Monthly Archives: January 2013

On being a woman

As the title suggests, I have plans to be slightly philosophical again today. The reason for that is that this past Monday, I received the results of what’s probably the most important blood test I’ve taken to date: a gene test.

My maternal grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and passed away at age fifty, just weeks before I was born. Then six years ago, almost to the date, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and while I was fortunate enough to keep her, her illness alerted the doctors to a possible gene mutation in our family. More specifically, a mutation in the BRCA gene.

If you have a normal, non-mutated version of this gene, your body will produce a protein that protects you from various forms of cancer, especially breast and ovarian cancer, but also from a number of other types.

If, however, you have a mutated version, something goes awry in the process of making this protein. As far as I understand, your body still produces the protein, but a far less effective version, leaving you less protected. With a mutated BRCA gene, a woman has a 60-80% chance of getting either breast or ovarian cancer during her lifetime. Those aren’t nice numbers.

As it turns out, my mother is a carrier of a mutated BRCA gene, giving me and my siblings a 50/50 chance of being carriers as well. Being a self proclaimed worry wart and hypochondriac, I was completely convinced that I had inherited the gene, but I was rather calm about it. In fact, the doctors whom I had my mandatory consultation with, seemed to think I had more feelings around the possibility of having this mutation than I actually do.

The way I saw it, I either had the gene or I didn’t. If I didn’t, great. If I did, I would rather know about it and take the necessary precautions. I’m happy to say that I do not have the mutated gene, but like I said, I went in to get the results utterly prepared to be told something different.

This means, of course, that I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about what it would be like to live with the knowledge that I had a significantly increased risk of getting breast or ovarian cancer. The recommended course of action is to get yearly scans, and, after producing the desired amount of offspring, having a hysterectomy, and possibly a mastectomy.

Many women feel that these procedures rob them of their womanhood; I balk at the idea of taking out my ovaries and cutting off my breasts, but for entirely different reasons. I would probably have elected to have both the hysterectomy and the mastectomy in the end, because I think I will always choose life over anything else, but I’m glad it’s a choice I don’t have to make.

However, I can’t imagine feeling less of a woman if I were to get rid of my breasts and ovaries. I’m utterly secure in my womanhood and in my sexuality, and I’ve never found cause to question either. I’m not the stereotype of a woman, and I’m glad for that, because stereotypes are so impossibly limiting. No living, breathing person is a stereotype. We’re all more than the flesh we walk around in, though the world around us always tries to push us into its neat little boxes. Women are like this, men are like that. But we’re not.

Of all the traits I have, you can’t point to anything and say “this is what makes you a woman”, be it physical or psychological. We are not our sex, but living beings responding to the world around us. But everyone’s just guessing; no one really knows what it means to be a woman, or a man for that matter. We just make it up as we go along, whether we apply our theories to ourselves, or to the people we meet. Being a woman, being a man, being human… It’s all just improvisation.

Why so skeptical?

The kerfuffle around the late release of the e-book version of the final book of the Wheel of Time has had me thinking about e-readers this week. More specifically, I’m wondering why people are resisting it. Maybe I’m the exception to the rule, but despite being a book lover for as long as I can remember, long before e-readers were even on the scene, there has never been a time when I’ve been skeptical towards them. I didn’t get one until my parents gave me one for Christmas in 2011, but that was always more about lack of money than a lack of desire to have one.

I understand that people love physical books. I love physical books. Flipping through the list of book on my Kindle can’t compare to standing in front of my overflowing bookshelves to pick out just the one I’m in the mood for. It’s the same thing with brick and mortar bookstores. I’ve spent far too much time (and money) in such places, and gotten far too much enjoyment out of browsing to ever want to see them go away.

However, all the things I love about a physical book are secondary. When it comes down to it, it’s not the act of reading I love. It seems like they’re inextricably intertwined, but the act of reading is to me simply a means to reach my true love, which is the stories. I don’t care whether they come to me in the form of audiobooks, if they’re carved into stone tablets— or if I have to press a button instead of turning a page.

I don’t think I will ever forgo physical books completely, but on the flip side, if my Kindle ever breaks, I would find it difficult to forgo that too. It has introduced me to stories I never would have taken a chance on otherwise, and quite frankly, it’s made my book habit a lot more sustainable, not to mention the favor it has done the people who have to help me when I move.

What about you? Are you welcoming e-readers, or do they have to pry paper books from your cold, dead fingers?

