Welcome to Night Vale

Thoughts and Stories of Lane William Maxfield

I have a theory about human nature. When it comes to the strange, confusing or taboo, we have only three possible responses. We can be disgusted, which prompts us to avoid whatever it is. If that avoidance isn’t allowed, our other options are fear and humor. This makes comedy and horror oddly companionable. Though externally they seem extremely different, they have the potential to explore similar topics, and many stories successfully combine them; the Scream franchise, The Cabin in the Woods, Sweeney Todd, Shaun of the Dead, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and so on. Sometimes the comedy is dominant, sometimes the terror. Where the subject of my final October review falls may be up to the individual.

Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast (and as of a couple weeks ago, a novel) about a small desert community where Lovecraftian terrors are just part of the everyday backdrop. In…

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In October 2014, I left my husband. It was a hard, weird, blurry month. It contained at least two of the worst moments of my life. It was filled with confusion, anger, and fear.

It’s also the month that Greg, Claire, and Galia became my home. They were there for me, immediately and without hesitation. When I didn’t even know what I needed or wanted, they had a warm and safe place for me. Before I could make any decisions about what to do past the current day, they let me nestle into their tiny two-bedroom apartment — originally intended for just two of them to live in — and never for a moment made me feel like I was imposing.

About halfway through October, I decided I wanted a tiny place of my own, a refuge, space to be myself and regroup. With some help I had found one and moved in before the end of the month. I had very little: I slept on an L. L. Bean camp cot, and cooked my breakfast eggs in the one small saucepan I owned.

On October 29, I was walking home at night and came across a couple who were playing with a tiny kitten on the sidewalk. She had been jumping around in the street, they said, and they’d lured her back to the sidewalk. Of course I knelt down and petted her and squealed over her little pink nose and her fuzzy black tail. The couple was on the phone with some local animal authority, who said just to leave her, she probably belonged somewhere nearby. So, after a few minutes, the couple got up and left. I stayed petting her and watching her gambol for a little longer, and when I got up to continue walking home, she pranced alongside me.

We went that way for about three blocks — she would run up ahead to investigate something, and then turn around and wait for me to catch up. I told myself I was NOT going to take her home. My elderly George-cat was just enjoying life as an only cat again, and my brand-new studio was much too small to add a kitten.

black-and-white kitten, hunched down on a bathroom floor looking wary.
First picture!

I got myself over the denial gap by saying, well, at least I should take her in for the night, give her some food and water, and take her to the vet in the morning. That’s the decent and humane thing to do. I brought her home and gave her some water and a little food. At first she seemed unsure about this new thing called “indoors,” but she adjusted quickly. It was already past 11 at night, but I texted a picture to Greg, Claire, and Galia, and within 15 minutes they were all at my place cooing and squeeing. At one point, she was gnawing on Greg’s finger and abruptly fell asleep mid-gnaw. It had been a long day for a kitten.

close-up of black and white kitten looking curiously at something off to the right I’m not sure exactly when I made the decision to keep her, but at the vet next day I named her Sabrina. I bought a book on raising kittens and I made toys out of yarn and cardboard. When she wasn’t a blur of motion, I took as many pictures as I could.

On the face of it, a time of upheaval isn’t a good time to adopt a pet. But she was just what I needed, right then in my life. A thing about codependence is that even when you’ve left your partner for really bad behavior on their part, most of what you feel is guilt — and this sudden unsettling void where all your caregiving energy used to go. Sabrina gave me someone to take care of, someone who needed me in a very uncomplicated way. She gave me a concrete reason to believe I was still a fuzziest ever black and white kitten curled up and sleeping on a denim-clothed lapgood person, I had done something positive in the world, someone was better off because of me. And yet caring for her was hardly martyrdom or sacrifice. Kittens for codependence detox: highly recommended.

Tabby and white cat curled up on a bed, looking a bit scornfully at the black and white kitten sleeping sprawled half-off the mattress.
Judging Sabrina: always a big part of George’s daily life.

