Older Men, Teenage Girls: An Essay in Three Parts

This post is long, and deals with uncomfortable situations involving minors (including me). They happened a long time ago, and didn’t cause lasting damage to me, although I don’t know and can’t speak to anything that might have happened to anyone else. I was very lucky.

When I was in summer camp the year I was fifteen, there was a counselor, a wonderful, thoughtful guy named Stephen, who patiently and with a little bit of horror in his eyes lived through being subject to our affections. One day, as we were hanging out at a picnic table discussing writing, one of my friends (who had a huge crush on him) said that she didn’t think the age difference between a fifteen and a nineteen-year-old was so big. To his credit, he didn’t bang his head into the table or run screaming or anything. He just said that there’s a lot of life experience that happens between then and now. What about people in their twenties? we demanded. Twenty-one-year-olds date twenty-five-year-olds all the time. He, still patient, ever-patient, said that it didn’t matter so much after college, but that when you’re still in high school, you’re in a very different place. I am still grateful to him for that conversation. Not so much because it changed anything, but because it put a quiet, non-parental voice in my head, a voice from someone close enough to my age and my perceived “cool” levels, that maybe some of the other things that were about to happen involving me might, just possibly, be on the wronger side of things.

Later that summer, I was part of the costume crew at a theater running a fairly expensive and (in its own mind, at least) prestigious youth program. The techies were all men in their late twenties, good-looking, etc. I had an uncomfortable (for both of us) crush on one of them, but he kept mostly to himself, away from the shrieking, hormone-fueled, slightly confused, sexually frustrated on a molecular level, roiling mass of teenager that had infested his theater. There was another one, though. I’ll call him Jon. The average population of any high school musical production is going to be heavy on girls, and teenage boys were, as they have always been, a combination of terrified and consciously oblivious that is very frustrating then and in hindsight a survival mechanism for the good of the species. Jon spent a lot of time with a few of the girls. He was at least thirty, and came across as funny, smart, and interested. The attention made us feel good, you know?

I got a weird vibe off Jon, kind of. I spent more time with the techie guys than the girls in the show, and he was a little too friendly when he was friendly, but he was all business a lot of the time, so it seemed okay. I know Jon and I talked. I know I must have been flirty, it was what I did. I liked using my words, and here were a couple of older guys who seemed to like talking to me. There was a rumor that the old lighting guy had been fired because of “something happening” with a girl our age, but we were safe. He had been fired, and she wasn’t involved in productions here any more. (That was mentioned sideways, like maybe she had been culpable, too.) Of course we were safe! How could we not be safe!

One afternoon, it was in a break between scenes. It was me, two other girls, and Jon sitting in a clump on the darkened stage. One of the girls, a thin blond wearing plaid shorts, was talking about something, and she said something funny. We were all laughing, and Jon put his hand on her thigh like it was the most natural thing in the world. Another time, he and I were in the wings killing time between scenes, and my hair color came up. He asked if “the carpet matched the drapes.” I, in a reckless display of ingenuity and ignorance, shot back with “What do you think?” I had no idea what that meant until I got home and asked one of my friends. When my friend told me, I was aghast, but it wasn’t any dumber or weirder than the questions the guys my age were asking me, so I let it go.

Few days later, he pulled me into him, wrapped us in one of the wing curtains, and kissed my neck. I was surprised. This wasn’t a thing that grown men were, you know, supposed to do to me.

Holding me in that old, dusty black velvet, he said, “You’re seventeen, right?”
I blinked. It hadn’t occurred to me that he might not know how old I was. I felt myself start to smile.
“Think again.”
His arms stiffened. “Sixteen?”
Now my smile was real, if tremulous, and just a little bit vicious. Remembering it now, I am sick to my stomach like I was at the time.
“Think again.”

I had not, up to that point in my young life, seen the color actually drain out of someone’s face before. He immediately let go of me, untwisted us, quietly falling all over himself, saying he was sorry, that he thought I was older, that it was a joke. I’m pretty sure he called in sick for several days, and didn’t come near me again the rest of the time I worked on that show.

