Tag Archives: shame

Writing: Romances, the Pride and the Shame

writing, novels, writers, authors, Harlequin, romance novels, writing and working

Making fun of Harlequin covers is a favorite past time of some, and could be one reason my friend doesn’t want it known she wrote romance novels.

I’ve was talking to a friend of mine who in the distant past wrote and sold several novels to Harlequin. She did this at a time in her life when she was a single mother of two  and was trying to support them while putting herself through school. She is an artist who does beautiful paintings now.

Now the interesting thing is that Harlequin is viewed by some as low brow and by others as prestige. Low brow because we’re just reading those trashy romances and if you write a trashy romance, well, you’re not a real writer. Prestige because Harlequin pays quite well, is a successful publisher and you’ve written for Harlequin. Perspective, you see. I have another friend writing and trying to sell romances right now and she thinks it’s a great thing to do.

Harlequin as a publisher is one of North Americas more stable publishing houses. Writers tend to be paid fairly well because Harlequin has a high sell-through. Although the stories might be a paper chick flick and perhaps formulaic in the guy and gal always get each other in the end, there is a lot of range in their romance novels these days from mildly titillating to downright penetrative, in all senses of the term. Harlequin has been branching out as well into fantasy and other genres, whether werewolves, vampires or some other creature that goes bump in the night and indeed they still must go bump. I did sell one story to a Harlequin fairy tale anthology and of course it was romantic and/or erotic.

The Romance Writers of America is not only a well-attended association of writers and would-be writers but also brings in top agents and writers to local conferences. I know several people who have joined the RWA just for these aspects, even if they do not write romance. Basically romance today is not your mother’s romance.

So, this conversation with my friend was quite interesting. I present it here, edited because she does not want her name revealed. In fact I have never ever been able to find out what name she wrote under and I’m only one of a few people who even know she wrote romances.

No, I don’t care if folks think of me as what I am. ;D ….. I mean that’s how I caught my beloved D by being wild and lascivious, isn’t it?

Well that’s a lie…at least the part about me not being embarrassed about people really knowing who I am. Just so you know…I do not tell anyone the name I wrote under because I did it for the money…and only the money for my girls. When I do speak of my writing it is mostly because I really want the person I’m talking to , to understand that I really do understand the pressures of creating something salable, like a story or a book…for a paycheck.

My writing was an act of desperation. I wrote like an East End drug addicted prostitute whores herself. I

writing, juggling work, writing romance novels, Romance Writers of America, Harlequin romances

My friend juggled a job, going to school, raising two girls and writing romance novels. Creative Commons: Misty de Vries, Mercator

had  two kids to feed and  I needed to earn more money. I had no child support and a barely above min. wage job. I started writing  after work when the girls were in bed, I wrote on the bus going to work, lunch breaks at the store, I wrote on a scribbler, took it home and then wrote it up of the typewriter later that night (yes, she did all this before computers). Being dyslexic, it was like slavery. I had to concentrate so hard even when I was utterly bagged. I had no grace, no time to muck about and, God help me, if I screwed it up because then  my children would go without. So I wrote what I knew would sell and did it as quickly as I could type up the pages. I could not think of another way to earn enough money to look after T and K. I was so tired all the time my writing could not be the least jot original. I was caught between the rock and the hard place with no help. My family would not help me. I had shamed them with my divorces. My mother cut me off, not that she had ever supported me but she made it clear, as she said, I had made my bed …. If I was broke, it was my fault. As a solution I turned to writing because it was  something I could crank out while being at home with my children.

My writing is not something of which, I was ever proud. That is not to say I am not proud of the accomplishment of using my wits to take care of the girls.

I am.

But I was  not  nor ever will be, a  writer. I was, by  some miracle and a short period of time,  an adequate hack, which is something else entirely.

Also It was not a happy time for me. And the whole writing thing is forever tainted in my mind with all of that  desperate hungry  unhappiness.

A few years ago when my health took a little turn I tried writing again; but this time I tried to write stories I might want to read. I tried a lot, then some more… I tried and tried.

I went back to drawing.

So at last, I will get to the  point, I will enthusiastically pass on my recommendations. And for your piece of mind. I will also run them through the spell checker… so they won’t think an idiot wrote them. Don’t you love computers!