We called her the Manic Pixie Dream Kitten because of her effect on George and on Max, Claire’s cat. Both George and Max were male cats who’d been bullied in other multi-cat households. They were sweet and timid and liked cuddling, but were not into chasing and pouncing kinds of games. Sabrina charmed both of them, though. After a few days of wariness, George accepted her as his sometimes-annoying baby sister. He thought her antics were absurd, but one afternoon after watching her chase a piece of danging string for several minutes, he gave the thing some swats himself.

As for Max, we took her over to meet him in early December. The first time she visited, he followed her as she explored all over the apartment, going into all the Black cat sitting up while the kitten, sprawled on her back, swipes at his tail.places she’d just vacated, presumably to make sure she hadn’t messed anything up. I took her over there on a pretty regular basis, and by Christmastime they were buddies, and would chase each other around the house.

Black and white cat sprawling on a fuzzy blanket with her eyes squinched shut.
Or sprawled. Whatever.

Now we live in a bigger place, with stairs that Sabrina loves to tear up and down. Most nights she sleeps curled up at my feet. We still call her “kitten” even though technically I guess she’s an adult now. She rarely meows… mostly she makes little chirping noises. But sometimes when one of us leaves she’ll stand at the door downstairs and meow piteously. I think she loves us.

Happy Adoptiversary, Sabrina. You’ve been making my home happier for a year now, and I’m so thankful for you. Here’s to many more years together.Black and white cat curled up and sleeping on a bed.

Babadook and Dark Water

Thoughts and Stories of Lane William Maxfield

Supernatural horror is a massive subgenre, and many excellent works have been made simply using ghosts and demons as scary monsters. They let us all indulge the little parts of our mind that, in the middle of the night, goes back to our ancestors in caves and wonders “what if there really is something out there?” Then there are those that try using the supernatural as symbols of a real world terror. Not all of those work as well as simple chillers, but when the writers have a good understanding of the issue they are talking about, and a good grasp of the art of subtlety, the results can be wonderful. In fact, they can be used to talk about issues that are hard to portray directly.

Because nobody is more vulnerable than a child, and a few billion years of evolution compel us to protect them, horror loves to…

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Thoughts and Stories of Lane William Maxfield

Absentia is one of my absolute favorite horror films. I don’t measure my enjoyment of horror films quite the way I do others. Normally I look at both my enjoyment the first time around and how it holds up after a few rewatches. With horror, I don’t want to watch it too often. I want to forget the jumps and the twists, so that I’ll still get tense when the lights go out and nothing has gone wrong in almost three minutes. So, instead, I pick favorites based on how much they haunt me. Despite not seeing Absentia for two years before I watched it for this review, I’ve thought of it more than any other horror film I’ve seen. It’s damn good.

Absentia Callie

The title comes from the legal term “in absentia,” meaning that legal proceedings are going on despite the absence of something. In this case, Daniel Riley disappeared…

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Side Effects; A Missed Opportunity

Another review from my October theme of scary movies, with a nice wide undefined definition of scary. Enjoy!

Thoughts and Stories of Lane William Maxfield

Horror and action are genres that both frequently deal with dangerous situations, and yet it’s fairly rare that they get mixed up. Action is about the point where danger is active, and can be battled out in the open. There are clear boundaries between danger and safety, good and evil. It typically stars someone highly capable of handling the threat. Indiana Jones, Batman and Imperator Furiosa may have the odds stacked against them, but they are still trained and resourceful in exactly the ways the crisis demands. Horror, on the other hand, tends to focus on dangers that are lurking, liminal, or hidden just out of sight, and they involve protagonists who are completely unprepared to deal with the threat when it will finally come out of the dark. Action lets us escape to a world where we can take on our greatest foes; horror tells us what to do…

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I Am Not a Serial Killer

Thoughts and Stories of Lane William Maxfield

Typically I write my reviews on movies, not novels, for two reasons. One is that it is less of a commitment of time and effort to rewatch a movie with notepad in hand to make my overthinking extra overthinky. The other is that I’ve heard from several authors that it’s a good idea to leave the bad reviews to the professional reviewers. I often get a lot out of analyzing stories that I think did something poorly, and when I do that I always go for Hollywood. However, for my first idea-rich horror review, I am breaking that trend. There’s no need to reread I Am Not a Serial Killer, because all the relevant details are stuck quite firmly in my mind, and there will certainly be no need to say anything negative.

