If you’re heading to PAX West in Seattle this upcoming Labor Day weekend, I’m going to be a special guest / panelist there! You can see my schedule below:
SATURDAY–AUG 31 @ 4:30 PM:WRITE-LIFE BALANCE
Mixing a passion for games with a passion for creativity is no new concept, but it is still a challenging road to navigate. How can you find time to explore your personal passions while maintaining a career AND still find time for things like gaming with friends, dating, and taking care of family? These writers will discuss their struggles and coping mechanisms for maintaining balance in their careers, following their passion projects, and somehow cultivating sanity in the rest of their adult lives.
Panelists include: Tifa Robles [Product Marketing Manager, Xbox], Jessica Ross [Lead Editor, Bitch Team Alpha], Kristina Horner [Partner Manager, Microsoft], Liz Leo [Creative Producer, Wizards of the Coast], Raven Oak [Author, Raven Oak]
Just a reminder that if you’re attending the Locus Awards tomorrow, I’ll be signing at 12:30 PM, along with other awesome SF/F authors like: Greg Bear, TJ Berry, Curtis C. Chen, Tina Connolly, Elton Elliott, Amal El-Mohtar, Daryl Gregory, Eileen Gunn, Jason Heller, Mary Robinette Kowal, Robert McCammon, Mary Anne Mohanraj, C.L. Polk, Adam Rakunas, Nisi Shawl, Jasmine Silvera, Molly Tanzer, Bruce Taylor, Tiffany Trent, and Connie Willis.
I will have a story in the anthology, alongside Kevin J. Anderson, Brenda Cooper, David Gerrold, Mike Resnick, Andrea Stewart, Jody Lynn Nye, Steve Perry, J.A. Pitts, Cat Rambo, Peter J. Wacks, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Steven Lee Sears, and Todd Lockwood, with editing by Manny Frishberg and Jennifer Brozek.
If you’ve seen Avengers: Endgame, you’ll get the above reference (“eat a salad”) and by the end of this post, you’ll hopefully get why it bothered so many people. But that isn’t what this post is about–not really.
While I’m going to be blunt and honest in this post about some issues I’ve had throughout my life, I want to start off by saying that this is not a post to thin-shame or make people feel badly about being healthy. I no more want to do that then I would wish to fat-shame someone, trust me. Nor am I saying that being overweight is synonymous with being healthy. There are unhealthy, thin people and healthy, overweight people. Health is complicated. That being said, this is a letter to those who haven’t walked this world and this life as a fat person in hopes that I can erase some of the fat-phobia of society.
Prejudice isn’t anything new to this world, but there’s one form of prejudice that spreads across skin color, sexuality, gender, and nationality–people’s disdain for fat people. For reasons beyond my understanding, one of the worst things you can ever be is fat. We’re hired less often, promoted less often, paid less, and worse, we’re believed less by everyone from our family members to our doctors. What’s worse is that this fat discrimination is considered socially acceptable.
I’m fat. It’s not news to me. I didn’t wake up one morning with this revelation, as it’s something I’ve dealt with for as many years as I’ve dealt with pain. Maybe longer. I’d like to say it began with a serious knee injury in middle school that crippled me for a time, but my genetics says it began before that as I’ve never been average weight.
There’s nothing wrong with the photo above, yet family and friends referred to me as “chunky.” Being called chunky at five isn’t healthy for anyone, and it certainly wasn’t for me. When puberty hit, my father’s way of dealing with my newfound curves was to make me run laps around our apartment building before I could come inside for the evening. As if running would somehow undo puberty’s affects on my body. Instead, I learned to abhor running. (Still do!) Growing up, I was constantly reminded that I didn’t want to “grow up to look like [my] grandma,” because she was overweight and that was the worst thing I could be.
This fear of fat permeates everything in our culture, and it gives people unrealistic expectations about their bodies and whether those bodies are worthy of love. When my grandmother died, she hated her body. She died feeling like a useless burden to everyone around her. She suffered when her husband died, and it never once dawned on her that she might find love again because who could love a fat woman? These are the lessons that I learned growing up, which is part of the reason why when I look at the picture below from Halloween, I’m not surprised that child me chose to wear a skirt. After all, it hid my thighs and belly better. (Never mind that a ten-year-old shouldn’t be worrying about this.) Even then, weight was a constant mental companion.
