The SBTB team is still gathering in groups across many time zones to say goodbye to 2020, and to look back at the books, shows, and other essentials that got us through 2020. In this episode, Catherine Heloise joins us from Melbourne Australia, Sneezy is in Taiwan, and Maya is in California, and we’re going to cover books, movies, and manga we loved, our favorite tropes, a little bit of discussion on social anxiety, and how to look back at what we’ve learned this year.
If you’re listening to this on the 25th of December, happy Chinese food and a movie day! Stay safe and warm and may your takeout be excellent. And if you’re celebrating Christmas, Merry Christmas to you and yours.
This is our last episode of 2020, wow, and I wanted to thank you for listening, for all your email and encouragement. It means a lot to know I’m keeping you company while you quilt, walk the dogs, dye yarn, shelve books, clean, cook, and go about your life. I’m honored to be here with you, so thank you, and happy new year to all of us.
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This Episode's Music
It’s time to feature my favorite holiday album from Deviations Project, Adeste Fiddles.
The track you’re hearing is The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. You can find this album at Amazon.
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Sarah Wendell: Hello there. Thank you for inviting me into your eardrums. I’m Sarah Wendell; this is Smart Podcast, Trashy Books, episode number 437! We are saying good-bye to 2020. Seriously: good-bye. The Smart Bitches team is gathering across many time zones, and in this episode Catherine Heloise is joining us from Melbourne, Australia; Sneezy is in Taiwan; and Maya is in California. So we are going to talk about books and movies and manga that we loved; our favorite tropes; we talk a little bit about social anxiety and RWA and how to look back on what we’ve learned this year.
Now, if you are listening to this on the 25th of December, Happy Chinese Food and a Movie Day! Stay safe and warm! May your takeout be excellent. And if you are celebrating Christmas today, Merry Christmas to you and yours!
I have a compliment, which is so much fun.
For Kristin L.: When your friends think about New Year’s resolutions and wishes and goals, having you in their lives is always an absolute unspoken but essential part of their happiness. Thank you for being you.
If you would like a compliment of your very own, have a look at Smart Bitches Patreon at patreon.com/SmartBitches. Monthly pledges start at one dollar, every pledge keeps the show going, and the Patreon community is made of wonderful, excellent people. Happy Holidays to all of you, and thank you for your support!
This podcast episode is brought to you by Headspace. Headspace is your daily dose of mindfulness in the form of guided meditations in an easy-to-use app. Headspace is one of the only meditation apps advancing the field of mindfulness and meditation through clinically validated research, so whatever the situation, Headspace really can help you feel better! If you are feeling overwhelmed, Headspace has a three-minute SOS meditation just for you. If you need help falling asleep, Headspace has wind-down sessions that their members swear by, and Amanda loves these in particular; she tells me about them constantly. And for parents, Headspace has morning meditations you can do with your children. Headspace’s approach to mindfulness can reduce stress, improve sleep, boost focus, and increase your overall sense of wellbeing. This is one of the sponsorship spots that I’m the most excited to talk about, because I look forward to my session with Headspace every day, and I have tried so many times to create a meditation habit, and I haven’t been able to stick with it. This one is working, and I’m not sure why, but I am very grateful for it, because I can tell that I am calmer, more relaxed, and better able to handle each day, and savor specific moments to enjoy them as they’re happening. Headspace is backed by twenty-five published studies on its benefits, six hundred thousand five-star reviews, and over sixty million downloads. Headspace makes it easy for you to build a life-changing meditation practice with mindfulness that works for you on your schedule, anytime, anywhere. You deserve to feel happier – absolutely true – and Headspace is meditation made simple. Go to headspace.com/SARAH – that’s headspace.com/SARAH – for a one-month free trial with access to Headspace’s full library of meditations for every situation. This is the best deal offered right now, so head to headspace.com/SARAH today!
Since we’re talking about books and movies and manga and T-shirts and lots of things in this episode, I’m sure you’re wondering, hmm, where can I find links to all of the books and the things that are being talked about in this episode? Uhhh, in the show notes! You knew that! Smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast: I will have links to everything we talked about, never fear.
This episode is also brought to you by OneHope Wine. OneHope is a Napa Valley winery built on hope and rooted in purpose. Every bottle of our award-winning wine supports a meaningful cause! OneHope’s commitment to high quality wine is as important as their commitment to the causes they support. Through the sale of every bottle, OneHope has donated over five million dollars to causes around the world. You can stock up for the holidays with up to thirty-five percent off wine from OneHope! Get ten percent off a four-pack, twenty percent off a six-pack, and thirty-five percent off twelve-packs during the biggest sale of the year. We could all use a little wine this season; why not celebrate the New Year with some bubbly, huh? They have gorgeous, bestselling glitter bottles and shimmer bottles, and I will tell you, I have liked every one that I’ve tried from OneHope. Visit onehopewine.com/SARAH or use code SARAH, S-A-R-A-H, for ten dollars off your first order. That’s onehopewine.com/SARAH or code SARAH, S-A-R-A-H, for ten dollars off your first order: ten dollars off any product, first-time customers only. That’s O-N-E-H-O-P-E-W-I-N-E dot com slash SARAH.
If you’re thinking, is that Adeste Fiddles in the background? Yes! Yes, it is! I have been using royalty-free music this year because I have been trying to cross-post the episodes to YouTube, and YouTube will find the episodes if I am using music that is not royalty-free. Now, I have permission to use this music, but, you know, YouTube doesn’t know that. But for the holidays, I think I have to bring back the Adeste Fiddles, so if you are looking for some funky, fine, awesome holiday music, this is my favorite set! Adeste Fiddles by Deviations Project, and I will link to it in the show notes, never fear.
This episode is also brought to you by Ritual, a daily multivitamin now available in Essential for Kids! Ritual knows how difficult it can be to get your kids the nutrients they need – tell me about it – and that’s why they made Essential for Kids to help fill gaps in the diets of ages four through twelve without making a single compromise to quality or taste! Not only do they have a natural citrus-berry flavor, but they’re convenient by design! Every gummy features a three-in-one design that combines a daily multi, vegan omega-3 DHA, and a good source of fiber per serving. And they deliver! Like, it shows up on the porch. I love this part: the minute I finish a bottle, the new one’s waiting for me. And I love the literal transparency: my capsules are see-through, which is really cool, and I like knowing the source of every nutrient that’s inside the vitamins we take. When it comes to what goes into our kids’ bodies, they’ve got being picky down to a science – mine certainly do. That’s why Ritual is offering my listeners ten percent off your first three months. Visit ritual.com/SARAH to start Ritual or add Essential for Kids today! That’s ritual.com/SARAH.
Are you ready for a podcast episode? I could do a podcast episode. Let’s do it right now! On with the show.
Sarah: Welcome, guys! I’m so glad we get to do this!
Smart Bitches: Me too! Yay!
Sarah: So it’s dead early for you; is it like eight in the morning?
Sneezy: Yes, it is. I’m very impressed with myself that I’m not only here but also on time. Catherine will know that I struggle with this!
Sarah: With being here?
Sneezy: Hooray, ADHD! [Laughs]
Sarah: Being here or being on time or both?
Sneezy: I’m, I’m very impressed myself. Like, I was, half of last night was me lying in bed going, okay, but what if I miss it? Like, I know I set three alarms; what if I sleep through all of them?
Sneezy: But I, I didn’t, so here I am. [Laughs]
Sarah: So do you have the thing where if you have something on your calendar you’re like, well, I can’t do anything else until then?
Catherine Heloise: Oh no. I’ve done quite a lot of things this morning already; I had to.
Sneezy: Rub it in, Catherine, why don’t you?!
Catherine: I need like three hours in which to do all things!
Sarah: What things did you do?
Catherine: Oh, I put a curry in the slow cooker, I organized my Christmas baking shopping list and did the shopping, and I’ve just uploaded a video to our website. I think that’s about it.
Sneezy: Catherine, you also have to sleep! We’ve been over this. You also have to rest.
Catherine: I don’t do that in December.
