Monday, 15 March 2021

Post COVID update

 On February 28th, I started to feel sick with a bad cough, headache, and sore throat.  On March 1st, I was diagnosed with COVID.  That began 10 days of being isolated in my room and worrying about who else I might have infected.

Two weeks later, I can answer the second question: no one.  My children, parents and ex-husband all tested negative for the virus.  I'm still not sure where I got it, but I am relieved to know I didn't pass it on to anyone else.

Being isolated in my room for 10 days was... an experience.  It made me very grateful that I live in an era where my phone can function as a TV, communication device, and internet browser.  Also very grateful for my e-readers, which let me get new books to combat the boredom (once I'd recovered enough to look at screen without an instantly splitting headache).

I spent a lot of my isolation time sleeping.  I was utterly exhausted for the first week of COVID and could only spend an hour or two awake at a time.  For the second week, I was still easily worn out, but my brain started being able to concentrate again.

On March 12th, I was declared officially recovered and allowed to come out of isolation.  It was such a weird sense of relief to be able to come downstairs and sit on the couch.  (Yes, it was good to be able to see my kids and my dog, but sitting up with back support... that was heavenly.)

I'm still getting tired fairly easily, but I think I'm ultimately going to be fine.  However, there are two odd leftovers of my isolation.

The first is guilt.  It's irrational, but I feel guilty for everyone who had to go into isolation because I caught COVID.  That's two weeks of their lives disrupted, lost income, and all sorts of other consequences.  My rational brain recognizes that it was an absolutely necessary precaution but at the same time, since no one else got sick, I feel bad.  Of course, if anyone else had gotten sick, I would have felt devastated, so there really wasn't an emotional-win possible here.

Given my inherent blame-myselfism, the second thing caught me by surprise.  I haven't had a nightmare since I was diagnosed.  (This is huge.  Normally I have 2-3 wake-yourself-up-shouting nightmares per week at a minimum.)  Not one nocturnal vision of being chased by a relentless hunter/predator, not one heart-pounding jerking awake because I can't find my kids, and no sudden illusions of my legs no longer working and dropping me into the middle of traffic.

Because I am the kind of person who absolutely examines the mouths of my gift-horses, I tried to figure out why that might be.  I wondered if it was because although I was sick and worried, I wasn't dealing with my usual 15 ball juggling routine and therefore my anxiety was actually much lower than usual.  (I had a similar experience on a day when I was getting surgery: my usually skyrocketing bloodpressure was down in the it's-all-cool range because I'd handed off all my responsibilities for the day.)  Or maybe I was too tired to really worry.  Or did my subconscious think I'd already achieved the worst outcome and thus had nowhere else to go.  (I don't think that last one is it.  My subconscious is way too good at coming up with how things could be worse.)

On Monday, I go back to work.  On Tuesday, my oldest son can go back to school.  (My youngest is in digital school so he didn't get a break.)  Life will slowly get back to normal.  Hopefully, I can manage my energy levels to be able to work and finish the edits for Until Proven Guilty.  Oh, and finish my online course.

Is it too late to go back into isolation?

Thursday, 4 March 2021

Is The Crow A Fridging Movie Or Not?

 Recently, I was embroiled in a debate as to whether or not the 1994 movie The Crow counts as a fridging story.  This is one of my all-time favourite movies and I began to defend it, but had to stop.  Were they right?  Could this beautiful dark romance be an example of toxic masculinity?


I had to take time to think about it rather than rely on a knee-jerk denial.

"Fridging" is a term that arrives from comic books, specifically from a trend of treating women as objects to inspire righteous rage in the male heroes.  It originated from a Green Lantern comic where the Lantern finds his girlfriend's dead body in a refrigerator.  However, there are dozens of examples and not just in comicbooks.  Aside from romance, pretty much all genres treat happy relationships as the end of action and tension.  Therefore a happy relationship is a preamble and a guarantee that either the relationship isn't really happy (i.e., one of the individuals is a traitor or faking their feelings), or someone is going to be hurt or die in order to launch the other partner into a murderous rampage.

This is a pattern of toxic masculinity, where feelings are considered bad, unless it's rage.  The partnership is meaningless except as a socially acceptable excuse for the main character to become violent.  The focus of the story is on the violence and celebrating righteous male anger.  Often the relationship is entirely forgotten once vengeance is complete and the hero moves on to violently brood his way into the next episode.

On the surface, The Crow seems to fit these parameters.  The story is about Eric and Shelley, who are in love and about to be married when they are both killed by home invaders.  Shelley is brutalized and Eric is killed before he even has a chance to try and defend her.  This creates such great pain in his soul that he returns from the land of the dead for vengeance.  His crow companion grants him instant healing and awesome martial arts skills.