I Am Not a Serial Killer is the first book in a series by Dan Wells…

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Everyday Feminism! And other news

Hi all! I’ve been absent from here for a while, sorry about that. These days, I seem to periodically go into a hole where I am wrestling with a lot of my personal shit, and staying on top of my part-time job is about all the productivity I can muster. I’m learning to be at peace with that… I’ve survived some rough experiences and it’s okay that my brain sometimes needs to take some time off from doing anything but processing them and coping with life.

But I have some super-exciting news! I’m now officially a contributing writer for Everyday Feminism, one of the smartest and most effective sites of feminist writing I’ve ever encountered. I’ve been honored to write a couple of guest pieces for them before, and I’m over the moon that they invited me to join their regular team! I’ll be posting there about bi-weekly, and I’ll try to remember to link from here. Here, I’ll get started right now! My first article, on mindfulness, body awareness, and sex. (This, like many posts to come, will include some personal sharing that might be TMI for people related to me. Or might not! But wanted to mention it.)

Also, NaNoWriMo. I first did NaNo in 2002 I think? And I did it almost every year until grad school sounded the knell of doom on that and basically all fiction writing. And then last fall was pretty much entirely consumed with processing the dissolution of my marriage, so. I promised myself that this year I’d jump back on the train, because I miss fiction and I miss writing with that hands-in-the-air, free-for-all communal feeling that NaNo gives you. And then I forgot all about it, and I committed to writing two articles a month for Everyday Feminism, and was feeling like I’d given myself just enough of a project load that I’d need to stay on top of it but could manage, and then someone I know tweeted about NaNoWriMo, and I went “…dammit.”

Well, I’m going to give it a go anyway; my actual job and EF will come first, but if I even crank out 15,000 words of fiction during November, that’ll be more than I’ve written in the last three years combined, and I’ll feel great about it. Needless to say, I’m not pre-plotting… the next couple of weeks will be spent in idly thinking of concepts that would be fun to write about, and maybe building a character name bank because otherwise I’ll continually be stalling out on new characters and what to call them.

And I’m gonna try to blog more. I haven’t even talked about how I’m training to be a doula, or how I took up running and am doing a 5k this weekend! So I have lots to talk about. Until next time!

In-Fighting Among Trans People

My sister recently sent me this very interesting article by Jen Richards on the topic of in-fighting in the trans community. We have both observed and talked about the phenomenon. While every community has issues with members not getting along, trans people in particular tend to pick on each other for… god, at this point nothing would surprise me. I’ve seen flame wars that erupted over whether you put a space between trans man and trans woman or whether it’s okay to write transman and transwoman*. Most commonly, though, the issue revolves around fights between people whose experiences of their transition were different; because one had intense physical dysphoria and another felt indifferent to their body but more comfortable socially after transitioning; because one person was fairly binary and one very genderqueer; because one was an FtM who resents the way MtFs dominate the trans narrative and the other was an MtF who resents the way FtMs fly under the radar and get slightly less murdered. There are even more examples in that article, and I’m sure anyone who has spent a fair amount of time in trans circles has their own stories.

