought it was worth sharing. (To me, weird = valuable. Your mileage may vary.)

*****

I’ve been having strange experiences with dreaming lately.

In the spring, when I was a few seasons into watching the Tenth-Doctor episodes of Doctor Who, I had a dream about being his companion. Up until then, I had had a totally asexual appreciation of the show. But somehow that dream triggered something akin to my teenage obsession with Mr Spock– I realized with a sort of blinding flash that David Tennant was sexy (something every other geek girl had noticed long ago) and spent the next few months with a very intense crush on him, much to my husband’s irritation.

Then, recently and perhaps unrelatedly, I had a much stranger and more morbid midnight epiphany.

I woke up to the sound of a thunderstorm, with something in my mind that felt like a memory. As far as I could tell, it had nothing to do with the dream I’d been having, which was sexy and Doctor-Who-related. It was vague, but it felt like a memory from real life, not a piece of a dream.

It seemed to be a memory of a time in my childhood or teens, when I was living at my parents’ house. It was composed of images of me going through boxes that belonged to my parents, and finding a box that had been sent to them or given to them by some acquaintance. I don’t specifically remember a name on the box, or any papers inside it– there’s just a feeling associated with it, a feeling that it came from someone who lived somewhere else, maybe one of our European relatives.

And inside the box were some bones and dried tissues that appeared to be human remains.

I don’t remember what part of the body they appeared to be, or how many pieces there were. I don’t remember what I did with them. But there was another strong feeling associated with the memory– a feeling that I did the wrong thing, that I hid them or buried them or threw them away, without talking to my parents about it. I don’t clearly remember why, but there was a feeling of fear, maybe fear that my parents would get in trouble for having them around. I vaguely remember wrapping them up in several layers of paper and tape, or some other sort of covering, before putting them wherever I put them.

Despite how vague this whole thing was, it stuck with me very strongly for at least a few days after it happened. I was thinking about it at work, for most of the next day.

I still don’t know what it was. It could very easily have been a memory of a dream after all– maybe a scary dream I had as a child, so long ago that the memory of it is no more vague than my memories of reality at that time. It felt real, but I know that under certain circumstances the brain can sometimes get confused between dreams and reality.

If it was real, I suppose there are quite a few possible explanations. It wouldn’t be the only time there were human remains in my parents’ house. They’re doctors; they had a real human skull on a shelf in the living room for much of my childhood. I’m not sure why someone else would send them parts of a dead person, but given their professions and widely varied interests, it could have been anything from a medical sample to an archaeological specimen.

Anyway, I find it a very interesting example of how the brain can work so very differently in the middle of the night. When waking up from a dream, people can get so many inspirations, realizations, and new perspectives on the world, even ones unrelated to the dream itself. It must be something about the state of the brain as it shifts from dreaming to waking– maybe it’s overactive at that moment, in prime condition for dredging things up from the subconscious.

I don’t know if my what I dredged up was a false memory, or a repressed memory of a long-ago dream or reality. But another interesting thing: putting together this blog post has changed the quality of what I remember. As I put it into words, it began to feel less vivid as a real memory, and more as if it could have been a dream.

This is actually something I’ve noticed before: putting my memories into words reduces their clarity as memories. It’s as if my brain realizes that describing a memory in words is a way of compressing it to save space in my brain– not lossless compression, but like resizing a family photo to a lower resolution. Actually, more like replacing the family photo with a text file saying “Christmas party, 2009. Left to right: Grandma Ruth, Aunt Carol, Mom, me.”

My brain realizes that once I’ve summarized a memory in words, I don’t need the visual, sensory and emotional detail of the memory anymore, and so it fades. I’ve hears that the people most likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder are the people who think about their traumatic experiences in pictures instead of words. I’m a strange type of person– someone who does much of her thinking in pictures and abstract concepts, but frequently puts them into words later.

My one regret: I didn’t spend enough time working

They say that people never die wishing they had worked more.

