Thursday, 19 October 2017

Feeling Safe at Work And the Me Too Campaign

For me, it started with a David Bowie quote: "If you feel safe in the area you're working in, you're not working in the right area."

I saw it on Twitter and while I approve of the idea of artists pushing their limits in creating their art, the phrasing really bothered me.  Because people should feel safe in the place where they work.  The full quote is "If you feel safe in the area you're working in, you're not working in the right area.  Always go a little further into the water than you feel you're capable of being in.  Go a little bit out of your depth.  And when you don't feel your feet are quite touching the bottom, you're just about in the right place to do something exciting."  So, from the context, it's clear that he's talking about taking risks creatively and I can support that idea.

But at the same time, I doubt that anyone who has faced threats against their physical safety would phrase their advice in quite that way.  Because feeling safe is definitely a requirement for being able to push your limits.  If a person doesn't feel safe, they cannot extend themselves.  Their creativity will shut down as their mind focuses on survival.  

Soon after I saw the Bowie quote, the Harvey Weinstein stories began to break in the media.  Those stories cast a bright light on the open secret of the casting couch in Hollywood.  Weinstein used his position to coerce young women into giving him sex or performing sexual acts, in exchange for promises to promote their careers.  Unspoken was the threat that if they did not agree, then he would use his power to destroy their careers.

In response, Alyssa Milano launched a "Me Too" campaign, encouraging women who have been harassed or assaulted to tweet #MeToo as a way to demonstrate how endemic the issue is.  And it is.  (And, by the way, it isn't just women who have to face this.)  It is incredibly rare to find a woman who has not experienced it.  On the lighter side are catcalls and unwelcome comments on our bodies and sexuality but it's all part of a spectrum that goes right up to the most horrific rapes, attacks and murder.

When the people speak up, their experiences are often dismissed.  "It was just a joke."  "It's not like anything really happened."  "Oh, that kind of thing happens all the time, don't be so sensitive."  If they report assault, they often face scrutiny on their choices.  "What did you expect, wearing that?"  "How much did you have to drink?"  "Why did you go to <insert location>?"  Their motives are questioned.  "Oh, they're only saying they were raped so they can get money."  "They're just jumping on a bandwagon to get publicity."

It's overwhelming and so women decide to keep silent.  But, to be honest, it's not just the outside attacks.  I've felt it myself as well as watched any number of colleagues and friends struggle through it.  At that split second when the first inappropriate act happens (usually verbal, but not always), everything changes.  Suddenly there are too many choices which need to be made (should I say something back? brush it off as a joke? ignore it?) and a huge awareness that if we make the wrong choice, it can backlash against us in significant ways (if I say something, will I risk my place at the office/group? if I don't say anything and something else happens, will my silence now be held against me?).

I actually saw this happen recently.  A man with a reputation for inappropriate comments told a woman to "just sit in his lap" when she asked if there was assigned seating.  The woman, who is a lovely and competent person, ignored the comment but felt flustered and insecure throughout the event.  When she left it, she was visibly shaken but also clearly trying to put it behind her.  But when she shared what had happened, it was also clear that it had a big impact on her.

I've used the metaphor of a burn before to explain it to people who don't understand how a single comment can cause this level of reaction.  It only takes a fraction of a second for skin to burn, but that burn takes a long time and special care to heal.  And even in the best circumstances, it often forms a scar.

Now, the good news is that the woman decided to share the incident and rather than being dismissed and questioned, she was supported and believed.  It was treated seriously and while I don't know yet how it all will turn out, I have faith that appropriate action will be taken.

This is the sort of thing that is all too common.  I doubt that the man thought about it beyond the moment.  I'd even be willing to guess that while I suspect he uses such comments to discomfort other people, and also to elevate his own status, it's probably mostly unconscious.  It's a strategy that he has found to work and he doesn't think much about the impact it can have.  

The guy who hollers "Nice ass" at a woman isn't expecting her to turn around and proclaim her willingness to have sex with him.  He's showing off for his friends and doesn't think about her as more than an object for his banter.  Ditto for Internet comments and jokes at bars or while watching TV.  

But it's not just a men problem.  Women are also quick to dismiss and blame.  When Mayim Bialik wrote an article for the New York Times about her experiences as a woman in Hollywood, it ignited a backlash.  She talked about how she dressed modestly and didn't behave in a flirtatious manner and hadn't experienced the same kind of harassment as her prettier coworkers.  And it's true, women who aren't conventionally attractive don't get the invitations to sexual activity or unwanted touching, or at least, not to the same degree.  But we get our own brand of harassment.  Getting to overhear someone say that they'd rather masturbate than touch us, or how fat, disgusting and ugly we are is just as painful and demoralizing.  And, yes, sometimes there is a piece of us that wishes we were pretty enough to have to worry about it.  But not really, because no one enjoys being afraid and we're aware that we are still at risk.

But I think women tend to dismiss harassment for different reasons than men.  Often, I think women are trying to reassure themselves that the "rules" they rely on to protect themselves are still intact.  Don't be alone, don't get in the car, don't wear clothes that emphasize your body and attractiveness.  But in that reassurance, they isolate the victims/survivors and force them to share the blame for an attack which is already devastating.

I'm glad to see the #MeToo posts going viral.  I'm glad to see #IBelieveYou starting to trend as a response.  I hope that this will cause some real changes before it subsides into the next viral trend.

But as it continues, I keep circling back to that Bowie quote.  Because we all deserve to feel safe.  We all deserve to feel confident.  We all deserve to make our choices without fear of those choices causing us to be physically or verbally attacked.  So while I have great respect for both David Bowie and the concept he was expressing, I won't be using that quote as inspiration.  Because "safe" was the wrong word to use in that context and words matter.

Me too.  And I believe you.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Weekly Update: October 8 to 14 (Can-Con)

Okay, let's get this out of the way first: weekly word count was zero.

<hanging my head in shame... and now I'm done>

It was not a productive week for writing but it was an amazing weekend at the Canadian Conference for Speculative Fiction.  I had a great time, caught up with some friends, got stood up for coffee (but was secretly kind of glad because then I could go home early and I know I'll get to see that person another time), I chatted with Tanya Huff and Charles de Lint, was avoided by Robert J Sawyer (I'm assuming, since he slowed down in front of my table about a half dozen times and then hurried on to something else... because the universe revolves around me, duh!), saw my Browncoat buddies, my original fan, gave some panels, did a reading (to people who didn't know me personally), stayed up way too late, got up way too early, explained the RPG, sent people on secret missions for hot chocolate, wore the same shirt as the Con-director, chatted with the Heart Tea Heart tea guy (Robert, see, I remembered his name), gave away a ton of kisses and buttons, oh yeah, and sold some books.

Can-Con is, without doubt, the best-organized con I've ever attended and one of the ones which is actively inclusive and always looking for ways to improve.  The people who set it up each year do an amazing amount of work and genuinely care about making sure that everyone feels safe and included, and has a chance to enjoy themselves.  Can-Con was my first con and as I've done more and more, I've come to learn how much of a rarity those two things are.  And how valuable.

It was a great antidote to the anger and vulnerability that's been filling my news feed lately.  And a reminder that for every jerk who is abusive, there are at least dozen other people who care, are supportive, and willing to make changes.  It reminded me about all the awesome folk who bond over Star Trek, Star Wars, card games, Firefly, Buffy, X-files, Marvel, DC, and all of the other worlds created out of imagination.  