I think the author described the phenomenon very well, but I’m not sure I agree with what she identifies as the cause. She suggests that queer white trans women are typically the most visible, and so they lead the narrative, but often they have little experience of overt oppression. The shock of the change is one they are ill equipped to deal with. Many do become wonderful advocates (love you Kate Bornstein!) but some do not, and the loud, ugly voices can drown out the others. This makes sense, but the reason I disagree is that most of the aggression I’ve seen has come from white trans men… but that might be just because I’ve mostly been exposed to trans men. So initially I discounted that, but then I thought, “well, maybe she’s overrating the number of vitriolic queer white trans women for the same reason.” Maybe if you polled any type of trans person, they would say their type is the worst, simply because they see plenty of the good and bad while the only other trans voices that transcend the boundaries are the most decent, level-headed ones. Or maybe not. I really don’t know.

Her post did give me another thought though; the trans movement may be at a disadvantage because of how much intersectionality is inherently involved. Intersectionality always complicates discussions of privilege and oppression. Most groups get to talk about intersectionality as a secondary issue. You can talk about the way society treats women, and come up with some things that apply across the board, and then get into how race, ability, economic status, queerness etc tweaks their experience of misogyny. This makes it easier to come up with a basic message and platform, and intersectionality can branch off of that. But if you are talking about trans issues, no less than three identities intersect.

First, there’s the gender identity itself. Depending on whether you are MtF/transfeminine or FtM/transmasculine, the rules you are raised with, the rules you need to get used to and the way people react as you present opposite to your assigned sex are all very different. Second, there’s orientation. Now, who you are attracted does not have anything to do with who you feel you are… except that society conflates the two so often that orientation inevitably becomes part of a discussion about gender identity, if for no other reason than to clarify. Furthermore, switching from gay to straight or vice versa is such a shift in dating worlds, it does become a significant part of many trans experiences. Even bisexuals have to tread some new waters. Finally, there’s binary vs non-binary. Do you feel wholly male, or was male just closer-enough, or are you not medically transitioning because even though you have “man days” being seen as a woman is comfortable enough that full transition isn’t worth the hassle? Do you fall outside of that spectrum completely?

Just imagine if every discussion of race had to also include gender and disability, with the latter requiring an intensive discussion of how disabilities can be invisible or visible, cognitive or physical, and include everything from your basic paraplegia or depression to something as rare and complex as progeria or Harlequin Ichthyosis? It would be so difficult for anyone to get even remotely close to honest, accurate representation of their unique combination of identities. Unless the situation was handled very openly and delicately, you would end up with a lot of people getting completely pissed at each other for hogging their spotlight.

Because this is what we have to deal with in trans spaces, people who want to be included end up feeling vulnerable and neglected in the very place they went to feel safe. Some of them take it out on other trans people, and a vicious cycle emerges.
I do think there is one bright aspect to this issue. It is true, I think, that trans advocates tend to be more bitter, vitriolic and in-fighting-y than other social justice groups. But I also think that when they aren’t like that, they are some of the best groups out there. In trans advocacy, the learning curve is steep, so you either grab up the nastiest tactics of activism and use them to get revenge on everyone who you think is hurting less than you, or you learn quickly to be truly sensitive and accepting of everyone.
I’m not sure how to end this, so I’m going to blatantly steal. This is from Jen Richards’ conclusion in that article linked above; “There is no simple solution to these issues. Which isn’t the point. Truly supporting trans people will require education and patience. It will require an effort to know us and our issues well enough to make informed decisions… There is a crisis facing trans people, and the response will need to be as intersectional, sophisticated, and persistent as the causes. There doesn’t need to be a singular trans movement to rise to that challenge.”
Well said. Good luck to all of us.
*I think the space looks better, but people, let’s not lose our heads over this. Especially if the context is “um, hi guys, I’ve felt really awkward all my life and I think I might be a transman… I don’t know what to do nobody I know is trans somebody please help I’m 17 btw.”

Toxic Communities

Trigger warning for emotional abuse

This post over at Amusing Nonsense left a bitter taste in my mouth, but not because of anything he said. Word by word, everything he said seemed pretty accurate and made sense. It’s just that it was a defense of New Atheists, and my sister’s two abusive exes were the first New Atheists I ever met, and that association, for me, will probably always be there.