Talk about stress! A part of me wishes I had never said anything or agreed to  your request.

So… to the issue at hand. There were 5 in all.

She has her reasons for not feeling she was a writer, and she feels her novels were not very good. I’ve never read them (or any Harlequin) for that matter, so I don’t know the quality. However, I told her that she was an inspiration…because she wrote, and finished several novels and sold them. That in itself is a great accomplishment. I know because I’ve been working on my second novel for ten years! I plan on finishing it by April because it’s getting ridiculous. So while my friend feels she was a hack who wrote to survive, I wish I could write as a full-time job. These days it’s even harder to sell something because there are so many more people writing and computers and the internet made it easier. But I’ll still hold my friend in high regard, even if I never find out what she wrote or what name she wrote under.

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Fire: Seducer, Destroyer

Creative Commns: CC-SA, share, 365. lemasney, postaday2011

Like many children I was fascinated with fire. We didn’t have many opportunities to see it in all its chaotic glory: our house had no fireplace and my mother rarely lit candles. The exception was at Thanksgiving and Christmas. There was the central candelabra and four candles that spelled out NOEL, shaped like either snowmen or reindeer (I actually can’t remember). Each kid had one that also was a letter in their name. We all had N and E in our names. My sister and I only had L and I was the only O so it was m letter. These were reverently lit every Christmas but preserved for many years.

The only other time we would see a live fire was when camping in the summer, which we did pretty much every year as that’s an affordable vacation for lower middle class families with not a lot of spare cash. Marshmallow roasts and s’mores and of course, staring into the flames, watching all those fire sprites dance and caper about.

Perhaps it was these tantalizingly slim glimpses that tempted my brother and me to more dangerous games. My parents hadn’t separated yet, which meant that matches were readily available because my father smoked.

It might have started with finding a stub of a candle. I was probably eight or nine and my brother six or seven. We would come home from school for lunch and sneak downstairs to play before going back. Obviously my mother was otherwise occupied or we would have received a good whooping just for lighting the candle. But hiding out in the cement playground, the rumpus room, we would light up the candle, then take the papers straws absconded from the kitchen and light the ends. Ah, the role models of smokers. That’s what we did. We pretended we were smoking those paper straws, always putting out the fire when we were done. This was the more guilty of the two activities that involved fire, but one we were never caught at.

On the weekends we would get up early, as kids are wont to do, and go down to the rumpus room to play with dolls and trucks. There was a spare bed in there that we would sit on and dress the dolls. One morning we dropped a piece of doll’s clothing below the bed. Of course we had the candle lit because we could. My brother took that stub of a candle and looked under the bed for the clothing. The flame licked at the under structure of the bed and before we knew it, things were beginning to smolder. We could see the smoke rising and kept running to the bathroom filling cups of water and pouring them on the mattress. But the smoke grew thicker…and thicker.

Finally, realizing this was getting out of control, my brother and I did the walk of doom, up the stairs to my mother’s bedroom. We had a right to fear because her punishments were often harsh and heavy with wooden spoons and leather straps. I awoke my mother and said, “We were just playing… and all of a sudden the bed caught on fire.”

She was up in moments, and had awakened my older brother downstairs (he would have been about 16/17) He got to haul the mattress outside and house it down. Surprisingly, my mother soundly scolded us but didn’t beat us, laying the blame at my feet, saying, “You should have known better. You’re older.”

I was so ashamed for years about this incident that I didn’t tell anyone until I was in my later twenties. That scold was way more effective than a spanking would have been. My brother and I never repeated our firebug ways and got off light, in terms of punishment and destruction. I have candles now, have had other dangerous dances with fire but I’m very careful about candles.

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I Don’t Get Religious Coverings

I should title this “I don’t get religious head coverings” but in essence it applies to any covering. Now I imagine this post will probably get me in the bad books of a lot of religions, but let’s just say I’m not against a religious covering in one religion or necessarily all religions. I’ve actually put off writing this for a long time, not out of fear but because I thought I should educate myself more. But there are a lot of religions and no matter how much I read I’m likely to miss some crucial element somewhere. And like every layperson out there I have questions that probably only a scholar could answer.