One of the panels which got me doing some thinking asked about our favourite 'ships.  (For those not familiar with the shorthand, that's a relationship which is implied by the text or show, but never officially developed.  So for example, Ron and Hermione wouldn't count, but Hermione and Harry would.)  My favourite implied 'ship is River and Jayne from Firefly and Serenity.  First of all, she's a telepath, so would probably appreciate Jayne's "never hold anything back" approach to conversation. Secondly, Jayne is a big enjoyer of all things violent and River is superlatively and gorgeously deadly.  Third, and this is the important part, Jayne is the first person at River's side during most of the scenes when she's in danger, far more often than her brother or Captain Mal.  He does it even though she beats him up and humiliates him and he hates humiliation.  But he keeps coming back to her side.  And there's this little moment when he thinks she's dead, and there's a little pained, determined set to his mouth as he watches Kaylee and Simon.  In that moment, he's thinking he's missed his chance (that's my interpretation and I'm sticking to it).  So I have my happy little fan-fic world in which Jayne and River get together and create gorgeous, smart (from her), deadly babies who take over the verse.

But then, on the way home, I was thinking about Loki (whom I adore and feel is terribly misunderstood.  Just because he has no value for human life doesn't mean he's not worthy of love... yes, I have issues.  I accept that).  He's a force of chaos and change, necessary as a counterpoint to the law and order side.  But there's no one in the Marvel universe who would really be a good pairing for him, at least in my opinion.  He would need someone strong, unafraid of power, who's not afraid of the crazy... oh my gods, I'm talking about Harley Quinn and didn't even realize it.

So now, I have an idea for Loki/Harley Quinn Tom Hiddleston/Margot Robbie fan-fic bubbling away in my head and oh sweet Christmas, do I love it!  (It may involve the Defenders, whom I'm also enjoying at this point, we'll see if it gets that far.  Because Loki and Harley could totally take out Danny Rand, which would make me happy.  And she'd slap Daredevil out of mopery, which would also make me happy.  And they could pair up with Luke Cage and Jessica Jones and go on a massive crime spree... And and AND it would get Harley away from Joker, who is fun but abusive and she deserves a man of refinement and psychopathy who will treat her like the queen she is and Loki would have someone who isn't afraid to challenge him on his bullshit and who would encourage him to work with what he does best instead of constantly pursuing a throne that he wouldn't want once he got there because it would be boring and require too much stability... and I may have done too much thinking about this but the sentences just keep running on because I'm in love and yes, this is really what my brain looks like when I'm excited about an idea.)

Which is why editing is really crucial for me.

But I need to take a breath and store that on the "really awesome ideas for later" pile.  Then buckle back down to finishing Judgment.  Because the next time I see Tanya Huff, I need to have a new book ready for her to buy and love.  

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Heroine Fix: Wonder Woman

Heroine Fix is a monthly feature looking at characters I admire and who influence my own writing.  (Warning: this article will contain spoilers.)

Sometimes, I think modern women forget how far we've really come in the last century.  In 1900, women were not allowed to vote and while we were allowed to keep pre-marital property, any wages or income post-marriage belonged to our husbands, and we were considered "persons" under the law for penalties but not for rights or privileges.  The Victorian ideal of a woman, devoted to children, home and husband, stayed strong.  An ideal woman was artfully weak and helpless, deferred to others (or stayed silent and invisible entirely), and the best possible compliment was that everything she managed ran smoothly without anyone seeing her make an effort or even realizing she was there.

In October 1941, Wonder Woman burst through the pulp pages of comic books to become a female icon.  She wasn't demure.  She was not deferential.  She did not rely on men to do things for her.  She was an Amazon (and for many, this was the first time that they would hear of the ancient Greek legends of female warriors) and was declared a Goddess of Love and War.

Wonder Woman was the first female superhero and is the one with the longest run.  She was created by Charles Moulton, who was an early pioneer in inventing the lie detector (under his real name of William Moulton Marston).  He and his wife and their lover created Wonder Woman as a foil for the male superheroes of DC comics.  They wanted a hero who would conquer with love instead of by punching.  They wanted her to be a female role model for girls.  In 1943, Marston wrote: "Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power...  The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman."

Now, Marston also had some not-entirely-compatible ideas of female empowerment through submission and a bit of an alleged fetish with bondage, but that doesn't diminish the power of what he and his partners created.  For the first time, the female character wasn't a girlfriend, secretary or victim.  She was one of the powerful, one of the good guys.

But she wasn't effectively a male superhero with odd bumps.  She was a different kind of hero, one who loved children and animals, who could nurture as well as kick butt.  These two things weren't seen as mutually exclusive traits, they were both sides of her personality and neither negated the other.  She lived up to both interpretations of her name: she was a "wonder" in being a woman who was as strong (or stronger) than Superman and she was a woman who embraced the "wonder" of the world around her, able to enjoy it rather than brooding or hiding.

Granted, she wasn't always properly written.  When she joined DC's Justice League, she often found herself in the hands of writers who couldn't figure out what to do with her, so she got coffee or did the filing while Batman, Superman, the Flash and the Green Lantern went out to battle evil.  But in the right hands, she became something unique and valuable: a woman who grew up without society and culture telling her to be less.

Wonder Woman grew up in Themiscyra, a mystical island populated solely by women and cut off from the outside world.  Thus it never occurred to her that there was a job that women couldn't do.  Women do it all in her world and are never told that they are over-reaching, being unfeminine, or dismissed and cursed.  She was never cautioned not to do something because boys might get the wrong impression.  She was never told not to get her clothes dirty or to worry about wrecking her hair.  She was never told that people don't like smart women or strong women.

She is what all women could be, if they were given the same confidence as men.

That is an incredibly appealing concept to me.  Most modern female superheroes are dark and brooding.  They kick butt, but they don't talk about their feelings or have healthy relationships.  I love them and enjoy writing them, but I can also appreciate Wonder Woman as an alternative.  She is kind and optimistic without being silly or stupid.  And without giving up any of her power.  She has faith in the world, not because the world deserves it, but because she has confidence that she can deal with any failures or problems.  That's something I would like to explore more fully and I already have story ideas starting to take root.

I'm glad that the recent movie has breathed new life into Wonder Woman and introduced her to a new generation.  She take her place among the many different role models for girls, showing that they can be strong, powerful and uncompromising without losing wonder, joy and love.

Are you addicted to strong and intriguing heroines like I am?  You can sign up to get each month's Heroine Fix by email and then you'll never miss your next Heroine Fix.

Next month, I'm going to do one of my all-time favourites: Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Her transformation from nerd to witch to goddess is definitely worthy of celebration.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Weekly Update: October 1 to 7

Weekly word count: 4500

Today's delayed update is brought to you by Canadian Thanksgiving, where we ate turkey and marveled over being able to wear shorts.  And debated how Thanksgiving got started in the first place (leading "facts": Thanksgiving was created by the train company to encourage people to travel home, and Canadian Thanksgiving used to be in November, but got moved to October so that it wouldn't take away from Remembrance Day.  I have not looked either of these facts up yet, so I am not responsible if they turn out to be plausible bullsh*t).  We also had a brief talk about the myths of Thanksgiving and how European settlers actually treated native North Americans (spoiler: not great).  And then we made everyone go around the table and share what they were thankful for this year before sharing our favourite Netflix discoveries.