Sneezy: Yes, you do! You have to! That’s not how the human body works!
Sarah: So is it like, December, for you, is it, is it like people in the northern hemisphere who have a bazillion hours of sunlight and you’re just super awake because you’re so far south? Or is it like, oh my God, it’s Christmas and I have buckets of daylight with which to get things done?
Catherine: It’s a little bit of both.
Catherine: I go very over-the-top at Christmas? Most years I’m singing in choirs every day; obviously not this year, but I’ve, I’ve found ways to be singing every day anyway. And I always do a lot of baking for work, and since I’ve finally got back in the office after nine months, part-time, because we’ve, we’ve been very fortunate here: we had our very long lockdown, and now cases are very, very low –
Sarah: Yeah. That’s, that’s not the case here. We’re terrible at this? We’re really bad at COVID, aren’t we, Maya? We’re sup- –
Sarah: We’re –
Maya: We are, we’ve hit, I think, capacity for the ICUs in LA County? Like, we just hit –
Maya: – capacity? Like, we all, we all out of beds, and so it’s a mess, and it’s going to be a mess for the next probably six weeks?
Sarah: Yeah, we suck at this, so I’m really very envious of your ability to go and do things with other people in the same space that you, that aren’t related to you?
Catherine: We, we did have six weeks when we had a curfew, when we couldn’t leave the house for more than an hour a day for exercise and shopping.
Sarah: Oh, was that the five kilometer lockdown?
Catherine: – radius, yes.
Sarah: Oh man.
Catherine: It was, yeah, that was a bit hard work, and then –
Catherine: – the less, you know, slowly been coming out. There are still some restrictions –
Catherine: – but yeah! I mean, I haven’t been in the office since March the 17th, and I got to go back for the first time for half a day the week before last, and yeah.
Sarah: Alll the plants are dead, right?
Catherine: No, I, I bequeathed them to one of my scientists, ‘cause I work in medical research laboratory, so that’s –
Catherine: But I’m not a scientist, so I can work from home, but my scientists have all been coming in in shifts to keep their experiments going.
Sarah: Right. Maya, how are things with you?
Maya: Right? I’m unemployed, so I’m just, like, chilling.
Maya: Hanging out. I nap a lot? Yeah, I don’t really – it’s really great; I love it. I’m really loving this, like, isolation thing, which freaks everyone out when I say it, but oh!
Sarah: I’m with you.
Maya: Like, never having to leave my house, and I live alone? Like, I’m great. This has been a really great nine months for me, like, for my mental health? Like, my anxiety is, like, really great, ‘cause it’s like, now I don’t have to talk to people, so I’m good, ‘cause I have social anxiety.
Maya: And so, like, yeah! I’m, like, loving it. I, I don’t, like, I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I think I’m going to start a, start a solo practice as an attorney, so, like, yeah, I’m, but I’m waiting until I’ve passed the bar in California, and so that’s another month that I have to just, like –
Sarah: Fingers crossed.
Maya: – sit around! Which is fine. I’m not complaining; everything’s great. Yeah. I love this.
Sarah: So do you have social anxiety like mine where you replay conversations after you’ve had them for like nine years? What is with that?
Maya: Decades? Decades on decades? Like –
Sarah: Oh, I can tell you about things I said when I was thirteen, and I am currently, at this moment, forty-five years old.
Maya: Yeah. No, I, I have a really great memory, which is useful for some –
Sarah: But, but not this! [Laughs]
Maya: But not for living; like, not for living? Like, I used to have a job where I would have to interview people for six hours at a time and couldn’t write anything down because, like, it would freak people out in the interview process?
Maya: So I, but I could recall everything once I, like, got in my car and just started, like, writing everything down? That was great! It was perfect! But, like, for a, you know, a conversation I had with my parents when I was ten, like, maybe, maybe we can move past it. No, I can’t.
Sarah: No. Mm-mm.
Maya: Can’t at all. Yeah.
Sarah: No, no, no.
All right, so, first up. First question.
Sneezy: First question.
Sarah: What book or piece of media got you through 2020? Who wants to go first?
Catherine: I want to go first so I can say the one everyone else probably wants to say.
Sarah: Super evil; I love it!
Catherine: Yeah, I’ve planned this.
Catherine: Speaking of anxiety, I really loved The Duke Who Didn’t. That really spoke to me on so many levels, especially the endless, endless lists that one never gets through. And, and the anxiety. And just the idea that someone can be enough, which is something I have a little trouble grasping for myself. It’s much easier –
Catherine: – about other people. So yeah.
Sarah: That’s a good pick.
Sarah: I love how many year-end lists that book has been on. It makes me so happy?
Catherine: It’s just such a –
Catherine: – good book. It’s, it’s so kind to its readers, and it’s so – and full of food, and you know how I feel about that, and yeah.
Sarah: I have a book to recommend to you about sort of reframing the idea of being enough?
Sarah: It’s called Laziness Does Not Exist? It is nonfiction; it is by a, a professor and researcher named Devon Price. They are based in Chicago, and it’s coming out in January, so I’m reading an ARC now ‘cause I’m doing an interview with them end of the month. This book is blowing my mind, and my family’s tired of hearing about it.
Sarah: Because I like it so much, ‘cause it talks about how we are indoctrinated with this idea that laziness is, is the worst thing, and what we actually do need is time off and, and the idea of being enough for yourself? It’s, it’s, like, straight up your wheelhouse, or on your street? Or however you say that?
Sneezy: The, the first time you talked about this in Slack, Sarah, Google was listening, and Amazon recommended You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?! By Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo to me on Kindle.
Sneezy: I have, have, have not read this yet, but it seems like it’s on the same bandwagon, and just from the blurb it sounds like it’s more geared towards ADHD as well, and it’s just like, thank you for, like, being a complete creep, Google! This is the one time where, where the point is in your court. Fuck you, but also thank you. [Laughs]
Sarah: My dog is digging a hole in the carpet right now. What are you doing?
Maya, what book got you through 2020?
Maya: So I am going to say Murderbot because I read it so many times, like, over and over again? And, like, I know, Sarah. I was like, I’m going to say Murderbot; Sarah’s going to love it. She’s going to be so excited.
Sarah: Yep, mm-hmm! Not wrong, nope, not wrong.
Maya: I loved Murderbot! Me and Murderbot are the same. And so, yeah, this just, this story, right, of like, like, Murderbot, like, trying to figure out how to love themselves, right?
Maya: ‘Cause, like, at the beginning they detested everything about themselves, right?
Maya: Murderers, they can’t control themselves, all of those things, and, like, trying to figure out how to appreciate the, the – I don’t know; not person! – the Murderbot that they are! And so I just really loved that story and the way that Murderbot was both negotiating, like, its own idea of itself, like, within the context of, like, this world that had so many things that they didn’t quite understand?
Maya: And so I just, like, loved it, and obviously, like, Murderbot just wants to sit in a corner and watch some TV, and, like, me too, Murderbot! Like, that’s, that’s – I mean –
Maya: – right, F COVID, right? We’re all just going to go sit at home, I’m going to watch some Netflix, and everything’s going to be perfect. It’s, it’s exactly what I want.
Sarah: You saw – I posted in the, in the Slack – you saw the shirt I got for Hanukkah, right?
Sarah: I’m going to wear it tomorrow! It’s in the dryer right now.
Maya: Oh, cute.
Sneezy: Pics or it didn’t happen!
Sarah: Yeah, I, I will, I will share. I love that series so much, because it also confirms that being a person is hard! Like, being a person is hard, and dealing with other people is hard, and emotions are hard, and all of this stuff that you do as a basic person, that’s all really hard! Even if you have a superpowered brain and can run up the wall and you have guns built into your arms, it’s all hard! And I think what worked, one of the things that worked for me with Murderbot and that series is that, like, I had to keep reminding myself, this here is, this is hard! This is really hard! Like, I think it was Anne Helen Petersen, who’s a journalist that I really, really like – she has a, a Substack newsletter that I actually paid for ‘cause I love her work so much? – and she said, we’re basically living through a global extinction event, and that’s not normal, and we can watch it as it’s happening, watch the bar graphs go up and down, and you can watch your, your ICU beds get full up, and, like, that’s all terrifying? And it’s hard! Like, this is really hard, so it’s, it was reassuring for me to enter a world where it’s like, yes, just basic personhood is hard too. Like, it’s okay that this is difficult.
