Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Orthodontist

We took Amelia to the orthodontist today, on the advice of our dentist. I felt bad about this visit. So bad, in fact, that I postponed it twice. Part of this is my own orthodontic experience. I had two years of headgear and three years of braces. All in all, I had 15 teeth pulled, and a second outpatient procedure to have my frenulum labii inferioris clipped. (Don't follow that link. You really don't want to know). It was a painful and grueling experience that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. 

But, I'm an adult now, and I can objectively see the need for orthodontic work. I was willing to put all of this aside. And the orthodontist we chose seems like a genuinely nice guy, for someone who's going to be rooting around my daughter's mouth. He has video games and a soft-serve machine in the lobby, for goodness' sake. So, I had no idea why I still felt so uncomfortable. Then, I saw the slogan on the top of his insurance forms - Creating Healthy and Beautiful Smiles - and I knew exactly what was making me squirm.

I can get behind creating healthy smiles. Having bad teeth can lead to some serious jaw pain. I broke my jaw in 2004, and still wear a brace. In fact, I let a recent case of pneumonia go untouched for a week because I assumed that all of the face, neck, and sinus pain was simply my jaw acting up again. That's how bad jaw pain can be. Healthy smiles are important. But, beautiful smiles? Do we really have to go there? 

My daughter is seven years old. She is at the cusp of learning that, as a woman, her body will be scrutinized and criticized throughout her life. She's already asked me when she's going to get breasts. I'm sure that she's only a few years from realizing that the media has an ideal of womanhood that few women can actually achieve. Do we have to add her smile to the list of body image woes?

My daughter has the most beautiful smile I've ever seen. It was beautiful when she was toothless. It was beautiful when her mouth was filled with tiny baby teeth. It's beautiful now. It's beautiful because it's hers. I have a problem telling her that it's less than perfect, and I certainly don't want to tell her that we're trying to "fix" it. Because, if we're trying to "fix" her smile, what message does that send? Will she grow up thinking that she should "fix" her stomach, her legs, her breasts, and any other body part that doesn't fit society's ideals? 

When she's older, if she wants to alter her body for cosmetic purposes, that's her choice. But she's not yet old enough to make that decision. And I don't want to tell her that it's being made for her. That's a slippery slope, and not one I'm happy about treading. 

As we left the orthodontist's office, soft serve in hand, Amelia asked me why she's going to need braces. I decided not to focus on her overbite or the gap between her front teeth. I brought up my constantly clicking jaw, and told her that we're trying to avoid facial pain down the road. It's a hard concept for her to grasp, but it's better than the alternative - telling her that we're trying to create a beautiful smile. Because that would be an outright lie. Her smile is already beautiful. It always has been. 

Pictured: the smile that makes my day, every day. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Don't Bash The Casual Fan

Recently, there's been an internet trend of questioning the geek cred of women. This debate centers on women who wear sexy costumes to comic conventions, but it encompasses all women who are casual comic book./sci-fi/fantasy fans - women who enjoy Batman, but couldn't pass a trivia quiz on the subject. Author Joe Peacock called out "pretty girls pretending to be geeks for attention" on his blog and comics artist Tony Harris wrote a scathing and profane rant against "fake fangirls" on facebook. I won't publish any excerpts from Harris' piece here, because I try to keep this blog family-friendly, but it was harsh. (You can read the whole thing here, if you must.) Peacock's piece, while more eloquent, was little better. In it, he says that "I get sick of wannabes who couldn't make it as car show eye candy slapping on a Batman shirt and strutting around comic book conventions instead."
Does he stop every girl in a Batman T-shirt and quiz her on Dark Knight Trivia and Lore? I really want to know.
My first reaction upon reading these essays was gratitude. Not for the works themselves, but for the fact that I've never encountered this attitude in real life. I have a number of fanboy friends, both male and female, who accept me as a geek without making me prove myself. That's a good thing, because I'm probably the type of casual fan Harris and Peacock are talking about.
I'm dedicated enough to embroider my own Evil League of Evil shirt, though. I want points for that.
In my teens, I'd hole up in my room reading comics for hours on end. I'd go to comics shows in musty auditoriums and search for all of the back issues I needed to complete my collection. I stood in line for midnight showings in costume. But I'm a mom now, and a business owner, and I don't have time to hole up in my room. I download all of the most recent issues onto my Kindle, but weeks go by before I have a chance to read them. I learned of Johnny Storm's death from a friend at a party. It's been months since I've done anything Star-Trek-related.
I named my hamsters "Tribble" and "Trouble." That's Trek-related, right?
Unfortunately for Harris, Peacock and their ilk, I think my brand of casual fandom is where geek culture is headed. As comic book and fantasy movies become mainstream, more adults are becoming interested in what were formerly hardcore geek pastimes. Adults don't have time to be well-versed in trivia because we're working and raising kids and juggling bills and responsibilities. But, that doesn't diminish our love for Superman or the Avengers.