I haven’t told that story much. I was lucky, I know I was. He’d been assuming I was legal, which made me nonprosecutable fair game, even though it would never have been fair. He was nearly twice the age he thought I was, and twice the age I actually was. He’s forty-one, now, and I hope he still feels ashamed of himself. Hell, I hope he never did anything worse.

So when I listen to talk of James Franco messaging with a seventeen-year-old girl who got her picture with him, I think about being seventeen. I think about being half in love with a dozen different movie stars, playing and replaying fantasies in my head that somehow magically involved me being older, or sometimes they didn’t. It was strange, because my historically minded self reacted with revulsion whenever I heard about marriages where the groom was so much older than the bride. Some fantasies aren’t supposed to come true.

Would he have messaged a twenty-one-year-old? Or a twenty-seven-year-old? Or a thirty-year-old? Or a thirty-five-year-old? Somehow I doubt it. These interactions are age-specific and they are all about power, and the assumption is that the man has all of it. Also based on the idea that there is some kind of secrecy, that he is protected because she won’t say anything. He told her not to tell. Sometimes she will. Not always, but she will. I am so happy that Lucy Clode did.

I didn’t say anything about Jon at the time. I didn’t tell my parents, I didn’t tell the director of the show, or the director of the program. I didn’t want to disappear, like that girl who’d been involved with the lighting guy disappeared. I was protecting myself against questions about my own behavior (which was probably verbally questionable) and against the embarrassment, and in the process I protected him. I should have said something.

Post it everywhere when anyone does something that makes you uncomfortable. I don’t care who you are, or who they are. Tell everyone. Shout it. Make fliers. Paper the world in our discontent and our vulnerability and our power. Tell them to think again when they go to seduce us, to take advantage of our limited experience and boundless desire to be older, to control our fates, to be like the older girls. The hardest part is the first part: telling ourselves to think again.

Knitting through.

Things are hard right now, my friends. I’m casting around for some kind of distraction, some kind of destruction, something to take my mind off, or at least away. My options are limited, since I don’t actually want to make bad decisions.

So this time, I’m taking up my knitting needles and working on a thing of beauty.

I knit because it lets me remain in my head while blunting the sharp edges of distress. It calms me, interests me, the repetitive motion is soothing. I am always getting somewhere. One more step in the spiral, one more link in the chain. It’s a labyrinth, built and explored by my fingers. It’s a path, a journey, there is a beginning, middle, and end, and so much can happen along the way.

A dropped stitch, an error in the pattern, a lapse in concentration. Terrible fates to befall one. I don’t use markers to portion the way, and I don’t weave in lifelines in case something goes wrong and I have to rip back. I just pick up needles and yarn and go. Of all the parts of my life, I am least anxious about knitting.

That doesn’t mean that I’m not anxious. Worry over whether I’m using the right needle size can plague me, fears that the product will be too big, too small, it won’t feel right, it’s not soft enough, it’s too stiff, too loose, it can take me an evening of swatching and choosing to make sure it’s going to be right. (And this is in the least anxious bit of my life. I think I need lavender oil, or maybe gin.) But once I get it right? (“Right” is, of course, subjective.) Once I find the combination, it unlocks my enthusiasm and I fly.

I’m flying on the project I’m knitting now. It’s so gorgeous, pattern complicated and engaging. The colors in the yarn look like fallen leaves from oaks and maples. The yarn even makes this wonderful crunchy, dry-leaf sound as I slide it along the matte gray needles. It’s a lace shawl, but I’m knitting it in heavier yarn. It’s going to be very big when it’s done. A roof. A house. A safe place. An autumn day to spread over me whenever I want one.

So this is me. A maker of beautiful things, in sadness, grief, in confusion and need. Dancing through my days as well as I can even though my heart is heavy. Wrapping the yarn around the needles like my arms around the ones I love.

Why you can’t get a girl.

Are you feeling lonely, sunshine? Do you feel like girls don’t like you, don’t want to be around you romantically? Have you found yourself grousing about how you’re “too nice” and “girls don’t want me?” Do you spend a lot of time complaining to your female friends about this?

Well, today, Miranda is going to sit you down and explain to you why this is, in small, simple words.

You’re a jerk.

That’s about it. The sum total of why you cannot get a girl.

This jerkitude may exist on several levels.