Sarah: And that there are people who are going to look after you.
Maya: Mm-hmm. That, I think that was, the other piece was it was a, a really interesting found-family story –
Maya: – where Murderbot was, like, trying to convince themselves that they wanted to be part of the world? And that, like, they could be loved? Right, like, first was this –
Maya: – this act of figuring out how to love themselves and then, like, accepting love, and, and then, and then giving other people love; right, loving people back.
Maya: The whole thing that they’re, like, still trying to figure out, and I just really loved, loved watching all of that.
Sarah: I love the, the comment to my review of Network Effect from Hapax, that it was basically an agender, asexual romantic suspense novel, and the minute –
Sarah: – I read that I was like, of course, it was, duh! How did I miss that?
Maya: Yeah, it’s like, it’s the kind of thing where, it’s the kind of book that I use to trick people into reading romance, right? Like, ‘cause it’s a Murderbot! Like, let’s just, he’s, it, it wants to kill people all the time! Like, let’s just, like, read that, and then, like, oh, oh wait, they’re falling in love. Did I, did I, did I forget to mention the love story that is so great? Did I? Did I forget that? And then –
Sarah: Oh darn.
Maya: – and then I hit them with Courtney Milan.
Sarah: This is an excellent strategy! I approve!
Sarah: Well done! Very nice!
Sneezy: So my pick is A Touch of Stone and Snow, because it is, it, it was, I, I talked about it so much on, like, virtually every list, and, and it’s because it’s just gotten me through the year so much. That and webtoons. Webtoons is, is like towards the end of this year, so, like, these past few months? But, okay, so it’s written by Meljean Brooks and – under the name of Milla Vane – and, and the biggest thing about that book that’s so comforting to me is a giant snow cat, a saber-toothed snow cat that will cuddle you, that will rip your enemies apart, and, and it, it, it can have conversations with you – just maybe not with words – and it will troll you, and you can troll it back, and you can snuggle with it, and it is possessive and will let your horse and your riding buddy know that you are their human, and it will, it will just leave fur all over you, and the idea of a fluffkins that will love me that much and will go on murder sprees with me and will cuddle me at night, that, that’s everything; that’s all I want. And I have been so upset at all the poor decision-makers in positions of power this entire year that I just go, I very much want a snow cat to go on adventures with, and if they end up dead, hey, it’s a giant saber-toothed snow cat! What you want from me? Okay, I do believe in restorative justice, I will say that, but the idea of having a monster that is also a fluffkins that will go on a murder spree with me that is causing the people I love danger? It’s very appealing! Oh –
Sarah: Such catharsis!
Sneezy: – it’s so appealing!
Sarah: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
Maya: Kitty cat wants to do stuff; like, you can’t – everyone knows, right, you can’t control a cat! Cat’s in charge; you’re just there to make sure to use your thumbs, make sure they get fed, and that’s it.
Maya: So, like –
Sarah: Clean the, clean the shit box; you’ve got to clean the poop box.
Maya: Yeah. [Laughs]
Sarah: Lit-, little bit of Litter Genie going on there.
Maya: A little bit of that –
Sneezy: Have to wash them –
Maya: Yeah –
Sneezy: – wash up the bowl until they shine.
Catherine: Do we not get to hear your book or your media, Sarah, or is that in a different podcast?
Sarah: Oh gosh! Well, I was just, Adam was, Adam was asking me when we were eating dinner, he was like, do you have to answer the same question? I’m like, well, kind of, yeah. When I was talking with Elyse and Tara and Ellen this week, the two things that got me through were May-, like Maya said, Murderbot, and also the Cadfael mystery series? Which is set in medieval Wales?
Sarah: Where there’s, like, you know, actual anarchy, and no one knows who the king is, and people are dying, and then there’s this, like, elderly monk with an herb garden who solves murder? And I realized during that podcast that there probably isn’t Murderbot/Cadfael crossover fanfic, but that there should be, and I might have stumbled upon an unwritten, unexplored fanfic venue, and I’m kind of into it now? Like, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Like –
Sneezy: Are you going to write it?
Sarah: You know, that’d be, that’d be pretty great, right? So what –
Sarah: – really got me through was stories that confirm that being a person is hard, like Murderbot, and stories that reassured me that regardless of the time period, people have lived through really shitty things and come out okay, and that I will live through really shitty things and it’ll be okay. So those were –
Catherine: And it’s al- –
Sarah: – those were my two.
Catherine: – he’s also doing something meaningful, you know. There’s all this chaos around him, but in his small world, he’s making changes, he’s doing things which matter to people, and the –
Catherine: – chaos around him doesn’t prevent that. You know, you can still do something. I don’t know.
Sarah: Yes! There’s a, there’s a quote from Cory Booker, who was my senator in New Jersey and is, is still a senator in New Jersey, just not my senator anymore, and he said a couple of times, don’t let your inability to do everything get in the way of your determination to do something. And he may be quoting someone else, but I’ve heard him say it, so that’s who I attribute it to. And that’s exactly it. Like, he’s, you know, Cadfael, even, and Murderbot, they’re doing small things that matter in the immediate, and that makes things better and different and improves them in small increments.
I’m also rereading the Nalini Singh Psy-Changeling series right now?
Sarah: This may work for you, Sneezy?
Sarah: ‘Cause the bad guys, like, they, they get bad shit when the, when – when stuff happens to the bad guys, it’s super, like, violent and vicious, and the changelings do not fuck around. You might, you might like it; it’s kind of cathartic.
Sneezy: I feel good just hearing that.
Sneezy: Like, I don’t do horror and gore – you guys know that – but at the same time it’s like, I want a dead.
Sarah: Well, the thing is –
Zeb: Woof, woof-woof, woof!
Sarah: – with the Psy-Changeling series, if it gets too violent I can just sort of flip through and be like, okay, ‘cause the chapters and the scenes are very short, so if it’s like, oh, this is a bit too much, just flip ahead. [Dog barking throughout]
Sneezy: Okay, okay.
Sarah: Do you know that I’m trying to record something, Dog? What the hell?
Sneezy: Honey badger don’t care!
Sarah: Yeah, the dog doesn’t care either. He’s going to bark at shit he can’t see, ‘cause – see it’s dark out! You can’t even see! Oh my gosh.
Sarah: All right. Catherine, do you want to bring your question?
Catherine: Okay, so mine’s a fairly, a light question, I guess. When, when you’re, when you’re choosing a book, if there’s one trope that you will always kind of go, I don’t think that’s for me, or you’re not a trope-y person, and do you have a favorite book within that trope? That’s my –
Sarah: Ooh, that’s a good one! Oh, that’s a good one.
Sneezy: You said it was light, and I thought it meant easy. You lied!
Sarah: Oh, yeah.
Sarah: Okay. So I have a particular trope that I do love. I love romances when the characters are forced to be their authentic, real selves due to whatever circumstance is happening. That could be they’re snowed in, there’s forced proximity, they’re fake dating, they’re fake not-dating. Like, there’s all of these circumstances where characters are forced to be who they are, but what really, like really grabs me is when there’s that situation, but they’re communicating through some kind of secret method, either notes or texts. There’s some sort of sub-conversation happening that allows them to tell each other the truth beneath what’s happening in the story. So secret notes, epistolary romances, things where they’re passing notes back and forth or they’re writing notes on Post-its and leaving them for each other. A really good example is The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary?
Smart Bitch: Yes!
Sarah: Where they’re, they’re leaving notes for each other, and it’s like, hey, I made a butt-ton of apricot bars, and you can have some, but what that actually is, is I’m taking care of you; are you okay? And then that begins this, this person I don’t ever see, that I’ve never met, but lives in my space, so there’s intimacy, but there’s not intimacy? I love the juxt- – that’s probably it – I love the juxtaposition of intimacy in a situation that’s not intimate, where you have to reveal who you really are? That’s my favorite sort of flavor, and that can come in forced proximity or fake relationships or all these different scenarios, but that’s, when it’s, when it’s notes or, or, you know, secret communication or a very secret text thread, like, that, that’s, that’s, that’s the thing that I love the most.