So, let me frame my confusion with this statement: I am an egalitarian. I expect and believe that everyone should be given an equal opportunity, whether in jobs, lifestyle or religion and that one group is not made to do differently than another because of gender or race. I have a huge problem with any religion that allows priests/clerics/spiritual leaders to be of only one gender. And there are many. Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism. There are sects in these religions that often allow for female leaders but overall, the pope can only be a man, the Dalai Lama (only one sect of Buddhism) is always a man, Jewish and Muslim leaders/holy men seem to only be men. Hinduism does seem to be one religion that has no leader over others though different sects might worship a female god or a male one. Paganism likewise has both male and female priests but again there are sects that are male or female exclusive.

But when it gets down to the clothing and the headgear I ask why does one person wear it over the other and how does this treat all human beings as equal? Jewish men wear the yarmulke/kippah (as well as the pope and other ranks in Catholicism), Sikh men wear the turban, Tuareg men wear the veil/turban but the women don’t. Muslim women wear the burka or veil, but the men don’t. Catholic nuns (some of them wear the wimple) but the men don’t though they wear a mitre or kippah on their heads. Why?

At one time in all these cultures’ histories, their robes were the style of the time. Then the religion became codified and traditionalized, setting like cement in time and never more to have the clothing change. Why do Christian priests wear cassocks and the nuns wear wimples: because it was the style when the church finally gained its true strength. Clothing wasn’t part of the religion and then it was. And suddenly, what was cultural dress became symbolism for faith. I can understand a faith that says your hair or head needs to be covered under the eyes of God (or whatever) but then it shouldn’t be a veil for women or a turban for men while the other gender gets to wear nothing or little. I also wonder why, if God created us, in all these religions, why he should want us to then hide? Shouldn’t we shine with the glory of his/her creation?

I’ve attended Native/First Nation sweats where a man could go in, in shorts but a woman had to be covered from neck to ankle and to wrist. Why? Because  a woman might be enticing? So, does that mean a semi-nude man isn’t enticing and why is it the woman’s responsibility for a man’s reaction? To me that says that men are animals, wild and uncontrollable and if that’s the case, they should not be in charge of anything, should they? The sweat was pitch black and so hot you didn’t want to touch yourself let alone anyone else and the farthest thing on anyone’s mind was sex. But still the women had to carry the brunt of this bigotry.

So why is a woman made to wear a burka or cover her hair? Why doesn’t a man have to do the same? Is a woman’s hair too beautiful and God is jealous? Are men going to turn into ravening, covetous animals? Shouldn’t they be chained and hobbled then? Is a man’s hair too boring to be enticing? How is it fair in any religion where a god or gods treats one half of his/her creations better or worse over the other? That already sets up a hierarchy of favoritism just based on gender. Not very good grounds for believing if you’re the underdog in the religion.

It is not the belief or faith, or tenets of the religion itself, where the pursuit is spiritual enlightenment that bothers me. It is the strictures and restrictions on only certain groups within the religion (or those outside of it) that disturb me greatly. Albeit, in all these religions, and the ones I haven’t mentioned there are sects, and a range of tolerance from acceptability to fundamental condemnation, and I use the word fundamental with all its horrid connotations. Fundamentalism in any religion is a sign of intolerance and fear, without a willingness to believe that people are different. But people should be able to choose, not be shamed, guilt-tripped or subjugated into the role of religious unworthy in their belief system.

If a religion requires a robe or a headcovering, then make it the same for everyone, not of two different levels depending on whether you’re blessed or only slightly blessed. I would find it hard to follow/convert to any spiritual belief where my god already saw me as a lesser being than my fellow believers. I’m waiting for someone to enlighten me.

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Head Lice and Shame

I grew up in Alberta. There, the winters are cold enough that the only animal that had fleas would be mangy and often diseased. And head lice were unheard of. Perhaps the cold worked at keeping the numbers down there too.

Then I moved to BC, where there was a plethora of insects and other buggy vermin: spiders that flew in the wind on their spinnerets, spiders the size of your palms, slugs as long as a foot-long sub, moths, aphids, fleas on every animal if the summer was humid, mosquitoes year-round even if they didn’t bite, horseflies, black widows, bugs, everywhere!

