Gender-swapped Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale logoI’ve long been fascinated by the idea of gender-swapping—taking a known story and flipping all the characters’ genders, changing as little else as possible, and seeing what happens. It’s an intriguing intellectual exercise. Does it change our perceptions of the characters? Of the story? Do we start to feel that the story is unrealistic? How and why? Ultimately I think it’s a great way to poke and prod at our own subconscious biases.

Welcome to Night Vale makes for a very interesting gender-swap subject because, unlike many mainstream stories, it is already so progressive. We’ve got a diverse cast of characters, with people of differing gender, sexual orientation, skin color, culture, ability, and more. What happens to this rich cast when we swap everyone’s gender? Anything?

Today I spent a few hours coming up with a list of gender-swapped Welcome to Night Vale character names. I believe names have meanings we learn intuitively but don’t necessarily recognize consciously; keeping that in mind, I tried to come up with names that gave me a similar feeling, or names that etymologically had the same or similar meanings. I did not mess with non-gendered characters like Alisha or the Glow Cloud.

In many cases, I didn’t feel that switching the genders made much of a difference. In others, it was harder to imagine gender as being irrelevant. For example, changing Michael Sandero into Michaela suddenly turns the Night Vale Scorpions into a women’s football team. This underscores the real-world “truth” that no one cares about women’s sports…apparently not even in Night Vale. (Let me know if I’m mistaken. I can’t remember an example of a women’s sports team in Night Vale, and a quick search of fan transcripts isn’t turning anything up.)

Here’s the list of gender-swapped characters, and my reactions to the swapping.

  • Cecile Gertrude Palmer
  • Carla the Scientist

So far, so good.

  • Steph Carlsberg
  • Cecile’s unnamed brother, married to Steph Carlsberg
  • Johnny, Cecile’s nephew (son of Cecile’s brother, stepson to Steph)

This is interesting, but not problematic. Johnny could be selling cookies (or something else) for cub/boy scouts. I don’t think anything in the story particularly requires these characters to be male or female.

  • Elle Harlan

I think “Elle” is a far prettier name than “Earl,” but it feels similar when spoken, which is why I picked it. In this gender-swap version I guess Elle would have to be a girl scout leader? And it is a little striking to have a female sous chef and a female executive chef at a premier restaurant. In western culture, as soon as a job becomes a prestigious profession, it suddenly seems to be dominated by men.

  • Karen, radio host for Desert Bluffs

Creepy, creepy Karen.

  • Dan Cardinal
  • Terrell Flynn

Now this is interesting. Two of the show’s big heroes are now guys. Does it feel less heroic for the Intern Who Lived and the adolescent resistance leader to be male? I’m thinking of Cecil’s speech about Tamika, where he goes from calling her a “girl” to a “woman” to a “human being.” How would that speech have felt if it was “boy” to “man” to “human being”? Is it different? Is it necessary to point out that a male is a human being, or does it seem silly, as “male” and “human” have been synonymous for so long in western culture?

  • The woman we all believe to be the sheriff of Night Vale

Does being a woman make the sheriff less weird or imposing? (I don’t think so, actually.)

  • The Woman in the Tan Jacket

This reminds me of the Observers in Fringe. (The Observers really pissed me off, especially in the final season.) Like the Observers, the Man in the Tan Jacket is a strange visitor of default gender (male). When we think of a generic person, we think of a male, so making the visitor in the tan jacket female is very interesting to me. The show actually did something like this with the Woman from Italy, but of course, she hasn’t become a recurring character (yet?).

  • Lorne Mallard, StrexCorp executive

Given Kevin and Lauren’s interesting dynamic—Lauren was supposed to be Kevin’s boss, but he seemed to have some sort of power over her—I’d love to see this gender swap, and see Karen really creeping Lorne out.

  • (Former) Mayor Patterson Winchell
  • Intern Maurice
  • Jane Peters, you know, the farmer?

I don’t really have any comments on these three…swapping their genders doesn’t seem to do anything to the story.

  • Heidi McDaniels, literal five-headed dragon

I like this, if only because Hiram is such a fun character and it would be really neat to see a female version. I’m not seeing anything particularly gendered in his story though.