Sneezy: That sounds delicious.
Catherine: That does.
Sarah: It’s so good! Another good one is Yours to Keep by Shannon Stacey, because they have a fake relationship, and the only place they can leave notes for each other is in the bathroom? So they leave Post-it notes in the bathroom about each other so they can get to know each other in a space that is inherently just theirs, while they’re pretending to have a, a relationship for whatever reason people pretend to have relationships – there’s lots of different reasons in romance.
Maya, when you practice law, are you going to specialize in those wills in romance that make people, like, get married and, like, force each other to pretend to have relationships to close the deal?
Sarah: Like, are you going to specialize in that variation of contract and estate law, ‘cause there’s not a lot of people –
Maya: That sounds like a party. Like, honestly? Like –
Maya: – that sounds really great! I’d be all about that! Like, I’d be, it would be my own, like, just watching these love stories happen?
Maya: Awesome. Yeah!
Sarah: Sorry about great-granddad, but you guys are getting married!
Maya: Yeah! It’s like, you know, eighty thousand acres of land is yours in LA, right. But you’ve got to marry that lady over there right now. Like, yes.
Sarah: A clock’s ticking, pal; get on that. Let’s go!
Maya: That happened. Yeah, or it’s like, you have to marry me. Sorry! Look, all that land’s like –
Maya: I mean, it’s in the will! I didn’t, I didn’t, did I write the will and that means it’s illegal? We don’t have to talk about that, but, like, yeah.
Sarah: Totally superfluous detail; it is immaterial to this relevant, relevant situation.
Sneezy: Hurry up and say your vows. Now we’re getting naked. Go!
Sarah: I read Rafe by Rebekah Weatherspoon for a, to be a guest on another podcast recently, and one of the things I really liked about it is that they were in one of those conscripted relationships: like, you have to get married for this much days to inherit this much – and they were like, yeah, but you’re kind of hot! You know, while we’re married –
Smart Bitch: Let’s do –
Sarah: – you want to go, you want to go to Bone Town?
Sarah: I really appreciated the, the honesty of wishing to go to Bone Town, because, you know, why the hell not? [Laughs]
Sneezy: Yes, get to it! There’s not enough pages left in the book; get smashing! Go, go, go, go, go!
Sarah: Let’s do it!
All right, who has an answer for Catherine’s question?
Sneezy: Me and Catherine. Catherine, do you want to go first?
Catherine: My question! [Laughs]
Sneezy: Oh. Well, all right.
Sarah: No, it’s Maya, Maya and, and, and you, although, Catherine, I would love it if you answered too.
Catherine: Yeah, I’m still thinking about the answer to my question. So –
Maya: I have an answer!
Sarah: Okay, go, go, go!
Maya: Marriage of convenience. I love –
Maya: – I know it’s like kind of related to what you were just talking about, Sarah, but I think the sort of marriage of convenience where there’s like an explicit negotiation of, of, like, who people, like what they want in a relationship, that I think when we’re talking about other tropes that I totally enjoy, like with, like, the Psy-Changeling series, where there’s a lot of Fated Mate stuff that happens, and so –
Maya: – that, like, negotiation of, of, like, there’s no negotiation of, of what people actually want in a relationship; it’s like just, boom, you’re in love; congratulations! kind of thing –
Maya: – and then there’s, like, other stuff happening that needs to be figured out, but in marriage of convenience there’s a lot more people, like, discovering each other and having conversations about the things they want and the ways they’ve, like, often been, like, failed by other people?
Maya: And so, like, where I am right now, I think my favorite one that I just read was Strange Love by – just forgot the author’s name! Y’all got it.
Sarah: Ann Aguirre!
Maya: Yes! So good! Because you had these two, these, you know, one person, one not-a-person, but having these conversations with them sort of been undervalued in, like, really, like, explicit ways, and, and it was just this very, like, with, I forget the name of the, the dude, but, like, this whole – he’s, like, shocked every time she, she does the thing she said she was going to do, which was to, like, stick by him, and he just keeps, every time he’s like, oh, she’s going to, she’s going to forget about that, and she’s like, of course I’m not! Like, what are you even talking about? And, like, the shock, the constant, like he’s constantly amazed by that, is – so it’s, like, really heartbreaking, but it’s also sort of the kind of thing that is, is the kind of development of a relationship that I like to see.
Sarah: Yeah. Where you have no real reason to trust in the relationship, because the relationship itself is built on a weird foundation, and then it remains consistent? Oh, I love that too.
Sarah: It’s so good. And you know, the thing –
Sneezy: I, I felt really hella called out by that, but okay, keep going.
Sneezy: I, I felt called out – okay, again, feel free to cut this, but it’s just, hearing Maya talk about that, it, it just reminded me of, like, all the really shitty people I had surrounded myself with, and I always internalized the idea that if I felt uncomfortable, if I was hurt, if I felt undervalued, disrespected – I, I couldn’t even put words to this; it’s only now, after all the internal work that I’ve done that I can identify this as how I was feeling, right –
Sneezy: – but anytime that I felt discomfort or sad or hurt, I always thought, oh, it’s just ‘cause I’m the problem. If I was better, if I, if I thought the right thoughts, I wouldn’t feel this way, and obviously everybody else is right, everybody else has legitimate reasons but me, and I’m a terrible person anyway, so I don’t deserve to feel upset, right. So, like, Maya, you recommended that book to me, and I actually forgot about the talking dog until you talked about it, and I was like, oh my God, how did I forget this? But yeah, like, exactly what you said: it, it, it kind of held up a very uncomfortable mirror, the way the, the crooked dude was like, what? You respect me? You really care about me? Where’s, what’s the catch? What the fuck is happening? And it was just like, well, she just kind of loves you, and that’s great.
Sarah: Yep. But isn’t that one of the most central messages of romance?
Catherine and Maya: Yes.
Sarah: Like, you are worthy of love exactly as you are; you don’t have to change.
Sneezy: But I feel like stories now are just so smart and so direct with how they talk about this, and there’s no –
Sarah: Oh, for sure.
Sneezy: – caveats or weird stuff going on, or if there are weird stuff that goes on, it’s really easy to pick out, and it’s like, no! I don’t have to put up with this shit! There’s so many other stories I can go to!
Sarah: Yep. Oh yes. Oh yes; so many more.
Sarah: So do you have a trope? Do you have an answer?
Sneezy: Oh yes. Okay, so this is more with, like, man-, manwha/manga/however you pronounce graphic novels and webtoons, but Isekai. So Isekai is a genre for talking about, like, a character somehow gets transplanted into a story, and there, there might be time travel involved, there might be reincarnation involved. The point is, you get plonked in a story, whether the story is from a novel, a game, whatever, you’re in it, and what the fuck do you do? Because suddenly all of these tropes that you thought were so hot, whether it’s stuff of dark romance or, or this great adventure that’s where your life threatened is like, oh shit! Now I’ve got to live through this shit!
