The Problem With Diversity In Media Is That We Haven’t Got It

An excellent post popped up over at Writer Unboxed last week: The Problem with Female Protagonists. I suggest you read that one first, then come back.

Read it? Good.

We seem to be having a problem lately with the perception of diversity in media. Diverse characters (including female characters, which is ridiculous, but we will get to that in a moment) are often dismissed either as token characters, or the whole piece is dismissed as pandering to a high-up leftist cabal that apparently wants white men never to be characters in anything again.

In my entire life, I have seen precisely one person say that men aren’t good for anything, and this is as close as anyone has ever come to saying, “let’s never have white men involved in anything ever again.” Granted, my experience is anecdotal. It’s possible that I’ve simply never met any members of the cabal, and they have, in fact, infiltrated all of the media.

There is, however, a simpler explanation: we’ve gotten so used to everything from our protagonists to our crowd shots being white and male that when someone comes along who isn’t, it grabs our attention. Never mind the statistics – our brains are change-detectors, not fact detectors. We’re seeing that all of a sudden, something is changing. Suddenly, there are women in our books and TV shows. Suddenly, there are people of different ethnicities. LGBTQ people. Genderqueer people. People tackling issues from perspectives we haven’t seen. It feels weird – and, sometimes, uncomfortable.

But the point of writing diverse characters isn’t to show a skewed vision of the world. Not at all. It’s to show the world as it actually is. The world isn’t 83% male (as per crowd shots), or even 75% male (as per main characters). The world isn’t 73% white, either.

All I’m asking of my white and/or male counterparts is this: when we look at a movie and think, “wow, there are no people like me here and I’m uncomfortable,” remember that this is just the smallest taste of what it means not to be represented in media. (It isn’t even really a taste, since we’re so over-represented, but that’s the automatic response our brain has.) And imagine what it feels like not to see yourself anywhere. Imagine what it feels like always to see yourself as the caricature if you’re even included at all.

The point of writing diverse characters, and of featuring works by diverse authors, is not to skew our media toward something artificial. It’s to return media to showing the world as it is.

-M

P.S. Ready to take this one step farther? Check out “We need a decolonized, not a ‘diverse,’ education”

 

What I’m Reading

Oh, my, has the internet been full of good reading material, lately!

What are you all reading this week?

Be Gentle With Yourself

Today, at the end of a mad scrabble to meet one of my friends on time, she handed me a cup of tea and asked – with prescient good sense – how I was doing. I admitted that the morning had been terrible, quite frankly, and I was in what felt like a never-ending series of loops of bad thoughts and events regarding jobs, relationships, and everything.

“It’s not you,” she said. “Or, rather, it’s not just you. I swear, the universe seems to be shitting on everyone right now. Everyone is calling me, saying their life is going to hell.”

So, if you’re stuck in whatever wave this is with me (and, apparently, all of her friends), here are some things you can do:

  • try to get even 5 minutes of outside time today. Vitamin D is a mood booster
  • try having a good cry and forcing yourself to say out loud the absolute worst thing that could happen from here – saying out loud that you’re worried about the total ruin of your life tends to be, actually, paradoxically comforting, as your brain can then come up with many ways that is unlikely to occur
  • try making a list of things you have to do, and/or things that are going wrong and ways to fix them. Listing makes it discrete and able to be filed away from an emotional miasma
  • seek out the comfort of friends, be they in the real world or in your favorite books, movies, or video games
  • try, try, try to be gentle with yourself and with others
  • ask for help. Your life is going to hell and you just need an hour to yourself but there are kids and a spouse and – ask for help, be it with a spouse or a babysitter or a friend. Your work is going to hell and you don’t know what to do? Ask for help – advice, aid on a project, whatever it might be

Be well, my dears. I hope you’re not a part of this wave or crap – or, if you are, that it passes quickly!

Building Your Perfect Life: What works for you…

One of the most difficult lessons for me to learn is that to solve literally any problem, each person with the problem needs to approach it differently. Nowhere is this more apparent in my life than with health matters. The person I rely on most for support and guidance has a wildly different approach than I do: where a slow, steady buildup helps me to get into the groove with working out, V starts at level 11 and only goes up from there; where slow, mindful eating helps me control my nutrition by showing me what my body really needs without sending me into a restriction tailspin, V does a lot better just nix-ing dessert or snack foods. There’s nothing wrong with either approach – when V and I are both doing what we need to, we both feel healthy, comfortable in our own skin, and full of energy.

But, because I have spent a good deal of my life searching for advice, I spent an awful lot of time trying to approach things like V would instead of figuring out what worked for me.