  • The Faceless Old Man Who Secretly Lives in Your Home

Somehow this is far creepier to me than a Faceless Old Woman. But it’s creepier because it feels sexual. I don’t get a sexual vibe from the Faceless Old Woman. I suppose western culture has primed me to expect predatory men.

  • Old Man Joe and the Angels, all called Erik

You know what’s funny here? I have no problem thinking of the Erikas as being male or female or genderless, but having them all named Erik makes me assume they are all male. I don’t think gender-swapping Josie is a huge deal, though. (“Joseph” would be the Desert Bluffs counterpart.)

  • Liddy Lenore, out on the edge of town

There may be different connotations to a woman who lives out on the edge of town versus a man who lives out on the edge of town, but in general, I don’t think there’s anything about Larry Leroy that demands maleness. (Also, I was really pleased when I chose “Lenore.”)

  • Morgan Wallaby, who was born as a grown woman’s detached hand

Ah. It would be interesting trying to characterize Morgan’s looks—in the show, Megan’s manly hand-hair is mentioned, but what would you say about a woman’s hand without falling into the trap so many children’s videogames do—putting a bow on it or something? A woman’s hand doesn’t naturally have an identifier like nail polish. And you wouldn’t expect a pre-pubescent boy to have manly hand-hair. In fact, a young boy’s hand might not look so different from a woman’s hand. So what would be the signifier? Maybe just that the hand looked older than a child’s hand?

  • Tammy Williams, owner of the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex
  • Tilly the barber

These are fun, but ultimately I don’t think they reveal any gendered stereotypes. They work pretty well swapped.

  • (The former) Martha Vanston

Aha. Now here is a problematic one. Marcus Vanston’s big thing is going around naked. There are extraordinarily different connotations when a woman does this. It would be fun to explore.

  • Naaz al-Mujaheed
  • Michaela Sandero and her father Florent
  • Malique Herrera

Here’s where we get the women’s football team.

  • Big Ricki, owner of Big Ricki’s Pizza
  • Lenny Hart, editor of the Night Vale Daily Journal
  • Mickey Nguyen, owner of Dark Owl Records
  • Sammy Sultan, president of Night Vale Community College, who happens to be a smooth, fist-sized river rock
  • Simon Rigadeau, a transient living in the recycling closet of the Earth Sciences building at NVCC

I’m not seeing any big issues with any of these swaps.

  • Rey, the voice of Night Vale’s numbers station WZZZ

Would making WZZZ’s voice male take away some of its “credibility” as a victim? Would he be less sympathetic to the audience, not being a “damsel in distress”? (I think WTNV’s audience is more sophisticated than that, but it is an interesting thought. Would we have a subconscious aversion to hearing a male voice in that kind of distress?)

That pretty much covers the major and notable characters. There are plenty of other characters, but they’re not as important to the storyline (again, yet). There are a couple of interesting things I thought of, though. Making Sylvia Wickersham into Silvio Wickersham kind of gives the character a Marcus Vanston vibe (rich person doing whatever they want). And what if we turn the “Shawns” from sales into “Shawnas”? Does that make what happened to them more stomach-turning?

Here are a few more names, just for fun:

  • Sullivan Thurgood, publicity director for the Night Vale Medical Board
  • Rhonda Singh
  • Former mayor Daniel DuBois
  • Dab, a sentient patch of haze
  • Dion Creighton, treasurer of the PTA and father to Joss
  • Emile Munton, director of the Night Vale Zoo
  • Francis Donaldson, the tall man with green eyes who manages the antiques mall
  • Leonora Burton, former host of Night Vale Community Radio
  • Joy Eisenberg, dinosaur expert
  • LaShawnda Mason, executive chef at Tourniquet (again, a gendered profession)
  • Marcel LeFleur, head of Night Vale’s tourism board
  • Vincenza LeFarge, head of vigilante squad Grab ‘Em and Sack ‘Em (kind of a gendered profession too, eh?)
  • Trent Hidge, staffer during Mayor Winchell’s tenure

What do you think? Does gender-swapping the characters of Welcome to Night Vale tell you anything about your conscious and subconscious thoughts and feelings? Has anyone else done anything with this idea?

(Many thanks to the Night Vale Wiki for its list of characters, and to Lia and aimlessglee for their episode transcripts, which I have imported into Evernote for reference.)

