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023. – In which the priest asks why we’ve left the candlesticks behind.

Sometimes I tell people I’m stealing things.  Little things: a tissue, a handful of M&Ms, sips of a beer from the other side of the table, a pen off a co-worker’s desk.  When I say this I’m kidding.  I’m not actually stealing anything.  Most of the time the things have been offered to me freely at some point or another.  It’s because of this that on occasion someone will respond to me very seriously and say ‘you’re not stealing, I’ve given it to you.’  These people want to shake me, I’m sure, because stealing is no laughing matter.  And it’s not, no matter how blasé I may appear to be about the concept.  I try to take very few things seriously, but as a writer who would like to one day be published, creative output is serious business.  It’s my second job, even as I’m still learning to treat it like one.

The things a person can show you about themselves and how they view the world via what they create are startling.  It’s almost a contract of understanding between the creator and viewer.  At times it’s tantamount to love in the way that we accept the things that creative people show us and take them into account as a whole.  To love is to open your heart and to trust, and when we’re mistreated by love or creativity and our trust is broken it hurts.

I’ve been reading the Jonah Lehrer book Imagine for work.  I probably would have read it anyway eventually, because of the subject matter, but my boss wanted us to read it as part of an ongoing curiosity initiative.  As of this typing I’m only about 200 pages into it.  I’ve been highlighting bits of quotes and observations as I go with the intention of placing them somewhere where I could find them after I pass the iPad on, but now I’m not sure I want to.  I’m not sure I can trust them, and I worry that that goes against my reasons for highlighting them in the first place.

When we’re presented with another person’s creative output we usually have an understanding of its relative true-ness.  Fiction is no less true than non-fiction within the context of the fictional world.  I frequently highlight things characters say, because I agree or disagree with them, or because there’s a small bit of myself to be found there, or because they’ve hit on an idea that I want to explore. I do this with the understanding of the author’s intent in showing us what they have about this character and what we are meant to feel because of that.  I went into Imagine feeling that that intent was to explore the parts and pieces of creativity via the way people go about creating things and to understand how to get the most from these bouts and push yourself to think of creativity as a muscle you can work instead of waiting for inspiration to strike.  And…that’s still true, right?

As someone who was closer than I wanted to be to a plagiarism to do several months ago, there’s a bit of visceral recoiling in my gut now when I think to read more of the book.  Granted, Jonah Lehrer plagiarized himself, which isn’t nearly as bad in my eyes—authors re-purpose ideas and concepts and the like all the time, though maybe not quite as literally—but he also completely fabricated facts and quotations, which means that my understanding of how I’m supposed to look at the ideas within the book is tainted, regardless of how the information is still more or less exactly what I expect it to be.  It’s made all the more troubling by the quote he gave to Stephen Colbert (emphasis mine):

 […]You fall in love with something and then you steal it. That you make it your own, you reinvent it, you in a sense misremember it. And that’s an important part of creativity which is why it’s so important to create a culture where people can liberally borrow from the ideas of others. […] And so you see this again and again among very creative people. They have very open minds, they read everything, they’re incredibly curious, and they steal a lot.

Creative people do have very open minds. They do read everything, at least the writers I know do.  I imagine as a musician it would be more important to listen to all the things and as an artist it would be more important to take in all the art, but dipping liberally into all of the wells available to us will allow us to draw connections we may not have previously, and to me that’s the most important part.  Creativity is not theft.  That is a very simplistic way of looking at a process that devours, synthesizes, and then releases something entirely new.  It’s not re-purposing or rehashing so much as it’s reconstructing from the ground up, at which point the foundation is no longer the thing that gave us the idea in the first place.

So my question is: Is learning from fiction that was presented to us as true any different than learning from fiction that we know is fiction going in?  Can this book still be useful to me in the way my boss wants it to be?  I think it’s probable that it can, but I’m going to need to go back and take a look at the things I’ve highlighted, just to make sure that the understanding I had of them before hasn’t been changed.  And of course, any Bob Dylan quotes I’m thinking of keeping will have to be attributed to the author as they are, after all, simply dialogue in a work of fiction.

.020 – The sweet spot.

***There will be spoilers for Brave, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and Seeking A Friend for the End of the World in this post.***

As of last night when Boogie Nights thankfully–finally–ended, I’ve seen 58 movies this year.  Most of those were for the podcast, or because of it in some way.  Some of them were because my friends talked me into seeing them.  (Hot Tub Time Machine is not a good movie, guys.  I don’t care if Sebastian Stan IS in it for a whole fifteen minutes.)  Some of them I made time to see simply because I wanted to.  (I am not a girl who turns down Hedwig and the Angry Inch sing-a-longs.)  I expected to love movies and hate movies, what I didn’t expect was that I’ve loved every single one of them, even the ones I hated and would never ask you to see.

