mother tongue


I wanted to write a post about reading The Handmaid’s Tale as a teenager. How it was my mother who encouraged me to read it, when it came up as an option in school.

But I don’t remember enough.

I can’t tell her about it, now. She doesn’t know it anymore. Might not know me. But I recall not wanting to read the book, namely because I didn’t want to listen to my classmates, like the guy who told me I should fuck dogs if I thought fucking women was okay, weigh in on it. I didn’t want to read it but I did anyway, because my mother so rarely weighed in on what we should or should not read, and she said I ought to read that.

I remember bringing up the butter as moisturizer — “how could you…?” — as an artless segue into a discussion about the ending. (Spoilers.) My mother walked a fine line between the Reviving Ophelia generation of mothers, rightfully concerned about their kids cutting or killing themselves; and the blatant pragmatism of someone who had already considered her future and decided that yes, there were worse things than death. This was accompanied by all these corollaries explaining that then and only then, only in such an environment as that, would it even be conceivable to–

–and I’d cut her off flatly, reminding her that…oh, I can’t remember the pet phrase I had for it. I had a pet phrase for everything. Something about not wallowing in a puddle of my own despair. I didn’t like — abhorred, even — the idea of her treating me even for a minute with kid gloves, as some fragile Ophelia in need of bookshelves’ worth of doctoral opinions about child rearing. (I don’t know where I got the idea that any parenting advice obtained from a book was bad, but there it was. Maybe I just hated the cover, how fragile it made us all look.) But I also wanted her to keep leveling with me the way she was doing, about Handmaid’s Tale. About rape, I guess, and suicide. As far as I knew, no one else’s mom was leveling with them on this — at least not honestly, without the cellophane wrappings of religion or dogma or someone else’s words getting in the way.

If I could watch it with her, I’d thank her for that. For not pretending these things don’t happen. Or that by not talking about them, you can keep them from happening to you. But I can’t talk to her about it, because she’s no longer herself. And I guess, to her, I’m no longer me, either.


So, anyway. The choice of song during the credits made my skin crawl. Is there a term for one’s skin crawling in the face of too on-point juxtaposition? If someone comes up with one, do let me know. I will then apply it all the times I catch myself biking to or from work, in despair over not remembering a thing — the Italian Cypress species of tree, for example, or Jamie Fraser’s full name — even as I wait for updates from my father on my mother’s bedridden, unknowing, pain-wracked condition.

I was grateful to her for the words she shared with me, after all. It is only right to keep trying to shape myself with them until I go helplessly down the same road she did. Even as I remember her saying that there were, indeed, worse things than death.

I know, Mom.

wrong number try again


I’m really exceptionally skilled at accumulating those “do what you love / if you are passionate about X, do it!” speeches.* The problem is I am never passionate about X; just good about towing its line to the point where people for whom X is everything think it is for me, too.

And it’s never some soul-searching moment either, because I’m not on some grand quest to find something I care about: I already know what I love doing! I just don’t do it for money because it’s not lucrative, and it’s far easier to be Good Enough at other things that pay.  Until, of course, you get to the part  where people give you what are meant to be inspiring speeches about the field — speeches which are destined never to move me as much as the speaker intended because these fields I wander into are staging areas. And I meander from staging area to staging area, because I never care enough about the grand production to take up a central a role there. And also because writers as a group can sometimes be real dicks, and people in other fields are more pleasant to be around. Mostly.

All of which is to say I suppose I should do some typing this weekend.



*Chris, this wasn’t your speech. This was the speech that led to me hitting you up for your advice, which was sensible and helpful. Thanks!

**Also, this isn’t about the new job; it’s about how people assume I felt about the old job.



With Alzheimer’s in your blood, there is of course little you can do (beyond, I guess, becoming a guinea pig, but I’m not frying my brain early for false hope). But you’d be a fool if you didn’t try and think how you might make it easier for those around you. One of things mean letting go of certainties. Maybe, if you got yourself to a point where you were comfortable and used to allowing for doubt in your own convictions — I think, particularly, of all the times my mother was sure a thing had been in a certain place, or that one of us had clearly moved said thing and lied about it — maybe, if you were already in the habit of stopping and asking yourself if you were really so sure about X, Y, or Z, maybe you’d be less…awful…to people around you.

Except, when I try and go through these motions, it feels like a lot of that work is already done. I already question a shit ton of stuff. For good or ill, that’s what an education captained by people of a Foucaultian bent will do to you. Is this really this way? Am I really capable of seeing outside this box I’m in? Stuff like that.

But these aren’t the sort of things my mom would go off on us about. She never fought with us over existential questions. She remained wise and self-questioning about that stuff right up until the disease took over the ability to think down those roads. But I don’t generally find myself accusing people of misplacing objects or, worse, deliberately sabotaging my plans. (And I mean, my mom wasn’t a bitch before Alzheimer’s, so maybe that’s not something you can avoid. Maybe those almost paranoid convictions come with the territory, and no amount of self-prep beforehand can spare those around you.)