First of all, let’s be clear here. When you say “I can’t get a girl,” what you mean is, “I can’t get a girl I feel is attractive enough to validate my cripplingly shallow sense of self-worth.” This is sad, to be sure. That your sense of self-worth is so shallow, I mean. You can’t get a girl who rises to your level of acceptable female fantasy attractiveness to have sex with you? Awwwuh, honey. Most women do not look like supermodels or anime chicks or whatever else you’ve been whacking it to since you were fourteen. This does not make them undesirable in any way. It makes you a shallow jerk, though, and you might want to look into that.

If you complain that you are “too nice,” then let me direct you to the first part of that sentence. You are complaining. Whining, in fact, about how “girls” (more specifically, girls-you-want-to-bang) would rather have sex with “that asshole who treats them really badly” than with you. This might mean that you are generally a whiny, non-self-aware, entitled jerk. You might want to look into it. Are you even able to articulate why the guy they’re with is an asshole? Might it just be because he has something you want? Furthermore, do you actually have some idea of how you’d treat her better?

The next thing I want to point out is one of scale. If you say, “I can’t get a girl,” or “I can’t get girls,” you are reducing women to collectible tokens, redeemable for manhood at the nearest arcade. What, pray tell, would you do with one even if you got one? Do you ever think about that? Do you ever think about how to be a good boyfriend, or a good man, if it comes to that? Do you think about what you’d like from a woman in your life romantically? I bet not, most of the time, beyond girls being a good source of self-esteem and blow jobs. I bet you just don’t think about it, because that isn’t the point of this exercise. The point is to get something that you find lacking from a girl, instead of from within yourself. This attitude makes you a jerk, and you probably want to look into that.

If you find yourself becoming resentful of the girls in your life, both the ones you do and do not want to bang, because SO MANY WOMEN do not want to bang you, you will start treating even your female friends badly because you “can’t get a girl to like you.” Thus alienating the girls who already liked you, and contributing to several pernicious cycles all at the same time.

Do you complain about the friend zone? “Argh, she totally friend-zoned me!” Let me tell you a little something about the friend zone, snugglepuss. The friend zone is where women put jerks. Or boys/men who come across as really, really needy, or sort of mean, or even people who have abuse red flags going up all over the place. But mostly jerks. And while we’re at it, do you really want someone to date you out of pity rather than sincere and interested affection? And while you’re complaining to me, thanks for letting me know that unrestricted access to a woman’s vagina is all that matters to you. Good to be aware of, nice to have the feedback. Now get OUT OF MY LIFE, YOU JERK.

Ah, yes, I must say a word here about friends. If you have female friends, chances are at least one or two of them really were into you, however vaguely, at some point, but something about you turned them off to you as a romantic partner. She probably realized you were a jerk. Maybe you made too many misogynistic jokes, maybe you came across as too needy, maybe she realized she valued you as a friend more than as a boyfriend. It really does happen. Girls know that relationships are going to go horribly wrong, and maybe they didn’t one to go horribly wrong with you. Also, they might not be physically attracted to you. It happens. Remember, guys are let off the hook for not noticing the geeky girl until she hots herself up for them all the time. You do not get a pass on this because you have a penis. Despite what you have been told, it is not a magic wand.

You want to know how to get a girl? Stop being a jerk. Stop thinking about girls-and-how-to-acquire-them. Shower every day, keep your hair clean and pulled back off your face, shave, look at men in magazines and figure out how to dress nicely. Have hobbies that get you out and about. Read. Listen to music. Go for walks. Develop your friendships and cultivate new ones. Think about what you really want from life, and figure out how to get it. And when a woman becomes interested in you, don’t. be. a jerk.

No fun.

I don’t want you to have any fun. ESPECIALLY NOT YOU. YEAH, YOU.

See, this is what all the talking about “respecting boundaries” and “sexual harassment” and “consent” is really about. It’s about how I do not want you to have any fun. None at all. No suggestive remarks at the expense of my body, or my behavior, or my sexual proclivities, (real or imagined) or even just my smile. No being able to touch me whenever you like, just because you want to and I’m there and I’m female.

Nor should you be able, in my little fantasy world, to make sweeping generalizations about half the human population of this planet as if we are lesser than you are, or subject to your whims.

I know that’s going to make a real dent in how you amuse yourselves.

