Friday, November 14, 2014

In Defense of Passive

You can't make this up, folks.
When I bought it, the walls of my new house gleamed gold upstairs, khaki downstairs, and bright pink in places. The accent wall in the dining room featured yellow and gold striped walls on top and mottled maroon on bottom. I considered it a community service to repaint those walls, perhaps even a patriotic duty. After poring through endless colors in catalogs and online, I finally decided on a very light, cool gray throughout. The paint’s name? Passive.

Perfect name, I thought. It’s a cool neutral, a shade that facilitates other colors without conflicting with them. It’s beautifully, harmoniously passive.

Plus, and this is just between you and me, it tickled me that my new walls celebrate one of my treasured personality traits.

I’m a passive person. When conflict comes along, I go all roly-poly. Rather than demand or confront, I instead encourage and suggest. Yes, I teach and yes, I have some pretty powerful political beliefs, but I prefer to influence others through gentleness and validation. I’m the original facilitator.

Americans aren’t too fond of us passive peeps. Americans in general – not everyone, of course, but speaking of mainstream American cultural – tend to value independence, forthrightness, audacity. We like stories of rebels, we value individuals over communities, we find inspiring those people loud and brash enough to ensure our personal rights get acknowledged and met posthaste. Heroes of all sexes are (metaphorically) large and in charge, loud and cocky. They say things like “Go ahead; make my day”; “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”; “Get away from her, you bitch”; and, of course, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

My office walls were once plum. Plum.
Like me, they're now gloriously passive.
Given the devaluation of my people, I feel compelled to speak out on our behalf. We may not step forward and demand it, but we deserve mad props. I mean, who do you think makes it possible for cocksure heroes to have their audience? Who smoothes the tensions between two or more non-passive folks? Who tirelessly works behind the scenes but can just as easily step forward and lead in a gentle, egalitarian way when needed? Brash, primary-colored people need us just as much as our American stories need them. We’re the harmony to their melody, the whole wheat bread to their sharp cheddar.

You’re welcome.

I think we in the West, individual-oriented as we are, tend to regard passivity as a weakness or an unwillingness to commit. If you’re not being aggressive and competitive, you must be a spineless victim-to-be, right? In fact, passive people aren’t weak-willed, boring, or insipid. We simply value situational harmony over individual needs.

Allow me to emphasize that, because it’s kinda key: We passive folks aren’t doormats awaiting the boot. We’re simply group-oriented people whose chief values include ensuring social situations run smoothly. So, for example, when we say, “I’m good with whatever you all decide” when people ask us where we want to go to dinner, we’re not saying we have no opinions or prefer others to dominate the social scene; we’re indicating we value the smooth-running of the situation above our not-very-firm opinions on the subject. We can find something to eat at whatever restaurant; it’s more important to us that most participants’ needs get met.

So, yeah, most passive peeps I know aren’t milquetoast people. Some of us are, in fact, deeply passionate and loving people with firm opinions on multiple topics. But many of us tend to orient ourselves toward the group rather than the individual, and we want to facilitate harmony rather than compete to get our needs met.

Sometimes neutral is the best starting point.
Besides, what would the world look like with a bunch of competitive, alpha people running around always taking up tons of social space? We passive peeps are the social glue that adheres diverse people in groups. In other words, we social facilitators keep the dominant peeps from killing each other.

Getting back to my new walls, I think they look fabulous. I love how coolly and quietly they sit in the background, matching whatever I throw at them and ensuring my bright colors don’t clash with one another. They’re the perfect facilitators, the ground zero for creativity and brilliance. Although I think of myself as a pretty colorful person, like my passive walls, I’m also content to quietly support and harmonize.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thursday Threads: Highland Deception by Meggan Connors


Highland Deception
by Meggan Connors

Heat Rating: Sensual
Genre: Historical Romance
Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00J3D2JS6/



Blurb:

When Kenneth Mackay, long-banished rogue and thief, returns to the Mackay holding at the request of his brother, he has no idea what he might find. He certainly doesn’t expect to be confronted with his twin’s imminent death, or with the plan his brother has concocted.
Ten years before, Malcolm made a tragic mistake, and, to preserve the family name—and his own skin—he allowed Kenneth to take the fall. Now that he is dying without an heir, Malcolm plans to atone for his mistake: by giving Kenneth his life back. All Kenneth has to do is assume his brother’s identity. But complicating matters is the unexpected return of Lady Isobel Mackay, the daughter of an English marquess and the wife Malcolm didn’t want.
Isobel barely knows the husband who abandoned her even before their marriage, and she’d long since given up hope on having a real marriage with him. Yet when she returns to the Mackay holding far earlier than expected, she finds her husband a changed man. Despite the hurt between them, Isobel’s heart responds to this man who cares for his entire clan as if there were family. Who, for the first time, cares about her as if she is, too.
Falling in love with her husband had never been part of Isobel’s plan. But when their future is suddenly in peril, Isobel must find a way to save him—from himself and from the deception threatening to tear them apart.