Writing in the evening after supper is not great.  I only managed two days last week (mostly because I was sick) and then had a big writing blitz on the weekend.  But we'll keep trying.

Now the rush is on to get everything ready for Can-Con this weekend.  I'm looking forward to it, especially the romance panels.  It's so nice to see romance getting some recognition in the spec-fic community.

And then in two weeks, I will be on my way to Charleston for some well deserved rest and writing time.  And then it will be Nanorimo.  Then Christmas...  wait, I want to go back to thinking about the well deserved rest and writing time.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

When Life Makes You Change Your Writing Process

Recently, I was faced with something of a dilemma.  My day job needed me to increase my hours, which would cut out the usual 90 minutes I had to write before the kids got home from school.  As much as I would have liked to insist on keeping that time sacrosanct, the day job is what pays the bills, so I had to find another solution.

It will probably take me awhile to come up with a new process.  I know from experimentation that 9:30 to 2:30 is my most productive writing time.  That's when it's relatively easy to knock off a thousand words in an hour.

I've tried getting up early to write, but my inherent lack of morning-personness and kids who can apparently hear a keyboard clicking from two floors away quickly put an end to that experiment.

I tried writing in the evening, after the kids are in bed and discovered two problems.  One, I'm usually worn out from the day which slows my productivity and increases my "Screw it, it's a Netflix night" impulse.  Two, I do have a second burst of productivity that starts around 8:30 and goes until about midnight.  That might not sound like a problem, but once I get started, my brain is "woken up" and I'm not getting to sleep until one or two a.m.  since it takes me a long time to fall asleep once I have an active brain.

So, for now, I'm trying a compromise.  I'm insisting that my husband take over parenting duties between supper and the kids' bedtime so that I can hide upstairs and write.  This isn't ideal, since it cuts into our family time for things like Board Game Night and Let's Pretend We're Watching Live TV Night (for Doctor Who and Star Trek Discovery).

I'm definitely slower, averaging 700 to 800 words instead of 1000-13000.  But it beats not having any writing time at all.  I'm still insanely hopeful that I will meet the 50 000 word goal of Nanorimo, which would put the manuscript for Judgment at complete or nearly complete.  (Fingers crossed)

I have real envy for the authors I know who are able to devote their full time to writing (either because that is their job or because they are supported by other income).  I wish I had that.  But the reality is that life doesn't always line up with our wishes (at least, not in the first 3/4 of the story).  

Dr. Phil has a saying that I've heard often: Winners do things that losers don't want to do.  

While I don't believe that success is automatic if one puts in enough effort, I do support the gist of it.  Sometimes we have to do things that aren't ideal in order to reach our goals.  Sometimes we have to do things which are hard, or which prevent us from doing other fun things.  That's what distinguishes successes from failures.  Those who succeed didn't give up on the less exciting parts of their dreams.  So for the foreseeable future, I'll be hard at work, hoping to get through to the next level. 

Monday, 2 October 2017

Weekly Update: Sept 24th to 30th

Writing update: 4300 words

I didn't have a terribly productive week while I was out of town, but thankfully the trip home offered a good opportunity.  I did 3200 words between waiting for the train and the train trip itself, which keeps me on good progress.

I've signed up for Nanorimo.  I haven't participated before since I'm usually editing instead of writing, but I'm excited about being part of it this year.

The Persisting Beyond Margins fundraiser for ALSO was great.  We had a good turn out and the books were all very interesting.  It still makes me sad that people try to shut down things that make them uncomfortable, depriving other people of wonderful stories and opportunities to learn.  Nathan Burgoine made an excellent point that LGBTQ+ people are often particularly vulnerable to this.  Since most queer children are not born into queer families, with parents, aunts and uncles, or grandparents to use as examples, the first time they encounter someone like them is usually in books.  That makes the availability of such books critical to helping them to understand themselves.

I also did my Beyond the Furrowed Brow workshop and despite running over the allotted schedule, I think everyone had a good time.  We had a good turnout and absolutely love the new room in the Ottawa City Archives.  As much as I enjoy Centrepointe, the room at the Archives is prettier and more comfortable.

Now my attention turns to Can-Con and the writers' retreat in Charleston.  I'm very much looking forward to them both.  But I'm also looking forward to the relative quiet of November and December.  

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Ink Tip: Is "Show, Don't Tell" False Advice?

A few weeks ago, I read an article by Cecilia Tan which tore apart the most well-known piece of writing advice: show, don't tell.  She pointed out the inherent assumption behind it, namely that the writer's experience is universal.  But we know that isn't true, even within North American culture.  Tan makes a convincing argument that "show, don't tell" is actually an exclusionary tactic, used to regulate genre fiction as less than literary fiction, and silence diverse voices.

I've experienced genre-shaming first hand on several occasions since I began to write.  After all, I write romance, which everyone knows is trite, formulaic and done to titillate bored housewives, and I write speculative fiction, which is only read by nerds who can't hack the real world.  (Everyone got the sarcasm?  Okay, good, we can move on.)  

However, I hadn't thought about how "show, don't tell" assumes a false universal experience, one that shuts out diverse stories.  After all, if someone doesn't fit into the accepted box (which sadly tends to be white, male, cishet, and middle to upper class), then they have to "tell" in order to give the reader context.  That "telling" can then be used as an excuse by publishers and editors to refuse the manuscript, citing that it's bad writing.

But is the advice itself actually bad?  Like most writing advice, the short form is incomplete.  The full advice should actually be: "Show, don't tell, except when telling works better for the story."  Showing something is more emotionally impactful to the reader, but telling speeds up the pacing.  So there are times when telling the reader something is actually the right choice for a narrative, just as there are times when showing is the preferable choice.

For example, if I want to establish a character as cruel, then telling the reader that the character is a "bad guy" won't have the same gut-instinct as showing him/her doing something cruel.  But if I'm establishing why the stakes are high for an intergalactic conference, that's something that I need to tell the reader because showing it would require a couple of Tolkienesque bulky appendices detailing the history and interactions of the various cultures.  

Good writers are able to tell the reader information in a way that feels natural and doesn't interrupt the flow of the story.  That's an important skill and one that shouldn't be dismissed.

I'll admit that I'm used to dismissing literary fiction, which I generally find to be dry, patronizing and thinly-disguised commentary.  I like genre fiction of all types because I find well-written genre fiction to be engaging, character driven and thought-provoking.  So I'm not particularly bothered by the idea that "show, don't tell" discriminates between genre and literary fiction.  I'm also not bothered by the idea that the creative writing courses and Masters of Fine Arts programs focus on literary fiction.  If that's what a person wants, go for it.  If you want the other stuff, there are plenty of other groups that will help to teach an aspiring author the necessary craft.

But if "show, don't tell" is being used to shut down diversity, that makes me angry.  Because publishers should be encouraging diverse voices.  It should be something that they actively seek out and promote.  Now, I don't have the personal experience in the publishing industry to say one way or another if that is the case, but given that people of colour, LGBTQ+, and those with disabilities have repeatedly shared that they have trouble getting contracts, I suspect there are challenges that need to be addressed.