The fleas were a horrid revelation and took some getting used to. I was particularly sensitive to the bites and after spending a summer of scratching my legs to bloody, I saw my doctor for something to stop the itching. That, and I moved out from my messy roommates and into a place on my own. Oh yes, keeping things clean can make a difference in the virulence of an infestation. Vacuuming regularly kept the eggs at bay and then it was a matter of making sure the cat was flea-combed or giving it some anti-flea liquid. Fleas are one of a host of vampiric bugs, commonly known as parasites, which include bedbugs, mosquitoes and lice.

Lice have been close buddies of humans for three million years. Which means we may never be able to eradicate them without eradicating humans. Why am I talking about lice? Because I had the utmost misfortune of encountering them. I was once visiting friends who had kids. I slept on the floor, on a mat, in a sleeping bag and played with the kids while there.

A week later, I had a bit of a rash on my neck but I have sometimes got the same thing from mild allergies so it didn’t seem unusual. But one day I was reading a paper, scratching at my head when this bug fell on to the paper. Frantically I began shaking my hair and ruffling it, watching in horror as more vermin fell to the page. Little beige, eye shaped vermin. There is nothing more disgusting than finding live critters crawling on your body.

I don’t remember what I did next but I found out pretty damn quickly that they were lice. Next was going to the pharmacy and wincing as I said I had lice and what should I do. They sold me some tarry shampoo, which I ran home and used. I’ve read you can coat your hair in olive oil, which is supposed to work. Any other oil in a person’s hair and it takes forever to remove. Supposedly olive oil is the only oil that can be shampooed out. Reading the little pamphlet, it said to use the comb afterwards, the special louse comb to remove the nits, which are the eggs of the little vampires. I did but having fairly long hair, there was no way I could be sure that I got them all.

I didn’t relish shaving my head, which is often what happens when kids get lice. So I shamefully called up one of my best friends and asked her if she would be so good as to comb through my hair. I sat outside, luckily in summer and she took a couple of hours to comb through all my hair. I used the shampoo several more times. But I also had to wash any bedclothes or clothes lying about. I had to bag every cushion or anything else of fabric for weeks. I had to vacuum feverishly.

Luckily I got rid of them. But I also did the responsible thing, although I felt ashamed for getting lice and felt dirty. I contacted everyone I had been around and told them what they had to do. I was also extremely pissed off at the friends whose place I was at because they never bothered to warn me, knowing their kids’ school had lice and that their kids had had them several times. That they could be so disrespecting of their friends and so uncaring of their children truly stunned me.

Then about a month later I picked up the lice again because I was around the same people and I had to inform everyone a second time. These people said nothing. Were they too ashamed to admit it? I don’t know but I had to say where I had got them so friends could check themselves. But I can say that I never ever visited or stayed at those people’s houses ever again. 

As far as I’m concerned they should have felt shame for not informing their friends. It’s the same as picking up any contagious disease or illness (like STDs) and not letting the people you came into contact with that they could be infected. That being said, we all manage to pass colds on from one person to the next but by the time you realize you have a cold, you’ve already infected others and with colds all you can do is bide your time. Infestations of vermin are another story and they can get out of hand if not controlled.

Having been fed on by mosquitoes, fleas and lice, I can say I would miss these bugs if they disappeared off the face of the earth. I’ve paid my dues and given enough blood.

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Memories: Firebugs

Everyone makes mistakes in their lives or does things innocently without considering the consequences. We learn sometimes in a trial by fire. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, or smarter or at least thinking, I sure won’t do that again.

My first true experience with fire was when I was about eight and my brother six.  We weren’t in the habit of burning candles around the house. Still, there were matches to be found because my father smoked. My little brother and I would come home from school at lunch hours and light paper straws and smoke them, or pretended to. I guess no one was home at the time because we surely wouldn’t have got away with this if my mother was around.

This was all well in our enactment of adult activities, but then we proceeded to candles (there were a few around the house). On Saturday mornings when all the older folk were asleep my brother and I would get up to play in our unfinished (cement floor and that fake wood paneling on the walls) “rumpus room.” Since we couldn’t make too loud a rumpus at that time, we’d play with my dolls or his cars. There was an old bed in there, an ideal place to play. At one point I dropped a piece of doll’s clothing under the bed, so my brother went to look for it, where it was dark, with a candle.