My first experiences with fat-phobia in the medical field came during middle school–that injury I mentioned earlier. In 7th grade, someone pushed me down the stairs at school. My right knee-cap bounced down metal-capped steps for two flights before I came to a stop. The doctor provided to us by our crappy-HMO plan explained that my continued knee pain post-fall was because I was overweight. He said if I lost weight, my knee wouldn’t hurt anymore, because even at thirteen, being overweight was the reason for every plague I ever had and ever would have. The second opinion doctor called them “growing pains” and wrote me off as well.
By high school, we’d moved and thus, had better insurance. My knee was a hot mess, which set my body up to move wrong. Everything I did was in reaction to pain and hyper-mobile joints. (I’d later learn these were due to auto-immune disorders.) This new doctor agreed that something was wrong, and I was sent to surgery to fix it. Most of my cartilage was damaged or gone, knocked out of place by the fall and continued physical activity post-fall. In many places, I was bone on bone. My pain finally had a reason that made sense.
I spent most of high school like most teenaged young women–unhappy within my own skin. In fact, I spent most of my senior year struggling with anorexia. Every judgement about what I ate and utterance of fat-shaming words made me desperate to fit in with my peers. It wasn’t until long after my husband and I began dating that I conquered my eating disorder. It was many years after that that I learned to accept my body.
Despite a husband who loved me, doubts about myself crept into the oddest places in my life. Every job I ever interviewed for, I second guessed myself during the interviews. Would they hire me, or would they assume I couldn’t do the job because I didn’t fit their ideal of how a woman should look? Just visiting the doctor’s office was a chore. I had to fight for a flu test because the doctor wanted to refer me to a nutritionist to “help me lose weight” instead of treating the actual reason for my visit. I could be running a 103-degree fever, and the doctor would want to talk about my home exercise program. Back when I taught, students would leave me notes telling me how amazing I was as a teacher…but I’d be even more amazing if I were thin. If you ask any overweight person you know about this, they can tell you horror stories–especially women.
People think they mean well when they ask if you’ve recently lost weight or want to tell you about the new diet fad that worked for them, despite overwhelming evidence that diets don’t work. People also mean well when they tell people with depression to just “go for a walk outside” or when they tell folks with auto-immune disorders to “do yoga” or snort some essential oils. What people don’t realize or think about is how deeply rooted prejudice is in our words and actions. What people don’t do is think about how much “meaning well” costs others–like telling your son to “eat a salad” as a way to deal with his PTSD. As an author, I’m well aware that words have power. I’ve lost people to suicide because of the power of words. Even when we mean well, we have the power to do great harm. As creators, we have an obligation to be cognizant of our true motivations for “meaning well.”
In March, I developed a rather gnarly case of bronchitis after catching a viral crud. Bronchitis is never simple with me, because I have asthma (specifically allergy-induced asthma) and Sjogren’s Syndrome, which can lead to interstitial lung disease among other things. Spring is also the worst season for my allergies, which tend to attack my lungs and make me feel like I’m breathing through too many comforters. When April rolled around and the congestion stuck around, I visited my primary care physician–as most people would.
Knowing my long history with allergies and asthma, and my more recent history with Sjogren’s, my doctor ordered an x-ray to rule out pneumonia. Totally acceptable course of action. My lungs were clean. Rather than refer me to my allergist, she decided to order an echocardiogram. Not an EKG, but an actual, expense echocardiogram.
While I may be fat, I’ve never had a history of high blood pressure or high cholesterol. I’ve been a vegetarian for over twenty years and generally eat healthy. My big sin is Dr. Pepper and chocolate, but other than that, I’m pretty good. I enjoy broccoli too much, but I think that’s okay.
I felt like my own doctor was jumping to conclusions, something I’ve dealt with most of my life. When trying to get my auto-immune disorder diagnosed, I lost track of the “specialists” who told me all my symptoms would go away if I lost weight. I lost track of the number who ignored serious symptoms (like the fact that I had a fever for over six months) because I’m fat and female.
I’m not going to list out every instance–we’d be here all year–but with my PCP, I expected better. Still, I’m not a doctor. Sjogren’s can impact the heart and while I’ve never had any symptoms of heart problems, I decided to keep the appointment with the cardiologist just in case. It took insurance a month to approve a “STAT” appointment because they didn’t think it medically necessary, and for once, I agreed with them. Still, they eventually approved it.