Show, don't tell is still a valid piece of advice (if overly simplistic).  Like all writing advice, it's one that writers have to learn when to ignore.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Weekly Update: September 17 to 23

Weekly word count: 3300

As I write this, I'm in Cambridge on a training trip.  It's a lovely small city in southern Ontario, near Toronto.  And I'm trying to deal with the fact that our air conditioner has failed back at home, leaving us to scramble to find somewhere suitable for the cats to stay until we come back.  Luckily, I've got some very good family and friends who are helping us deal with it long distance.

I'm getting my presentations ready for Persisting Beyond Margins and ORWA, on Thursday and Sunday respectively.  And I've been working on Judgment, which is coming along nicely.

Back to work.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Too Dark for Children: Lois Lowry's The Giver

Ever since I was asked to participate in ALSO's Persisting Beyond Margins event on September 28th, I've been doing a lot of thinking about banned books and why people ask for books to be banned.

In the case of Lois Lowry's The Giver, the number one reason why people want it banned is because they feel it's too dark for the intended audience (10-12).  The story is about Jonas, a young boy in an egalitarian society where everyone's birthday is celebrated on the same day with the same presents.  He is about to turn Twelve, the age when children are apprenticed to their adult assignments.  The decisions are made by the Council.

Normally, this would be a story about an underclass revolution or showing the horrors of having one's life determined by others, but Lowry's book is different.  The people of Jonas's community are actually happy.  The kids are pleased with their assignments and the Council has obviously done a great deal of work based on the child's personality and skills.  Families discuss their feelings every evening.  Food and medicine are available on demand.  There's no poverty or abuse.  It's the happiest dystopia that I've ever seen.

It's only when Jonas is assigned to be The Receiver that he begins to understand the flaws in his society.  The Receiver holds the memories of the society before this one (our world).  He or she uses them to deal with unexpected problems.  Those memories can be transferred to the new Receiver.   

Jonas remembers love, hate, war and laughter.  He begins to see colour.  He realizes the price of complacent conformity is a flattening of the emotional experience.  People experience contentment, not happiness, and irritation, not anger.  He finds himself more and more isolated as the story progresses.  But the tipping point comes when he learns that the Ceremony of Release, which is done to underdeveloped infants, and the old, is actually a euphemism for lethal injection.  He's horrified when he realizes that the baby in their household will be released and escapes into the night.

The story is dark.  There's no promise of a happy ending, no sign of a revolution.  Just one boy trying to understand how his world can be so different from the one that everyone else experiences.  

That's the part that I feel is so valuable for children.  It introduces the concept that what they experience might be different from what others experience, but it doesn't mean that it's wrong.  It introduces the concept that adults can lie to them and that comforting euphemisms can gloss over horrible things.  It can serve as the start of a discussion about the dangers of an "equal" society (ie, where everyone is forced to be the same) and the nature of happiness.  

When my children were young, I was deeply annoyed by the constant "everything is fine" riff in children's shows.  If something was destroyed, all was forgiven with a smile or a song.  If someone was being a bully, all they needed was an invitation to friendship.  Everything always works out with very little effort.  The optimistic message is helpful for children, it makes them feel safe and encourages them to make social efforts.  But it's not a true depiction of the world.

At ten to twelve, children can begin to understand the complexity of the world.  Lowry's book is well written and introduces several difficult topics.  I think that those who complain that it is too dark are indulging in some wishful thinking about both their children and the world in general. 

I've never been a fan of banning books, especially controversial ones.  (Although I admit that I've been tempted to ban some horribly written and trite books.)  Books are a way to live dozens or hundreds of lives, giving insight into cultures and experiences that would otherwise remain unknown.  Readers tend to be more tolerant, more thoughtful and more curious than non-readers.  They're exposed to different ideas, making them less likely to accept things at face value.  Limiting the number or types of ideas isn't helpful.  The real solution is to expose them to more and then encourage them to think and talk about what they've read.  Recognize their reactions and thoughts and have discussions.  Teach them to recognize convincing lies and euphemisms.

Next week, I'll be at Heartwood House (404 McArthur Avenue), enjoying some wine and cheese, as well as some amazing authors and books.  The ticket money goes toward supporting adult and family literacy, so it's a good cause.  Please consider joining us on Thursday, September 28th from 7 to 9.  It looks like it's going to be a lot of fun, but it's also an opportunity to stand up against imposed silence.  I hope to see a lot of Ottawa people there and hopefully we'll have a sold out event.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Weekly Update: September 10 to 16

Word count: 5000

Feeling very good about where things are going... until I looked at the calendar this week.

OMG!  I have two back to back events coming up and lots of stuff scheduled for the next 6 weeks.

On Thursday, September 28th from 7 to 9, I'm participating in ALSO's event: Persisting Beyond Margins, reading from banned books while enjoying some wine and cheese.  It's a fundraiser for adult literacy and people will get to see me tongue-stumble while I read.  What's not to love?

Then on Sunday, October 1st from 2:30 to 4, I'll be doing the ORWA monthly workshop.  By popular demand, it will be Beyond the Furrowed Brow: How to make your characters say it all without speaking a word.  It's a look at how to use non-verbal communication in your writing.

Then there's Can-Con on October 13-15.  This is a fabulous conference and one of the best organized I've ever been to.  If you like speculative fiction, this is your stop.  From hard-core sci-fi to alternative histories to fantasy to the paranormal, they've got it all (including me!).  I'll be giving away chocolate and buttons and having a weekend draw.

Once Can-Con is done, I will be most gratefully enjoying a week on a southern beach with several RWA ladies for a writers' retreat.  With luck, when I come back, I'll be able to report that Judgment is nearly ready to go to editing.

And, oh yeah, I've got a business trip for my other job starting next week.  (Don't worry, I'm scurrying back to Ottawa for Persisting Beyond Margins.)  I'm bringing my laptop and hoping that I won't be too horribly exhausted to write at the end of the day.  (Since my bosses would probably not be impressed if I tried to quietly do it while I'm supposed to be paying attention during the day.)

And, and, AND, I need to get my kids' Halloween costumes done.  I usually sew and hand-craft them but I'm starting to think that this year will be a store-bought kind of year.  Which makes me sad, but if buying them a costume ruins their life, I probably wasn't doing so well on the whole mothering thing anyway.

I'm starting to think I should set up a Paypal betting system for when I'll collapse of general exhaustion.  Good odds on anything before November 1st!

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Heroine Fix: Trapped In A Nightmare: Offred from The Handmaid's Tale

Heroine Fix is a monthly feature looking at characters I admire and influence my own writing.  (Warning: this article contains spoilers.)

Normally, Heroine Fix focuses on the kick-ass, take no names kind of heroines.  But those aren't the only kind of strong heroines to look up to.  So this month, I'm sharing a heroine who is an ordinary woman trapped in a horrific nightmare and finding the strength to both survive and carry on: Offred from The Handmaid's Tale.

To be clear on my biases right up front, although the concept intrigued me, I didn't enjoy the book or the 1990 movie of The Handmaid's Tale.  I found it difficult to connect to Offred and understand how a society could end up so wrong.  I thought it was unrealistic that Offred hadn't tried to escape before the rule of Gilead cracked down or that the collective women, Marthas, Handmaids and Wives, didn't revolt against the Commanders.  When the new television series came out, I initially wasn't planning to watch it.  But a number of people whose opinion I respect kept telling me that it was different and I needed to see it.