Edit:

It occurs to me belatedly that I didn’t consider the Apache Tracker. Actually, I thought of him pretty early on, realized that swap would be fairly complex, and put it off for later. And then forgot.

So, the Apache Tracker. I honestly don’t know enough about Native American culture to figure out whether or not “Apache Tracker” could be “properly” used for a female character. “Properly” is in quotes because of course the term “Apache Tracker” is purposefully misused for this guy. My issue is, I’m not sure if having a female Apache Tracker would add a completely different element that would change the story or the meaning of the character, in terms of what the words “Apache” and “tracker” mean.

I do think making the Apache Tracker female would add some intriguing nuance to the statement the character is making about cultural appropriation. “That white guy” is a fairly standard (dare I say it) strawman for racism, but “that white lady” has some additional connotations. Women aren’t privileged in the same way men are, but white women have privilege that people of color of any gender don’t. Feminism also doesn’t always have a great track record when it comes to people of color. The white male Apache Tracker gives me a generic, ignorant cultural appropriation vibe. A white female Apache Tracker, though? I start to have feelings of betrayal. As someone who straddles a line between privilege and oppression, someone who knows what misogyny feels like and yet has been treated the way human beings should be treated, she should know better. I find myself far angrier at her than I am at the canon Apache Tracker, who just sort of makes me shake my head and laugh ruefully.

A theory of love

This morning I got up at around 6:44. Of course, Sean and his houseguest William were still asleep, Sean on the couch (as is his wont when he stays up late) and William in the office where my computer is set up. I went and got the Lenovo from the living room and a protein shake from the kitchen, then secluded myself in the master bedroom, listening to and looking up fanart for Welcome to Night Vale, my latest obsession.

Around 9 or so it was time for second breakfast. Sean and William were naturally still asleep. I decided to go to McDonald’s. I also decided not to get them anything, and this was my logic: After eating this meal, I would probably be hungry again at around lunchtime. Sean and William would likely only be getting up at that time. So they would eat whatever I’d brought back from McD’s, and I’d have to go find something else for myself. It seemed logical, therefore, to just have myself a snack, and then eat lunch with Sean and William later.

Back in the bedroom, I was eating a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit and fangirling like you wouldn’t believe when the door opened and Sean slipped in, making puppy dog eyes at my food. “You didn’t get me any?” he said pathetically. I tried to explain my logic. He lay down on the bed on his stomach, arms straight at his sides, pouting. “Do you want some bites of mine?” I asked. “No,” he said. “So you’re just going to pout, then?” I asked. “Yes,” he said.

I started to talk about something else, and he literally got up to leave the room! What a guy :D

“Do you want me to go get you some?” I asked.

The answer was obviously yes, but Sean just stood frozen at the door as if lost in thought.

“I don’t mind,” I said. “Do you want me to?”

It became apparent at his continued silence that he could not bring himself to ask it of me.

“Okay,” I said, “I’m going to get you some.”

“Okay,” he said, obviously relieved beyond measure.

And I went and got him some, and some for William too, who was up by the time I got back.

It occurs to me that my marriage would be far unhappier if I didn’t find this sort of thing adorable. If my reaction to Sean moping around was to take it as emotional blackmail and seethe in resentment. Actually, I’m sure there was a point where I did stuff like that, but I’ve learned from watching good relationships that your attitude toward your partner is everything. If you are constantly thinking about what you don’t like about your partner, of course you will “fall out of love.” And if you instead constantly think about how cute and adorable and smart and attractive and funny your partner is, and how much you want to be with them and make them happy, then staying in love is just natural.

Sunrise

I awoke far too soon. I hadn’t slept much, and I hadn’t slept particularly well, but my eager mind was done sleeping. I was here, in a new place, and it was time to see things.

I dressed, slipped into my flip-flops, grabbed my camera and headed out the hotel’s side door. The world was dark. A yellow light at the corner of the building illuminated the sign and a well-worn path through the grass toward the road. I followed that path and crossed the silent street.

The further I moved away from the hotel, the darker it became. I used my phone to light the ground in front of me as I picked my way through beach grasses and across what felt like a low mountain of stones. The early morning night enveloped me. Soon I stepped onto smooth sand. The ocean roared out ahead, invisible.