Sneezy: But more importantly, like, ‘cause obviously I’m a romance reader, so I tend to read more like the josei and shojo side of things, right, so that the tropes are really, really, really smart in the way that it’s used to examine the role of women in stories, the role of women in societies, that’s, like, very on-the-nose. Like, it’s, you have these characters that are like, no, you don’t get to treat women like shit and still have your magical romance, Mr. Crown Prince! No one gives a shit about you! There’s consequences for being a shitty prince! You can’t just keep shirking your duties and expect things to work out for you! No! No one going to put up with that shit! And then there’s also this, this thing where, like, okay, me and Catherine, again, in our Slack group, we’re always talking about, like, why don’t they just throw the man over and, like, these two gals just run off into the sunset? Isn’t that the perfect pairing? And then these, these webtoons are like, well, how ‘bout that? And it’s, it’s – okay, I have to be very careful what I say here, because spoilers, but there’s, there’s some stories where, where you get, you still get love triangles, but I, I actually like these love triangles? Not because they’re love triangles, but because you, now the love interests for the main character are a man and a woman, and they respect each other. I have to say, for me, with ADHD and anxiety and depression, super fun times! But –
Sneezy: – the, the colors, the layout, like, that, that is very delicious for my brain. Like, after –
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Sneezy: – the, the election, my brain just went, oh, you want to read nonfiction? Fuck you! You feel like a novel? Fuck you! I want webtoons right now! What you going to do? And my only answer was nothing. [Laughs]
Sarah: Okay! There’s a, there is a poem by Mary Oliver, who’s an American poet, called “Wild Geese,” and there’s a line that I tell myself all the time: You have only to let the soft animal of your body want what it wants. Sometimes your body knows what it needs, and if it needs Technicolor Greek gods who are, you know, pining for each other? Fine. [Laughs]
Sneezy: You give it that shit or you’ll be sorry!
Sarah: That’s right! If, if that’s what my body wants, if that’s what my brain wants, ‘kay! All right, fine. I won’t get in the way. I still get my story fix, so I’m happy.
Sneezy: [Laughs] Smart woman, says your body.
Sarah: Yeah, yeah! Just, just get out of my way! Okay, fine! Okay, okay, I’m not in the way; I’m not in the way.
Catherine, do you have an answer for your own question?
Catherine: I sort of do. I mean, the, the short answer is the more tropes the better. I like stories which have lots of different tropes in them. If I see, ooh, yeah, there’s a big secret and someone’s cross-dressing and someone el- – you know, and then there’s only one bed, I am extremely happy. But I was also just looking at my list of my favourite books for this year, and it’s pretty clear that I have one trope I really like, which is, it’s kind of a vari-, it’s an Opposites Attract. Not Enemies to Lovers particularly, but where one character is really highly strung or tense or kind of, you know, grumpy, and the other one’s just sort of, just sort of relaxed, sunshiny kind of – yeah. I love that trope, and I, I’ve no idea why that would be. [Laughs]
Sneezy: Kind of like The Duke Who Didn’t!
Catherine: [Laughs] Like The Duke Who Didn’t; like Act Like It; like Hearts on Hold; like Ten Things I Hate About – well, that’s not – yeah, even Ten Things I Hate About the Duke; like Drowned Country. It, it’s bas-, I looked at my list and went, every single thing on that list has that kind of trope, actually, so that’s clearly what I like.
Sarah: The sunshiny one and the grumpy one.
Catherine: The sunshiny one and the grumpy one, or the sunshine, or the, the relaxed one and the totally stressed out one, and just, yeah.
Sarah: Yeah. I particularly love that when it’s paired with competence, where even if the load, the laidback or the sunshiny one is also competent? You can –
Catherine: Ideally both.
Sarah: Yeah! Ideally both, but sometimes you get it where it’s, it’s, it edges firmly into Manic Pixie Dream Girl –
Catherine: Oh yes.
Sarah: – and, and, and, you know, oh, I’m just a complete disaster, and someone who takes life seriously needs to fix me, like, that’s –
Sarah: – that’s not my jam. When they’re both competent and they have to reconcile each other’s competence, even though they’re coming from opposite value systems? Yes, please!
Catherine: Yes indeed.
Sneezy: Mm. That’s so hot!
Catherine: Yes. And I think I also, like Maya, I love any trope where they have to really negotiate and figure out who they are, and I guess that’s why, yes, the Fake Relationship and the Only One Bed and things like that work really well for me, because there are, there is so much discussion of, okay, where are the boundaries? What are we going to do? And there’s a kind of radical honesty you have to have there, or it just doesn’t work, and –
Catherine: – it’s the stuff that people in real life tend to kind of talk around and try and find sort of – ‘cause no one wants to talk about that stuff directly, ‘cause it’s awkward and, and weird and icky, but you kind of have to? Yeah, so I love that.
Sarah: I agree.
Catherine: As an overly stressed, slightly awkward person myself, I think that sounded, yeah. It’s a good combo.
Sarah: I agree! I, I totally get it!
All right, Maya, what’s your question for us?
Maya: My question is, even though it feels like it was literally a billion years ago, like when –
Sarah: ‘Cause it was literally a billion years ago –
Maya: I just –
Sarah: – or it was yesterday.
Maya: With the whole RWA mess that happened, like, I was wondering if you all had something that you loved that, like, came out of that mess over the last year? ‘Cause there was, it felt like a very radical shift that occurred sort of in our January. Then again, like, I just, it feels so far away that I almost imagined it, but it was just a year ago! Like, if there’s, what your, what was your favorite sort of like outcome out of all of those, all of the, like, really bad things that did happen there, or, like, what hopes did you have that, like, still haven’t actually been, like, reached yet, haven’t been met yet?
Sarah: I love looking back at the whole thing that happened with RWA because it’s like, oh my God, what a quaint time!
Maya: I know!
Sneezy: Okay –
Sarah: Okay, I remember when that whole thing broke, I was on vacation in Utah. I was at like nine thousand feet elevation. I did not have my normal amount of oxygen, and I was like, fuck me, I have to write right now, and I can barely talk out loud, and I remember being so hurt and mad. Like, this decision that was released about Courtney Milan, that, that hurt. Like, why are you trying to make yourself irrelevant? Why are you trying to undo what people have worked so hard? And I look back at that now; I’m like, what a quaint time that was. [Laughs] It was so painful when it happened, and I’m looking back now like, wow, if only I knew how really fucked up things could really get!
Maya: Yeah, and I mean it felt like our world was shook, right, when all of that happened –
Sarah: Yeah! Oh yeah!
Sarah: 2020 was like, hold my beer! [Laughs]
Maya: Yeah, I was just like, I don’t even know what happened, but does it even really matter? I don’t even remember, what? How did it end? I don’t even know. I don’t even, like, at this point it’s like, whatever. We’re all, we’re all still here. But yeah, like, I still think that there was, there was a lot of stuff that happened, and people –
Sarah: There was.
Maya: – and so I just, I also think that it would be very natural for us to forget about it? [Laughs] To not be marking the time because of all the other things that are all, are extremely important that have been happening instead, but I think that we need to sort of ask ourselves, did we have expectations that came out of everything that happened, that –
Maya: – have been met or have not been met? Because it will take affirmative work, right, like, ‘cause it actually, it occurred, and people were harmed, and people continue to be harmed, and so we can’t, like, set it aside. We have to sort of, we still have to hold it up as a thing that, like, we need to, to be reflecting on? Along with lots of other stuff, but, like, I think this would be a moment to start, to start reflecting? I’m the type of person who will not let go of those type of things?
Sneezy: Nor should you!
Maya: [Laughs] And so, so I hold a grudge, and I hold a grudge good, and so I just want to speak out loud, right, the truth of the fact that, like, there’s still some more work to do, and I just wanted to hear from you all, you, what you all thought.
Sneezy: Maya, marry me. Right now.
Catherine: I mean, it’s interesting because, while I definitely haven’t forgotten it, I really have no idea how it ended? It sort of trailed off and got buried by COVID, and particularly being in a different time zone, I felt like a lot of stuff happened on Twitter. It would hap-, I’d wake up every morning and go, oh my Lord.
Catherine: In fact, I, I thoroughly entertained my, my physio when I turned up with a really dodgy thumb, and she said, how did you injure your thumb? And I went, it’s a Twitter injury.
Sarah: Oh no!
Catherine: And she started laughing and went, yeah, I think I get a lot of those, but nobody admits to it.
Sarah: Oh my God.
Catherine: Twitter is really bad for you, boys and girls. [Laughs]
Sarah: Oh yeah, I know.
Sarah: Oh, I know. Mm-hmm.
Sneezy: Yes, ma’am! [Laughs]
Catherine: But yeah, I mean, I think, I’ve certainly been very conscious of who I’m reading now, which is difficult ‘cause I’m terrible at remembering names of authors, and maybe it’s just I’ve been noticing it more, but I feel like there’s much more of a conversation still going on. You know, we already had the annual report of how many people of color were getting published in romance, but I think there’s a lot more conversation in between about how that’s working and about, about what constraints there are?