Eric hunts down each of the four home invaders and violently dispatches them.  He also kills the crime boss who ordered the attack, wanting to intimidate the neighborhood into abandoning protests about tenant eviction.  There is a strong argument that The Crow is a male power fantasy.  Eric doesn't have to work through official or legal channels, he doesn't have to be patient.  People hurt him and he can hurt them back without consequence.


Shelley doesn't return from the dead to avenge her own rape and death.  She appears only in flashbacks and briefly at the end of the film to reclaim Eric for the land of the dead.  The story is about Eric and it isn't his own death that he wants to avenge, it's Shelley's.

However, I would argue that The Crow lacks the essential toxic masculinity element to make it a true fridging story.

First, James O'Barr wrote the original comic book, The Crow, to help himself to cope with the death of his fiance, who was killed by a drunk driver.  It was an active choice to manage his grief and feelings of helplessness.  In a toxic fridging story, the killed partner is solely an inciting incident.  They don't truly matter except as an excuse.  In The Crow, Shelley is never forgotten.  She is the heart of the story and there are frequent powerful reminders of the love that she and Eric shared.  O'Barr incorporated his feelings into every aspect of the story, and had included multiple romantic flashbacks which were edited out of the original comic release.

Second, the subplots of Sarah and her mother, and Detective Albrecht and his relationship undermine a toxic masculine interpretation.  Eric doesn't only seek vengeance, he also seeks to help the two living people who were also harmed by Shelley's death.  Sarah lost her mother substitute (Shelley) and was forced back into the orbit of her addicted mother and her toxic boyfriend (one of the attackers).  Albrecht tried to take up Shelley's fight to protect others and ended up being penalized professionally and losing his own marriage.

When Eric kills Sarah's mother's boyfriend for his role in Shelley's death, he takes the time to help the mother.  Holding her in front of the mirror, he whispers "Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children.  Morphine is bad for you."  We then see the drugs emerge from the track marks in her arms.  For the first time, the mother looks up and seems to be aware.  Later, we see Sarah and her mother in their apartment, having breakfast.  This is one of only a few scenes with sunlight, indicating a true healing and change.



Eric breaks into Albrecht's home and has a frank conversation with him, not about the killers, but about how much he regrets not making his relationship with Shelley his number one priority in life.  He laments that it would have taken so little effort on his part, but he was caught up in other priorities and missed those opportunities.  The fact that the message Eric is most focused on is on honoring personal connection and feelings tells the reader that this is far more important than his vengeance.

It's also telling that Eric does not go to visit his former bandmates or other presumed friends.  This is another way in which Shelley is centered despite being dead.  It is her relationships which are key to Eric.

The final proof that The Crow is not celebrating toxic masculinity is the final battle between the crimeboss (Top Dollar) and his sister against Eric.  The sister has realized that the crow companion is the key to Eric's power.  She arranges for the crow to be shot, which destroys Eric's invulnerability.  The male power fantasy is destroyed.  Eric is no longer able to hurt others without facing consequences.  This is something that rarely happens in toxic masculinity stories.  Vulnerability is seen as emasculating and is thus avoided at all costs by those who only want an excuse for violence.

Eric confronts Top Dollar and is run through, effectively killing him for a second time.  Top Dollar is unharmed and gloats to Eric that his efforts have all been meaningless.  Meanwhile, the sister is about to catch the crow, wanting to claim its power for her own.

Instead of surrendering, the crow flies at the sister.  It pecks out her eyes, which could be interpreted as manifesting her blindness to the truly important things in life or as an example of how even the very small and seemingly helpless can bring down those who are much more powerful.  The sister becomes disoriented and falls to her death.

Eric reaches out and touches Top Dollar, unloading all the painful memories of Shelley's attack and prolonged death.  "All of her pain... all for you."  Faced with the consequences of his order, Top Dollar also falls to his death.



It's important that Eric and the crow are not the direct instruments of the final bosses' deaths.  It's also important to note the final attacks are not celebrations of unilateral violence.  The crow's attack is the most violent of the two, but it is not attacking from a position of power.  It is defending itself against someone who wants to abuse its inherent strength for their own purposes.  It is refusing to be used and defying the implied order that the powerful should control those smaller and weaker than themselves.

Eric's defeat of Top Dollar is even more explicit.  It isn't violence that takes out the final boss.  It's feelings.  Feelings are the ultimate power, not the ultimate weakness.