Excerpt:

She ignored Grant’s angry protests behind her and ran for her husband’s bedchamber. Slamming open the door, she stumbled inside.
Malcolm lay in the great bed. Alone.
Alone. She tried not to speculate about what meant.
His breathing was shallow, as if he’d been running. As the door bounced back and closed, his sky-bright eyes shot up and met hers.
No, not sky-bright. Darker, the color of the forget-me-nots that bloomed in the gardens in spring. The color of the night sky as it lightened with the first rays of dawn.
“Milord.” She gasped for breath.
Malcolm had never looked at her like he did now. This time, when he studied her, it was as if he didn’t dislike what he saw.
Being honest with herself, Malcolm had never disliked her. After all, the term dislike implied a depth of feeling he almost certainly lacked.
“Wife.”
Isobel flinched.
Grant was suddenly at her back. “Sir, I apologize. She’s faster than you’d think.” He laid a hand on her shoulder, as if to steer her from the room.
She shook him off.
“Indeed.” Malcolm smiled, and a charming dent in his cheek appeared.
How had she not noticed that before?
“We will leave at once.” Grant took her by the arm.
She wrenched out of his grasp. “I’m not going anywhere. Not until I have my audience.” She glanced around the room and saw no sign of Malcolm’s mistress.
“Lady Mackay,” Grant began.
Malcolm held up his hand. “‘Tis fine, Grant. I can always make time for my lady wife.”
Isobel barked a hollow laugh, alleviating the ache, just a little.
“Are you certain?” Grant’s eyes shifted from Isobel to Malcolm and back again. A wrinkle formed between his brows, and the muscle in his cheek worked as he ground his teeth together.
He’d only ever done that when he was agitated or anxious.
But there was no reason for that, as Malcolm had never truly cared enough to keep secrets from her in an attempt to spare her feelings. Nor had he ever forced others to do the same.
Malcolm’s eyes met Grant’s, and something passed between the two men. Her husband gave Grant a clipped nod. “If you’ll excuse us, Grant.”
Grant released his breath slowly. His eyes narrowed first at Malcolm, then at Isobel. Scowling, he bowed his head. “Mackay,” he said stiffly. He turned to Isobel. “Lady Mackay.”
Isobel watched him go then waited until the door had closed behind him. “So, where is she?”
Malcolm arched a dark brow. “Where is who?”
“You know. Her.”
He lifted a single shoulder, as if she didn’t have a right to know. “I doona ken.”
The silence that fell between them was deafening, damning.
Finally he said, “Your arrival was unexpected.”
She breathed a mirthless laugh. “I have no doubt.” She expected him to look ashamed, but his expression didn’t hold even the slightest hint of remorse. She swallowed against the betrayal rising in the back of her throat and tried again. “Why are you abed?”
“I’ve been ailing. Naught to fash yourself over.”
She approached his great bed tentatively. “Ailing how? Has your cough worsened?”
He glanced down at his coverlet and then brought his gaze back to her face. “For a time, aye. I believe I’m on the mend now.”
Isobel pressed her hand to his forehead, then his cheek. His skin felt cool beneath her palm, if a little damp.
His breath hitched, then he cleared his throat. “Satisfied? As you can see, I am on the mend.”
“Perhaps,” she whispered. She ran her hand around to the back of his neck, then descended to his back.
He wore a thin linen shirt, unsuitable for the cool nights of the Highlands in late fall. She placed her hands between his shoulder blades. He was thinner than she remembered, but there was no mistaking Malcolm’s unique strength.
“Breathe,” she said, and then reminded herself to do the same.
Malcolm.
“I hardly think—”
“If you want me to leave you be, you will appease my curiosity. Breathe.”
Malcolm tilted his head up and studied her.
She fought the desire to look at him for as long as she could before meeting his gaze. Her heart skipped a beat as she saw something in his eyes she hadn’t seen before.
Curiosity.
“Breathe, milord.” Heat spread up her neck to her face, and, to keep her free hand from shaking, she clenched a fist. The warmth of his body seeped through his nightshirt, scalding her hand not with fever but with something else.
The corners of his lips tilted upward before he smoothed his features. He paused for a moment too long, then held her gaze as he took an extended, deliberate breath.
She shoved the raging emotions aside and forced herself to view him as a person who needed her help.
She felt no hint of the cough that had been nagging him before she’d left.
Swallowing hard, she slid her hand between the linen and his skin, against his chest.
His heart rate kicked up.
“Breathe.” She struggled to force the word out.
I feel nothing. Nothing. He needs my help.
She closed her eyes and listened to his breathing, feeling the rise and fall of his chest beneath her hands, the steady beating of his heart. His skin scorched hers.
Her mouth dried, her tongue thick and heavy. She removed her hand. “You seem to have mended nicely.” Even to her own ears, her voice sounded strangled.
His gaze searched her face. “Aye.”
Isobel cradled her hand against her chest and stepped back from the bed, nearly tripping over her own feet. “I will leave you now, sir.”
Malcolm gave her a clipped nod. “Very well, my lady wife.”
“I—I will be in my chambers should you require me.”
He didn’t laugh, as he normally would have. “Then I shall find you there if I do. Or I will send for you.”
She backed up a few paces, bumped into a trunk, and immediately turned her attention to her skirt, trying to smooth wrinkles undoubtedly permanent from long days of travel. It was better than looking at Malcolm.
“By your leave.” Her eyes locked on the floor as she dipped into a hasty curtsy and fled.
The moment the door closed behind her, she put her back against the cold, stone wall, cradling the hand that had touched him as if she had injured it.
She’d touched his skin, felt the heat of his body, and the responding heat of hers.
He hadn’t forced her hands away. He hadn’t mocked her.
Instead, for the first time since their marriage, he’d called her wife.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Eyebrow Tweezing and Other Political Acts