Catherine: On people of color who are, who are trying to pub-, publish romance at the moment? I don’t – but yeah, it’s – you’re right, it did get buried in other, bigger stuff, but it doesn’t make it less important; it’s just that it got very thoroughly avalanched.
Sarah: Sneezy, what about you?
Sneezy: So what I wanted out of that mess, which obviously I did not get, is for racism to go away, to fuck off from publishing and everywhere else. What I feel like these big moments are often – it was often unto these big moments, I should say, is they are held up as a kind of, as a kind of symbol like, oh, look, this ended, so obviously the bad thing went away. No!
Sarah: Oh, let the healing begin now! We hear that a lot. You know, somebody apologized –
Sneezy: Right? And –
Sarah: – for saying something racist, and now we can all heal. Like, that’s not how that works!
Catherine: That’s how you get an abscess.
Sarah: Right? Just hold all that toxicity in there. It’s not good for your immune system; mm-mm, no!
Sneezy: Got to puncture that shit! [Laughs] Okay, here’s a thing: I already had very little bandwidth of this, even before 2020, but after the RWA thing, my bandwidth for reading a, a full-on white cast of characters plummeted. I can’t handle story with, with just a white couple full on, and especially if there’s a full white cast just all around them, especially if it’s a setting like fucking New York or someplace like that? I, I can’t handle, I, I, I just can’t handle it! And that’s, like, most of Regency, isn’t it? That’s most of historical, and just like, we’re not stupid. We know people are all over the place, all over the world. Like, I, I didn’t expect racism to go away, and it, it was like, I don’t know how much work it’s possible to build off of what happened with RW-, with everyone just not having enough spoons from 2020 and everything feeling so far away, but the infrastructure’s still being as broken as it was. But then I did get, for example, like, books such as The Duke Who Didn’t, where it was like fuck all the rules and I’m just going to write what makes me happy, and it, it just also made my soul happy to see Courtney Milan just write something so transcendent in this small moment. That’s all I can ask for.
Sneezy: Without, you know, without losing sight of my grudge, because I have a saber-toothed snow cat; just saying.
Sarah: This is a hard question for me to answer, ‘cause I was a member of RWA for a long time. Like, before I started the website I thought I wanted to be a romance writer, and I think I joined – [inhales] – 2002? Maybe 2003, and this website started in 2005, so it was, pre-dated my starting the site, and I think when I look back on RWA, there’s two things: there’s the personal part, and then there’s the, the professional part.
So for me personally, I hit a point when it did not seem that anything was going to be addressed in an appropriate fashion, where I was like – and, and I, and I wrote about this, and I said, I’m, I’m done now. I am done. I really believe there are two ways to make change: that you either storm the castle from the outside, or you sneak inside and you create structural change, and both of those are needed, and I didn’t want to be in the castle anymore. I didn’t want to try to work within. I had already been doing what I could from where I was, and in this weird position where I wasn’t quite press, and I wasn’t quite a writer, and was I the enemy, ‘cause I reviewed books, and was I just a troublemaker? Like, I didn’t have a set space, and I never, always, and I never felt safe at RWA conferences. I didn’t know if I was walking up to a table full of people who, like, wanted to kill me, which, you know, what other people think of me is not my problem, but I also don’t want to sit and eat with them if they all hate me – [laughs] – ‘cause that’s stressful! So for me personally, it was a relief to be like, all right, I’m, I’m done now. If, if you are going to insist on being irrelevant I cannot help you, and I am not giving you my energy anymore. And putting that down was the biggest relief. Like, I don’t have to worry about this; I can stop. I don’t have to think about the conference. I don’t have to think about being around people who I don’t necessarily know, like, what they actually are thinking, as opposed to being, like, the, the, the fake nice of romance is a very real and toxic thing and I hate it a lot. I was very relieved to be like, all right, I’m done. I am done with this, I am leaving, and I will continue to do what I can in my own way outside of this organization. I’m not giving money or time anymore to this problem, because this is, this is a mess that I just don’t have any ability to fix or address or get involved with. And, and I, and I felt awful because I am really good friends with the people who had worked on the board and had tried so hard to fix things, and they were all just so demoralized and depleted. Like, what the hell happened? Everything I tried to do has been burnt! Everything I worked for five years to create has been reduced to nothing. Like, what the hell?
From a professional perspective, the thing that came out of that entire experience that is for the, for the larger picture beneficial – so everything is language, right? Everyone’s language to describe the problem got leveled up. Like, if you’re going to talk about institutional racism, okay, now you have an example. Okay, if you’re going to talk about how white women weaponize their feelings, okay, now we have a really good example! If you’re going to talk about how maleness is privileged, I’ve got lots of examples now. So everyone’s language about the problem inside romance I think took a level up, because now we could explain to each other what it was we were talking about, and that gave people more understanding of the problems that everyone else has been talking about for so long.
I wish it didn’t have to happen, and I wish it didn’t have to happen to people who I like and care about, and I wish that the organization didn’t have to get completely decimated in, in its public reputation for this to happen. If anything, having the understanding of what needs to change on an individual and on a macro level helps, even though it sucks out loud sideways, because for God’s sake, you’d think we’d be farther along by now! But no! No! We’re not. The fuck?
Sneezy: Do you, do you think it was inevitable that it happened this way?
Sarah: Mm-hmm. Yep. Yeah. Because I think they had several chances to address problems within the voting, within the membership, within the way that people were treated. Like, people were saying to the organization, here are examples of how I have been treated at conference, at chapters, in individual, in individual cases, and the response was suboptimal, to put it mildly. So that’s –
Maya: I just want to celebrate, Sarah, you walking away? Because –
Maya: – like, for me, like, the big lesson that I think has been reproduced, especially over the last six months, is this idea that – or I don’t think people should be spending time trying to save institutions that have harmed them, and it is very often that responsibility that is thrown onto the people who’ve been most directly harmed, to, to do the work, to save the institution that has never done anything for them except told them that without them, without this institution, this individual would not be successful –
Maya: – which is, like, a lie, and I think, like, the, the big thing we see, right, is, is The Duke Who Didn’t, right. Courtney Milan wrote about how she couldn’t write ‘cause she was trying to defend all this nonsense that was coming down on her, and I think The Duke Who Didn’t has been pretty universally beloved at this point. Everybody really likes it, and the fact of the matter is that this RWA mess over years was getting in the way of her work and other people’s work to do the thing that actually, like, would bring some good into this world? And it’s, and it’s not just the RWA that has that type of problem, if we’re looking at other institutions who need to be saved. I don’t know; I think I just saw Google fire somebody for doing not much more than being brilliant and amazing. Like, that –
Sarah: You don’t say, yeah.
Maya: I’m just – yeah, and so, like, that is a thing that we see a lot, and I just, I think for me the lesson is really about how we shouldn’t always try to save institutions and, like, we shouldn’t, like, you, they tell us, like, we can’t survive without their existence, and I, and I think we need to interrogate more closely that, that statement, because it isn’t a statement of fact.
Maya: It’s a statement out of desperation, of, out of a desire to be, like, legitimate –
Maya: – and it is about power, and so –
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Maya: – so, like, I just, I’m, I’m glad, Sarah, that you learned that lesson for yourself –
Sarah: [Laughs] Thank you!
Maya: – because, because a lot of people don’t, and they feel like it’s an, it is their failure for, for, in some way for, like, leaving, it is about them failing, and it is not about them. It is about the institution, and it is about power and it’s about harm –
Maya: – and, like, I just, for me, that’s the thing that I like, because I was also put in a place in my workplace where I was expected to save them from all the racism they were doing, and then I was like, hold on, you aren’t paying me extra, though. So, so what are we –
Maya: – what are we, what are we doing here? I’m putting in extra hours, but you’re not paying me for the things that I am doing, so, like, I’m just going to go!
Sarah: Yo, I’m out!