Perhaps this is more splitting hairs than a true distinction, but to me, these differences are significant.  It takes Eric out of the realm of toxic masculinity.  He begins as a male power fantasy, but ends as someone whose love conquered all.  The end of his story isn't him striding off into the sunset to solve yet more problems with violence, but him lying on his grave, waiting for his one true love to return to him.  She comes to him and smiles, bringing him home to the land of the dead with her (and, in my opinion, enjoying a happily ever after).  I think it's implied that she didn't need vengeance, she only needed him to be content and then they could be together.



The story of The Crow is one of Eric growing beyond his pain and regaining love.  And that is nowhere near toxic masculinity.

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Thursday, 25 February 2021

Trust Between Authors and Audience

This post has spoilers for Wandavision.

I've found myself thinking a lot lately about the trust that exists between authors and their audience, whether they write books, TV, or movies.

There are some authors that I will trust to take me to hell and back.  No matter how dark the story is and how impossible it seems, I know there is a point to the bad stuff and it will be worth it in the end.  Gena Showalter, Jenna Black, and J. Michael Strazynski are a few of the examples that immediately spring to mind.

Then there are other authors who seem to insist on making their characters suffer for no reason other than to glory in their pain (cough - Ronald D. Moore - cough).  It won't take much for me to bail out of their stories because I no longer trust them to see me through to the other side.

This ties in with genre expectations, but goes beyond them as well.  Yes, if I'm reading something marketed as a mystery, I expect the murder to be solved.  If I'm reading a book marketed as a romance, I expect there to be a central love story and a happy ending.  If I'm watching a movie marketed as a disaster action film, I expect the tornado footage to last more than two minutes total (yes, that's a specific example - Into The Storm, I don't recommend it).


I started thinking about this as I've been watching
Wandavision.  After the fourth episode, I was tempted to bail, even though I'd really been enjoying the writing and the chemistry between Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda) and Paul Bettany (Vision).  As a comic geek, I know that Wanda, aka The Scarlet Witch, is usually a villain.  I didn't want to watch another five episodes of her descending into grief and losing everything all over.  I didn't want to watch her be broken and become one of the bad guys.  That's not a story that I want to have inside my head.

I really loved the relationship between Wanda and Vision in the MCU movies.  I **hated** that they killed him off in Infinity War and that he didn't get to come back in Endgame.  But I wasn't surprised.  It's the one part of comics that I dislike: relationships almost always end in misery.  And for a genre that constantly brings characters back from the dead, their inability to imagine people being both in love and in exciting adventures is kind of disappointing.

I didn't want to watch Wanda's heart break all over again, but I stuck with it.  Because the MCU has delivered on its promise to tell nuanced stories where characters may go through bad times, but they don't suffer unnecessarily.  Heroes might be tempted down a dark path but they don't stay there.

This week's episode (7) proved I was right to trust them.  She's not the villain.  She's not broken.  And it's a relief that's renewed my excitement for the rest of the series.

Stories need tension to be interesting.  Some stories have light tension with low stakes and they can be quite enjoyable.  Some stories have a lot of tension with very high stakes and that is where trust in the author becomes essential.

Just putting characters in horrible situation creates tension, but it's the way they get out of it that makes a story satisfying.  Making horrible things happen to them just to have them in pain, that's not satisfying.  Or at least, not to me.

And that's why, while my stories deal with dark subject matter such as assault, trauma, addiction, and prejudice, they are there because I want to show people coming out of that darkness.  I want to show that those things don't preclude finding love and happiness in life later on.  There's a reason, and there's a satisfying outcome.  That's why my readers know they can trust me.

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Thursday, 18 February 2021

Reclaiming My HEA: New Plan

 Reclaiming My HEA is a monthly feature where I share my progress through my separation and divorce.  It also includes snippets of a therapy exercise where I imagine myself in a healthy relationship.  The purpose is to remind myself of what a supportive, caring partner would be like, to try and offset the effects of over a decade without one.

Dating sites take awhile, especially when we're still in the middle of a pandemic, which makes physically meeting new people difficult.  I'm still moving ahead, but I'm also trying to take a more comprehensive approach.

After some careful self-reflection, I've realized that one of the reasons that I've been so uncomfortable with moving forward is because I'm afraid of failing to recognize the signs of another bad relationship.  I'm working on that, but I also decided to tackle one of the underlying causes: touch deprivation.