The only convictions I have left, then, that I stick to, are emotional convictions. And those…I don’t want to give those up. I never feel unrooted in my relationship, for example, or regret marrying the guy despite being a bi woman. I don’t moon over what could have been, or…feel like I should? There isn’t some other life I wish I were living. Surely, if I can remember that–hang onto that rootedness–I won’t devolve into the kind of accusatory vitriol that so defined my grandmother’s experience with the disease?

And see, I allow myself to hope that I could be harmless, and not hurtful, but my mom was in the same position I’m in. She’d had this amazing life and travelled all over and none of it had gone the way she thought it would as a teenager, but she was happy. She wasn’t harboring some gendered BS from the 50s, that had stymied her from living the life she felt she was meant to. And all this still happened. And my dad still stumbled around the guarded, gated Alzheimer’s facility, blind and crying, because he couldn’t see his wife or hear her accuse him of doing the only thing that would keep her safe. And now, people still talk about how much time she has left like it’s an anchor chain waiting to rust away, after which they’ll sail free.

How can I allow myself to become an anchor around the necks of the people I love most? Forcing them to long for my death as a kind of release from the long nightmare of Alzheimer’s?

I know, I know, there’s no answer anyone wants to hear. But I’ve allowed or coached myself to let go of most certainties in life. There isn’t any reason for me to rot around long enough to break everyone else’s certainties, of love and of their worthiness of it, if science or the law (or chance, I suppose) finds a way around that long, miserable road for me.



I’ve been playing tons of Mass Effect Andromeda. Tons! Because I am about to be separated from my desktop for two months. For a good (see: GREAT) cause, but still. One must do what one can in the time that one has.

This is with the Nvidia ALT+F2 screenshot tool. It’s great, and comparable to Horizon Zero Dawn’s amazing camera tool, except that I can’t change the pitch of my camera. I climbed all the way up here so that a straight-on shot of my character — which this tool defaults to — would include the canyon and some sky. All the earlier shots I attempted tried to do this via the usual way, by right-clicking and dragging the camera to an appropriately gorgeous location, but the Nvidia tool doesn’t allow for that, that I’ve yet discovered. (An aside: this guy seemed to make it work, so if I do figure it out before I’m parted from my computer, I’ll go back to all the places I’d naively hit Print Screen before and try it out.) This one has a color enhance and a sketch-like filter turned on.

Incidentally but accordingly, my life is changing at FTL speed, such that I will soon be able to watch all the MST and PST Twitch streams I frequent (see: all of them) at reasonable times, rather than the wee hours of the morning.* The only downside is that the family I’ve built post-college must be left behind, and that sucks.

Still. New job. Dream job. Shall persevere.

And return to Andromeda ASAP.

*Massive love to you if this phrase rings bells. I started using it as a nine-year-old playing Odyssey: The Legend of Nemesis, which I adored more than I care to admit.

legit why we engage in fiction (no matter the medium)

From Remembrance of Things Past, pt.1:

“Next to this central belief which,while I was reading, would be constantly reaching out from my inner self to the outer world, towards the discovery of truth, came the emotions aroused in me by the action in which I was taking part, for these afternoons were crammed with more dramatic events than occur, often, in a whole lifetime. These were the events taking Place in the book I was reading. It is true that the people concerned in them were not what Francoise would have called “real people.” But none of the feelings which the joys or misfortunes of a ‘real’ person awaken in us can be awakened except through a mental picture of those joys or misfortunes; and the ingenuity of the first novelist lay in his understanding that, as the picture was the one essential element in the complicated structure of our emotions, so that simplification of it which consisted in the suppression, pure and simple, of ‘real’ people would be a decided improvement. A’real’ person, profoundly as we may sympathise with him, is in a great measure perceptible only through our senses, that is to say, he remains opaque, offers a dead weight which our sensibilities have not the strength to lift. If some misfortune comes to him, it is only in one small section of the complete idea we have of him that we are capable of feeling any emotion; indeed it is only in one small section of the complete idea he has of himself that he is capable of feeling any emotion either. The novelist’s happy discovery was to think of substituting for those opaque sections, impenetrable by the human spirit, their equivalent in immaterial sections, things, that is, which the spirit can assimilate to itself. After which it matters not that the actions, the feelings of this new order of creatures appear to us in the guise of truth, since we have made them our own, since it is in ourselves that they are happening, that they are holding in thrall, as we feverishly turn over the pages of the book, our quickened breath and staring eyes. And once the novelist has brought us to this state, in which, as in all purely mental states, every emotion is multiplied ten-fold, into which his book comes to disturb us as might a dream, but a dream more lucid and more abiding than those which come to us in sleep, why then, for the space of an hour he sets free within us all the joys and sorrows in the world, a few of which only we should have to spend years of our actual life in getting to know, and the most intense of which would never be revealed to us of their development prevents us from perceiving them. It is the same in life; the heart changes, and it is our worst sorrow; but we know it only through reading, through our imagination: in reality its alternation, like that of certain natural phenomena, is so gradual that, even if we are able to distinguish, successively, each of its different states, we are still spared the actual sensation of change.”

ah, so these are triggers

Degree to which I can deal with Patrick Stewart’s performance in Logan: NEGATIVE NINE THOUSAND.