Maya: And, like, in this economy, I don’t have a job, I don’t know when I’m going to have a job, but I would rather just not have a job than, like, be beholden to this power structure that is harming me –
Maya: – on the regular. And so, like, I think that’s, for me, the RWA gave us a sneak preview into a thing that became, like, I think a more universal truth, or became more universally visible as we’re all just kind of sitting around looking at the world? [Laughs] So that is, that’s, like, why I was, I’ve been thinking about it.
Sarah: I agree. You know how sometimes people choose like a word for the year?
Sarah: I don’t remember if it was 2018 or 2019, but my word was two: it was Opt Out.
Sarah: I’m going to Opt Out of bullshit. I’m Opting Out –
Sarah: – of things that do not serve me, and that has been a really good decision, but I also know the older I get, like, my, my Give-A-Fuck card every year is renewed at a much lower number? Like, I have like two fucks for the whole year?
Sarah: Got to spend them carefully, very carefully! [Laughs]
Sneezy: Maybe save ‘em for next year!
Maya: I was watching the Eurovision movie last night, and I, like –
Maya: – was just so mad at how abusive that relationship was that I, like, could not handle it. I was just like, this, like, when she, like, got wrapped up in the thing by her neck, and I was like, this is such a violent, abusive relationship, and, like, the people that wrote it don’t see it, and I, like, cannot handle it! I am so upset right now! I was so mad, but it was like this thing where I was like, this is so abusive and I cannot do this, and I, like, I was only there for like whatever the nice lady who was, like, dubbing in the voice, she was deeply talented, and that was, like, all I was here for, ‘cause the rest of it was so violent and so, like, horrible, and I just was like, everyone said this was funny and, like, I just, I can’t! This is like the worst thing is, I was so upset. Which is like, generally, like, there’s all these rom-coms that I, like, can’t watch because it’s such, the, the relationship is so upsetting, and the viewpoint is always from a male viewpoint, and there’s, like, never an interior life for the woman, and all of it was just, like –
Sarah: A little bit.
Maya: – I cannot do this right now! But yeah. So, like, that was just, I was, like, real stuck on the trauma last night of watching Eurovision, that Eurovision movie and being like, this isn’t love! I’m like, what are we talking about? This is not what love looks like. I’m going to go read a nice book about an alien and a girl with a dog, and they’re going to fall in love again, ‘cause I just keep reading that book.
Sarah: Right now there is a seismic scientist who is measuring waveforms emerging from Melbourne towards the Pacific Ocean, across the Tasman, and they’re like, what the fuck is happening right now? And what’s happened here, scientists, is that Maya has mentioned the Eurovision movie; Catherine has completely lost her cool at this time.
Catherine: Yes, I had so much trouble reviewing that, because, I mean, if you take out Will Ferrell everything else is great, but there is so much Will Ferrell, and he is such an utter – oh my God, his character is so horrible! As you say, it’s completely abusive. I mean, the relationship was, was horrifying. Also just as a performer I was kind of going, you’re the worst performance ever.
Catherine: He’s just the nightmare that just keeps on giving. So yeah, I sort of loved the Eurovision bits, but I had to fast-forward through everything else when I went to review it, because –
Catherine: – the elves shot the wrong guy – is that a spoiler? Sorry. [Laughs]
Sarah: No, not at this point.
Sarah: It can’t be a spoiler at this point. [Laughs]
Sneezy: So my question is, what’s something you already knew or believed in that you’ve gained a newer, deeper perspective on during the year of our Lord 2020?
Sarah: That’s such a good question.
Sneezy: Thank you!
Sarah: Such a good question.
Bucket: Mrow-wow! Mrow!
Sarah: Bucket, what’s your answer?
Maya: Bucket has a lot of opinions. He wants to talk about white supremacy.
Maya: ‘Cause that’s all we talk about in my household is we, we discuss white supremacy, and so I would say, like, for me, I continue to learn more about, like, the ways in which, like, power structures and oppression and the way they intersect, and the ways in which I’ve missed things because of, of how deeply ingrained normative culture is. And so, like, I always am grateful for the opportunity to keep on learning and to ask those questions and to also be comfortable establishing myself as an expert in things, because, because I think I’ve been trained culturally to, to undermine myself and the things that I know when I am, like, stating things that are true, and then I, like, make a joke about how, like, I’m just a girl who doesn’t know anything? That’s not true; I know lots of stuff. And so that is, for me, I think we’ve spent a year acknowledging the existence of white supremacy. Shock and awe, United States, we just realized that oppressing Black people is a bad thing, and we’ve been doing it for four hundred years. And so that was really great that we got there – so excited; welcome to the party – but there, but there’s, like, more to explore and to understand and to, to – I’m hoping that in the new year we break away from the – oh, I just forgot the word, but the, the –
Sarah and Sneezy: The binary.
Maya: – the binary of the Black, Blackness and whiteness. I think in the United States that binary is all encompassing, and it is drowning, and I think that we all too often place that binary on top of other countries’ experiences? Like, shout out to Australia. And so, like, I, I, I hope that we – because, because I think also a focus on the binary actually reinforces white supremacy because we are, we are saying that it is true and it exists and there is a pole for whiteness and a pole for Blackness and, and those are true, absolute things, and so, like, in that, in that framework, and we’re actually, like, re-, reinforcing white supremacy by existing within that space, and so, like, I’m so glad we’ve discovered white supremacy as a culture and as a people, and now I hope we try to break ourselves free of it by moving away from the binary?
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Maya: And so that –
Sneezy: Discovered. [Laughs]
Maya: But like, oh yeah, hello, Christopher Columbus. And so, so, like, that’s a thing that, like, I think there are a multitude of conversations that need to continue, happen, and, like, a multitude of different things that, like, me as a person, that I’m excited to learn more about.
Sarah: Sneezy, what about you?
Sneezy: Oh, that’s my question, so Catherine has to go first. Ha-ha!
Sarah: Oh, you’re right, you’re right.
Catherine: I, I’ve sort of got two answers. One of them – and they’re not nearly as exciting and global as Maya’s, I don’t think. But – and, and they’re both kind of lockdown relationed, I guess, because, you know, for us, about five months of the year was really quite extreme lockdown. One of them is about friendship not, and, and relationships not having to be in person to be real.
Catherine: I, I first came onto the internet in the wonderful days of LiveJournal in 2002, and so I made all these very close friends whose names I didn’t know and whose faces I didn’t know, and some of them I’ve met over the years, and some of them are still online friends, you know, and this year in particular that’s been a big thing, because, because so much of our socializing went online, we kind of started going, well, why shouldn’t that include people overseas? Because actually, you know, if that time zones work, why not? So I started regularly catching up with, yes, obviously with Sneezy; with my Shakespeare group, which is now about fifty percent international –
Catherine: I chat with friends like every month or so from my two schools – again, half of them are now overseas, and I feel like I’ve actually gotten much closer to people overseas, and I think, yeah, it’s, it’s one of those interesting things. I think people think that online friendships aren’t real sometimes, but they very much are, and this has really confirmed it and made it very, very important.
And I suppose the other thing this year – ‘cause you know, I can’t possibly let a podcast go by without talking about food; that’s not allowed – is, yeah, yeah –[laughs] – I’ve started, you know, supporting a couple of Community Supported Agriculture groups, where you kind of basically have a share in a farm, so I’ve become a lot more aware of climate and climate change, and, and sort of how that all ties in with food security and with privilege, because of course for us it was great that we could afford to, to make that outlay at the start of the season. Most years we wouldn’t have been able to, but we can this time round, and it also meant that when all the supermarkets, you know, emptied the shelves, we were still getting veggies delivered each week, and it just was very reassuring when you kind of knew you could be quarantined at any moment, just to know that your veggies were going to arrive on your doorstep. And so it’s this really lovely thing where, you know, I’ve always felt very strongly about trying to make sure my money goes to people who need it, in terms of how I spend my money? You know, you – that is the most gorgeous cat ever.
Sarah: Hello, Bucket!
Maya: Bucket again.
Maya: He wants his own podcast.