There are a lot of authorities out there on any given subject, and we’re predisposed to think that one of them has the answer and the rest are wrong (knowingly or not). Ask any parent of more than one child, and they’re likely to tell you that there are at least 43 different places in their life where a parenting technique that was grade A for Child 1 didn’t work at all for Children 2 & 3, or vice versa. Any martial artist, likewise, will tell you that for higher level techniques, there are many ways of visualizing what one needs to do, and different visualizations work for different people (at my dojang, any given black belt would give their favorite, and end with, “and if that doesn’t work for you, just ask around until you find something that does”). That’s how the world works: different things work for different people.

But if you’re anything like me…that’s hard to remember when it comes to yourself, particularly with things like health or personal improvement of any sort (education, for example), that really hook into how we see ourselves in the world.

So, today and in the next week, here’s what I hope you’ll do: whatever that “stupid” thing is that works for you, that you think is too childish or not-what-that-one-expert-said, or whatever it is. Does doing a little dance get you going each morning in a good mood? Do it. Does wearing pink nail polish give you the oomph to get to the gym? Do it. Do you, like one of my best friends, genuinely prefer taking a vitamin D supplement to going out on walks in the sun each day? DO IT.

You want to know mine? Little pep talks written out in pretty colors of ink on pretty paper; super epic disaster movie soundtrack playlists for the gym so I can picture myself outrunning kaiju and so on; bright red lipstick. Will you find this in most professional development or diet books? Hahahahahahaha, nope. Does it work to get me to the gym and get all my work done? ABSOLUTELY.

Focus on the goal, not the steps. If you’ve found something that works for you, I hereby give you permission to stop trying to do something more dignified or grown-up instead. Do what works. Be a boss. Wash, rinse, repeat 😉

In Which I Rather Embarrassingly Fall for a Scam

Before we go any farther: no, they didn’t get any money out of me; yes, I’m embarrassed, but this is good story fodder, and other people might as well hear it in case they get the same call.

I thought I knew about scammers. It doesn’t take much to make me hang up on someone, but IRS scammers? Oh, man, are they a different breed. They’re patient. They commit to the bit. They wait to ask for anything (at the 20 minute mark, when I hung up – spoiler alert – they still hadn’t asked me for any money).

Right. So, I get a call and they leave a message, saying my address is under investigation by the IRS, and can I call them back. First clue, not an 800 number – unfortunately, as I thought I was primed for it being a scam call, I must have let my guard down in some paradoxical way. I call back, all ready to hang up if I need to. The guy says he’s calling because I haven’t responded to notices sent by mail, and lists an old address. “No, I haven’t gotten any notices, that’s an old address,” say I. Well, did you file an address change? “Yes, absolutely, several times, it’s a very old address”. But did you file one with us? he asks. “Well, no, but – ”  Oh, you need to file form B7 with the IRS, ma’am. “But I filed at the Social Security office – ”

That’s when, very casually, in the middle there, he slides in the arrest warrant piece. At this point, whatever rational things my frontal lobe might have been thinking (things such as the very true thought that, “…the IRS doesn’t use local police and why the hell is this neither a local number nor an 800 number, wtf”) my limbic system went into overdrive (“FUCK, WE’RE BEING CHASED BY A BEAR”).

I try to breathe. “Did you say…arrest warrant?”
“Yes, ma’am. Have you received any calls from your local police department?”
“No…?” (“BEARS. BEARS EVERYWHERE. YOU’RE GOING TO DIE.”)
“Okay, well, let’s not focus on that now. We’ve got 72 hours to clear everything up, so let me just give you some information about the case. Do you have a pen and paper?”

He proceeds, with truly remarkable aplomb, to GIVE ME information for 20 minutes, thus breaking down the reasonable part of my mind as well as my limbic system, because of course he’s not asking me for anything, and – and this is actually kind of the best part, no matter how diabolical it is – saying “ma’am, I need you to calm down, I can’t help you if you don’t calm down” every time I call him on a bad fact, which, because it never works, OF COURSE ONLY MAKES EVERYTHING WORSE, and as he lists forms I was apparently supposed to have filed, I’m watching it unfold in my mind with some judge asking me incredulously, “and you really didn’t think you needed to let the IRS know about that?” I am freaked out of my mind, because literally every time I file my taxes and type in every little 1099 from Createspace Europe or whatever, I’m sure I’m going to miss something and now I have, I’ve missed notices and oh, my God, and he keeps telling me to calm down –

And then he made his fatal mistake. “Well, ma’am, you really should be working with an accountant. It doesn’t reflect very well on you that you’re not functional enough to file your taxes correctly.”

I hang up on him and burst into tears because now I’ve hung up on the IRS and that’s not going to reflect very well on my case, is it? As I explain the situation, through sobs, my husband says, confused, “But how could they not have the address?” “He said I needed to file a different form!” “But…you filed your taxes from this address. Of course they have your address.”

