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On Happily-Ever-Afters

It’s strange how certain conversations can stick with you. I was chatting in an online forum years ago, among good friends, when the topic turned to family relationships. A number of forum members shared difficult and distressing experiences from their personal lives. Then someone asked, a little wistfully, “Is there even such a thing as a normal family anymore? Like, you know, a family where everybody is still talking to each other?”

I had one of those rabbit-in-the-headlight moments. “Yes!” I thought. “Mine!” We’re not perfect, not by any means, but we send each other gifts at Christmas and hold family reunions and take an interest in each others’ lives. Those of us who are married are still on our first marriages, and I’ve chatted amicably with all of my siblings during the past year.

But in the context of the conversation, it didn’t feel right to say that. How could I parade my happiness in front of people who were dealing with the horrifying situations we had just been discussing? It didn’t seem respectful. It didn’t seem appropriate. And so I let the moment pass.

And I find, years later, that I am still saddened by the necessity of doing so.

Because there are happy families in this world. Marriages that actually work. Couples who meet and fall in love and really do find a happily-ever-after together. It is possible. Difficult, yes, especially for those who’ve been handed a crapload of emotional baggage. But possible.

And I think, sometimes, that this possibility gets lost in the massive, ugly realities of day-to-day living. And that those most in need of a glimpse of hope are perhaps the very people who seldom get it – because when your own family life sucks, those who have it better tend to make themselves invisible out of a sense of respect for the difficulties you’re going through.

It’s easy to fall prey to the notion that everyone who appears happy is secretly hiding some ugly skeleton of domestic abuse. That every starry-eyed pair of newlyweds is destined for a rude awakening after their honeymoon. That lasting contentment is a silly children’s story, often envisioned but impossible to experience.

But you see, that’s a notion every bit as unrealistic as the belief that life will unfold perfectly just because you’re in love. Both realities are true – the fairy-tale marriage that crumbles to ashes and the romance which blossoms into 60 years of happiness – they both exist. They are both real. And so, at the same time that conscientious authors are understandably working to prevent young girls from rushing headlong into relationships they’ve not yet taken time to think about, I hope we also don’t erase the idea of a happily-ever-after entirely.

“But wait!” I hear concerned readers saying. “Statistically, the likelihood of an unhappy relationship is much higher than the likelihood of happiness. Why dangle an unrealistic dream in front of children who are sure to be disappointed?”

Well, hm. The likelihood of becoming a NYT Bestseller is, quite frankly, very slim. Do we tell aspiring authors it’s just a pipe dream? Do we urge them to set their sights on something more realistic, like selling a couple of short stories to a semi-pro magazine? Or do we encourage them to buckle down, use whatever resources fate and a cruel world have allotted them, and learn the skills that will give them the best possible chance of reaching that statistically unlikely yet infinitely desirable goalpost?

Happiness exists. It is real. It is possible.

It is worth striving for.


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Crowdspeak

So it’s been a while since I blogged regularly. Quite frankly, ever since Movement was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula in 2012, the internet has intimidated me.

When I was writing for two people, or ten, or twenty, it was easy to keep track of my readers. I knew who they were; I had a pretty good sense of which topics they were comfortable with and which would touch off unpleasant emotional triggers. We shared a common vocabulary and a common set of online friends. Blogging felt like a comfortable luncheon with a group of trusted companions.

It’s not quite that way anymore. I’m thrilled at every reader, I truly am! But the sheer number of you these days means that my capacity to track all of you has evaporated. There are 100+ people listening and each of you has your own inner landscape and I can’t do justice to all of them. I’m no longer aware of all the trigger points. I can’t predict which words and phrases – innocuous in my own mind – might set off unwanted emotional reactions in the mind of someone with different life experiences. I mean, I can predict some of them. But I can’t predict all of them. Human experience is too individual and too complex and too extraordinarily unique for anyone to foresee how every person in a random sampling of listeners will respond.

So I am left with two choices: (a) avoid topics of significance and prattle only about banalities. (b) accept the fact that no matter how hard I try, I am always going to unwittingly cause discomfort to some subset of readers.

The first option seems pointless. The second is largely incompatible with my psyche. (You can see why I’ve kind of pulled into my shell and just focused on writing fiction lately.)

I miss the internet, though. Or rather, I miss chatting with the people who inhabit it. So I’m going to poke my nose out of the shell and try to discover a nebulous option (c), in which my blog posts are useful and relevant without becoming burdensome.

Wish me luck.


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I have concluded that colliding world views are kind of like going to the beach.

Really.

See, we all need sunlight. Vitamin D and all that. But we also can’t handle too much of that beautiful, healthy UV light, because our skin will get red and then start to peel and we’ll feel achy and unhealthy for days on end. So we’ve all learned to moderate our sunlight intake. We sit in the shade, lie in the sun, or use sunscreen as our current situation demands.

