Spring Cleaning

I’ve got a few cobwebs in my brain that need clearing out. Bear with me.

Here’s something that’s been knocking around for a while. I’ve been going on at length in this column about the obstacles and challenges women spec writers faced in the 1960s, 70s, and into the 80s.

A while ago an alert writing friend sent me “The History of Women in Sci-Fi isn’t What You Think”, based on a Wired Magazine podcast from the series Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy. The article summarized an interview with Lisa Yaszek, who teaches Science Fiction Studies at Georgia Tech.

She knows a lot more about this subject than I do.

Anne McCaffrey

Yaszek tells us there were, in fact, numerous successful women spec writers during this period. The piece goes on to say that 1) only a few editors discriminated against women writers, and 2) only a small number of women writers—famously, James Tiptree, Jr.—found it necessary or desirable to use male pseudonyms or initials.

Yet these situations come up on a regular basis when I look at the histories of individual authors, which I have been doing, somewhat obsessively, over the past few months.

Quite honestly, I don’t know what to think now. Which is it? Did women face discrimination in bringing their stories forward in the spec world or not?

Obviously it’s not a black and white issue. How many rejections from how many editors qualifies as discrimination? How do we know, even now, why a story gets rejected?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t figure in my world view right now to go back to the original sources and do enough research to feel confident to draw a conclusion rather than simply sport an opinion. (I thank, or blame, the English department at Barnard College for instilling such over-the-top requirements for drawing conclusions deep in my psyche.)

I do know it’s important to consider both sides and to avoid claiming victim without cause. If I have misled you, dear readers, by assuming discrimination, I apologize. But honestly, I’m not ready to concede this point either. So I’m leaving the issue open. Comments welcome.


One Crone’s Tips for Eliminating Clutter

Speaking of spring cleaning, here are my three best tips. This may not seem to have much to do with speculative literature, but it has a lot to do, for me, with making a space within which I can breathe, write, and create a world.

1. Locate your nearest Goodwill or other not-for-profit that accepts donations of items and clothing. (The success of the following tips may depend on your willingness to implement this one.)

Keep a box in your garage, hallway, closet, etc., for items you wish to donate. Bring the box to the organization on a regular basis, before you can second-guess yourself.

2. Do women still have tablecloths? Getting rid of mine was a highly symbolic action. Something about no longer needing to nurture those around me with a decorative home. (It’s kind of a fish-without-a-bicycle, why-we-don’t-write-symphonies kind of thing.) Maybe for you it’s not a tablecloth, but some other bit of domestic flotsam. You get the drift.

And maybe this is way too last-century for many of you. Now, women do write symphonies. But someone’s buying them. There they are in the store, those tablecloths, mocking us, a drag on our progress, a siren song to lure us back to toxic traditional values. So if you have any, put them in that Goodwill box. Right now, before you think about it.

3. Give yourself permission to get rid of stuff people have given you.

This can be the hardest piece of anti-clutter advice to follow because it can feel, in some visceral sense, like getting rid of the item is getting rid of the person or her memory. It’s especially difficult when it’s someone who is or was close to you; almost impossible if it’s your mom, no matter what kind of relationship you have or had with her.

But it’s not that person. It’s just a thing.

That was the other most liberating anti-clutter thing I did for myself, and once I made the decision, I was amazed how many unlovable toiletry storage items and scarves and pieces of costume jewelry I had been clinging to.

Most of it came from my husband’s maiden aunts, who maintained huge inventories of this stuff to circulate at Christmas. No emotional significance at all, yet it was all still there in my closet.

Hmmm…I wish I could take all my random anxious and non-productive thoughts with no emotional significance, put them in a box, and give them away too!