I accept sympathy in the form of chocolate.
And yes, my poor hand is seeking comfort amid kitty fur. 
So I just broke a nail. Seriously. Like below the quick and everything. It throbs like a whiny emo album. Of course, being the responsible nail enthusiast I am, I immediately clipped and filed it, and now it just throws off the look of my entire left hand.

I can practically feel the sea salt wetness of your sympathetic tears bathing the pain of my abused pinky nail.

This little splash of beauty horror reminds me of my activities upon awakening this morning. Here’s a snapshot:

Yaaaaawn. Stretch just enough to encourage blood flow but not enough to disturb strategically tucked, feline body warmers. Through gummy eyes, glimpse the make-up bag, placed last night next to the Kleenex box for this very moment. Fumble for the bag, finally snag it. Fish out the pocket mirror and tweezers. Commence the excruciating ripping of hairs from the tender brow ridge.

This, after I shaved my legs the night before. I mean, it’s not waxing or anything, but shaving is definitely one of the less dignified activities one can perform while wet, naked, and shivering.

Why do I do such things? I mean, newsflash, Elle: you’re a feminist. You’re beyond these petty cosmetic pursuits, right? You read Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, you just published a journal article on the resistant, boundary-defying possibilities of fat bodies. The only make-up you wear is lipstick, and that’s only because everyone should see how hot you look in fire-engine red. Heck, you refuse to wear pantyhose and heels because they’re pointless torture devices. 

Why can’t you stop mouthing these last few prayers to a beauty god in which you have no more belief?

I guess it’s not that simple. Look at the lipstick example. Just the act of donning bright red lipstick every day is, to me, some kind of funky blend of accommodating traditional beauty ideals and messing with them by smearing in some fat politics. Not with me, peeps? Okay, so red lipstick is a huge, cultural symbol of femmey sexiness, right? Well, femininity and sexiness are two categories that have been traditionally denied us fat women. Imagine the confusion -- and perhaps the reevaluation of these cultural constructions -- I engender in others when I, a fat woman, don this marker of sexiness and enact a confident, proud persona. Am I performing old-fashioned, unexciting, requisite feminine sexiness, or does my fat version of it cast into confusion its very definition?

Pretty rockin’, right? Yeah, but while I dig my lipstick politics, I can’t honestly claim that I yank tender little hairs from their snug beds in order to mess with people’s constructions of femininity. Does it still make others think twice to see un-pantyhosed, hairless fat legs displayed by a cute, frilly skirt? It may. Does my fat version of it encourage others to rethink their automatic assumptions about what “feminine” (usually paired with smallness and frailty) looks like? Maybe.