Goals

When I first started school, my teacher would hand out worksheets at the beginning of each week, detailing our homework for every day of the week. You knew exactly what you were expected to do, and when you were expected to have it done. This was an environment I excelled in. My mother grins when she talks about how I told her that she would never have to nag me about my homework like she did my brother.

I was true to my word, too; I may not always have enjoyed doing my homework, but I thrived on the structure that school provided me with. It was never difficult for me to sit down to get my homework done, and I always settled down at my desk as soon as I came home. No dawdling, no fuss. Friends were invariably told to wait if they came to hang out before I was done. By me, not my mother.

Then, towards the end of elementary school, things changed. We were still given worksheets at the beginning of each week, but instead of detailing what needed to be done each day, we were told what needed to be done each week. That’s when I started slipping. Without specific tasks to complete each day, I started leaving things to the last minute, and that’s the way it’s been ever since.

My procrastination has led to a lot of frustration for me. Not just academically, but in most aspects of my life, including writing. Over the years, it’s become increasingly clear that I need to make changes, and, thinking back on the ease and willingness with which I did my homework, I think that’s the key. What works for me is to take small steps and reaching partial goals rather than trying to build Rome in a day, so to speak.

Last semester, I had three very simple goals to help me do better academically. I would go to the library every day of the week, I would read the assigned articles before every lecture, and I would create a clearer separation between school and free time (i.e. not study after getting home from the library). I won’t say that it worked perfectly, but it worked well enough because the goals were specific and not terribly hard to reach. In the past, I’ve always lost motivation because of my tendency to bite over much more than I can chew, and nothing is more disheartening than setting yourself a goal you cannot reach.

So I’ve decided that I will apply the same principle to my writing. Every day in 2013 I will write at least 100 words. To some, this might seem like a ridiculously small number. Why even bother turning on your laptop for such a measly progress, right? But I can already tell that it’s working for me. I’ve been doing it for a little over a week, and unlike other goals I’ve set myself, I’ve actually met this one.

It’s not like I have an excuse to not do it. It takes all of two minutes. And then, once I’m warmed up, I often keep going. The first day, I wrote 112 words, and it was agony. The second day, I wrote a little more. The third, a little more. And so on and so forth. I’m not expecting it to always be a little more, but a lot of days it is.

My goal is a minimum. I can exceed it if I want. But there’s no pressure to. I still get the satisfaction of having reached a goal, but there’s no guilt when I can’t carve out an hour to write in a schedule that is crazy and unpredictable most of the time.

So that’s my writing goal for 2013, and hopefully, beyond. What’s yours?

Definition of a writer

I’ve written and rewritten this post many times. Some versions only got a first draft, others went through a second, and some even a third. It seemed to me that the first post I ever made on this blog should be a memorable one, a post that could trick everyone who read it into thinking that I’m clever and eloquent. But no matter how many drafts and versions I went through, nothing seemed like it would be good enough to mark my debut into the world of writers’ blogs. In fact, the more I wrote, the less clever and eloquent I felt. Maybe blogging wasn’t for me after all.

This indecision reminds me a lot about what I go through when I write fiction. I’ve got a lot of ideas. Sometimes new ones come to me daily. Sometimes even more frequently. Sadly, few of them are ever more than a few hastily scribbled words so that they won’t exit my head as quickly as it entered. I’ve written novel length pieces before, but at the beginning of each, I always have so many questions to pull me down. Am I a good enough writer to tell this story? Is this story good enough to be told? What if I inadvertently say something with the story that I don’t want to say? What if people don’t like what I have to say? And at the end, I’m none the wiser about the answers.

In the end, it comes down to one thing: fear. Fear of putting myself out there, fear of being me, fear of being misunderstood, fear of not being liked, but most of all, fear of being defined. I hate the idea of labeling myself and being labeled. I don’t want to be one thing; I want to be everything. I want to elicit laughter and tears, rage and joy. I want to make people stop and think, and I want to make them race breathlessly towards the end. I want from my writing what I want from life: Every shade of every emotion, and insight into every human condition. Most of the time, it seems like too much to ask. But I need to ask anyway.

I can’t be afraid forever. Or maybe I can, but I can’t always let that fear dictate my life. If I want to be a writer, I have to write, regardless of whether the output warps the perfection in my head, and regardless of  the opportunity that it gives the world to define me. If I put words on paper, I may lose my mythical “one day”, but “one day” won’t come at all if I don’t start walking towards it. So here’s my first step.