When I gave it a try, I was surprised by how quickly I became involved in the story.  Maybe it's because I'm older and know more about how both people and societies can find themselves trapped.  But I also think the story-telling method that the show chose made a big difference.  The first big change was using more flashbacks, not just for Offred but for other characters.  It made her story one among many and helped to cement the reality of the dystopian Gilead.  It also helped me to understand who she was before she became Offred, the depth of society's panic over the fertility crisis, and how the theocratic elite achieved a surprise coup.

When Offred was June, she was an ordinary woman.  She had a best friend, Moira, and they jogged and laughed together.  She had work that she enjoyed.  From the flashbacks, I get the impression that she wasn't particularly political or focused on the big world stage.  Instead, like most people, she was more concerned with the drama of her own life.  She'd fallen in love with a married man, began having an affair with him, eventually breaking up the marriage so that June and Luke could marry.  She was only vaguely aware when the theocratic cabal faked a terrorist attack that took out most of the government, allowing them to take over and establish martial law.  She was caught by surprise when the government stripped away her right to work and own property, transferring her bank account to her husband.  By the time she decided things were too bad, it was too late to run.

That's when June had to make a difficult decision.  After her capture, she could decide to fight, bringing down swift and harsh punishments that included physical maiming, or she could decide to submit, ensuring her survival.  It's a difficult decision, and one that no one quite knows which side they'd fall on until the situation arises.  June is clearly in shock and numb compliance is the easier and less immediately frightening option.  But as she gets deeper into the role of Handmaiden, she learns that she can expect physical and sexual abuse, constant monitoring, and that she's still under threat of maiming if she does anything that offends the theocracy, like reading, making eye contact or doing anything but act submissive and pious.

I don't think that June made a conscious choice to assume the expected mask of a Handmaiden, with the hope of escaping later.  I think she was scared and not thinking.  But gradually, she does start thinking again.  She can't ignore the injustice any more and she can't live with herself if she does nothing.  She recognizes that hiding and hoping that the lash doesn't fall isn't any kind of life.

The character of Offred speaks more to me now because I understand how women can find themselves in bad situations.  How the idea of fighting back can seem like assisted suicide.  How they can tell themselves that it's not as bad as it could be.  I understand how a person can become accustomed to the horrific, a situation blindness that allows them to survive.

Through the eleven episodes of the first season, we watch as Offred takes the first steps of rebellion.  She clings to her own name and history, refusing to become a faceless automaton.  She takes the risk of speaking to a fellow Handmaiden to share information with the resistance movement.  She carves "You are not alone" in the inside of her closet as a message to the Handmaid who will replace her.  And ultimately, she refuses to participate in the system, even though she knows her open defiance will earn harsh punishment.

Watching her transform back into a woman taking charge of her own life is both satisfying and inspiring.  She's not a Katniss Everdeen, serving as the face of a revolution.  She's one woman who is standing up and saying No.  She's refusing to be complicit any longer, regardless of what it costs her.

Are you addicted to strong and intriguing heroines like me?  Sign up for my Heroine Fix mailing list and you can join our ranks, never missing your next Heroine Fix.

Next month, I'll be looking at Wonder Woman, one of the first strong female characters in pop culture.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Weekly Update: September 3 to 9

Weekly word count: 3800

Not quite goal, but respectable.  

Ahhh, the sweet, sweet quiet of back to school.  How I have missed it.  For the next ten months, I have provincially-funded silence from 1-3 in which to write. 

There will be interruptions.  That's life.  But if my health holds out, then I should be able to get back to regular 4000 word + weeks.  Fingers crossed that I can get Judgment ready for publication before Ad Astra in May.  That means that the manuscript needs to be in editing for early January at the latest.  So that's the new deadline.

I don't have the third Spirit Sight short story ready for release this year and I'm sorry for that.  I don't like disappointing readers but I hope that they will understand and be patient.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Privilege and Being An Ally

Over the last few weeks, there's been a lot of discussions in various forums about diversity and the challenges that people still face due to skin colour, their gender, their sexuality and all kinds of other factors.  People have shared some heart-rending stories and while there's been a lot of support, there's also been a lot of people getting offended at the implication that they (and the culture at large) has a bias.

Recently, I failed to catch an opportunity to be a proper ally.  A friend of mine made a comment dismissing the experience of another friend of mine and I didn't hear it in the moment.  As a result, the second friend felt very uncomfortable and decided not to participate in a future event.  I feel incredibly guilty that it happened while I was there and that I didn't say anything, leaving the second friend feeling isolated and exposed.

So I want to take the opportunity here to share a couple of thoughts on privilege and how to be a good ally.  

First off, let's look at a common misconception, that privilege is the result of having things given to you rather than earning them.  The idea that someone hasn't earned his or her achievements strikes close to home for most, which tends to make them defensive.  But the truth of the situation is that we all have advantages that we haven't "earned" except by being born in the right time and place.  For example, if I'd have been born a hundred years ago, as a woman, I wouldn't have had the vote, the right to earn my own money or own property, or have a voice in whether or not to keep my children (that was all the husband's choice).

Privilege doesn't mean that someone hasn't worked hard for what he or she has accomplished.  But it means that the path has been easier than it might have been due to the efforts of previous generations.  The suffragettes of the past fought hard so that I could have the vote and be considered an equal partner in my marriage.  Other revolutionaries fought hard so that my family's income and social class didn't determine my life path.  Those are some of the privileges  I earned by the luck of birth.  Others come from meeting society's expectations, again in ways I had no control over, such as being cis, hetero and middle-class.

Second misconception: that privilege only comes into play when dealing with bigots.  This is a harder one for people to grasp.  But we're all subject to unconscious biases.  The good news is that if we are aware of them, we can overcome them.  But first of all, we have to acknowledge that even with the best of intentions, we are going to be subconsciously perpetuating the status quo.

That leads into the next half of the topic, how to be a better ally.  The first step is acknowledging that those who have a position of privilege can not understand how daily life is for those who don't.  That's why it's important to listen to those who are affected and not dismiss what they have to say, even if it's surprising or now how we think the world works (or ought to work).  

The next step is preparing to be an active ally.  Each person has to decide how comfortable they are with confrontation.  Are you comfortable speaking up?  Physically stepping in?  Decide that in advance and then be prepared to take the actions you've decided you're comfortable with.  I'm a talker and a debater, especially in friend groups, so I'm usually happy to talk someone's ear off.  I try to research different points of view and then share what I've found.  But even a simple statement like "I don't think that's true" can be helpful in making sure that people don't feel stranded and alone.

There was a great metaphor being passed around.  Opportunity is like a shopping mall.  There are many different stores and there's no guarantee that your store will succeed, so people have to work hard.  But some communities have roads to get to the mall and some don't.  Those of us who have access to the mall owe it to the others to help them to get access too, because others in the past helped us to get access.  Once the road is laid, then everyone benefits from the increased traffic.

I hope this post has made people think and raised the level of awareness.  Because I believe that we can make this world into the kind of world it ought to be.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Weekly Update: August 27th to September 2nd

Weekly word count: 1200

It's been a busy final week of summer vacation for me, with sick kids, bored kids, a new kitten a.nd plenty of other challenges.

But in a few days, it's going to be back to the regular routine.  

As of this week, I've officially missed my usual deadline for a February/March release date.  I knew it was coming, but it still discouraged me more than I was expecting.  I guess it shows that no matter how gentle and understanding I try to be with myself, there's still an inner perfectionist who will insist on being heard.