But I’m pretty sure that if I died now, that would be my one big regret. I fully expect to die someday wishing I’d worked more.

Not at my job, necessarily, but at writing, participating in events, talking to people, making connections. Perhaps even if I worked harder at my paying job, earned more money, earned promotions, that would have contributed something to my life’s goal.

My life’s goal is to make my way into a position where I have the influence to help fix the greatest problems in the world.

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

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.

The animal-hoarder of 1930’s Vienna: A review of “King Solomon’s Ring”

I’ve just finished reading Konrad Lorenz’s “King Solomon’s Ring,” a naturalist’s account of his life with a ridiculous number of not-so-domestic animals. It was recommended to me by a guest at a speech, because I had mentioned during the speech that we had just adopted a pet starling. So, of course, I went into this reading experience with the expectation that starlings would be a main feature of the book.

In that respect, I was disappointed, but overall the book has been more fun than I could have imagined.

It was published in 1952, and describes events from much earlier, most of which took place in Europe before World War II. Lorenz was an Englishman living in Austria (having lived in Austria for a semester myself, the setting as well as the subject matter was of interest to me). He, and his wife and children, lived in a house that also contained dogs, mongooses, monkeys, apes, parrots, jackdaws, geese, lemurs, hamsters, water-shrews, crows, an eagle, and any number of other bizarre animals– mostly not even kept in cages, or if they had cages, they were allowed outside of them most of the time. Lorenz saw his pets as both companions and research subjects; he let them run free partly because he valued their happiness, and partly because he felt he could observe their behavior more naturally that way.

In both the body of the book and the foreword by another author, Konrad’s wife is described as saintly for putting up with all this. She’s quoted as saying that she managed to tolerate it because she spent more time at her job than at home. But, as another married woman with a fascination for nature and the bizarre, I find myself wondering. Did she put up with it because of a sense of wifely duty? Or did she actually, deep down, enjoy living in a zoo– as I might– but feel hesitant to say so in a day and age when no “proper” woman would feel anything but disgust for such a situation?

In the present day and age– and in the USA– such a situation, of course, wouldn’t even be tolerated by law enforcement. Native birds can’t legally be taken from their nests as Lorenz described (though non-native birds like starlings are fair game) and there are very few places to live where you could keep a pet ape or mongoose without some sort of special permit. From his account it seems that his animals were happy, but I can still imagine modern neighbors rushing to call animal control (not to mention child protection services– according to his narrative, sometimes the only safe place for a child in his house was inside a large cage.)

But his stories of animal behavior are still delightful to read, if one makes allowances for the time he lived in, and the different values of that time.

He gives a fascinating account of the territorial behavior of sticklebacks and cichlids in his aquariums, making the reader see more depth and complexity in these little fish than previously imagined. His story of keeping water-shrews is hilarious, this time not because of the animals’ complexity, but because of how simple their minds are, and how absolutely baffled they find themselves when an obstacle in their cage is moved.

For a scientist of his time period, I find his view of animals surprisingly balanced between the extremes of anthropomorphizing them and reducing them to thoughtless and unfeeling automatons. He recognizes that, being distantly related to us, they have many of the same basic drives and instincts as humans, and probably feel similar emotions, but he also frequently reminds the reader that the animals come at things from their own perspective, which is often totally unlike the human perspective.

There certainly are times when I suspect he’s jumping to conclusions in his interpretation of his pets’ behavior. It’s easy to be wrong about the motives for an action, even the action of a close human friend or relative, let alone the action of a creature physically and mentally very unlike us and living a completely different sort of life. He makes the best guesses he can about why his animals do what they do, but his observations are inevitably somewhat hampered by his own attachment to them and the not-quite-natural environment in which he’s observing them.

He’s also, of course, a product of his time when it comes to errors in the biological sciences. He devotes an entire chapter to the differences in personality and temperament between the breeds of dogs descended from wolves and the breeds descended from jackals– which looks pretty ridiculous to someone reading in an era when all the genetic evidence indicates that dogs are 100% descended from wolves and none of them have any jackal blood.

