Thursday, July 19, 2001

Things I know about the workplace:

  • Lying to yourself doesn't work. Pretending that there are no Boojums just makes it easier for them to sneak up on you.
  • If you're working to a tight deadline, you'd better track progress. What you don't know will hurt you. Probably after it's too late to recover.
  • Bitching out people who tell you uncomfortable facts guarantees that they won't tell you next time. It does not lower the probability that uncomfortable facts exist.
  • "I'll know what I'm going to do when I've done it" is a fine strategy for improv. It is considerably less successful in software development.

Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2001

The Bicameral Mind

I have always been mightily annoyed by the whole "two cultures" thing, the artificial distinction between science and the liberal arts. Indeed, I wrote a self-righteous letter to my college newspaper about the stupidity of saying that scientists and writers couldn't find common ground. I was a double major in computer science and English, and I knew it was the same mind studying and delighting in both. I saw no division in myself, which made me reluctant to accept that there might be a division for other people.

Last December I had a nasty reaction to prescription drug withdrawal and spent most of the month diminished. One of the many exciting effects was the complete disappearance of my computer/math mind.

I couldn't sustain a technical conversation with my husband. I couldn't calculate how many hours there were between 11AM and 3PM. I couldn't read and understand software specifications.

But I could write. I could articulate sweet syllables together. I could construct filks that duplicated Sondheim's complex rhyme schemes. I could write, and sell, an essay about my daughter's Christmas pageant, my first writing sale in 7 years. That part of my brain was up, humming, and ready for action.

Which rocked the foundations of my world. It seems I'm not as unitary as I thought.

Tuesday, July 17, 2001

The Black Dog

As an intellectual, I used to believe that "nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so." I thought that my consciousness, the part of me that is writing this essay, was the captain of the frigate. Oh, I couldn't control physical problems—coordination, muscle pains, migraines—but I was sole ruler of what I thought.


I'm not the captain. I'm a passenger, just as much as my tendons, my follicles, or my sinuses. I don't control what I think, and I don't control my reactions to the vicissitudes of life. I can, to some degree, control my second thoughts, but not my first.

Depression isn't sorrow. Depression isn't "the blues". Depression isn't that feeling you get on a rainy day that life is not much fun. Depression is the inability to feel pleasure or anticipation. It's your visceral reaction to events—perceiving the bad implications rather than the good. It's waking up in the morning and finding yourself unable to make any decision, even about what to have for lunch.

Ironically, clinical studies have shown that depressed people have a more accurate view of the world. Healthy people tend to see things as better than they are; depressed people go to the unpleasant truth. And then stay there.

Willpower doesn't really enter into it, any more than willpower heals a broken leg. Depression is in some sense a disease of the will, of perception, of the conscious mind. If you were capable of performing acts of will, you wouldn't be depressed.

"From perfect grief, there need not be
Wisdom or even memory
– Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "The Woodspurge"

So, what have I learned? The "I" that I think of as the real me is only a part of the whole. There are forces in my brain that I do not and cannot control. Therapy only goes so far. Dependence on SSRIs is no different from dependence on thyroid supplements, arthritis drugs, or blood pressure medications. The need for any medication can be lifelong, and is at best a compromise. If you aren't functioning, you do what you can to ameliorate the problem.

And if I wrote you
You would know me
And you would not write me again.
– Dar Williams, "If I Wrote You"

Monday, July 16, 2001

Today I:

  • Took a phone interview on 30 minutes' notice
  • Wrote a polite note to headhunter explaining why I didn't think it was a match
  • Wrote a polite thank-you to interviewer
  • Verified which schools my children would attend next year and called to determine registration requirements
  • Scheduled an orthodontist's appointment for one child
  • Beefed up the introduction to the User's Guide for my nonexistent product
  • Wrote a polite note to the job I really wanted saying I was still interested, were they?
  • Got an exuberant reply saying yes, they were, but we needed to schedule a visit.

Tired. Seriously tired. A need for many martinis.

Sunday, July 15, 2001

Yesterday morning my husband and I were lying in bed bemoaning our vicissitudes. After a sincere and deeply felt wallow, I said "Y'know, at times like these, heroin sounds like a really good idea." He replied, "Don't think I haven't contemplated buying cigarettes."

Then we got up, dressed, dressed the kids, and went out.

Four hours later, we returned bearing various oils, unguents, and chocolates; $200 worth of Barnes & Noble; a container full of Indian food; and seven rented videotapes and DVDs.

Addictions. We all have them.

[Afterthought. Yes, I am well aware that somebody able to drop hundreds of dollars on books has a lot of damned gall complaining about her life. I have a lot of damned gall.]

On Respecting Canon

What Te Said. I'll wait here while you read it.

Characters, in fiction and in real life, exist within a web of relationships. John loves Jane, condescends to Mark, respects and admires Susan but isn't her friend. Even when you're completely under that first limerant spell, there are other people in your emotional life, people who matter as much as your romantic lead.

Presumably you're writing fanfic because you like the show/movie/band in question. At least, I hope so. In that case, why don't you respect the characters? If you're writing a relationship not found in the show, there's a very good chance that another character is in your way. It is possible to remove that character without announcing that s/he's a selfish bitch who is completely unable to appreciate the ineffable wonderfulness that is your protagonist.

Romantic relationships don't always end because one partner is a blind, sadistic wretch who is unworthy. (Except for mine, that is. All my exes showed appalling bad taste, and will surely be punished at the Dreadful Day of Judgment. But I digress...) People move on because they're tired, because the relationship stops being fulfilling, because they have fallen desperately for somebody else.

Which brings me around to Buffy. Buffy isn't just the show's title character, she's a Hero. Which means, unfortunately for her, that her Duty often has to take priority over her emotional life. But that doesn't make her the selfish bitch who so often shows up in fanfiction. Sure, sometimes Buffy drifts away from her friends; however, the show always portrays this as a serious mistake, not as the inevitable consequence of her self-centered eviltude. Estrangements are followed by admissions of wrong, which are followed by reconciliations.

99 times out of 100, when I see Bitchy!Buffy in fiction, it's because the writer has overidentified with another character. Saint!Willow, or Underappreciated!Xander. How DARE Buffy disapprove just because a close friend of hers is boinking a demon vowed to destroy all she holds dear? Doesn't she know that Willow is her Best Friend, and is kind, sweet, and smart? Similarly, how DARE Drusilla get huffy just because the guy who vowed eternal love to her has fallen hard for the enemy of all his kind? Doesn't she realize that this is Spike we're talking about? The guy with the repartee, the coat, and the cheekbones?

Well, yes, they do. But, if they're real, breathing (sorry, Drusilla) characters, friendship isn't blind. You can love somebody dearly but still believe, for well-founded reasons, that s/he is making a bad mistake. God knows Xander has never entirely forgiven Buffy for loving Angel, and that Willow still resents every non-Willow girlfriend Xander has ever had. Friendships have tensions. That doesn't make them any less loving. It makes them real.