This mainstreaming of geek culture is exciting to me. It means that young geeks can probably wear a Captain America T-shirt without being gifted with a wedgie for their troubles. That's a luxury I didn't have in high school. And, it means I can share my love of cosplay on facebook and receive positive comments. And, yes, it stings a little that they're selling The Walking Dead trade paperbacks at Target, when I had to drive 20 minutes to a comic shop to buy the first issues back in 2003.
I also had to walk uphill in the snow both ways to buy an issue of Invincible.
But, on the other hand, I can now stand in line at Target with my groceries, drinking a Frapuccino and reading The Walking Dead. I can't find anything wrong with that.

Geek culture is the only culture I'm a part of that frowns on casual fans. Nobody has ever bashed me for being a casual hockey fan. (Which is surprising, considering that I actually live with a rabid hockey fan). Crafters don't look down on other crafters because they only sew on the weekends, or don't know what to do with half of their scrapbook supplies. Geek culture is the only culture that does this.

Some say that it's because a lot of geeks were bullied as kids for our interests. And there might be some credibility to that. It's a little disconcerting that a few of the other moms in the playgroup are really into the Avengers.
Somehow, the Avengers have become really popular with women. For whatever reason.
I know some of these women were probably popular as teenagers. Maybe a few of them would have made fun of me for toting a backpack full of comics back in '87. But that doesn't mean that I should sneer at them for coming to the party late. One of the things you should take away from being bullied is that looking down on anyone, for any reason, is wrong. At least, that's what I took away from it.

Besides, I can now wear my Superman shoes in public, without having to hide them in the back of my closet. Not everybody thinks they're cool, but I'm never going to be bullied for wearing them. I bought my daughter a pair, too. And nobody's told her that they're "boy's shoes," or that she's a nerd. I love that.
They are truly the finest shoes ever made.
I also think a lot of the hate towards women who dress up in sexy cosplay is fueled by the media. I go to Comic-Con every year, and I'm surrounded by other fans in jeans and T-shirts. You see more costumes than you would at the local mall, but convention-goers in costume are definitely in the overall minority. Of that percentage, only a few are scantily-clad women. A few are even scantily-clad men.
If you're going as Dr. Manhattan, calling it a '"costume" is a stretch. 
But, when you watch the media coverage of Comic-Con, all you see are the sexy ladies. Because that's what's going to get viewer's attention.

I think there's also a basic misunderstanding of why women want to dress up and come to a convention. Both Peacock and Harris assume it's to make themselves feel attractive, to prey on men, or to engage in a sort of exhibitionism. In his blog, Peacock says: "They decide to put on a "hot" costume, parade around a group of boys notorious for being outcasts that don't get attention from girls, and feel like a celebrity."

For the most part, he's wrong.

When I've donned a costume, it hasn't necessarily been a sexy one, but I've always tried to dress out of my comfort zone. I've been known to make a costume girlier or flirtier just because it's fun.
Jayna actually wore pants in the Super Friends cartoons. But I like skirts. Besides, the orignal Gleek was a boy, so I wasn't going for accuracy.
I'm not looking for attention. I don't want to feel like a celebrity. But I like dressing up. I don't get to dress up every day. The fanciest I usually get is a brocade pair of Chuck Taylors. So, when I've got to pick a costume, I'm going to go with Catwoman, because that's who I'm not. That's the whole point.
That and fake ears. Apparently, I've got a thing about fake ears.
Besides, if you're a woman cosplaying as a comic character, there aren't a lot of options out there. If you want to dress up as Wonder Woman, you've got to don a strapless top and panties.
Unless you're five, and your mom makes you wear a skirt instead. Sorry, kiddo.
That's one part of geek culture that I think a lot of women can relate to - playing dress-up. And we're doing it for ourselves, not for men, and certainly not out of some sort of misguided exhibitionism.

Like I said, I've never encountered this attitude. But I hope it doesn't deter women from becoming involved with geek culture at any level, or from attending conventions, either costumed or not. Because, when you do, awesome stuff like this can happen:
That's me and Pete with Invincible and Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, who didn't question my geek cred at all. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

ebay Do's and Don'ts for Buyers

I've been selling on eBay (here's my shop) for more than a decade. In that time, the site has changed a lot, but the basic structure is still the same: it's the best place to browse or buy anything from a number of different sellers.