Yep, before we knew it the bed was starting to smolder. We ran back and forth from the bathroom downstairs filling glasses of water and tossing it on the bed. But the fire was underneath and happily consuming the dry interior. After some minutes of our futile attempts and the house slowly filling with smoke, we made the hard decision and trucked upstairs to my mother’s bedroom to wake her. And of course we said, “We were just playing and all of a sudden this fire started.”

My mother got my older brother up who took the mattress out to the yard to hose it down. No real harm done, thankfully. Surprisingly, we didn’t get the living daylights beat out of us but instead were chastised soundly, me especially, because I was older and should have known better. The chastisement worked. I was so ashamed that I didn’t tell my firebug tale until I was in my late twenties.

My second run-in was at a comedy dinner show. I believe it was a Fawlty Towers theme which worked well through the dinner. After we ate, half the table had to turn to see the stage. The tables had tealights all over and I had hair nearly to my waist at the time. I heard this shout behind me and someone batted at my head. Apparently my hair was flaming from the tealight and I hadn’t heard anything…yet. Someone else was about to pour a pitcher of water on my hair but they got it out before I knew what was happening. The whole restaurant smelled of burned hair, which the actors used to say their next show would be “Hair.”

And my hair? The burned part was mostly indiscernible. It had only burned a surface layer. There was that one purely stupid move one time, where I lit a pillar candle on my mantle. But then I wanted to see if it was scented and what scent it was so I picked up the candle and looked underneath, with the flame burning. And I burned my bangs.  Duh, that was a smart one.

What have I learned from all this? Don’t play with fire. Be cautious and know your surroundings when fire is present. Don’t do stupid things near fire. Pretty simple really. There is one last fire tale, which is long but I’ll try to shorten it.

At one point I was in Pennsylvania camping with a very large group of  people (very very large group) enough that we wandered from campsite to campsite partying. On the last night, it was raining hard enough that we were pretty wet, but it was a warm rain. There was mud everywhere so we left our shoes in the campground because they were getting destroyed, and we wandered, with alcohol.

I was actually not drunk yet when I decided to bellydance around one fire. I was ankle deep in mud and I ended up slipping on the slimy surface and going down on my right knee and both hands into the fire. Luckily two guys pulled me out immediately. My hands weren’t burned and I decided it was a sign from the gods to quit.

As we wandered away in the dark, I pulled up my still wet (from the rain) pant leg, touched my leg below the knee and said, yeah, I burned myself. Then I proceeded to drink the night away and ignored the burn for another 12 hours. When I eventually, the next day, looked at my leg, it was black and crusty. The medics on site tried to clean, which put me into shock.

When I flew home I had to go to the hospital for burn treatment, which put me in shock again. I also needed antibiotics for a bacteria that can set in after 24 hours and be very serious. And I needed burn treatment (cleaning, burn cream and rewrapping every day) for two weeks. Luckily the burn was below the knee as opposed to be on the joint, and I was in Calgary where their walk-in clinics were equipped for such things.

I figured out what had happened that night was that my cotton clothing was wet from the rain. My hands didn’t burn because I wasn’t in the fire long enough. My pants weren’t burned because they were wet, but there had been a bar (for roasting meat) in the fire and I had been steam burned that night, receiving a third degree burn and a permanent scar. The only good thing about a third degree burn is that it doesn’t hurt much because the nerves have been killed.

To this day, I have no feeling in that one spot on my leg. The scar is relatively small and I have a stupidity award. I don’t drink tequila anymore. Even if I wasn’t drunk when I slipped up, I figure why tempt fate with more. What did I learn that last time? Don’t play with fire, don’t dance in the mud, don’t fall into fires. I really do hope that’s my last life’s lesson with fire.

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Eating Disorders and the Forbidden Food

I grew up with an eating disorder. It’s not that I wanted to be a super skinny creature after seeing too many anorexic models and movie stars. I didn’t want to layer myself in cushions of fat to keep the world at bay. Really, to this day, I don’t know what my reasoning was but I know I had no control.