I'm about halfway through the draft for Judgment and I really love the story that's coming together.  I think you guys are going to enjoy it too and I hope that you'll think it's worth the wait.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Ink Tip: The Tyranny of Daily Writing

There is a tiny piece inside of me which shudders whenever I talk about how difficult writing is.  It's a loudmouth, reminding me that making up stories is something I have always done for fun, so how dare I complain about any aspect of it.  But, there's another part, larger and more sober, which reminds me that there's a difference between imagining a story, writing it down, and creating something which other people want to read.  All three are very different.  (And yes, I have many voices in my head, but that's between me and my court-appointed psychologist.)

Writing a book is hard and takes a lot of work.  It takes me a year to write and edit a book that someone can read in a few hours.  Don't get me wrong, I love it and it's what I want to do, but like anything else, there are days when I'd much rather veg and watch TV than haul out the computer.

This is where writing advice people will talk about the importance of making yourself write every day.  Even if all you pen is a measly 500 words, that's 500 words further ahead than you were before.  And after (pause for calculator) 200 days, you have 100 000 words, which is a decent size novel.  It sounds like a no-brainer, doesn't it?

Except that this approach doesn't always work.  Especially if the author is still juggling other commitments (like a job, for example).  Sometimes those little patchwork pieces of 500 words don't come together into something coherent and exciting, because the author has been pushing his/herself instead of taking the time to recharge.

Writing advice is like any other advice.  It's well-intentioned but it's not going to work for everyone.  My parents encouraged me to throw my time and effort into climbing the career ladder, which would have required 80-100 hour weeks, because that's what worked for them.  I was capable of it, but it wasn't what I wanted, so I chose work that I knew wasn't going to follow me home at night or on weekends, giving me predictable space for other pursuits that I felt more passionate about.  In other words, I went with what worked for me.

Self-awareness is the real key to success.  Do I do better writing in two or three large blitzes or in steady, small doses?  Am I a plotter or a pantser?  How much prep work is too much?  And sometimes those answers aren't always immediately obvious.  I enjoy doing character studies and writing out backgrounds, which helps to create interesting characters but can also end up taking away from time actually writing the story.  I need regular breaks in my writing, but if I take more than two days off, I have trouble getting back into it.

The only way to find what works is to push yourself to try different things.  And then be honest with yourself about what works and what doesn't.  I'm a big believer in writing things down, because otherwise I evaluate success emotionally.  I might feel like I've succeeded or failed but it's the numbers that tell the objective story of daily wordcounts or books sold.

If you're looking to make the jump between writing for fun and being a published author, then start your homework now.  Join a group, read the magazines and blogs, try different approaches until you find something that works for you.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Weekly update: August 20 to 26

Weekly word count: 3700

For a week where my kids decided that Mommy on the computer meant "this is a good time to ask for a snack/screentime/to go outside/etc." I think I did pretty well. 

There are only 8 days left until the most wonderful time of the year.  Then I will have peace and quiet again in which to write.  Which probably means I'll spend some time staring at the wall and wondering where everyone is.

On the excitement front, we got a new kitten this week.  She is two months old and adorable and will be featured heavily on my Twitter feed at @jclewisupdate.  I am officially the kitten's grandmother, since she is my son's pet.  He's doing a very good job at taking care of her, which gives me both surprise and a great deal of pride.

Work continues on Judgment.  I had an insight which will strengthen the central conflict of the book, so I'm pretty excited about it.  Usually I have the first chapter in the previous book, which locks me into certain things, but this time I've got some more freedom, which is nice.

It's been a difficult summer for me.  Lots of good things, but also more challenges than I expected.  If I'd known how it was all going to go, I would have done some things differently.  But I'm trying not to be too hard on myself because I couldn't have known and I made the best decisions I could with the information I had.  Since expecting perfection from myself is usually a trigger to deep depression, I have to be gentle.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

The Secret Benefits of Writing Groups

Lots of people can tell you why joining a writing group is helpful: networking, sharing warnings and advice, mentorship, critique partners, access to workshops and lectures, etc.  It's a big list but there's one that tends to get glossed over.

Sharing the crazy.

Writing is essentially solitary.  It's disappearing into imaginary worlds with imaginary friends and trying to make that seem real and cool and like a valuable contribution to society as a whole.

So when writers get together, there's a relaxing of tension.  We understand each other.  We can laugh about the ridiculous lengths we've gone to while trying to find a name for a character or a reasonable excuse for why two people have been stranded in an isolated cabin.  We can share the characters, stories, and writers who have inspired us.  We can brainstorm, share a shoulder or raise a glass.

And then, when we walk out, something amazing happens.  The job seems easier and the weight of it sits lighter on our shoulders than it did before.  The creativity is flowing faster and more smoothly.  We're eager to get back to typing and sharing the stories rattling around our brains.

This year, I missed ORWA's regular meetings between March and June (we take the summer off).  And while I had my own issues to cope with, not having that monthly connection contributed to the slowing down and eventual halt of my ability to write.

In August, there was RTC (Romancing the Capital) and then last weekend, I arranged an informal lunch for ORWA members.  Both ended up being a major re-zap to my brain.  I'm still dealing with the same limitations that I was in April and May, but I'm writing more and I'm more confident in what I'm writing.

I've heard a lot of excuses for not joining a group: fear of rejection, fear of cliques, fear of plagiarism, too little time, too much money, too far, bad timing, doing fine on my own, preferring online... the list goes on.  But I would highly encourage everyone to give it a try.  There is something freeing about being among people who get our brand of crazy.

I'm going to push ORWA here, because I've done other groups and I've found them to be the most supportive and helpful.  Our next workshop is Sunday, September 10th from 10 to 4.  (It's actually two workshops with Alicia Rasley: Emotion without Sentimentality and Intensive Pacing. $20 for one or $30 for both.)  For those considering taking the plunge, go ahead and give it a try.  Maybe you'll find that our crazy is exactly what you've been looking for.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Weekly Update: August 13 to 19

Weekly word count: 4100

I'm getting close to the halfway point for Judgment, which is exciting but I still find myself a little frustrated because normally at this time of year I'd be getting ready to do the final polish before sending the book to the editor.

But I tell myself that I'm making progress and hopefully I'll have it ready by the end of November and then I can have it ready for Ad Astra next year.

There's only two weeks left of summer and then school starts up again.  I may have a rough start to the year as we were having some trouble with my older son's school last year and I don't know if it will be resolved for this one.  Either way, I'm still looking forward to having some more peace and quiet to concentrate on writing.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Controversy over Ross, Rachel and Joey on Friends

Friends was a long time ago.  I recall watching it with my cousin, then my dorm mates, then by myself.  But it still pulls up some surprisingly strong feelings.

Last week, a Twitter rant about why Rachel should have ended up with Joey instead of Ross ended up gathering quite a bit of attention in the media and online.  Unfortunately, my tech skills have not proved sufficient to link to a specific Twitter thread, but I have transcribed the entire thread below.

The rant itself brings up some interesting points.  That Ross' s insecurity makes him undercut Rachel's career and intelligence.  That Ross and Rachel made each other worse as people (both were jealous and suspicious and tried to sabotage one another's relationships).  That Joey often supported Rachel and paid attention to her feelings, despite being set up as the "shallow" Friend.  And that ending the series with Rachel and Joey as a couple would have been a game-changer in the sitcom world.