The cardiologist looked over the past seven years of my medical records and said, “I honestly don’t know why your doctor sent you here.” He did a standing, sitting, and lying down EKG–all of which were normal. Unlike my PCP, the cardiologist knew enough about Sjogren’s to know about its impact on internal organs, so he suggested we stick to the echocardiogram in order to get a “base line” established. That way, as I progress through the disease, we could ensure we caught anything before it became an issue. He also suggested I get a new primary care physician.
When I asked why, he said he didn’t enjoy speaking ill of colleagues, but he felt my PCP was ordering unnecessary tests due to discrimination rather than an actual worry about my health. You know it’s bad when the cardiologist sees it, folks.
While I knew there was nothing wrong, anxiety is a bitch, folks. It didn’t matter that an echocardiogram is nothing more than a super-fancy ultrasound. I was fighting a panic attack the entire way through the day. It didn’t help that I had to go to a major hospital and walk into a cardiac unit to get the procedure.
Everyone in the waiting room was a good 20+ years older than me. They stared at me the entire time I waited for my name to be called, probably wondering what I had done at so young an age to be there. Or maybe they didn’t have to wonder. Maybe they just assumed like the rest of the world that because I’m fat, I’m a walking disaster. It’s taken a long time for me to love myself, especially post-auto-immune diagnosis, but this one moment threatened to undo all of that.
It was mortifying to sit there beneath their judgement, like there was something horrifically wrong with me.
Watching my heart beat on the screen was amazing, I’m not going to lie. Seeing it pump blood to the rest of my body…it’s something we take for granted. The technician and nurse both tried to make it a learning experience for me since they could see my panic. For example, I learned quite a bit about what Hollywood gets wrong in regards to a pulmonary embolism. During an echo, they pump tiny air bubbles into your heart, which worried me until they explained the science. But not even science couldn’t keep me completely calm and once done, I retreated to my car where I burst into tears.
The entire procedure took two hours–straight through lunch–and as I sat in my car, I realized I didn’t want to eat. The idea of food was embarrassing and felt…wrong. It wasn’t until I was half-way home that I realized why. This one moment made it easy to slip into an unhealthy style of thinking. People rarely tell you that eating disorders never truly go away. Like an addict, it’s a one-day-at-a-time type ordeal, and many find it easy to relapse.
It’s not something I bring up often, but the truth of it is it’s a battle I fight more often than I realize. It’s easy to stand in a room full of strangers as a fat woman and subconsciously choose not to eat, despite being hungry, for fear of judgement. Worst part is, many people probably think skipping a meal is good for a fat person, but it isn’t. Starving yourself plays havoc with the metabolism and messes with the body’s ability to be healthy. It makes it harder to lose weight and easier to gain it.
My new cardiologist didn’t wait long to call me with the results. In fact, I’d barely walked in the door at home when my phone rang. My heart?
No signs of cholesterol issues–no narrowing of arteries or veins. Strong heart muscle and excellent blood flow to the walls. Valves excellent. Everything about my echocardiogram was perfect. As we expected. My former-primary care physician had ordered a $3000 test for absolutely no other reason than I’m fat.
I can hear some of you grumbling though. I mean, fat people carry an increased risk for heart disease, so isn’t it proactive of her to have done this test? The problem is I had no other indications. None. Insurance will receive the results and use that as an example of yet another doctor ordering an unnecessary and expensive test. They’ll use it as leverage of why they should be the ones deciding what is medically necessary instead of my doctors.
That right there is how we end up with people with cancer not getting diagnosed early enough because insurance didn’t want to pay for the tests or countless other issues that have sprung up as a result of for-profit health care. But that’s another post…
So known issues aside, I’m healthy and my heart is, too. It took me two days to recover anxiety wise, which of course sent my Sjogren’s into a flare up due to stress levels, but I’m bouncing back. I have a wonderful support system via my husband and friends. <3
Even though I’ve left my former PCP behind, how many others will she harm? Folks who might not have the support network that I do? It’s not just her, and it’s not just doctors. Society believes fat people are better left hidden in the shadows–better unseen and unheard.
To those that aren’t fat, please, please examine your own prejudices. Before you “mean well,” think about your motivations. To everyone, be an advocate for your health. You know your body better than anyone else. You might not be a doctor, but you live with yourself every day.
On that note, I make this vow to the world:
I will not be silent, nor will not hide myself from view. I will not allow society to dictate my health decisions, and I will advocate for better healthcare.
Everyone discovers the realms of science fiction and fantasy through different means. Some of us by way of a blockbuster film or bestselling novel, and others by way of a friend or a teacher. For me, it was a mix of all of the above, though I didn’t really fall head-over-heals in love with the genres until 6th grade when a friend recommended Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels to me.