I put my phone away and gazed out into the nothing, waiting for my eyes to adjust. Stars appeared above me, and the sand around me grew vaguely visible, but the ocean lay black beyond me, knowable only through the charge of waves rolling onto the beach.

I was alone and the world felt wild.

For a time I stood, an alien encroaching on a dimension beyond waking life. Then practicality returned and I pulled my phone back out. It was 6 o’clock, and the weather app indicated sunrise wouldn’t come for nearly two hours. I slipped back through the blackness to the hotel.

I used the next half hour to plan and then shower: I’d get some sunrise photos, then head straight to town rather than going for a swim. At 6:30 when I went back to the beach, an orange-yellow gradient had already appeared beyond the now-visible, low-crested waves, offering muted backlight to a long smear of clouds.

Into this dim morning a handful of souls stirred. A woman moved down the beach from my left, picking up trash. A small boat jetted across the water the other way. I stepped into the churn of foam as it raced up and down the beach and marveled: it was so, so warm. And as I watched the light intensify over the water, an enormous fish suddenly flipped up out of the waves and crashed back into the sea.

The clouds blocked the sun at first, painted in cool pastels until finally starfire burned brilliant, searing an outline upon their crest. And then the sun burst through, and the ocean was bathed in gold.

As the sun broke the dark, so too did morning birds break the stillness. Birds with long legs and narrow beaks bustled across the sand and burst into flight over the waves. Gulls passed overhead in a smooth line. A tiny white bird with grey markings sped across the sand, stabbing its beak in to search for breakfast.

With the world alight, I saw that what had felt to my feet like mounds of stones were actually rolling dunes of seashells. At the top of the hill separating the beach from the road were flowering vines and shrubs with purple and orange blossoms, undetectable to me in the night. And next to the hotel, the dark shrub I’d passed to reach the road was filled with delicate white blooms.

I rinsed the sand from my feet at the outdoor shower and made my way inside for breakfast. The sun was up on my first day in St. Augustine.

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My weight loss surgery experience

On September 26, 2011, I had weight loss surgery.

Here I am right before the procedure. That day I weighed in at 257 pounds. I wore a size 26W (4X).

And here I am being released from the hospital a few days later, at 253 pounds.

After three months, I was already below 200 pounds. Here I am in November:

Over the next 15 months, my weight dropped precipitously, bottoming out at 127 in December of 2012. I was able to fit a size 6 at that time.

Around two years out from surgery, my weight stabilized in the 140 to 145 range. It’s stayed there ever since, and I now wear around a size 10.

I had struggled with obesity since I was a teenager. The most I’d ever been able to lose on my own was 50 pounds. I started investigating weight loss surgery in 2009 after recovering from congestive heart failure, but it took another health crisis to convince me to finally do it. In August of 2011 I was told, point-blank, that if I didn’t lose weight, I would go blind in my left eye. A buildup of fluid was pressing on my optic nerve and would soon block out my sight. I posted on Facebook:

Even though I knew it already, the doctor felt the need to repeat “IF YOU DON’T LOSE WEIGHT, YOU’LL GO BLIND” until I started crying.

Things were bad at that time. We had moved to Atlanta for Sean’s new job just months before, but he’d been shifted into contractor status, so he wasn’t guaranteed regular pay or health insurance. Meanwhile, I hadn’t yet found employment. I posted in a comment on the above status,

I am looking for a job and trying to eat healthier and work out more, but if being terrified into losing weight worked permanently, it would have happened back when I had congestive heart failure.

The health insurance we’d had through Sean’s job would expire in a month, and that insurance flatly refused to cover any form of bariatric surgery for any reason. I could prove it was a medical necessity, but they didn’t care. I felt so, so stupid for letting pride keep me from pursuing weight loss surgery back when I had insurance that would have covered it.

In this time of despair and desperation, extraordinarily generous family members came to my rescue. I’m not sure I can ever repay them.

I had the duodenal switch procedure done at Pacific Laparoscopy (PacLap) in San Francisco. Due to my circumstances, I was able to go through the approval process fairly quickly. I had to fill out a lengthy health and weight history questionnaire; undergo new tests (blood tests, chest X-ray, EKG, echocardiogram); have my GP, my neurologist, and my cardiologist sign off on the surgery; and have a psychological evaluation. We started the process on August 31 and managed to get everything done by September 14. Mom and I flew in on September 21, the pre-op appointment was September 23, and the surgery happened on September 26.