The comments over there are consistently excellent discussions. On that particular post, a recurring topic was whether or not atheists are in danger of falling into the same traps of groupthink and extremist, mindless passion as most other groups. I don’t think it’s a danger; it’s an inevitability, because I have never met a political subculture where some factions didn’t fall into this trap. Feminists, liberals, queer communities, social justice advocates… every one of these groups that I (proudly) belong to has also contained rather sizable groups of people who I just have to avoid because of horrible petty bullshit.

In all of these cases, I have heard defenses that a person’s feminism/atheism/Christianity/-ism of choice had nothing to do with their overall shittiness, and thus shouldn’t reflect on the group they are a part of. For the most part, I agree with this. Any sufficiently large group will contain some awful people, and the group as a whole shouldn’t necessarily be blamed for this. However, I want to go a little deeper.

When you have someone clever, mean spirited and engaged in some sort of movement, they can often find ways to twist an ideology to serve their own purpose. For example, a New Atheist behavior I frequently saw was using religion as an excuse to separate a newly-deconverted atheist from their former friends. Religious people often come from circles where nearly everyone they know is religious. Often some former friends will cut a friend who lost their faith off, but usually some people will be interested in maintaining a respectful friendship. New Atheists can shame a lowercase new atheist for still having religious ties, or belittle their remaining religious friends to their faces and take said friend’s offense as proof that they are intolerant of atheists and bad, bad people. This is a classic predator tactic; cut the victim from their former support network, so they have no one to help them and may even be completely dependent on the abuser. In certain politically idealistic communities, it is common to have a reflexively derisive attitude towards those unenlightened outsiders, so this kind of behavior may not even be noticed as unusual, while some shy newcomer is being harassed or even beaten up behind closed doors.

Again, this is not a problem of ALL NEW ATHEISTS ARE EVIL!!! It’s an example of how even a good idea can be twisted. (Good ideas like “atheists should be as free to be open about their lack of belief as Christians are about their having-of-belief, and also religion should either get out of the public sector or be willing to share the space with everybody. And that’s actually everybody, not ‘epic Nativity scene plus a menorah in a corner somewhere’ everybody.”) And the trouble is that while communities are great at recognizing abusive tactics when they are shrouded in an ideology that isn’t theirs, they are terrible at recognizing the exact same tactics when the language used is their own.

So what’s the solution to this? I don’t think there’s a perfect one that will eliminate this happening ever. That would be like expecting weeds to not show up in your garden. You can spread down some mulch to minimize it, but sooner or later something will pop up. The only solution is to be aware that it happens, even in your garden. If you’re somebody who has the power to weed, then make sure you check for weeds.

And for those who don’t have that power, let me tell you what I wish somebody had told me and my sister. If you like the ideals that get passed around in a group, but often find yourself feeling belittled, bullied and ignored, or if you’re not but you feel like you constantly have to live up to high standards of behavior in order to not be treated that way, that means you’re in one of those weedy subgroups. Leave. It’s okay. If these ideas are as awesome as you think they are, somewhere out there is a group where people live those ideals without being total assholes.

Why We Need Scary Stories

Thoughts and Stories of Lane William Maxfield

I love Halloween. I love seeing the world covered in skulls, vampires, bats and zombies. I love the excuse to watch scary movie after scary movie. I love the way that, once out of the year, the world is joining me in contemplation of the grotesque and horrifying.

I have some issues with anxiety. Even when nothing is wrong, my brain likes to pump my head full of scary juices. In fact, it’s worst when nothing is wrong. An actual crisis, for me, is like a vacation. All the unnecessary panic feels like rehearsal, and I can finally put all the adrenaline and hyper-awareness to good use. Perhaps that’s why, so often, my thoughts turn towards disturbing topics or terrifying stories. The emotions are going to be there anyway. It’s nice to give them some appropriate subject matter, to keep them company.

Even for people who aren’t like me, I…

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