It gave me some new thoughts to try out (which I always love).  To be honest, I haven't thought much about Friends for over a decade, having stopped watching the show around season six or seven (whenever Phoebe had the triplets).  But this rant is about the romantic relationships and the subtle skewing that often appears in fictionalized examples.  I probably would have left it rattling in the back of my brain but couldn't because of a morning show DJ.

The day after I saw the rant, there was a substitute DJ on the morning show I usually listen to on the radio.  He began talking about the rant, starting off by describing it as a "Tweet-storm by a stupid woman who droned on and on about how Joey and Rachel should have been a couple on Friends."  This did not bode well and tweaked my inner injustice radar.  The DJ immediately continued to mock several of the tweets, following each with a "NO!"  No counter-argument, no alternate point of view, just a straight denial.  He finished by claiming that "most of the men agree with me" and then moved on to sharing traffic and weather details.

It surprised me that he felt this was sufficient to counter what was a well-thought out and pieced together view.  It also surprised me that he was so clearly emotional about believing Ross and Rachel should be a couple and was so threatened by the idea that Joey could have been a contender.  (Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, as a man denigrating a woman for sharing an opinion isn't exactly uncommon, but I will maintain my higher expectations for society no matter the evidence to the contrary.)

So here's my thoughts on the matter.  The sit-com is a formula.  It's meant to be light-hearted and funny, giving people twenty-two minutes to relax and enjoy themselves.  They don't often tackle more serious subjects and one of the things that people love about them is their predictability.  The audience isn't looking for the characters or situation to change in any meaningful ways, they just want to have a laugh.  Now, some sit-coms have managed to be funny, successful and tackle big issues (Murphy Brown and Roseanne being the two which immediately spring to my mind) but Friends never aspired to that.  It was a group of people with a wide variety of personalities, making their way through life as hilarity ensued.

Yes, in anything resembling a real life situation, Ross would have been a horrendous, hateful jealous jerk.  Because his jealousy and insecurity got laughs, they were played up more and more as the series went on.  He did actively block Rachel's career, both with his jealousy of the men around her and his final push to prevent her from taking the Paris job.  (BTW, this is a pet peeve of mine, when female characters give up their dreams for a relationship.)  He did pursue her when she said she wasn't interested and was dating someone else (and she did the same to him).  Those are not good qualities in a romantic partner.

@kaneandgriffin had a very valid point that Joey's character went through a real change, from being shallow and a player to falling in love with his pregnant friend, respecting her feelings when she didn't return them, and then moving to a deeper level of relationship.  It would have been nice for the writers to acknowledge that change.  It probably wasn't a deliberate character arc, but it still ended up happening.

She also had a valid point that what Ross fell in love with was a fantasy.  He wanted to be the kind of guy who could get a Rachel.  But he doesn't think he would be enough, otherwise, he wouldn't be so jealous.  

There are a lot of real life women who put up with jealousy and manipulation in the name of love.  Who make themselves less so that their partners won't be outshone.  And it would have been amazing if a pop culture icon like Friends could have turned that script on its head and said "here's someone who has treated her consistently well throughout the series, who puts her interests above his own, and now he's going to get the girl."  To honour a relationship built on a solid day-to-day friendship rather than a long distance crush.

But I'm not getting upset about it, because there are lots of stories out there which do what @kaneandgriffin wanted.  They may not have been made into long-running TV shows, but they're there.  Friends missed a chance to be revolutionary, and probably won't be making my rewatch list anytime soon.  The very fact that we now see the flaws rather than accepting them as inevitable or right is a victorious step in the right direction.

As for the mansplaining DJ, he can cart his entitled ego to the curb.  The intelligent men and women out there have some real discussions to catch up on. 

The Original Tweet Essay on Friends

In Defense of Rachel and Joey: A Thread by @kaneandgriffin (Transcribed from Twitter)

I’m loving this “let’s yell about TV plot points we hate” thing that’s happening EXCEPT that it started about Rachel and Joey on Friends.  I am on record as being absolutely ride-or-die anti-Ross Geller, who is for money one of television’s all-time worst human men.  And her brief thing with Joey was obviously intended by the writers to artificially draw out Rachel’s will they/won’t they with Ross.  A lot of people think it was weird or that it came out of nowhere, BUT I AM HERE TO TELL YOU WHY IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ENDGAME.

ARGUMENT # 1: Ross Never Saw Rachel As A Friend, But Joey Did

From the moment the Friends first meet Rachel, Ross immediately sees her as a romantic prospect.  He’s never gotten over his crush on her.  Joey, of course, greets her with “how YOU doin’” and Monica appropriately smacks him down for hitting on a woman on her wedding day.  But this is presented as Joey’s standard greeting to every hot woman ever, not specific to Rachel. (We can talk about the overall attitude of men on this show to women as sexual objects another time.)  But Joey’s relationship with Rachel is platonic almost right away.  They have a genuine friendship.  He frequently gives her dating advice. (Sometimes questionable af, but, you know, well-intentioned.)  He sets her up on dates with men he thinks she’ll like.  He lets her crash the set when he’s filming and flirt with soap actors.

Joey has a lot of problems but his supportive, protective relationship with the women friends is one of his best qualities.  He genuinely loves them and wants them all to be happy and there’s no jealousy in it at all.  HE MAKES HER LAUGH.  Okay, now contrast this with Ross, who from minute one has labeled Rachel as “his.”

We’re always told that Ross/Rachel was a “friends to lovers” ship but WHAT IS THAT BASED??? WHAT F*CKING FRIENDSHIP??  He had a crush on her in high school, so he “claimed” her first, and long after they’ve broken up he resents every man in her life.  He hides messages from men who call her when they’re living together.  He’s endlessly threatened by the men she dates.  He outright sabotages her career WE’LL BE COMING BACK TO THIS POINT because he can’t get over his Mark thing.  Ross literally cannot accept that Mark (or any man) could be just friends with Rachel because HE couldn’t be “just friends” with Rachel. 

And you’ll note that throughout the series it’s often Joey telling Ross he doesn’t OWN Rachel, while Chandler and Monica enable him.  Joey is the person who most often tells Ross “dude she’s not interested” when she’s clearly not.  The one who notices what RACHEL wants.   He doesn’t have all this “but he’s loved her FOREVER” false nostalgia that makes them all feel like Ross has EARNED Rachel by waiting.  This is why “nice guys” are often so much shadier than openly, unapologetically promiscuous guys like Joey.

Joey’s feelings for Rachel were born out genuine friendship.  They were roommates.  SHE WAS PREGNANT.  We honestly don’t talk enough about how big a deal it is that Joey, the “shallow” one, falls in love with Rachel while she’s pregnant.  It happens the way realistically healthy relationships do: they just start spending a lot more time together.  He has to LEARN to see Rachel as a romantic prospect because she’s always been a friend first.  Which was NEVER true for Ross.  It’s not until he takes her on a fake date (because she’s pregnant and misses going on fancy dates) when it actually clicks.  And when he tells Rachel how he feels and she turns him down, contrast that with “WE WERE ON A BREAK.”  He never blames her and he doesn’t let it impact the rest of the group.  The friendship stays intact.  The forced cop-out ending where they get together & suddenly all the chemistry evaporates was NONSENSE.  They could have made this work.  If the writers had cared enough to try, there was potential there for a fantastic and genre-defying surprise twist to the show.