Venturing into the realms of someone else’s world view is like that. There’s an intellectual pallor that accompanies those who never, ever think beyond the box of their own perceptions. That’s not healthy. We all need to be pushed and challenged and re-evaluate our foundational assumptions from time to time. But we’re all also susceptible to ideological sunburn. And so we somewhat instinctively moderate our exposure. In past decades, that has meant selecting different books to read or choosing whether to pursue an idea or change the topic in real-world conversations.

Enter the internet. MEGA-HIGH-VOLTAGE UV EXPOSURE. All those filters we’ve been using subconsciously for years don’t really apply here. We have to build new ones. And so we find ourselves muting friends on facebook even though we still really like them, or retreating from the internet for days on end. And if you’re like me, you sometimes feel guilty about that. Because somehow I think I ought to be tougher, that I shouldn’t shy away from people who see things differently than I do. That I shouldn’t shut myself off from things that jar and jangle and feel like a slap of cold water in the face – because if those things hurt me so much, then it probably means there’s an important lesson for me to learn there. Sunlight is healthy. Why would I want to lock myself away in the dark?

Today I realized I should probably stop feeling guilty. My soul craves exposure to differing ideologies — it’s one of the reasons I love science fiction so much. But my soul also needs that exposure to stay within a range of healthy intensities. I wouldn’t expect my body to handle a full afternoon spent in unfiltered Nevada sunlight, or to swallow down an entire plate full of table salt. So I probably shouldn’t expect myself to interact for months on end with an unmoderated internet without taking a bit of damage. I can choose to accept that damage, or choose to retreat from it, but I shouldn’t require myself to be superwoman.

I feel like this is the part of the post where I’m supposed to say something very profound and forward-thinking. But I don’t have any of that today. I’ve just got a warm little feeling that comes from finally understanding why something hurts, and what I can do about it.


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Great Expectations

When I was pregnant with my first child, I discovered the limitations of human biology. The hours of the day, which had previously always sufficed for the multitude of tasks I crammed into them, stretched away beneath my grasping fingers. My evenings became litanies of Things Left Undone, my mornings frustrated contemplations of impossible tasks, and as one child followed another the daily demands on my time kept increasing.

I loved being pregnant. Far more than I ever expected. But I hated feeling so incompetent, so reduced from the vibrant over-achievement that had become, over the years, inseparable from my conception of self. And so I had to re-train my neurons. I had to teach them that when vast amounts of the body’s resources are pumping energy to a tiny fluttering bundle of emerging life, even lying uselessly on the couch is a massively productive act.

Lowering my expectations for myself was difficult. I’d always believed one shouldn’t abandon the pursuit of a goal just because the road got bumpy along the way. The idea that I could actively choose which goals to pursue was obvious in retrospect, but peculiarly difficult to stumble upon.

Expectations are tricky stuff. When you let go of some you feel better, and when you let go of others you feel worse. I don’t know why certain expectations coax me onward to delightful-yet-difficult accomplishments while others drag me down in a weighted quagmire of floundering disappointment, but I know that it is so. And so the trick lies in nourishing the expectations that give you wings and shedding the ones that wrap you in chains, and not too often mistaking the one for the other.

I’m thinking about this today because, once again, the demands on my time have outgrown my capacity to fulfill them. I have retreated to my usual fallback position, the one that leaves my schedule in tatters but my soul feeling happy and well-balanced: I have dragged a couple of key expectations about how I spend my time and how I interact with my children out of the crowded back corners and back into a place of honor where they belong. Other expectations are quietly being carved away. Work offers turned down. Writing projects placed on hold. A hundred delightful aspirations laid to rest because the things I have chosen instead are more important to me.

When I wake up in the morning and feel excited about the day, I know I have left the right pieces of my life intact.


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Household Helpers

This morning my 9-year-old made breakfast while my 6-year-old set the table. This TOTALLY erases all of the aggravation from yesterday.

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Podcasting

I've love doing podcast interviews. I love them because I can communicate so much more quickly than I can in text interviews. I can interact with the interviewer. We can follow the meanderings of the conversation and end up in strangely unexpected places.

That's what happened during last month's interview with Randall Hayes of Variation, Selection, Inheritance. The podcast is funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation, and is all about evolutionary patterns in unusual instantiations. It turns out that Randall is a fascinating person to talk to. We strayed far and wide from our intended topic of conversation; so much so that instead of making one podcast episode out of it, Randall made three.

