A bit more on The Tropic of Serpents. Also: role models
Posted April 2, 2014on:
I recently reviewed Marie Brennan’s The Tropic of Serpents and concluded the review with this non-spoiler:
“Brennan has revealed that this series will be five books long, and that the first four books lead up to some Really Big Important Discovery. I’m sure it’ll be wonderful, whatever it is. But in a way, I couldn’t care less about the big dragon discovery. I’ve already gotten what to me is the most important discovery – that thanks to Isabella, Lady Trent, I’ve discovered I’m not alone”
and promised to explain it later. Well, now it’s later.
so lemme ‘splain. No, there is too much, I’ll sum up:
When I read A Natural History of Dragons, I felt like I was looking in a mirror. Isabella did what she wanted, and followed her ambitions, and screw it if she was the only woman in the room. I never cared about being the only girl in the class, or on the team, or in the meeting, or in the department, and she didn’t care either. Isabella was completely aware of society’s expectations, and she noticed people noticing her. She simply never let it affect her ambitions.
In The Tropic of Serpents, she’s a little older, a little wiser. And by a little older, I mean she’s still in her early 20s. The big change in her life is that she has a child. She still wants to follow her ambitions. She doesn’t understand why people expect her dreams to be put on hold because a perfect little boy entered her life. She’s rightfully insulted when people question her life choices when they would not question it if it was a man making that same choice:
“Little Jacob was not left orphaned, as so many had direly predicted.
Did I have the right to undertake such a risk? I can only give the same answer i gave then: that I have, and had, as much right as any widower in the same situation. Few question the widower’s decision, but everyone questions the widow’s”.
This series takes place in a pre-industrial Europe-esque fantasy world. I don’t live in a fantasy world, I’m in my 30s, and I don’t have any kids.
And yet I have experienced exactly that same scene.
Time for more about my non-bloggery life than you ever wanted to know. grab a seat, because this rambles.
I travel for my job, often about 2 weeks per month. I’m lucky enough to enjoy what I do for a living. When I get to where I’m going, a small talk conversation that often comes up when people find out I’m from out of town is “what exactly do you do?” followed by “do you enjoy it?” I answer that one honestly, that yes, I enjoy it. Before long I’ll be asked “How much do you have to travel?”, to which I respond “usually one or two weeks a month”.
(This is not an imaginary conversation. It comes up everywhere I go, and these questions are always asked, almost always in the same order, with almost always the same ending)
The person thinks about my “one or two weeks a month” for a minute. I can see the wheels moving behind their eyes. I can see them thinking what traveling two weeks per month might be like.
Once they’ve figured it out, they can’t help themselves. they have to ask me. I’m obviously in my 30s, and I’m wearing a wedding ring, so this next question really is the logical next step:
“Don’t you miss your kids?” (which is polite-talk for “how can you leave your children behind?” or “who is watching your children?” or even “what kind of mother does that? what’s wrong with you?”)
and I respond with “I don’t have any children”.
sometimes that ends the discussion. Sometimes the person has to let me know that they can’t understand how any woman wouldn’t want children, or how as soon as I have children I’ll change my mind, and I’ll be so happy. (because since women are able to have children, we must all of course, dream of nothing else, right?)
So, first, it was you travel away from your kids! you are a shitty mother! what the hell is wrong with you?. and then when I’ve gotten myself out of being a shitty mother because there are no theoretical kids for me to have abandoned, it’s omg, you don’t want kids? what the hell is wrong with you?
and would that conversation go differently if I was a man?
Yes, I know I could extricate myself from all those conversations if I simply said my personal life isn’t up for discussion, and going forward I may choose to do that. But these are co-workers and clients, it is important that I build a positive relationship with them. I’m often on their turf, and usually happy to let them steer the small talk. Many times I’ve found the “family” discussion comes up because the person is looking for a lead in to tell me all about their kids, and show me pictures, and tell me about their kids’ gymnastics or basketball tournaments, or whatever.
And all of that blah blah blah was simply my lead in for this:
Isabella Camherst traveled for her career, and when people judged her, she didn’t let it get to her. And so can I. actually, not “can”, but will. Knowing that she went through the same judgmental shit I go means I am not alone. and that? that feeling not alone? means everything to me.
Sometimes people ask me why and how I throw myself at projects. I’m not addicted to projects or anything, really (really! some of these projects suck). The truth is that I do it because I read so much damn heroic fiction. I see people doing amazing things in books, so I feel like I can do amazing things too. So if one day I go chasing after dragons (or that promotion), its only because I was inspired by one of my role models, Isabella Camherst.