Self-care is walking away to use the bathroom when you’re in a conversation you can’t escape, even if the other person is still talking.
It is a white-frosted cake edged with ripples and poofs of day-glo aqua created from an unfathomable amount of food dye. “Happy Birthday” is written in perfect school teacher penmanship, in some sort of color-coordinated bright shade that would make the 80s proud. And of course, there are handfuls of thick, round sprinkles, in case you needed to be bludgeoned over the head with the overall message: this is a festive fucking occasion.
I don’t want any cake.
Yes, I am sure, thank you. I don’t need to reexamine this decision.
It’s not about the cake. It’s not about the calories or sugar, or even the wheat, which I don’t digest well. It’s about you questioning my decision, which is among the most inconsequential decisions I will make in my life. Maybe I’m not actually sure? Maybe I haven’t thought it through enough? Maybe I should text a friend and see what they think.
Although it’s not limited to women, a lot of women are socialized to ask this, and in name of being a good host, to push food in general. I wasn’t socialized this way, and it’s not my personality either. I’m way on the other end of the spectrum: I forget to introduce people properly, and to offer them water or stale gluten-free granola bars until they’ve been over for hours.
But asking “are you sure you don’t want any?” isn’t hospitality; the dish has clearly already been offered at least once. That was hospitality. “Are you sure?” is pushiness disguised in a hideous leisure suit of unwanted fruit salad.
And yes, I see that you are putting the pile-of-pudding-and-Cool-Whip-thing in the fridge where it will be inaccessible for all time. Since I didn’t want any before, its sudden inavailability is a moot point.
On a similar note: yes, I’m sure I don’t want a seat. I drove to get here; I’ve already been sitting. “Are you sure?” is definitely not limited to one thing, which is why I didn’t add cake, alcohol, or children to the post title.
Don’t even try to turn something down if your weight is anywhere in the same solar system as skinny. At the lower end of my general weight range, it’s not enough for cake-pushers to ask, “Are you sure you don’t want any?” at minute-and-a-half intervals. At the lower end, they also add, “But you’re so skinny.”
The wise ass part of my brain would always think, “Yeah, I’m skinny because I’m not eating the cake.”
“Skinny” is an adjective that gets thrown at women below a certain weight, whether or not it’s an accurate term. You should eat the cake because you’re skinny. I’m not skinny, and in fact, have a fair amount of muscle. But that doesn’t matter either. Skinny people can turn down cake too.
And I still don’t want the cake.
If I say, “Next week I’m going to hop a train with nothing but a backpack, a notebook, and a toothbrush,” you should probably ask if I’m sure. You could say that it sounds like quite an adventure, but am I sure? Have I considered that the day-to-day of this might not be as romantic as it sounds, and that water is heavy but also necessary, and oh hey, that I have a kid?
If I say, “Tomorrow I’m going to go get a face tattoo so I can emulate my favorite Star Trek character, Chakotay,” you should question this too. Feel free to ask if Chakotay really is my favorite character, really, and if a face tattoo is the best way to pay him homage, and even if it is, is there the tiniest chance that a face tattoo will negatively impact a lot of the rest of my life?
If I say, “I am going to get a mountain lion as a pet,” you should absolutely feel free to ask if I’m sure, and to point out that I’m not big on cats, and that some aspects of this plan might need a little work, even if, technically, the lease allows us to have a cat.
But it’s not a major life decision or a ridiculous plan. It’s a pan of brownies. The top is shiny and crackly in the way that brownies from a mix usually are. Some of them have been mounded up on a paper plate in a heap that is several steps shy of decorative. Which doesn’t make them bad, but I don’t want any. Even if you don’t want to bring home most of a pan of brownies because you will be tempted to eat them all, and you didn’t substitute the applesauce for canola oil like Weight Watchers said, dammit, I don’t want them.
I am sure.
I am still sure, even though you asked again. The brownies are not my problem.
I am sure.
If it’s news to you that I have been working to put out a short collection of short stories, that’s because I’ve been basically awful at announcing it, or telling people at all.
So let’s get that out of the way: I published Spirit Notes Fading a few days ago. Currently, it’s available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The book is a short collection of fantasy short stories, all fairly different, but with a few threads in common. Magic, music, journeys, and a sense of eerieness come up across the four stories in the collection. Here’s the summary:
A punk band struggles to save their show when it’s upstaged by the wail of a real banshee.
Across impassable seas and beyond lonely cities, two wayfarers journey across a vast continent.
A tired wanderer fights his impulse to run when he is hunted down with a magic photograph.
An ocean-sick miner steals a submersible to escape from the oppressive priest caste of a deep-ocean settlement.
When I say, “I published Spirit Notes Fading,” I mean that I self-published it, and I did all the work myself, except for some of the proofreading. I wrote the stories, revised them, copyedited them, designed the cover, designed the interior for both print and digital versions, and converted everything into the correct formats. There is a general idea that self-publishing is easy, and that anyone can just slap up anything with basically no work put into it at all. There’s a bit of truth to that; you can take a lot of short cuts; you can skip a lot of steps. To publish my own work with diligence, I had to level up a lot of skills. I’ve actually spent a few years working on those skills, because although I didn’t know until a few months ago that I was going to publish Spirit Notes Fading, I knew that I was going to publish some book.