Still, for his era, he’s very advanced in his understanding of animal behavior, and even when he might be wrong, his accounts are still a lot of fun to read. I only wish he had written more about starlings.

His mentions of starlings are confined to a few paragraphs, in which he recommends them as an easy-to-raise pet for the inexperienced keeper of animals, and describes their infancy, rate of growth, and the diet they should be fed in captivity. He only briefly mentions that they can be affectionate and learn to mimic words.

In the little he says about them, I can see tons of things that would outrage my friends on the Starlingtalk.com forum. The foods he advocates have virtually no overlap with what present-day starling-keepers consider a healthy diet, and he actually recommends taking infant birds from their nests to raise them, which is heavily frowned-on among the starling-lovers I’ve met online.

But for me personally, the biggest disappointment was that he didn’t include any actual stories of life with a starling. He makes it known that he raised them, but sadly, he gives no specific examples. His accounts of the antics of his other pets are so delightful that I think I would have loved some funny tales of the things his starlings learned to say, the mischief they made playing with jewelry and the like, or any of the other silly things that they must have done, if my own pet starling is at all typical of the species.

He does make up for it, though, by giving many pages to the lives of his colony of jackdaws. They’re not starlings, but they are similar birds, being very social, very affectionate and able to mimic speech. The hierarchy, social rules and interactions within his jackdaw society are utterly fascinating and lovingly described, reminding me a lot of the descriptions of raven society in the more recent book “Ravens in Winter.”

Even though starlings were somewhat neglected in his narrative, I’ve found that a side effect of reading Lorenz’s prose is a tendency to observe my own pet as he would. Whole paragraphs of Lorenzian naturalist description pop into my head from time to time as I watch Sirius the starling, and I find myself wording my own my observations in a 1950’s English scientist’s writing style:

“On the whole, Sirius prefers for his sustenance such foods that are white or very light-coloured, or black or very dark-coloured, and regards with suspicion any proffered fruit of a brighter orange or red hue; this, I believe, owing to the proclivity of the starling for feeding primarily upon insects in the wild, and his instinctive knowledge that the insects upon which a wild starling may most safely feast are those of dark colouration, such as the ants and house-flies, and the black beetles which are ever present in a garden, as well as those of light colouration, as the larvae of such beetles, and fly-maggots– the species that bear patches of bright colour most often doing so to signal to their enemies that they are venomous, or at the very least, foul-tasting.”

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!

Neurosis, math, grammar, empathy, and the transformative power of love

Falling in love can change a person in so many ways.

I’m not just talking about how you become a different person when you’re falling in love and your levels of bonding hormones are all over the charts. That’s a whole issue of its own, with its own set of relationship problems. (Ever think, “He’s not the man I fell in love with anymore,” or “We got married and then he changed everything about himself”? Maybe he just changed back into the person he was before he fell in love… and for that matter, so did you. Oxytocin and the other mating hormones that run rampant at the beginning of a romance are powerful mind-altering chemicals; the mind you fell in love with was probably under the influence.)

No, what I’m talking about is the change that happens over the course of a long, happy relationship. It can be slow, or fast, changing speed and intensity over time, but it’s always there, the way two trees growing close together change their shapes to adapt to one another’s presence.

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

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.

Jeopardy and mountain bears: Coincidences are everywhere!


In all the years since that happened, we’ve never figured out a connection that could explain why David and I thought of Alex Trebek at the same moment. Most likely, it’s because the whole thing was a freaky, weird, one-in-a-million coincidence.

And freaky, weird, one-in-a-million coincidences happen all the time. You have millions and millions of experiences every day, tiny ones, big ones, overlapping with each other, noticed and unnoticed. Statistically, one-in-a-million events should be occurring multiple times daily. In fact, if you think about it, everything that ever happens to you has a vanishingly tiny chance of happening exactly the way it happens. And yet it does.

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.