I feel better now that I have pulled the mask of wanting equality, of wanting safety, of wanting to be included with all our flaws and all our gifts without fear, off this despicable monster known as “feminism.” Which, by the way, in its highest form extends those privileges to all genders and all people, without exception.

That might be fun.

Avoidance Therapy

I’m avoiding writing.

I love writing. It’s part of me. I made up stories about the people who owned all the things in the catalogues when I was too little to write words. I scribbled nonsense squiggles in notebooks. (Some people, looking at my handwriting, would say that little has changed.)

But today, and for many days previous, I haven’t been doing it. Other things have gotten in the way, chewing up my brain power. Some of those things were good. Some were hard. Some were video games. Some were the way the cookie crumbles. All were not-writing.

Whenever I’m engaging in not-writing it is easier for me to cope with my fellow human beings in large doses, I resent having a day job considerably less, and I’m more likely to answer the question “How are you?” with “I’m fine,” instead of the less socially acceptable rundown of how things are going for a person I listen to who lives in my head. But, not-writing has diminishing returns. Over time, I feel wrung out, at the mercy of every little bump in the emotional road. It’s because I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m not centered when I’m not writing.

My balance isn’t centered in reality. It’s in imaginary places, or how I imagine real places might be. It’s centered in suburban New Jersey, in New York City, it’s a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. There are murders, most of the time. Sometimes there are starships. Sometimes there are murders on starships, something that has never been adequately explored in fiction. But all of it is just not here. A lot of other people are like me, but that doesn’t make me feel less alone in the doing of it.

I need the people in my head more than I need (most of the) real ones. They keep me sane. Making another world keeps me able to make sense of this one, and my place in it. Often, that place is consciously apart, in the role of observer rather than fully engaged experiencer. The only reason this is socially acceptable is because sometimes the people in my head are entertaining, and they never tell me to burn down real buildings.

There is nothing else for it, though. This is who I am, and what I’m made of. Stories, and underneath that layer of ambivalence, the tight-lipped joy of creation.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to do some time travel and make some magic with words. It’s the same magic that makes me love knitting and spinning. I’m taking something and making it something else, one stitch/word at a time.

Maybe I’ll avoid not-writing for a while instead.


Today is the birthday of someone I recently lost. I didn’t lose her, exactly, what a silly thing to say. She’s not misplaced. I know exactly where she is. She’s not here anymore.

So, like I said, today is her birthday. No e-mail, no phone call, just this ache where someone I love used to be in my head and my heart.

I was in the neighborhood of the church where she got married. I was in her wedding there, over ten years ago, now. I saw the restaurant where I met her husband, someone else I love very much.

I thought I would go in to the church. I thought I would cry. But then the church was closed for a convention, so there was no crying for me. Not then.

She was a mystic, and she had many things to teach me. This is one of them. You can’t do everything exactly when you want to. Nothing waits. Nothing stays. You can’t engineer a moment of healing, all you can do is wait and let it find you when it will. If it ever comes. Maybe it won’t. Even if it doesn’t, that I want to remember, and grieve, and heal, that has to be enough.

This is the moment, and it is enough. I miss her and I love her, and that is also enough.

Perfection isn’t possible. Why seek it? She said to seek the center, and in the eye of the storm of sadness, and anger, and loss… there will be peace as well.

Happy birthday, Grandmother. I never called you that while you were alive, and now I’m sorry. To be closer would have been better, even if we didn’t know exactly how, and you’ve taught me that.

The Rape of Kindness

Without ascribing any motivations to the speaker, without even dipping one’s toes into the seething, acrid morass that is the politics of gender and sexuality in the geek community, I wish to state beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is, at best, discourteous to make rape jokes. More than that, it is unkind. Unkind because people do get raped, every day, and in circumstances that run the gamut from horrific to horrifically mundane. To turn it into a punchline or a t-shirt is terribly unkind to the large number of people who have to live with it.

The #diversityinsff tag was very interesting to watch yesterday, both on its own merits and in tandem with the very loud Penny Arcade clash of wills over what is and is not appropriate conduct. What I’m taking away from those conversations is that there are a tremendous number of people who want to raise the level of debate about and the quality of our literature and society. And, regrettably, there is perhaps an even greater majority that does not.