My relationship with food

Immediately post-op, I could only take in three sips or bites of clear liquid at a time. That first day I had broth, jello, a popsicle, decaffeinated tea, and juice. The next day, soft foods like cream of wheat, applesauce, mashed potatoes and yogurt were added to my tiny meals. After that, I was able to eat more solid food. But it was very difficult for me to eat. I could barely take in two or three bites, and I didn’t enjoy eating. I had to force myself to eat, and I had to be careful not to have even one bite too many, as that would have caused me to throw up.

Those first few months, eating right wasn’t very difficult for me. I couldn’t eat much at a time, and I hated eating and never felt particularly hungry, so it didn’t really matter to me what I ate. I’d grill a chicken breast and just eat that. A few hours later I’d eat a bowl of plain Greek yogurt. Later, I’d have a bowl of peas. Small frozen dinners were a mainstay. I have many pictures from restaurants demonstrating how very little I was able to eat. In this picture from September 2011 I’m taking home a piece of quiche and three links of sausage from J. Christopher’s; I had managed a couple bites of quiche and one bite of sausage:

The next time I went to J. Christopher’s, in October, I simply ordered the three sausage links and nothing else. I made other allowances when eating out as well, such as eating the fish and leaving most of the rice when I ordered nigiri, turning down side salads, and skipping dinner bread. Food choices were relatively easy; I had to focus on getting protein. My next priority, if I had any room left, was vegetables, then whole grains. Simple carbs were something to be avoided, and in the beginning, it was fairly easy to do so.

Over time, though, I gradually became able to eat more and more. Most of my stomach is gone, so I will never be able to eat as much as I used to, but I can eat a decent meal in one sitting these days–the size meal health and diet experts usually say you should be eating. I have also regained my enjoyment of food. I remember in the beginning wondering why other weight loss surgery patients were eating food that was bad for them, when it was so easy not to. Around the two-year mark, I understood. Food was delicious again. It was no longer a simple matter to avoid bad foods. This is something I’m still struggling with. While it is likely impossible for me to ever be obese again, I can still make unhealthy food choices that have an impact on my health.

Along with only accepting decreased portion sizes, my body reacts a little differently to food now. I can’t usually handle having sugar in the morning. If I have it, I end up feeling awful for about two hours. If I have a dessert in the evening, I generally choose something far less rich than what the old me would have gone for, for similar reasons. Eating really rich desserts doesn’t give me the pleasure it used to. Sometimes even a simple ice cream cone is too much.

I also don’t enjoy eggs the way I used to. There was a time when I absolutely loved eggs over-easy. They are still delicious, but I feel strange while and after eating them. The effect is short-lived, but it’s odd enough to make me seriously consider whether or not I want eggs. This is kind of a shame, since eggs are such a good source of protein.

Of course, the most notorious food effect of the duodenal switch is gas due to malabsorption. This has been a struggle for me. According to PacLap, foods that cause gas include white flour, white rice, sugar, beans, vegetables, some fruits, milk and milk products, and processed foods. I can avoid white flour with minimal effort. White rice is more difficult for me, but I haven’t found it to be particularly gas-inducing. Sugar, of course, is a challenge. I should be avoiding it anyway, as my surgery doesn’t affect the absorption of sugar. It’s hard to know what vegetables and fruits to avoid; I haven’t really figured that out. As for milk, I love having a bowl of cereal every now and again, but it may not be so great to do so. The big one, processed foods, is difficult to avoid in our packaged-food culture. Now that I’m working full time, I rarely feel like cooking, so I’m sure I’m eating a lot of things I shouldn’t be.

Thanks to the surgery, I am realizing more clearly that I have a strange relationship with food. When I am at a restaurant I love, I feel bad that I can’t eat everything. I want to enjoy the different dishes all at once. It’s as though I believe each particular visit is my last chance. I’ve found it frustrating to have to choose, and also to have to eschew foods I used to really enjoy because they will have ill effects on my stomach.

At the other end of the spectrum, there was a time when I would eat and eat and eat out of boredom. I can now pretty easily tell when I’m doing this, because I’ll be full and still trying to eat. During these times, it used to not matter to me so much what I was eating. Now, if the food doesn’t have enough protein, or if it’s too carby, I’ll get irritated by it, which I consider a good thing–it’s like a knock upside the head telling me to make better choices.