ARGUMENT # 2: Rachel Deserved Someone Who Understood Why Her Career Was Important To Her (MY DUDES I AM JUST! GETTING! STARTED!)

Y’all.  Y;all.  It was 13 f*cking years ago and I am still furious AT LEAST WEEKLY that Rachel got off that goddamn plane.  Ross sabotaged her career at every turn.  He was “tired of having a relationship with her answering machine.”  He was jealous of all her male colleagues.  He FELL ASLEEP at a work event he demanded she take him to.  Over and over Ross trivialized her passions, even though I would argue that Rachel’s career was always her most interesting arc.  Somewhere, there’s a way more feminist version of “Friends” about a spoiled privileged girl who’s never had to work a day in her life – going on to become a brilliant and competent executive at the top of an insanely competitive creative field, as a single mom.

There are MANY things about “Friends” that don’t hold up, but one surprising thing they often get is career/money storylines.  (I know.  The apartments.  I KNOW.  Ignore the set design for a second and stick with me.)  Some of the most interesting conflicts in the show are when lines are drawn among the friends about who makes more money than who.  WHICH WE ALL KNOW IS A REALISTIC THING THAT HAPPENS IN YOUR 20’s AND 30’s, SOME OF THOSE PLOTS ARE SO ACCURATE IT HURTS.  Ross/Joey/Phoebe are initially the broke ones, while Chandler/Monica/Ross have salaried full time jobs (though this shifts over time).

Hey, does anyone remember who gives Rachel her first big break to get out of Central Perk and into the fashion industry.  JOEY DID.  Joey knows what it feels like to be grasping for your big break.  But name ONE THING Ross ever did to unselfishly help Rachel’s career.  It’s kind of remarkable that, for the token shallow/appearance-driven character, Joey actually seems to care very little about money.  So he doesn’t see Rachel the big-shot fashion exec as qualitatively different from Rachel the scrappy waitress.  But Ross CLEARLY does.  Every step up the ladder towards career success that Rachel takes is interpreted as a step AWAY from him.  It’s SO.  F*CKED. UP.

No one in the F*CKING WORLD loves Rachel Green more than Monica Geller and yet Monica still wanted her to get on that plane for Paris.  They ALL did.  They GOT it.  Rachel was maxed out at her old job.  She’d gone as high as she could.  She said so REPEATEDLY.  She needed more.  There was nothing left for her professionally in New York, and the Paris job was her literal dream.  Her friends wanted her take it.  GUESS WHO DIDN’T.  F*CKING ROSS.  BECAUSE IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT HIM.  I have never wanted any finale retcon more than for Rachel to be allowed to go to Paris & make a brand-new life.  IT PHYSICALLY PAINS ME.


“That’s all well and good, Claire,” your’re probably saying, after sixty tweets, “but those are just reasons why Ross is shitty… why is Joey specifically a better romantic prospect.  I’M SO GLAD YOU ASKED.

ARGUMENT # 3: Joey And Rachel Make Each Other Better, Ross And Rachel Make Each Other Worse

So I already mentioned this but it bears repeating: Joey develops feelings for Rachel while she’s VISIBLY pregnant.  The s1 New Year’s episode (best known for Phoebe and Hank Azaria’s sad goodbye) features Joey on a date with a single mom.  The whole time, the kids are treated like a buzzkill.  Being a mom is an obstacle to desirability.  The show also makes repeated and deeply wearying jokes at the expense of fat women on the regular.  SIGH.  So let’s talk about what it says about how Joey has grown tf up that he realizes he’s in love with his friend while she’s pregnant.

He happily lets Rachel and Emma moved back in with him, despite how much having a baby around disrupts his lifestyle.  The insanely terrible women Joey brings home, and their brief tenure in his life, is of course a 10-season running joke.  But it ends after Rachel.

Joey’s first GF after the Rachel crush is Charlie, hands-down the greatest love interest on the show.  I LOVED her.  Charlie is nothing like any woman Joey has ever dated.  Falling for Rachel literally teaches Joey that he wants something… more.  Joey learns to love having a baby around, stops being a bad-date punchline and tries to be worthy of a higher-class lady. 

And he’s good for Rachel, too.  Circa-Joey’s-roommate Rachel is my favorite iteration of all the Rachels.  SERIOUSLY THINK ABOUT HOW GREAT SHE IS.  Short hair, playing the drums, eating spaghetti off the floor, watching “Cujo.”  What an angel.  Rachel has been uptight all her life and Joey teaches her to chill the f*ck out.  He brings out a sillier side of her.
Meanwhile, let’s discuss how a few moments exist in the “Friends” canon where Ross and Rachel are EVER that chill and cute together.  Everything is ALWAYS fraught.  Fighting, jealousy, possessiveness, drama.  Their relationship looks EXHAUSTING.  And it’s not just Ross, tbh (although like… it’s mostly Ross).  But he makes HER worse too.  She’s harsher and more tightly-wound.  I cannot imagine a life where forever having to live with the shadow of “we were on a break” hanging over your head is considered a win.

But think about how kind and gentle they were with each other when Joey said he had feelings for Rachel and she couldn’t say it back.  Think about an entire lifetime of one or the other of those two conflict-resolution styles, my dudes.  SERIOUSLY THINK ABOUT IT.  Joey: respecting Rachel’s feelings.  Ross: needing to win every f*cking time.

One of my favorite Joey/Rachel moments is when they’re in Barbados for Ross’ conference and he’s giving his boring keynote speech.  (BRIEF ASIDE TO NOTE THAT THE SINGLE SERIES-LONG PLOT POINT WHICH HAS AGED THE WORST IS THE FALSE NOTION THAT DINOSAURS ARE BORING).  Joey and Rachel are giggling at “homo erectus” together (RELATABLE!), for which Ross and Charlie treat them both like massive idiots.  Which is yet another sign that Ross thinks Rachel is intellectually beneath him.  But Joey just thinks she’s hilarious.  Ross has ALWAYS treated her like she’s intellectually beneath him, which is why “just a waitress” cuts so deep on that s2 list.

Being Mrs. Geller is a ticket to a lifetime of being treated like a dummy at his faculty events with him never sticking up for her.  And crucially, this is NOT because Rachel isn’t smart.  It’s because ROSS doesn’t think she’s smart.  No matter how high she advances.

That’s not to say there is no potential downside to Joey, but she’d be treated like a queen instead of patronized forever tbh.  The bottom line is this, the Rachel Ross fell in love with was a teenage fantasy he never outgrew that may have been an illusion all along.  Ross fell in love with A PICTURE OF HIMSELF AS THE KIND OF MAN WHO COULD DATE A RACHEL and on some level that was always what he wanted.

Whereas Joey fell in love with a bright, funny, competent single mother he’d been friends with for 7 years and knew inside-out already.

Yes, there’s something sweet in the idea of Rachel being Monica’s sister, but they basically were already.  They don’t need Ross for that.  The only factor in favor of Ross/Rachel endgame is conventional sitcom storytelling structure.  Not because they’re RIGHT for each other.  Ross and Rachel were endgame because they were considered INEVITABLE, and I don’t dispute that that’s where the show was always heading.  But a s10 surprise twist where Rachel and Joey ended up realizing THEY were each other’s lobster all along WOULD HAVE CHANGED SITCOM TV.

Anyway, thank you for your time.  I’m going to go watch the Barbados 2-parter again now and cry over what could have been.  END RANT