Brows like rotated commas don't happen on their own, people.
Most importantly, do my intentions matter? I may tweeze my eyebrows because my mother tells me it’s the best gift I can give her for Mother’s Day, and I may shave my legs because I teach in front of 150 students per semester and don’t want to embarrass myself by having butch-tastic, hairy shins and calves, but does that really matter? Am I a political statement whether or not I intend it?

I just don’t know. 

I voiced this to my partner yesterday when musing about my shaving ritual. My legs, I pointed out, are crisscrossed with cat and dog scratches, both fresh ones and the scars from my animal rescue past. Why shave legs that, by being fat and scarred, have already transcended the boundaries of feminine sexiness? Am I minimizing my legs’ horror, begging others for some scrap of recognition and acceptance? Or, by being someone who is relatively confident about her physicality and sexiness, might I be challenging others – perhaps even calling into question well-established gender categories -- with my strange combination of eschewing and embracing gendered performances of sexiness? Is the very ambivalence, my straddling of two different worlds, where we can begin the deconstruction of these artificial constructs?

“Uh-huh. And plucking your eyebrows hurts you,” my partner helpfully reminded me.

Yeah, there’s that. Like my torn nail burns now, tweezing my brows stung like a mofo this morning. Political activism, whether economically or emotionally, is never free, and it’s a cliché that the price of beauty runs high. But dang, do these pursuits have to involve so much blood, tears, and wasted nail polish?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Thursday Threads: Confederado do Norte by Linda Bennett Pennell



Confederado do Norte
by Linda Bennett Pennell

Genre:  Women’s Historical Fiction
Due for Release: July 2014


Other BooksAl Capone at the Blanche Hotel now available from Soul Mate Publishing
Twitter:  @LindaPennell


Back Cover Description for Confederado do Norte:

October, 1866.
Mary Catherine is devastated when her family emigrates from Georgia to Brazil because her father and maternal uncle refuse to accept the terms of Reconstruction following the Confederacy’s defeat. Shortly after arrival in their new country, she is orphaned, leaving her in Uncle Nathan’s care. He hates Mary Catherine, blaming her for his sister’s death. She despises him because she believes Nathan murdered her father. When Mary Catherine discovers Nathan’s plan to be rid of her as well, she flees into the wilderness filled with jaguars and equally dangerous men. Finding refuge among kind peasants, she grows into a beauty, ultimately marrying the scion of a wealthy Portuguese family. Happiness and security seem assured until civil unrest brings armed marauders who have an inexplicable connection to Mary Catherine. Recreating herself has protected Mary Catherine in the past, but the latest crisis will demand all of the courage, intelligence, and creativity she possesses simply to survive.   


Excerpt from Confederado do Norte

Chapter 1

I dreamt the dream again last night. In the small hours, I awoke in a tumble of bedclothes and bathed in perspiration despite the howling snowstorm blanketing the city. I rearranged quilts and plumped pillows, but sleep remained elusive. My mind refused to be quiet.
As often happens after such a night, I felt unable to rise at my usual hour and remained abed long after the maids cleared breakfast from the morning room. My daughter-in-law, bless her heart, meant well. I told her it was ridiculous to bring the doctor out on such a frigid day, but apparently the very old, like the very young, are not to be trusted in matters of judgment. After the doctor listened to my chest, a studied sympathy filled his eyes and he gently suggested that perhaps I should get my affairs in order. No doubt he wondered at my smile for he couldn’t have known I have no affairs other than my memories and the emotions they engender.
Unlike most elderly persons, I don’t revel in slogging through the past. It isn’t wrapped in pretty ribbons or surrounded by a golden aura. Instead, its voices haunt my dreams, demanding and accusatory. Until recently, I’ve resisted their intrusion into my waking life, but I now believe the past can no longer remain buried in nocturnal visions. It must be brought out into the light of day. From its earliest moments onward, the past’s substance must be gouged out, pulled apart, and examined bit by bit until its truth is exposed. While total objectivity may not be possible, I have concluded that committing the past to paper is my best hope for sorting facts from imaginings. Perhaps then I will achieve the peace that has so long hidden its face from me.
You see, when I was quite young—only a girl really—I killed four people. Two were dearly beloved, one was a hated enemy, and the last was a dangerous criminal.