Exercise

Immediately following the surgery, I was encouraged to walk as much as I could without over-fatiguing myself. I was also encouraged to walk up and down stairs. I did pretty well in both regards. While I do spend a lot of time at a desk or on a couch, I tend to get antsy if I’m in one place too long. I like to be up and moving.

At first it was very frustrating how quickly I would get tired. I also wasn’t allowed to reach over my head or lift heavy objects, which was quite annoying for someone as independent as me. Sean was a huge help during this time.

Recovery took about three months. At that point I was able to pretty much go back to normal. I remember the first time I did an exercise video after having surgery; I was shocked at how easy it was without all the extra pounds weighing me down.

During the rapid weight loss period, I kept walking, did workout videos at home, and joined a gym. Unfortunately, after awhile these efforts dropped off, especially after I started working full time again. Now, at nearly three years out from surgery, I’m not particularly active. I do try to take the stairs at work, at least in the parking garage, and I go on photo hikes on the weekends…but I really need to do more, for the sake of my cardiovascular system. I’m considering taking up running again, or trying to ride my bicycle to work.

I can say that thanks to the surgery, I have plenty of energy, and if I feel like spending an entire day walking around, I can do it with no problem. This is not something I could say before this dramatic weight loss.

Next steps

Weight loss surgery helped me with the hardest part: losing over 100 pounds. It’s up to me to take advantage of this opportunity, to make good choices for my health. It’s something I have to work on every day. My fight to eat better and be physically active will never end.

There is one other thing I might do to make my transformation complete, and that’s reconstructive surgery. After losing this much weight, there’s a lot of skin left over. While I’m not unhappy with the way I look, the skin can be irritating to deal with. I don’t feel comfortable wearing sleeveless shirts, for example, and certain articles of clothing don’t seem to fit right. Health insurance generally only covers this in cases of medical necessity, so I would have to pay for it out of pocket, which I’m not sure is going to happen. Still, it’s something I keep in the back of my mind.

Final thoughts

Simple pride kept me from seriously pursuing weight loss surgery until it was almost too late. I felt that I should be able to lose weight on my own, and that if I couldn’t, it just meant I was weak. In other words, I was too proud to accept help. Eventually it got to the point that I had to choose between being proud and blind, or humbling myself and keeping my sight. It seems like such an obvious choice in hindsight, but when I was going through it, it was a struggle.

The lesson I’ve learned from this is that accepting help does not make you less of a person. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It just means you’re making smart choices.

Every day I look in the mirror and like what I see. Every day I pull on clothes I never thought I’d fit into. Every day I feel healthy and strong.

I am so happy that I had weight loss surgery.

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Heartsick

I am so upset about what happened in Ferguson–what happened every 28 hours in this country in 2012. And I am so upset about police response to the community when all the people want is accountability. It makes me sick that local police think it’s okay to shoot tear gas and “non-lethal” rounds at nonviolent protesters to make them disperse. There is so much going on here, I don’t even know where we should begin to try to fix it. Ferguson needs elected officials and police officers who represent the community. Ferguson residents need to be treated like people, not inmates. “Law enforcement” needs to stop setting and backing up with force arbitrary rules that only incite anger. All the cops need to spend time doing community service and undergoing training on how to treat people. And I just don’t see how the proper response to this is to send in troops, unless those troops are going to arrest all the police.

I’m not surprised that horrible prejudice exists. You’d have to be blind not to know that. But it makes me heartsick nonetheless.

All I want

Please teach me about feminism,
White man.
Please tell me what, as a woman, I should care about,
White man.
Please talk over me,
White man.
Please show me how my concerns are actually about you,
White man.
Please belittle my experience,
My education,
My life,
White man.
Please laugh at me,
White man.
Please tell me I have no right to feel the way I feel,
White man.
Please treat me as inferior, then say I am imagining things,
That I am “crazy,”
That I am “too emotional,”
White man.
Please do these things,
White man.
Please let them define you,
Rather than things like empathy
Or perspective
Or open-mindedness
Or faith in other people,
White man.
Nothing makes me happier
Than to be considered lesser,
Than to know you don’t respect me,
Than to live beneath your boot.
It is all I want from life,
White man.