You can't always find a bargain on eBay. You can expect to pay a pretty penny for some rare items. But, there are a few things that will make your buying experience smoother and much more enjoyable. Over the years, I've compiled a list of tips for buyers. Here are a few things to do or avoid while you're bidding:
  • Do try to use the same address and email address for eBay and Paypal. Yes, it's up to the seller to double-check your correspondence and find out what addresses you prefer. But, some high-volume sellers make dozens of sales a day. Do you really want to take the chance that your email is the one they miss?
  • Do try to resolve conflicts with the seller before opening a dispute with Paypal. It's comforting to know that Paypal will make every effort to resolve all of your issues. But, most sellers are more than happy to accomodate you, too. Opening a dispute before you've contacted the seller is akin to contacting Target's main offices because the sweater you bought has a hole. In the end, it's easier to just return it to your local store.
  • Do give a seller time to respond to your inquiries. Most eBay sellers also have day jobs, and they need time to eat and sleep. If you've e-mailed a seller about an auction or a problem, give them 24 hours to respond before e-mailing again. And remember that not all sellers live on the same coast or in the same country as you. Your midday might be their midnight. I've had buyers e-mail me every 15 minuters starting in the middle of the night. It's frustrating because I don't have a chance to respond until 12 of their e-mails are already in my inbox.
  • Do open a dispute with Paypal if the seller hasn't made any effort to communicate with you regarding a problem. My rule is to e-mail a seller three times regarding an item that hasn't arrived or has arrived broken. I'll give them 24 hours to respond between e-mails. Then, if I still haven't heard from them, I'll take it up with Paypal. I've been buying on eBay nearly 15 years, and I've only ever had to file one dispute with Paypal regarding an auction I've won.
  • Do read the entire listing description. You'd be surprised by how often a buyer bids before reading. Most sellers don't allow refunds or returns for flaws stated in the listing description, so it pays to read before you click.
  • Don't wait to pay for a Buy It Now auction. As soon as you purchase your item, a link to Paypal appears. Most sellers have a policy of relisting if they don't receive payment within a couple of days, so it "pays" to finalize your purchase as soon as possible.
  • Do know the lingo. Here's a link to common eBay acronyms. Spending a few minutes familiarizing yourself with "eBay speak" will save you time in the long run.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions. Most sellers are eager to talk about their item and are happy to help.
  • Don't challenge a seller. If you think an item is overpriced, or grossly misrepresented, it's best to just let it go. Attacking a seller's prices or policies is the fastest way to get yourself blocked. This is eBay, and another rare, one-of-a-kind item will come along soon.
  • Don't leave negative feedback until it's absolutely certain that the seller isn't going to help resolve your issue. It may sound unfair but, once you've left bad feedback, the seller has no incentive to help you out.
  • Do try to leave positive, or at least neutral, feedback if the seller was helpful and communicative, even if you needed to request a return or a refund.
  • Do let the seller know if you need to wait to pay. If possible, let them know this before you've even won the auction. Most sellers are willing to accomodate you as long as you let them know in advance.
  • Do open a Paypal account. It really is the fastest and most secure way to pay for an auction.
  • Do let the seller know if you have a special request regarding shipping, payment, or packaging.Send a message before you've even bid on the auction. If the seller can't accomodate your request, you've saved yourself time and heartbreak in the long run.
  • Don't bid on an auction with a vague or non-existent listing description. If you absolutely must bid, at least ask lots of questions first. Sellers should be up-front about the condition of their item. If they're not, they might have something to hide.
  • Do ask if an item is from a non-smoking or pet-free home if you have allergies or are sensitive to certain smells. This is information that isn't always included in the item description, but it's important.
  • Don't assume that a seller will combine shipping unless it's explicitly stated in the item description. Always ask first. If you need several similar items, it's best to shop around until you find someone who will ship them together for a low price.
  • Do pay for your auction. Sellers do realize that there are legitimate circumstances like illness and job loss that prevent someone from paying but I've had buyers back out of an auction because they found the item cheaper elsewhere, because they changed their mind or because their child decided they wanted something else. Those buyers get blocked. A bid is a binding contract.
  • Don't assume that eBay has the lowest price. Some sellers mark up their items assuming that they're rare or collectible. Shop around on Amazon and at local retailers before you commit to buying.
  • Don't try to haggle a price down after you've committed to buying an item. Your bid is a binding contract. You've agreed to pay the final price.
  • Don't ask a seller to end an auction early if you're not the high bidder. That violates eBay policy and is an easy way to get yourself banned from the site.
  • Don't wait until the last minute to place your bid. You can win auctions without sniping. It's better to bid early. Even if you don't get back online to snipe, the seller knows you're interested and might contact you for a second-chance offer.  
  • Do have fun. It's an online auction. It's fun if you win, but if you lose, there's always another chance. Don't take it too seriously, and have a good time. Good luck bidding!