I keep wondering about things I should have changed. Story-wise, edit-wise, format-wise. Did I leave too many tree branches in the cover? Is it just a mess? That kind of thing. But overall, I’m proud of the work I did, and I think I met the standard I set for myself.
However, as I said, I’ve been ridiculously inept at announcing it. “I have a book coming out!” is the sort of thing you’re supposed to announce on your blog, your newsletter, and whatever social media you use. Aside from promotion, it’s an accomplishment. Sharing accomplishments is generally considered an ok thing to do, right? As long as you’re not being showy, narcissistic, and ridiculous, like so:
“Wow, that’s a great story about your dead uncle. It reminds me of how I wrote a book.”
“As the author-publisher of the short story collection Spirit Notes Fading, I think I’d like to order a hamburger, no bun.”
“Hi, can I get a couple of scratch cards? Oooh, I can barely scratch off this silvery stuff, my hand is still so sore from all the computer work I did to publish my recent short story collection.”
But I’m so far on the introverted end of the spectrum that I feel weird even mentioning it. Even on my own website! In the past week, there were three times that I ran into people I hadn’t seen in awhile and it went kind of like:
“Hey, long time no see! What’s up with you?”
“Not much. Working. Need more hours.”
Some talk about other stuff.
“Oh, by the way, I wrote a book. That’s the kind of thing you tell people, right?”
And so this, right here? This is me telling you. I wrote a book. You can read it, if you’d like.
…for dealing with phone calls badly. Because some phone calls are tougher than others. Some phone calls loom before you like a wall of fire, and you just can’t get past them.
Grandma? Ok, I’ll call Grandma.
Routine work matter? Done. Made the call like a champ. Like a boss. Like an emperor!
Health insurance issue with numerous complicated variables to go over, but only after you’ve been on hold for thirty minutes and now you have to pee? And the call is probably being recorded? And there’s this weird, sound-obscuring scratchiness on the other end, even though you called a land line?
Yeah, I’m a fan of e-mail.
Sometimes, regular old introversion can veer into anxiety territory. Lucky for me, I have a friend who understands this. Together, we came up with a great solution for terrible phone calls. And a great solution deserves a flowchart.
In my last post, I mentioned my hatred of hot weather. This inspired me to write a post about all the things I actually do enjoy about summer, like the smell of cut grass, that help to balance all the unthinkably humid aspects of the heat itself.
That didn’t exactly happen. I started to write about cut grass and the wind in the air before a thunderstorm, and ended up on a tangent about all the awful qualities of summer that I hate. But it turned out to be more than a tangent.
It became a brainstorming session. Every Wednesday (because Wednesday is an awful day, the summer of days) from now until August, I am going to write a barely controlled, seething rant post about summer’s sub-par attributes. The posts may even show up on non-Wednesday days, just because there’s so much material here.
Summer means difficulty sleeping. Summer means clothing I hate. Summer means that trickle of sweat down your back when all you’re doing is standing there thinking about how much you hate the world. Summer means no running or hiking, because you can keep the heat stroke and mosquitos, thank ya very much.
There are so few of us who prefer winter to summer. Every time I meet someone who shares this quality, it’s like sharing a secret winter-club handshake. You might be a Mountain Dew-swilling, monster truck connoisseur*, but as soon as you say, “Why won’t this heat ever end? I can’t wait for fall,” I will know you as a kindred spirit nonetheless.
That conversation doesn’t happen often, however. Small talk, for most people, is something to fill up the awkwardness of elevator rides. For introverts, it’s an unpleasant thing that happens when you’re trying to read. For introverts whose seasonal hatred runs in reverse to that of the rest of the world? Meteorological-based small talk is an angst-filled minefield.
Summer means, when my normal level of irritation with the world in general has been raised exponentially in relation to the relative humidity and number of degrees over 55 Fahrenheit, that the typical weather chat of acquaintances becomes a constant barrage of taunting. Even as I’m wiping moisture off my forehead, chugging water and gatorade, and trying to stay frightened deer-still because movement makes the heat worse, people come up and say, “Isn’t it lovely? I hope you got out today, it is bee-yoo-tee-ful. Enjoy it while it lasts!”
Then every winter, every day, when I’m trying to enjoy the glory and austerity of snow, I hear complaints about the weather from people who decided to dress like it’s any other time of year than the one it actually is.
Enter Humidfest 2014. Here are all the complaints about summer that I hold back during most small talk this time of year.
On Deck: Pieces of Summer Apparel that We Should Burn.
*You snob. Of course people who enjoy monster trucks can be connoisseurs. They say things like, “Note the sprightly quality to the ear-obliterating sturm and drang of Lightning Warrior Monster as it crushes that line of small cars. Quite uncommon.”