In this geek culture to which I in some ways belong, the white, straight male has for some years been ascendant. Like violence? Video games get gorier every year. Like tits? Female characters are noticeably more naked than they used to be. The Geek was marginalized in high school, but no more! No, now he lives in a bubble where he can judge everyone with comradely good fellowship. Women who want to join in this “inclusive” culture by exercising their talents as authors or–god forbid–cosplay artists are mocked if they aren’t thin enough, or if the Higher Geek Authority doesn’t approve of the ways they bend character design in their outfits or in their stories.

Even worse, this Higher Geek Authority seems to feel they have the right to bring up things that are deeply painful to others and toss them around for a laugh! Mike Krahulik actually wants to walk around wearing a shirt that says, essentially, “Team Rapist,” and thinks that’s an okay thing to do, as a member of the human race. What’s he going to do next, sport a baseball cap that says “Team Cancer?”

That seems willfully unkind, at best. It goes directly against the basic humanity of the person viewing the shirt, as well as the person WEARING it.

So I ask you, men of geekdom–yes, you there, with the passion for your community and your media–is this who you want speaking for you? You really want to support the unkindness, the discourtesy, the striking lack of concern for your fellow beings inherent in how this society is operating? (I am leaving out terms like “power,” “oppressive,” “rape culture,” “misogyny,” “racism,” “transphobic,” and “asshole” on purpose. Just in case you were wondering.)

Furthermore, some of your heroes, your idols, the bearers of your torches are going out of your way to belittle and attack the people and the media who in trying to make it better for themselves, will make the debates richer and the books better and the games more interesting for YOU, as they already have. Why would you let that stand? There is no genitals check when you buy a book or a game or a movie, guys. The way I know that is because you’ve been reading books about women for years. Pern? Kushiel? The Honorverse? Any of these best-selling worlds ringing a bell, darlings?

Perhaps some compassion is in order. Some stepping outside one’s own box. Walking in someone else’s shoes, and realizing that four-inch heels are uncomfortable and dangerous to wear as well as thrilling to look at. They can be both, but they are both, and knowing that is important before you go drooling all over the place. (Or criticizing when someone hasn’t made themselves goddess-like to your specifications.) Doesn’t it make the world more interesting, to consider all these layers? Or are you going to listen to the men who tell you all you want is some more rampant titty to stare at while you shovel the traditionally male-oriented, self-aggrandizing pablum that is much of mainstream SF/F down your gullets? Surprise me. I’ll wait.

I’m not going to ask the question “Why aren’t we all better to each other?” because I’m plenty good to you. I listen to you, I take you seriously, I want you to like me, because hey, we all love the same stuff, right? We all like having friends.

What have I done, except love what you love and make it my own, as you have always made it your own. What am I asking for, except respect, a place at the table, and maybe some affection, as I hold on with all my might to my shreds of respect and affection for you. All it would mean is that there would be more to read, and watch, and see, and think about.

With that in mind, I am going to ask this as kindly as I possibly can.

Why aren’t you better to me?

The Wired article “Why I’m Never Going Back to Penny Arcade” and Seanan McGuire’s Twitter feed (@seananmcguire) inspired much of today’s post.

Ask What I’m Writing

I learned this morning that, as a writer, I must be handled with care. Apparently, well-meaning curiosity from friends, family, and colleagues is enough to send me over the edge into a self-doubting spiral of agony and despair from which there is no escape. My goodness. I had no idea my mental state was so fragile.

Original Opinionator post here.

It should have occurred to me before now that my writing must be treated like a terminal illness—to speak of it would be gauche at best, simply too painful at worst. Everyone who loves me and is interested in me should ignore it. We should confine ourselves to speaking of the weather and new mattresses and television shows I have not seen because I have been spending all my time writing.

This guy wrote that to ask someone how their novel is going or what it’s about to is to risk losing their friendship. That writers will hate our friends who somehow, with one polite or interested question, force us to lay our very souls bare. That with such small provocation, our “Inner Critic” will rise up and strangle us.

Makes us seem like rather a wishy-washy, easily led lot, doesn’t it?