The background is that my father sexually abused my older sister and me. That leaves a lifetime of scars. I don’t have statistics before me but I know in the past that I’ve read that something like 80% of people who were sexually abused have eating disorders. Cause and effect.

For me, it was a bit of a different style. I wouldn’t starve myself, but I would binge, but never throw up. I was missing that second half of the bulimic equation. Mostly, from such an unbalanced diet, I would get diarrhea and purge that way. Anorexics and bulimics might take Ex-lax or stick their fingers down their throats to vomit. Mine was more natural. I tried the throwing up thing once and couldn’t do it.

No one ever binges on lettuce or carrots. It’s sweets and carbohydrates; junk food and fatty foods. I was put on a diet by the doctor when I was about 12 (my eating disorder began around the same time). I remember nothing of what I was supposed to eat, except sneaking down to the freezer in the basement and pilfering cookies. When I was in my late teens/early twenties, I would buy candies from various stores. Like an alcoholic, I would try to not hit the same store twice in case they started to recognize and judge me. I never had any change in my purse because I used every spare cent for sugary crap.

Once I was going off to dance class. (I was living with my boyfriend but I hid my sweet secret from him too.) I had a bag of smarties (or something similar). I threw it in the dumpster when I left for the class but when I came home, I dug it out, ashamed but unable to stop myself. No one knew I had this eating disorder. It was a dark secret, a terrible stigma. When I moved to Vancouver it continued, in my home, when alone. I ate normally in front of people.

I tried diets several times. But my pattern of not eating much and then binging on a full bag of cookies, a box of chocolates, a carton of ice cream, continued. Diets worked to a degree, until one year. I tried Weight Watchers and gained in the first week. I hated myself. I weighed 175 lbs, more than I’d ever weighed, I was single but all my friends weren’t, and I’d fallen in love (accidentally) with a man who couldn’t love me. I nearly became an alcoholic, recognizing that abyss only when I was hanging over it by a thread.

Finally desperate enough, I went to my doctor and said, “Some of my friends think I have an eating disorder.” She said, “Which friends?” I said, “Well, me.” Then she asked if I’d been sexually abused and I burst out crying, while at the same time I sat there and watched myself cry, feeling odd and disassociated with my reaction. She sent me to a psychiatrist who specialized in eating disorders. He asked me if I’d been sexually abused and I had the same disassociated reaction. At the end of that first session he said my eating disorder had nothing to do with being sexually abused. ??WTF? Then he put me on various meds like Prozac and Fenfluramine, and then Fluvoxamine when the first didn’t work. He promised that I would lose weight. I never did.

The counselling of course was nil and I’d go to his evening sessions with all the skinny anorexic models and me. At least I hadn’t known someone who died from their disorder, like they did. One thing I had never felt when eating was full. That mechanism had malfunctioned and I would only feel full when I’d binged so I never stopped eating soon enough. The medications, which made me somewhat zombie like to my friends, did not aid in losing weight, but did in fact seem to bring in that mechanism of feeling full. A year later, frustrated with the lack of progress with this doctor and with the unending pills, I just quit both. What I found was that I could now eat and feel full. Something had changed.

A year or so later my doctor asked me how I was doing, did I still binge? And I said, yes I did. She asked me what I considered a binge and I said eating two or more chocolate bars in a day. She told me everyone does that once in a while. What I then realized was that it had never mattered how much I ate but how I felt when I ate: I hated myself for having no control and then I would be was out of control.

I sometimes still get that feeling and it scares me when it happens. I unfortunately still have a sweet tooth, but I eat way healthier, and don’t have to eat all of something. If I’m depressed I tend toward hiding under chocolate. I have to watch that. I might have suffered less and had fewer sensitivities to foods now had someone given me the right help early enough, had my father not scarred my psyche, had I not been ashamed.

I was talking once with friends and the subject of comfort foods came up. I couldn’t name one, because for me, there had never been comfort in food. Just trauma, guilt and self-hatred. These days, I can take comfort in a few foods, like Lipton’s chicken noodle soup, but I never feel I can let my vigilance down because that eating disorder is still just around a corner.

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