Pause. Hiccup-sob. “…Oh.”

So, long story short, no, absolutely not under investigation. I couldn’t calm down until I talked to someone at the IRS (they were actually super nice), I reported the phone number to the office of the Inspector General for Tax Affairs, and the guy who called me is serving as the model for a corrupt cop in my latest WIP, because I am still freaking impressed at the idea of purposefully using, “please calm down” as a way to keep freaking people out.

Le sigh. Another day, another scammer.

Why is Resting So Difficult?

We all have answers to that question. Some of us have so little time to rest, between our paid work and our commitments to family, that the idea of taking a rest seems ludicrous. It seems like a luxury that there just isn’t time for. And to be clear, this is not one of those op-eds wherein I tell you to take three weeks of straight rest, as if that is a thing you can just…do. That’s just not helpful.

No, I’m asking you to take some time from the relentless quest for self-improvement. How many of us, when faced with somewhere between a tiny amount of free time, and no free time at all, have said things like, “I should really [learn Russian/take up wood carving/get back to running 10ks]”? Frankly, a good number of us. That’s the world we live in.

The idea that we live in a Protestant culture, for better or worse, has been explored in so many op-eds that I’m not even going to take a stab at it here. We distrust the idea of doing nothing because it seems lazy. It’s true. But we also don’t like the idea of doing nothing because the idea of silence terrifies us to our very core. We don’t want to be alone with our thoughts. We really, really don’t.

If you’re at all like me, the reason you’re afraid of being alone with your thoughts is highly nebulous. The reasonable conclusion to draw is that we’re afraid our thoughts will somehow attack us. Whether it’s part and parcel of our other distrust of our bodies (such as our unhelpful and disingenuous beliefs that our bodies are just waiting for us to let down our guard so they can force us to gorge on junk food, or that they’re too weak and prone to injury for us to be healthy), this fear of our thoughts is robbed of a lot of its power when we think about it openly. Openly means not allowing the fear to control the narrative. It means asking a lot of “and then?” questions and actually listening to the answers. Most of them are ridiculous (see And Then I’ll Catch Fire).

Unlike something such as cliff jumping, this fear can be fairly painlessly confronted. All you have to do is take about 2 minutes without your phone (or any other distraction) and just…be. That’s all. For those of you trying this on your breaks at work, I find that bathrooms (depending on  their cleanliness) and stairwells can be useful for this. Work up from there. It’s not going to be comfortable at first, but it is going to get easier – soon, you’ll find yourself able to chill out with a glass of lemonade or a cup of tea, just letting your mind wander.

Okay, but what’s the point? That’s tricky. The point is, to a certain extent, that there is no point. Doing pointless things refreshes your brain. It allows you to rebuild, recharge, and restore. Even in 2-5 minute increments, doing nothing at all can act powerfully to give your mind the feeling of space and safety (something we truly need). The second point, however, is to make the subconscious into the conscious. Often, our subconscious fears are ridiculous (“if I wear this new color of lipstick, people will look at me funny and I’ll mess up this presentation and my boss will think I look incompetent AND WEIRD and my midyear review will be terrible and I’ll be set on a path to financial ruin”), but occasionally they’re very, very useful (“I bet you think you’re clever, but you’re overbooking yourself again and you’re going to end up having to drop the ball on about five things at once, so you’d best scale back now”). Either way, the only way to get the ridiculous thoughts out of your system and the helpful ones into the open is to let yourself think them.

And, because you are literally the only one you can expect to give yourself a break, you have to be that person. Luckily, if you’re reading this, you’re almost certainly someone who has a chunk of time and energy you can free up for a double whammy: the time you spend trying to improve yourself. It’s One More Thing, and if you’re as stressed as most people, it’s probably at least wavering on the edge of doing more harm than good. Also, you only need to free up a tiny, tiny piece of that time to start with – remember, 2-5 minutes.

So, this weekend, when  you sit down to learn coding or try cooking perfect macarons or go for an extra-long run, take 2 minutes right at the start and do absolutely nothing. You will have less time for self-improvement. It will be okay. You will be stronger, fresher, more able to take on the world, and (shhh, don’t tell your self-improvement-obsessed forebrain) more able to say, “what do I need to learn coding for, anyway? Championship-level macrame and kickball are the only two extracurriculars I really need.”

If you’re terrified of the silence, I get it. I really do. But you have to trust me that it’s not as scary as it seems. Just 2 minutes. This weekend, give me 2 minutes. I know you can do it.

Weekly Update: June 27th – July 1st

Hello, all!