You have to be strong in order to write. You really do. Strong enough to follow the voices in your head where they lead you, strong enough in turn to take those voices and tell them where to go. Strong enough that one unhelpful or critical comment from one friend won’t derail you or make you fold in on yourself.

Also, what makes writing such a sacred activity? I have a friend who practices opera, a friend who trains to do an Iron Man, friends who are burlesque dancers and art models and video gamers and readers and LARPers, friends who watch baseball religiously and who sew and who knit and yes, who write. These are the things we love. These are the things that fill our minds, challenge us, and give us happiness. Why shouldn’t we be able to ask our friends about these things, and be asked about them in return?

My rule is that I can’t tell anyone anything about a story until I have written it down. But if someone asks at that point, I use my native intelligence informed by experience as a social animal to gauge their interest and respond accordingly. Why is this so hard? And, really. If I can’t pull together a two sentence description of my current project for widespread consumption, what am I doing?

I like that people are interested in what I’m doing, or at least that I do it. Writing is such a lonely endeavor during the craft of it that to have it acknowledged among the people I know is a surprising pleasure. Answering the occasional question isn’t going to kill me, because I am, in fact, in control of what I say. What a concept for a writer.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mech

I loved Pacific Rim. Let’s just be clear about this. I loved it. When the end credits started, I was disappointed. That’s a feeling I only get at the movies very rarely. The last time I was so inspired by a movie, so drawn into the world presented onscreen, was by Lord of the Rings.

There are some parallels. Pacific Rim, like Lord of the Rings, posits a visually coherent world, with internally consistent assumptions and rules. Every frame of the movie does something to further the action. Every shot, far more than every line of dialogue, tells the story. I could have watched the movie with the sound turned off and still been able to tell you exactly what was going on. This is why we go to the movies, yes? To see things we otherwise wouldn’t be able to see?

A couple of people I talked to about Pacific Rim mentioned how “fanservice-y” it is. This property is pretty much brand spankin’ new. It had fans to service? This movie isn’t “fanservice-y,” it’s entertaining. Have we become so jaded by the semi-passable dreck masquerading as the movies that we are actually inured to having a good time while watching one? This movie has everything! There are gigantic robots! Huge monsters! Strong women! Beautiful men! (If you think those two should be reversed, I don’t want to hear about it.) The score is like eating how your favorite flavor of ice cream sounds! Every character is well-drawn. All the acting is good. The visual effects are utterly believable* and very exciting.

*I say “believable” in the sense that if you’re going to have giant bipedal robots fighting huge sea-going monsters, this looks like how they’d fight. There is nothing believable about the physics of this movie. I’m not sure Pacific Rim has heard of physics. Except gravity. Maybe. Context is everything, where physics is concerned, is how I believe Pacific Rim feels about the whole thing.

But back to my more salient point about entertainment and the movies. We’ve been overwhelmed by underwhelming translations of worn out IPs. Movie after movie in the same franchises lower our expectations because we have the memories of better films to sustain us through the dark times. When liking something becomes a commitment instead of a diversion, it’s easy to sink into your squeaky seat and just let the movie wash over you. You know exactly what you’re going to get. I haven’t been excited or scared or surprised by, say, any of the Marvel movies in ages. (Unless you count how shocked and horrified I was by the emasculation of Wolverine in his latest outing, but that’s a blog for another day.) They just keep coming, and we just keep going.

Pacific Rim reminded me why I go to the movies in the first place. For the delight of finding something immersive, beautiful and a little scary, that I can imagine myself into. I both hope there’s a sequel and hope there isn’t.

Big things.

How do you handle big life changes? Me, I start huge projects. Blankets, 15 x 15 cross-stitch samplers, books. In times of stress, I want to plug away at something. Make it work, bit by bit, see the whole emerging as I go. But projects like that I can abandon if I need to–unlike life, which I’m pretty much stuck with.

Someone said to Voltaire, “Life is hard.” Voltaire answered, “Compared with what?”

I’m going through some big changes now. I already have a blanket, a cross-stitch sampler, and a book on the go. I made a long list of Christmas gifts I want to make, and that took some of the edge off. This time, though, I have a feeling the big thing I need to work at bit by bit is my life. Everything else is… not a distraction, exactly. Just a method of coping, of creating more good things to put into the world.