Catherine: But I think, you know, with, with the effects on the economy, and I know I’m not the only one thinking this, a lot more people have started going, okay, which, which businesses locally can I make sure I’m supporting regularly? ‘Cause, you know, you really feel like, okay, how do we keep these businesses open? So, and –
Sarah: And before you took them for granted.
Catherine: Well, exactly, and that’s what a lot of –
Catherine: – us did and there are so many small businesses. You can’t possibly support them all every week, but yeah, it’s been really interesting watching them adapt, but also watching how many people I know who’ve not really been particularly conscious of this before kind of going, very consciously, this is my coffee shop, and I’m going to go and buy coffee there every day to help keep them open. Yeah, I’m not going to go to Woolies; I’m going to go to the supermarkets. I’ll be interested to see how the big brand supermarkets have gone this year, actually.
Catherine: Just a lot more people are trying to, trying desperately to cling onto their local businesses. That was a bit rambly, but yeah.
Sarah: No, I agree! Mm-hmm.
Sneezy: That wasn’t rambly at all.
Sarah: No, it made total sense!
Sarah: I think, I think the thing I’m going to take out of 2020 is a much sharper focus on what I actually value and place importance and my energy on. I know my energy is a finite resource, but I realized that if, you know, my energy is, you know, one through ten and at a normal time I can devote one through seven to my creative work, that was going to be one through four, because I was going to have to be taking care of the emotional needs of my family, and that had to be my number one priority. All of a sudden, I didn’t care what anyone else thought of my priorities, because those were my priorities and they weren’t up for discussion. Like, I mean, I care what my kids think, and I care what my husband thinks, but anyone outside of that, I don’t give a flying fuck. This is, these are my priorities, and this is what I have to do. So that great reduction in the superfluous bullshit that I decided I didn’t give a shit about anymore really helped me hone and focus the things that I value so that coming out of the, the lockdown – we, we do not have a five-kilometer lock-, lockdown – for one thing, we don’t use kilometers – [laughs] – so we don’t –
Sneezy: How dare you?!
Sarah: I know; we don’t do that.
Sarah: But our limitations in the county that I live in have been stricter than many, many places, so as we start to slowly open up, the number of things that I’m going to allow back into my list is much, much lower. Like, my priorities are much more refined, and I deeply don’t care what anyone thinks about that? My ability to tolerate presumption of my priorities is like, mm-mm, no. Nope, nope, nope. I’m in charge. This is, this is my job; this job is hard. Being a human, like, as we discussed with Murderbot – [laughs] – being a person is hard enough. I’m going to try not to make it harder for other people to person, and in return I want people to not make it harder for me to person.
Sarah: So that’s what I’m taking out of 2020. A big, big dose of, yes, you can do this; yes, it’s hard; but you’re going to get through it. And you have good people around you, and thank you, guys, for being part of the good people who are around me.
Sneezy: Oh, thank you for all of you being part of my people.
Maya: Thank you!
Sneezy: I appreciate that.
Sarah: Being part of the, the group and having everyone to talk to every day, all these different time zones, is definitely part of the benefit of 2020, and I really appreciate how much you have all been here for all of us. So thank you.
Sneezy: I really, really, really appreciate having bomb-ass people to make birthday cards for.
Catherine: It’s such a privilege to be part of this group. I love it. Just –
Sarah: Thank you!
Maya: Yeah! I mean, I just, like, had once asked myself, oh, what would it look like to be part of, like, an anti-racist workplace? And then I was like, oh wait! Like, when I, like, hang out on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, their Slack channel, like, that is a place where, like, I always see you, Sarah, as, like, the lady in charge, right. You are always actively working, right, to protect that space, right –
Maya: – and to protect your website, and, like, that is not – like, I’ve never – [laughs] – I’ve never been like, oh man, I’ve got to go have a conversation with Sarah about blackface. Like –
Maya: – right? And, like, like, that’s a thing –
Sarah: I fucking hope not!
Maya: – I’ve had to do! Where, where I was like, oh God, I’ve got to have a conversation with these people I’ve, like, my coworkers; I have to go talk to them about blackface and how it’s a bad thing, and, like, I have to go educate them. And, like, right? Exactly! And so, but, like, on our little, in this little, this, this website you created, this space that you created, Sarah, like, you’ve created a space that is anti-racist, and, like, I adore it! I don’t have to envision a place where, like, that, that, like, it exists, right? And so, like, that is a thing that I am, like, perpetually grateful for, because then it’s not a fantasy that I have inside my head, right? It’s a possibility! People could do it if they wanted to do it, if that is where their intentions lie? Even if it’s, like, intentional, unintentional, right. Like, you have created this space, and it is like a space that is, like, amazing! And, like, I, like, I, like, I adore it, and I adore the intentionality that you bring to that, because it could be pretty easy to, to let that slip, and you don’t!
Sarah: Thank you!
Maya: All day, every day, you’re working!
Sarah: Thank you! I really appreciate that.
Sneezy: And it takes a lot of work, so thank you for that.
Sarah: Oh gosh, now I’m going to turn purple.
Sneezy: Well, turn as purple as you like! It’s a beautiful color, and, and yeah, just hopping on that bandwagon. Like, Sarah, I told you before that I’m not afraid to talk about race with you.
Sneezy: And I, I, I know how much work it takes for you just to get to the level where you’re at now, and I don’t take that for granted, ‘cause, yes, being anti-racist is important, and everybody needs to do that work for us to go forward, but at the same time, just getting through the day, like we’d, we’re talking about, just being a person is really fucking hard –
Sarah: It is.
Sneezy: – right, and just getting that paycheck, paying rent, it already takes a lot in a capitalist society, but you created this anti-racist space. I have never had to think about, like, am I running my mouth? Am I going to be run out of this space if I’m too ob- – well, I mean, I always worry about being obnoxious, but I never have to worry about being inconveniently anti-racist.
Sarah: Yeah. More of it, please. Thank you! I’m really honored.
Sarah: I, I try to, I, I don’t take myself very seriously, and I don’t take many things very seriously, but I take the safety of the space on the site and in the Slack group very seriously, because romances, romances are about intimacy and being your authentic self, and sometimes being your authentic self means talking about the things that are deeply traumatic and harmful.
Sarah: There has to be space to undo that harm and create a, a happiness for, for everybody. That has to be part of it, and that means addressing all the ugly, crappy stuff and trying to figure out a way to make it better, and I really appreciate that. Thank you!
Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode and the last episode of 2020! Wow! And I want to start the outro – which, by the way, is totally a word – by thanking you for listening and for all of your email and all of your encouragement. It means so much to me to know that I’m keeping you company while you quilt or walk the dogs or dye yarn or shelve books or clean or cook or go about your life. I am really honored to be here with you, so thank you, and Happy New Year to all of us.
Thank you to Catherine and Sneezy and Maya for connecting with me across many time zones. I did the time zone math; I am so proud of myself! [Laughs] No one had to get up at 4 a.m.! And I have more episodes coming with the other reviewers from our team. I can’t wait to share those too.
I have a joke, and this joke is terrible! This joke comes from listener James S., who is a superb librarian, and it’s a holiday joke because it is Christmas Day, isn’t it? If you’re listening on Friday, anyway. Here we go!
What do you call a reindeer wearing earmuffs?
What do you call a reindeer wearing earmuffs?
Anything you like. Reindeer won’t hear you.
[Laughs] This is so silly! Thank you, James!
If you want to send me a joke – you know I love them – you can send them to [email protected], and please do tell me what got you through 2020. What book meant the most to you? What piece of media got you through? I’d love to hear about it.
In the meantime, thank you again for being part of the podcast. Thank you for listening, and thank you for being part of the podcast community. I am honored to keep you company.
On behalf of everyone here, we wish you a very, very Merry Christmas, or, if you’re like me, Happy Chinese Food and a Movie Day. Stay safe and warm, and have a wonderful, wonderful weekend. We’ll see you back here next week in 2021!
Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more outstanding podcasts to listen to at frolic.media/podcasts.
[Sugar Plum Fairy music!]
This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.