In the 1960's, an
experiment with baby monkeys showed how crucial touch can be.  It is just as critical as the need for food.  One of the issues with my former relationship was a complete lack of physical contact.  As this pandemic has carried on, I've been unable to meet up with friends which has meant no hugs or other contact.  I've always been a cuddly person and I think that deprivation has affected me more than I realized.

One of the things I've been thinking about for the past year is whether or not I wanted to get myself a pet of my own.  My boys each have a pet.  The 16yo has a service dog, Lynyrd, and the 13yo has a cat, Neelix.  Both pets enjoy being around their people but aren't really cuddlers.  This suits the boys perfectly, since they aren't cuddlers either.

But I am.  And I'd love to have a pet to cuddle with.  I think it might help me more than I realize.

So I've decided to pursue adopting/rescuing a cat of my own.  It will have to be a young cat, in order for it to adapt to the household.

Maybe this will be the first step toward becoming a crazy cat lady... or maybe it's going to be the start of a path that will lead to me being happier.  Only time will tell.

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Monday, 8 February 2021

Valentine's Day Special - Part Two (HEA Match)

 Time for part 2 of my Valentine's Day special.  Everyone has an HEA match!

Honestly, this is why I love writing romance.  I love helping people to find their happiness, even fictional people.  (Maybe especially fictional people, since its so much easier than the real life versions.)








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Sunday, 31 January 2021

Valentine's Day Special - Part One (HEA Match)

 With Valentine's Day coming up, I thought it would be fun to do a special dating app post for my characters.  Who would be your HEA hottie?


















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Thursday, 21 January 2021

Things I Love: January 2021

This year has been so difficult and finding joy has been a challenge, so here's some fun stuff that's made my life livable.

Books:

I've been reading more non-fiction than fiction this month.  It's something that tends to happen in waves, especially if I find something that intrigues me.  And these two books definitely got me thinking.


The Secret Poisoner: A Century of Murder by Linda Stratmann

I promise I haven't taken up a new hobby.  This book is all about the development of toxicology detection between 1800-1900.  It was a fascinating look at a variety of cases and trial and experimentation to reliably detect poison residue after death.  Two things I learned especially stuck with me.  One, pharmacists and grocers use to be able to dispense "quieteners" over the counter, an opium-based solution that was explicitly marketed as a way for wives to sedate their belligerent and abusive husbands.  Two, the number of doctors who suspected that their patients were being slowly poisoned and didn't say anything to the patients in question is appallingly high.


On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane by Emily Guendelsberger

Guendelsberger went undercover at McDonalds, Convergys and Amazon and while I knew those companies didn't treat their employees well, I was shocked to learn how bad it actually is.  It was disheartening to learn how many of these corporations rely on high levels of turnover to keep salary costs down.  It starts with a historical look at Ford's assembly line, which paid far more than the standard day's wage but was considered de-humanizing and discouraging.

TV Shows:


Sleepy Hollow.  I started rewatching this a few weeks ago.  The story-telling is a little uneven but the chemistry between Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie is amazing.  I'll admit that the first time I watched the show, I was hoping that they would develop a romantic relationship.  But on this watch, I'm really appreciating the depiction of a strong friendship between a man and woman.  I like fish out of water stories so I enjoy watching Ichabod's reaction to modern society.


Star Trek: Discovery
, season 3 (spoilers).  I love Star Trek and I've always thought that the series worked best when it was looking forward, so I'm very much enjoying the season 3 switch to 700 years in the future.  I love the new character, Booker, and his relationship with Michael.  And of course, my girl Tilly is having an awesome season.

All Rise.  I discovered this show last year and it's become a new favourite.  I enjoy legal dramas and was excited to see one from the judge's perspective.  The cast is amazing and the dialogue is witty.  The second season is set during the pandemic and I think the show has handled it rather well.



Fictional Crushes:


I'm still loyal to the Mandalorian and Ghost Rider, but I can't watch Sleepy Hollow without being reminded of how undeniably hot Tom Mison is, especially with long hair and the beard.  He's courteous and a gentleman, smart and loyal.  And the man can rock a frock coat.  I like how he respects his partner's expertise and skills, but is still protective of her.

I also had a refresher of another cinnamon roll hero, Aram from The Blacklist, played by Amir Arison.  He's kind and sweet, a man who sees the best in people.  Add in the fact that he's a passionate defender and protector, and he's just the kind of hero that I adore.

Songs:

I've been listening to my burlesque playlist a lot.  Most of the songs are from the movie Burlesque, but I added in some other classics like "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" and "Candyman."  I like the boldness and confidence of burlesque songs, but my favourites are the ones that include humour, like "A Guy What Takes His Time" and "I am a Good Girl."

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