ME: This is fine.

BRAIN: No it’s not that’s Mom up there 

ME: He’s just doing a great job is all.


ME: The frail cruelty switching unexpectedly to tenderness and back is particularly true to–


Seriously. I have zero stakes in the X-men — I know little about them; they’re not a fandom of mine. But criminy. I cannot deal. After the movie over drinks and dinner I did elaborate pirouettes around the subject of Patrick Stewart, desperate not to have to discuss it or return there emotionally because oh my god. No. I can’t. There are no hoodies deep enough to hide the tears. Most of the feels for that movie were supposed to be elsewhere but I spent every scene with Patrick Stewart on-screen sitting there poleaxed, one supportive shoulder squeeze away from complete meltdown.

emotionally manipulate me already!


image via gonza resti

Months ago, in a discussion about Mass Effect characters the likes of which I typically try to avoid (the conversations, I mean: I invest far too much in these characters to converse rationally about them, especially with others with convictions as deep as my own), Thane came up. “Bleh, why would you romance him?” my friend snarked. “He’s dying. He’s pure emotional manipulation.” I typed half a response, reconsidered, and let it slide. To each his own, I thought, or tried to; and anyway there’s little chance of me winning converts to my cause in a discussion like that.

But now another friend is playing through the Mass Effect series, the second-to-last of my friends to do so, and while I carefully preserved her from spoilers, we talked about how the people we chose to romance in-game bore little to no resemblance to the relationships we’d pursue in real life. Drama is a red flag to both of us, yet both of us gravitated toward lyrium addicts, lying gods, and folks with drama-laden histories tomes long in our DA:I playthroughs. Yes, you could cop out and attribute it to simply wanting something different than the happily married lives we each lead, but if it were that simple then wouldn’t we have drawn no lines — wouldn’t all opposites attract? Yet I still can’t stand Fenris, the gloomy asshole (albeit with a voice like wet satin), or Vivienne, so convinced she knows the way the world works that she won’t consider an alternative for two seconds. Partnered in real life to a generally not-gloomy, open-minded individual, if the explanation for these in-game romances was simply “you want what you don’t have,” I ought to gravitate toward both of these characters. But I don’t.

Obviously all of this came up because Mass Effect: Andromeda is right around the corner, and I’m coveting my assiduously-preserved day off work in advance. I got to see some of the demo at PAX via Twitch, including the introduction of a certain character, and just…bah, I can’t wait. I see no point in pretending it’s for the combat or mechanics that I’m waiting, either: I am, obviously and without apology, here for the character interaction. Romantic and otherwise.

Is, though, a lurking, known death so much more manipulative than a sudden one without warning? The person making the argument to me at the time had lost his mother recently, so it didn’t seem wise to pursue that line of questioning. But really, I don’t know that a controlled loss built into a game is any more manipulative than a sudden explosion, or a last-minute heroic decision to take one for the team. In neither case am I going to protest what happens based on the measure of loss it incurs: as long as it makes sense, and doesn’t feel half-assed or forced, sure, bring it on, with all the accompanying feels. Perhaps that was a large part of why I loved Trespasser so much. Or even, to branch out a bit from BioWare here, Rogue One. You know what is going to happen. You know it’s going to hurt. You invite it in anyway.

There’s an argument for building such loss into games, I think. It lets you approach emotions within the controlled environment of fiction which, encountered suddenly out in the real world, can completely catch you off your guard. Not that romancing someone who dies in a video game in any way makes the loss of a loved one any less wretched! That’s not what I’m trying to say. But there is a recognition, a familiarity in the swelling of your nose as you cry; in the shuddering way you shut your eyes to old messages discovered buried in voicemail inboxes — as you click “replay” anyway. It doesn’t hurt any less. But, at the very least, your heart has had to hurt before, in whatever infinitesimal-by-comparison way. Especially when you are young, and when many of your peers haven’t yet had to feel this, and don’t know what to say: controlled loss experienced in fiction provides a blueprint for your body, if nothing else. You know you can essentialize, in moments of distress, down to immediate, palpable, solvable concerns: I need kleenexes, I have to wet some of them with cold water and press them to my eyes; it will take x minutes before the redness starts to go down and I can see people again. Having experienced it before, you can be that tiniest bit more convinced that it won’t physically tear you apart. When no one else can give you that assurance, you can provide it, in this small way, to yourself.

And if that’s emotional manipulation? Fuck. Sign me up.