Here they are, for posterity:

Episode 44: Nancy Fulda, Hugo Nominee
Episode 45: Nancy Fulda on Evolving Robots and Kids
Episode 46: Nancy Fulda on Writing with Words

After the Con

[Written two days ago]

I’m sitting at the airport, head still buzzing from the most fantastic WorldCon of my life. Coincidentally, it is also the first WorldCon of my life, but on purely empiric analysis, I doubt it gets any better than this. I don’t know how to describe the rush of frantic energy that fills you when your fellow panelists are all in synch to keep the audience laughing. I can’t convey the peaceful ambience of the abandoned hotel lobby at 5AM when you’re on your down the escalator to the gym. There has been laughter (and trauma, but mostly laughter) and many good friends who have welcomed with open arms and unquestioning friendship a stranger they had known up until this year only as a name on the internet.

I cannot describe how grateful I am for that.

As I look back on the con, memories flicker like brilliant reflections across a darkened pool:

Buffalito wrangling for Klingon expert Lawrence Schoen...

Courtney Willis and the Baseball Bat of Moderation Excellence...

Mary Robinette’s gracious willingness to take me under her wing at exclusive parties...

Autographing next to Howard Tayler at the SchlockMercenary booth...

Combining powers with Joe Zieja to defeat Munchkin adversaries Myke Cole, Amy Sundberg, Bill Lawhorn and Gama-the-Ninja...

My super-awesome entourage, Megan Walker and Dantzel Cherry, who performed secret missions at my bequest, and without whom my reading would have been doughnutless...

My first and awesomest con friend, Jamie Rubin, who apparently wasn't lurking after all...

Danielle Friedman, who needs no introduction because she knows everybody...

Ensign Friend and the Worldbuilding panel on vampiric iron-eating intelligent soap scum...


Oddly, the Hugo Awards were only a vague addendum to the magnificent tapestry that was Chicon 7. Far more significant in my recollection were conversations with excellent people like Paolo Bacigalupi, Bryce Moore, Eddie Schneider, David Klecha, Rachel Swirsky and many, many others.

You were awesome, Chicon. And to all the fabulous people who made you what you are: Thanks for giving me one of the best weekends of my life.

Lemon Grass

Had a delightful luncheon today with Ed Miracle, Marlene Dotterer, and Jordan Bernal, thus forever cementing my preconception that CA authors are made of awesome. We discussed our works-in-progress, compared indie and traditional publication strategies, and swapped writing techniques. Also, I gave an impromptu sales pitch of Scrivener for Windows that was so enthusiastic, Literature & Latte ought to pay me a commission. ;)

Other news of interest:
-A Song of Blackness has been accepted for publication at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.
-Dead Men Don't Cry is the July book selection at SF Netcast.
-I have been interviewed at SF Signal and Decompose.
-Movement, Hexes and Haunts, and That Undiscovered Country are in audio production and will soon be availabe at audible.com.

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Bay Area Mind Meld -- July 7, 2012

On July 7 I'll be meeting for lunch with several members of the California Writers' Club and YOU, dear blog readers, are invited.

We'll be meeting in the Lemon Grass Thai Restaurant in Livermore (2216 First Street, near the big flagpole) from 1:00-3:00PM. RSVP's are not mandatory, but if you think you might come it would be helpful to post a brief note in the comments. That way we'll know which size of table to reserve.

I haven't been to California in three years. This is going to be awesome!

--Nancy

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Grasses, How do I Loathe Thee...

Allergy Season has begun in Schleswig-Holstein and I am NOT a happy camper.

Seriously. Antihistamines give me rashes and grass pollen makes me sneeze. The first two weeks of June are a constant bombardment on my immune system. Whoever came up with the brilliant idea of hay fever, anyway?

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Profile

nancyfulda
nancyfulda

Publications

Nancy Fulda -- Hugo and Nebula Nominee

Web Site | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Google+






That Undiscovered Country
Jim Baen Memorial
Award Winner


paperback | kindle | nook | PDF | Other





Movement
2011 Nebula Nominee

Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, March 2011

paperback | kindle | nook | smashwords





The Breath of Heaven
Stories from Distant Worlds

paperback | kindle | nook | smashwords






In the Halls of the Sky-Palace
Jim Baen's Universe, June 2009

kindle | nook | smashwords





Backlash (novelette)
Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, 2010

kindle | nook | smashwords





The Man Who
Murdered Himself

Phobos Award Winner

kindle | nook | smashwords





Dead Men Don't Cry:
11 Stories by Nancy Fulda


Paperback | kindle | nook | smashwords | DRM-free






Nothing This Fun Could be Good for You (article)
Available at:
Clarkesworld Magazine





Like Rain From Silver Skies
Available at:
Basement Stories





Knowing Neither Kin Nor Foe
Available at:
Beneath Ceaseless Skies


Nancy Fulda is a 2012 Hugo and Nebula Nominee, a Phobos Award winner and a Vera Hinckley Mayhew Award recipient. She is the first (and so far only) female recipient of the Jim Baen Memorial Award. Her fiction has appeared in a number of professional venues.

Nancy Fulda is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

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