I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend, and that those of you in the U.S. have some fun plans for the 4th. For those of you in Canada, a happy belated Canada Day!

To recap this week:

Aaaaand some fun things from around the web:

Happy weekend, all!

-M

Respecting Likes & Dislikes

Due to some pack instinct that has quite possibly outlived its usefulness, the vast majority of us now exhibit a very strange behavioral tic: when someone says they don’t like one of our favorite things, we try to convince them that they’re wrong.

Now, I’m not talking about debating the finer points of books/movies/shows everyone in the room likes, and how one plot point that one person thinks fell flat, another person thinks was genius, etc. etc. I’m talking about how whenever someone says they don’t like chocolate, or Game of Thrones, or whatever it might be, we immediately leap in to explain to them that they are incorrect.

Often, this comes in the form of, “X for people who don’t like X” lists: Horror for people who don’t like horror, board games for people who don’t like board games, thrillers for people who don’t like thrillers.

As someone who’s been on the receiving end of far too many monologues and lists, and who has (shamefully), given some of these monologues, I have a very simple solution for all of us as we move forward: when someone tells us they don’t like something, we just say, “okay, cool.” We accept the fact that they won’t be doing said activity with us (or at all) and we move on with our life, talking about different subjects and doing different activities.

Remember the post a while back about most-hated activities and setting boundaries? This is the flip-side of that: we have to let people set boundaries, and the phrase, “I don’t like X” is a boundary.

I promise that your friendships will continue. I promise that no one is going to get thrown out of the pack and die a slow, painful, lonely death of starvation. I promise that everyone will, in fact, have a lovely life because they are doing the activities they enjoy. I promise it will all work out.

Remember: “Okay, cool.”

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“Oh? And how’s that working for you?”

While reading The 4 Day Win (a book I heartily recommend for the life advice if nothing else), Martha Beck points out that we all know how to lose weight: we just have to eat less and move more. And then she asks, reasonably, “And how’s that going for you?”

I want to make this phrase my new life motto, because it’s brilliant. I’m all for grit and sticking out the difficult parts of life, but I’m also all for changing your life so it’s less teeth-grittingly terrible. So the next time you say, “it should be so easy to get myself to [respond to all of my emails/cook dinner every night/eat more vegetables/go moose hunting with my dad],” slow down and say to yourself, “huh. And how’s that going for me?”

Also, I do not recommend moose hunting. That sounds like a lot of accidents waiting to happen.

As a recent example from my life, I have decided to start lifting weights. There are a couple of reasons for this, one of which is that I feel genuinely great after lifting weights, especially on arm day. I may be lifting 10lbs, but I feel like freaking Superman, and it’s hard to beat that feeling. However, the other reason is that my firm belief in the power of cardio wasn’t working for me. Cardio needed to be a part of my routine, not all of it.

Want another example? I’m currently writing a manuscript in a world I am completely in love with. The problem? I’m absolutely paralyzed by the idea of messing it up, so no amount of telling myself, “just write five chapters” is actually going to work. I needed to try something different, and by doing that, I found my winning strategy: telling myself I only need to write a sentence. It usually leads to a lot more than just the one sentence, and the marginal progress does a lot more for me than the self-hatred and paralysis.

So, this week, if you find yourself beating your head against the wall on a persistent problem, stop your internal monologue about how you just need to [whatever] and ask yourself, “How’s that going for me?” and open yourself up to making some changes!

On “Rules for Writing” Lists

Argh. Today’s post is short and sweet, about an issue that gets further under my skin every time I see it. I won’t link to any of the lists, but there are tons of them out there. A lot of them include things like consistent grammar and regional dialects (for example, forward vs forwards). So far, so good.

Then we get into rules about using power verbs (croaked instead of said, for instance) or lyrical set descriptions, or adverbs. Bad author. No colorful prose. There is one correct writing style.

Bullshit. BULLSHIT. Go on, try to argue that Kushiel’s Dart and Neuromancer should be written in the same style. Try to convince me that The Concubine (Norah Lofts) should be written like a military thriller.

No, it’s pretty clear that you should tailor your prose style to your story. I’ll be honest, here, sometimes you’re going to strike out. Not every style you try will work for your book, or work at all. Still, the world will never get your best work if you don’t play around a little.

I’m going to say that again: the world will never get your best work if you don’t play around a little. The world will never get your best work if you don’t experiment. The world will never get your best work unless you get up the courage to try something new. The world already has a ton of books. You need to write one that doesn’t exist yet. As with all writing advice, take the bits that help you, and leave the bits that don’t. You like outlining? Screw Stephen King’s advice on that, then. You hate outlining? Stephen King has some great advice.

Don’t ever, ever let anyone sell you on the idea that there’s only one way to write.