At first glance, the books appear fantasy as their covers bear dragons and dragon riders. In fact, it was the dragons that drew me into their stories as I imagined the world full of dragonriders fighting evil thread that dropped down on their planet from the nearby Red Star. Honestly, it wasn’t until I was four books in that I realized I was reading science fiction, and that the dragons had been created from their cousins, the fire lizards. Not that this knowledge changed anything for me. If anything, it opened another door into more stories.
I devoured the Pern novels first before branching out into other SF/F works. They were the stories that spoke deep into the recesses of my brain telling me that one day I would be a writer. One day, I would write stories that held others enraptured, and these readers might find themselves in the same position I was in at age twelve, that of aspiring writer.
If you’ve followed my blog, you’re probably familiar with the fact that twelve-year-old me didn’t wait very long to turn that “aspiring writer” into “writer.” One day into summer vacation had me drawing maps and world-building what I thought was a brand new world. In reality, it was a modified version of Pern, complete with dragonriders and odd names. By the end of summer, I’d written over 350 pages of my first novel, and while it will never see the light of day, it taught me a great deal about character and plot arcs, among other things. Fan-fiction though it was, it displayed my love of dragons and fantastical worlds. It will always hold a special place in my heart.
My love of dragons lives in the very pores of my skin (literally now!) and is a reminder that on days where I struggle to string together a sentence, let alone a page, I have a world of magic and mystery waiting for me between the pages of a book. A world worth the struggle. Because of this, I recently chose to have a tattoo of a dragon done on my upper arm. Like that first novel, this dragon is slightly modified with a bit of fandom. It’s styled after the Pernese dragons through the face and body, but rather than rough, leathery wings, we gave it feathers, both to mark my name (Raven) and as a nod to the writing tools of old—a quill pen.
Part of the rationale for my tattoo comes from my auto-immune diseases which some days cause my body to be much older than it is. On these days, it’s difficult to remember that I am more than my body, that my mind is powerful and the inventor of great things. With my dragon looking over my shoulder, I have a constant reminder that Chenata (my dragon’s name, taken from an awesome short story) is crouched on my shoulder as a reminder that I am tough. As the story says, I am all…the wind, the clouds, and the water. As such, I can weather this.
Imagine my surprise this morning when I received an email from a librarian on behalf of a twelve-year-old aspiring writer who loves dragons. (This sounds so familiar!) While working together to learn how to write, they had stumbled across my website, particularly my WRITING RESOURCES section. Like this young man, I, too, escaped to the library to discover worlds my father would’ve have preferred I not read (had he known!), and like this young man, it was these worlds that gave me the writing bug.
In their email, the librarian included a great resource the young man found on dragons that I wanted to share with you all. The article by Molly Schwichtenberg has a nice wealth of both myth and etymology in its links, and I anticipate getting lost in the readings. If you’re a dragon-lover like us, perhaps you’ll enjoy exploring this resource too: https://www.halloweencostumes.com/all-about-dragons.html
The librarian wished to reach out to me to let me know how helpful and influential I’d been to this aspiring writer, which made my morning. There’s fan mail and then there’s fan mail like this. It’s a glorious reminder that what writers do matters.
The stories that we tell matter.
We are the creators of worlds and changers of the world. We give people an escape. We give them hope and delight; we cause terror and sadness; and we take them on adventures they will never forget with characters who become their best friends.
There’s a power to words, a power I hope this young man finds as he creates his own world of dragons! Welcome to the ranks of writers, Nick! May your adventures be everything you hope them to be!
This post is a part of a new series on my site entitled “Dear ______,” where I plan to write letters to sometimes specific and other times general people. If you want to read more of these, you can see the ones I’ve written thus far here.
Buying a house is definitely one of the most stressful parts of adult life, especially when facing down a seller’s disclosure. Did they tell you everything they know about the house? Are they hiding something or lying to you? Will you be walking into your dream home or a genetically-modified lemon?
I knew from the moment I walked into our current house that it would be the one we’d purchase. Rather than the typical cookie-cutter homes we’d seen before, ours was a unique home–one of two with this design. The back side of the house is a semi-circle of near floor to ceiling windows, and in the main level, we have vaulted ceilings with original wood beams. But what really sold me was the huge telescope sitting near a window.
I think you, seller, were counting on this to sell the house, and like many people, we fell in love. What we didn’t know was that you were a liar and a cheat.