House-hunting infertility dream

Sean and I have lived in apartments the entirety of our marriage. We’ve thought about buying a home before, but the time has never been right. It’s starting to look like a good idea these days, though.

Last night I dreamed that we went to look at a house together. It was waterfront property on marshy land, such that there were boardwalks to get from the street and driveway to the door. The house was huge, and there were at least half a dozen real estate workers there to show it to people. I was wondering the whole time why we were there, because there was no way I wanted a house that size.

The house was three stories tall. I really only remember the top floor, which had the bedrooms, a kitchen, and a courtyard-like area, but we toured all the floors and they were all gigantic. Around the time we finished looking at the third floor, the head real estate agent cornered us.

“I hear you’re pregnant!” he accused me. “Are you just having fun, touring houses for for exercise?”

“Um,” I said, and suddenly Cheryl and Reid were there, overhearing.

“I hear you felt it kick!” Reid said to Sean, who nodded awkwardly.

“Yes, no, that’s our child there,” I said, pointing to a brown-haired two-year-old someone was carrying.

“I know that can’t be true; you can’t have had the child that fast!” the real estate agent said.

“Okay, fine,” I sighed. “The truth is, we just started trying.” I glanced over at Cheryl and Reid, knowing that this was news to them and that now they’d get their hopes up. “And we’re seriously looking for a house to buy.”

“Oh. All right then,” the real estate agent said, and backed off.

Sean pulled Reid aside then. “Actually,” he said in a low, unhappy voice, “Luigi told me that it could never, ever happen for me.” (Apparently in dream-canon he had a fertility doctor named Luigi.)

I started crying in the dream, and woke up snuffling a little, although not actually crying in real life.

Weird that in the dream, Sean was the one with infertility.

My offline life

One benefit to streamlining the time I spend online, and specifically cutting back on social media, would be enriching the time I spend on other things. Lately I’ve been feeling that my life is somewhat empty. Work is great; it’s challenging and fun, and my coworkers are awesome. But what do I do other than work? Go home and either get online or watch TV (or, typically, get online while watching TV). My main activity beyond this is photography, which I love, and of course I want to keep doing that. But maybe I want to do more of it. And there are other things I want to do that I haven’t worked on in forever: writing, reading more long form pieces and books, studying Japanese.

I also want to feel more connected to Atlanta. We’ve lived here for three years, but after a burst of exploratory activities right after the move, we haven’t really done much to integrate ourselves into the community. We’ve settled into a routine of restaurants, and we have few to no other activities outside the home. (This is probably more important to me than it is to homebody Sean.)

There are two groups I have frequently thought about being active in: the Atlanta Web Design Group and the Japanese Language Meetup. Right now I am supposedly a member of these groups, but I never go to activities. I’m always “too tired” or “not in the mood”. I think this general lack of motivation is fed by the easy distraction of social media and TV. Sure, I could go to that event, but it’s so much more comfortable to just sit at home and scroll through feeds or marathon a show.

As an introvert, it is important for me to have down time away from others, and recharging after a workday is crucial. I’m not saying I think I should be cramming social activities into every day. But surely I could do something weekly or every couple of weeks…especially if that something will help me learn and grow in areas that are important to me.

In general, I feel that I should be contributing more and consuming less. These days I rarely cook. I do the bare minimum to keep the apartment clean. I have a box full of ticket stubs and brochures and memories that I keep telling myself I’m going to turn into scrapbooks. All I have to do to talk myself out of doing any of these things, when I even think of doing them in the first place, is simply distract myself with input: social media, TV, “news” articles that don’t really enrich me.

I have also always felt that I should be serving my community in some way. I donate to various causes, but it doesn’t feel like I’m really doing much. I want to be on the ground somewhere doing something that has a direct impact. Whenever I think about what that would be and how I would incorporate it into my life, I always convince myself that I don’t have the time. And indeed, if you look at my day, you will see that it is full. It’s just full of the wrong things, I think.

If I can figure out a way to stay connected online without devoting my entire day to it, and if I can stop automatically turning on the TV whenever free time opens up, I can start working on improving myself. Hopefully, that will lead to better friendships and more opportunities, and I’ll stop feeling unfulfilled in the non-work sphere.