The Enthusiastic Yes

This is another one of those lessons you need to learn before being a grownup, but it applies to writing as much as it does to anything else, so I figured it was a good one to talk about.

Making Decisions and Setting Boundaries

There are lots of signs of maturity. I’ve talked about one of them — long-term thinking — already, but let’s take a look at a couple of others.

First, I want to consider decision making. Being an adult means making lots of decisions. Frankly, being a human means making lots of decisions: by the time I’ve had breakfast, I’ve decided whether or not to make my bed, what I’m going to wear that day, what food I will eat, what I need to pack in my bag, etc. etc. etc. But being an adult means making the sorts of decisions that are often harder, or have longer-term consequences, or affect others as well as yourself. (I really do want kids, but sometimes I think about the idea of being responsible for a child and wonder why anyone is ever brave enough to have one).

Another facet to adulthood is increased comfort with setting boundaries. As you come to know yourself better, you come to understand your limits better, and you (hopefully) become more confident about enforcing those limits and setting boundaries for yourself and others. (I’m still working on this one; had a couple mishaps this year. It’s a learning experience).

Say Yes to the Dress

Often, in the sorts of situations which call for decision-making or boundary-setting, you can reduce the problem to a series of yes or no questions. It’s simplistic, but it opens up certain avenues of discussion, so let’s try. Do I want cereal, yes or no? Do I want pancakes, yes or no? Or, consider this: do I want him to kiss me, yes or no? Am I comfortable going back to his place, yes or no?

And here you see an arena where this sort of discourse has become commonplace — the arena of sexual consent. But where a couple years ago your college consent workshop might have talked about “no means no”, recently a lot of the discussion has shifted focus toward “enthusiastic consent”.

Enthusiastic Consent

Now we’re starting to get to the heart of the issue. What is enthusiastic consent? It’s not a “maybe”, or an “okay”, or even a lukewarm “yes” — it’s a “hell yes”, an “absolutely”. I’ve got my own concerns about that as a foundation upon which to base all your decisions (when is a person ever actually totally sure about anything?) but I understand and appreciate what it’s aiming for.

In terms of sexual stuff, then, enthusiastic consent is not doing something because you think you “should”, or because you don’t mind, exactly. It’s doing something because you really, truly want to.

Applying the Model

But the reason I’m talking about this today isn’t (just) because I want to slip in a reminder to everyone that consent is important and your boundaries are valid. The thing is, while “enthusiastic consent” is pretty common in discussions of sex, I think that a slightly modified concept, the “enthusiastic yes”, can apply to lots of other situations in life.

Let’s start with the example of clothes shopping. How many times have you bought something because you mostly liked it, except for one or two things — or because it was cheap and you thought it wasn’t bad? I’m betting more than once — I certainly have. Follow up question: how often do you wear those pieces? Probably not often. (Or if you do, you don’t feel great wearing them).

But it is a waste of your money to buy something that you don’t love. You wear clothes every day; even in a country that has actual seasons (what is this permanent 40-60 degree nonsense, England?) you’ll end up wearing everything fairly frequently. So it’s in the best interests of your budget, your storage space and your mental health to buy fewer things, but make sure they’re things you love. 

Don’t just say yes to the dress. Wait for an enthusiastic yes.

An “Enthusiastic Yes” to Writing

And now we come to the real reason I’m writing a damn essay on concepts of consent. Here’s the thing: writing is hard. In some ways, it’s a miserable hobby — lots of work for potentially little reward (depends on what your end goal is, but if it’s publishing then good luck my friend), solitary, emotionally grueling, time consuming. In short, it’s not something to waste your time on if you only sort of like it.

No, writing is something you have to say an enthusiastic yes to. It’s just not worth it otherwise.

(As an aside: this might sound like it contradicts what I was saying earlier about being satisfied with doing things at a “lower” level, but it’s not. I’m not saying that you have to be aiming for pro status to call yourself a writer; I’m saying if you’re going to pursue writing at any level, do it because you love it, and love it enthusiastically).

In conclusion…

…your time is valuable. Your labor is valuable. You are valuable, and you should make choices that reflect that value. So hold out for a pair of jeans that fits in the butt and the leg (I’m still looking…), or you’ll end up with one more pair that you never take out of the closet.  Don’t date the boy that you sorta liked okay and don’t mind seeing — date the boy that you actively want to talk to and hang out with. Choose to spend your time on the things that make you happiest, instead of wasting your precious time on the things that don’t.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, and a harder lesson to implement, but the results are so, so worth it.

ATP: In the Summertime…

Occasionally even England blesses a poor overworked graduate student with good weather. And when that season finally rolls around, there’s a whole host of new Cambridge traditions and British activities to explore…


One of the most Cambridge things to do in Cambridge is to go out on the river for a little punting. If you’re not familiar, it’s an activity which involves standing on the back of a little boat and pushing it down the river with a big pole. It’s lots of fun (though quite the ab workout), and a nice way to see the college backs if you’re a tourist. Just keep in mind that 90% of the stuff they tell you on the guided tour is made up. Continue reading

That’s What Little Girls Are Made Of

Sugar and spice, and all things nice:

That’s what little girls are made of.

Toads, and snails, and puppy dog’s tails:

That’s what little boys are made of.

Like most nursery rhymes, that one’s a bit grim, and gender essentialist to boot. But I’m not here to conduct an analysis of gender roles in 19th century children’s songs, actually; what I want to talk about is this:

What are grownups made of? Continue reading

Across the Pond: I, Robot

In which elevators talk and self checkouts are the bane of my existence.

I remember the first time an English elevator spoke to me. I’d just gotten off the tube at King’s Cross, having made my way over from Paddington, and before that the express train from Heathrow. I had barely slept, and exhaustion was warring with adrenaline as I got closer to the one-and-only, the place I had been building up in my mind for weeks and weeks.

And then the elevator spoke.

“Doors opening. Doors closing. Going up. Doors opening.”

I think I made a surprised noise.

“Yes,” said my mother, “they do that here.” Continue reading

Across the Pond: Flying the Flag

I’ve reproduced below an email received fairly recently from the bursar of my college. I think it stands on its own as a shining example of the oddness that is Cambridge…

Dear College,

I am writing at the request of the Buildings Committee concerning the flying of flags above the Porters Lodge. Early in January the College was approached by the Junior Parlour and asked if we would consider joining other Colleges in flying the Rainbow Flag of Diversity to mark the start of LGBT History Month on 1 Feb (tomorrow). Continue reading

A Brief Update

I’m taking a momentary break from reading a book about anthropologists while drinking tea out of a mug with a skeleton on it — and if that’s not simultaneously the most English, academic, bioanth thing I’ve ever done I’ll eat my hat — to let you all know what I’ve been up to.

Short answer? Working.

Long answer?

Sometimes life sucks, and sometimes your supervisor wants drafts five months in advance, and sometimes you don’t have the energy to blog when you’re consumed with thoughts of the Neolithic Demographic Transition and its implications for health.

And when I’m not working, I’ve been trying to be a good social primate and interact with actual humans instead of hiding in my room and doing solitary things (like blogging).

This sounds like complaining – it’s not! I’m having a fabulous time. (Mostly). But I am very busy.

In terms of writing, I’ve re-plotted Act III and am currently teasing out a couple of tricky scenes. Progress is slow (funny how school will do that), but we’ll get there eventually.

And now, before it gets cold, to return to my tea.