We did our due diligence and hired an inspector. Even though we later found out the hard way that they’d missed several things they shouldn’t have, we thought ourselves safe. The inspection came back & the only major issue with with the breaker boxes. Both boxes had major code violations that could burn the house down at any moment–from double lugged circuits and faulty wiring to being located within inches of the hot water heater.
Imagine our relief when you agreed to have these repairs fixed. I mean, we were talking $7,000 in repairs, so it made us breathe easier to know it would be taken care of as part of our contract. You agreed to fix it with a licensed, insured, and bonded electrician, and shortly after, you sent us a receipt as “proof” the repairs had been made.
Despite being a beautiful home, the house had sat on the market for two months because you’d refused to lower your price or agree to fix the electrical. We thought ourselves lucky when you did both for us, though it should’ve been a warning sign that everything was about to go wrong.
I don’t know how other potential buyers knew or if they knew at all, but somehow we’d missed whatever warning signs were present. At closing, we heard you complaining to the title company about how much money you’d lost bringing the price down and fixing the breaker panels. I learned through the thin walls that you’d been a teacher and were recently divorced, and for a moment, we felt bad for you. I was a teacher for 12 years. I remember what a teacher’s pay is like.
A few days after closing, one of the lights in the basement stopped working, and it wasn’t the bulb. We called out an electrician we trusted, who thought it might be old wiring. When he opened the breaker box to turn off the circuit, he whistled. Then he sighed. And then he pointed out that not only had you NOT performed the work you’d promised, your “electrician” actually made things worse. Now we had wires connected with other wires in a manner that had damaged the box. Black scorch marks marred the both breaker boxes.
That day, we learned that both boxes would need replacing, along with all of the wiring connecting the two. Further inspection showed most of the wiring in the basement to be faulty and installed by someone who had no idea what they were doing. Now it’s possible that the people before you were responsible for the wires in the wall, after all, you didn’t “finish” the basement. How could you know what was inside the walls? But the breaker boxes were on you and you alone.
We immediately emailed our realtor, who emailed you and your realtor. You claimed it wasn’t your problem as you’d already “repaired” the problems. We did a little digging and discovered that the man you’d hired wasn’t a real electrician at all. He had no license to do anything, let alone fix breaker boxes. He had no business in the State of Washington. We pointed this out to you, along with the fact that your refrigerator door was literally being held on by velcro (I wish I were kidding), but you stood your ground and your realtor invited us to take it up with an attorney.
Perhaps he knew what we’d soon find out.
We made the decision to sue you–mostly because the damage done by you and your “electrician” friend came to the hefty tune of $15,000 in repairs. Unexpected repairs I might add. We consulted with a real estate attorney, prepared to take you to court for violating our contract. It was around this time that we noticed your mail wasn’t getting forwarded. Conversation with the postman uncovered that you never put in for them to forward it. Odd. Shortly after, our attorney was unable to locate your new address.
We hired a skip tracer–their job being to locate people in order to serve them–and he traced your movements out of Washington State and into California, where your former parents had lived before they died. You’d also lived there for a time and had siblings in the area. Your trail went cold at the California / Mexico border, and the skip tracer informed us that pursuing you beyond the United States would get costly.
As we were deciding what to do, we started getting notices from various credit bureaus and the IRS, addressed to you. Then the phone calls. People looking for you. People wanting proof that we were the new house owners and that you didn’t live here. A marshal showed up looking for you too.
You can’t get blood from a stone.
At this point, we let it go. We let you go. But this house keeps biting us in unexpected ways. For instance, any improvements that have been made to the house, have been done wrong or half-assed. You didn’t keep up with general house maintenance so there’s some wood rot on the exterior siding and deck. Even worse, it looks like you might have known the deck was in trouble and rather than pay to have it fixed, the deck was shored up completely out of code. Now it’s collapsing and has to be completely ripped out and redone to meet code.
Everywhere we look is another cut corner, another spot where you or someone before you didn’t care about those who came after you. It makes me sad to think about it until I remember that we’re putting it right. It’s left cobwebs in our savings account but at least we can rest knowing that whoever owns this home after us, won’t have to worry about it violating city code, or worse, falling down around them.
So wherever you are, former homeowner, I hope it worth it. I hope someone taught you a lesson or two about honesty and integrity. But most of all I hope you aren’t teaching anymore because the lessons you have to teach, no one deserves to learn.