When I first joined the Wrong Opinions Podcast I was worried.  My co-hosts love film and can talk in very specific jargon about cattywampus (Dutch, for some reason) angles and slow first acts.  I enjoy film, but don’t feel a particular affinity for it over any other kind of storytelling. In fact, I made it very clear in the beginning that all I could speak to was story and structure and characters.  That turns out to be enough sometimes, and I’ve learned a whole lot in the last year or so about film itself, but it’s still the story part that really interests me over any of the technical notes.  And when you mainline movies like I do, the differences in story start to stick out rather than blend in together.

Last weekend I saw three movies: Brave, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and Seeking A Friend for the End of the World.  Last weekend I felt like some sort of picky, sticky Goldilocks, and it’s because only one of those movies felt to me like it was trying to tell the right sort of story in the right sort of way.  It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the film I went into with absolutely no expectations.

Too cold. Friday night I saw Brave.  I feel like I should preface this, as I always do, by telling you that I haven’t seen most Pixar movies.  I’m just not that interested in them.  I’ll watch Wall-E eventually, because the boyfriend and several other people keep telling me to, but I’m perfectly fine living a life where I don’t cry over the end of Toy Story 3 twelve times.  (That’s what I re-watch Band of Brothers for.)  But even though I haven’t seen most Pixar films, I’ve been left with a very specific set of notions about what a Pixar film SHOULD be, just by virtue of knowing other people who have seen them.  It’s hard to explain these expectations, since I’ve never quite seen them in action, but I suppose Pixar films should be warm and emotional and adventurous and unsure.  Leave it to a race car or a space trash compactor to remind us of what the human condition really entails.  And Brave, even though the story does focus on a human, felt like it fell way short of that for me.  It was too simple.

That’s somewhat fatuous of me, I know, to call out a children’s movie for being too simple.  And it’s probably just nostalgia that colors in Sleeping Beauty and The Last Unicorn as richer in some way.  That movie’s target audience will feel great about being able to predict what needs to be done before the witch even appears on screen, but I was bored after the half way point because of it.  And it’s silly, because there is nothing wrong with simple story telling.  You can get more out of your emotional payoffs if you keep things focused.  I’m also not saying that it’s not fun to watch, because it’s genuinely funny, and I adore the father character.  I laughed out loud quite a few times.  I just wanted something more.

Too hot.  We saw Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter on Saturday morning, and that just left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied and liked I’d definitely seen a movie directed by the guy who directed Wanted.  That movie did entirely too much.  Or it tried to anyway, it didn’t really succeed in anything.  A lot of the charm of the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter book lies in the fact that it takes a lot of factual information about Lincoln’s life and then just folds the vampires in.  Even when the book is delivering action it’s matter of fact and paced like a biography, not like an action-adventure tale.  The movie managed to strip away every last bit of that charm and then proceeded to shoe horn in a whole bunch of back story that the audience really didn’t need.  And then there was slow motion leaping off of burning bridges.  I mean, if you buy a ticket to something titled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, you’re probably going to be okay when it leaves out his days studying law and working in shops.  The movie should have focused on ten years tops instead of forty.  (On the plus side, Dominic Cooper is still a person doing things, which is always nice to see.)

Just right.  And I guess it’s about managing expectations, because Sunday morning when we went to see Seeking A Friend for the End of the World I had no idea what it was about except for what I could infer from the title.  I left that movie feeling like I haven’t felt since I saw I Heart Huckabees.  Someone made that movie just for me.  It was funny and touching and a little sad, but that’s going to happen when the world ends.  Most importantly, it was paced well and it pulled out the right part of the story to tell like I felt the other two movies didn’t.  We didn’t need back story for these characters.  Their traits were given to us naturally through dialogue and action and not through exposition.  We just happened to meet up with two people three weeks before the world ended and learned what we could in that amount of time.  And it was wonderful.

Choosing the right part of a story to tell is hard.  For me anyway.  I am a total whore for back story.  I want to know what brought the characters here.  I want to know why they react the way they do to things.  That goes for my own characters as well.  A lot of the trouble I have with prose is separating what I need to know from what the audience needs to know, as well as making sure I get across the things that are just sitting in my head.  Because it’s one thing for me to think ‘well of course Edmund would kill that man’, but it’s another for the audience to be on board.  What have I shown them of Edmund before?   What is it about his demeanor or his upbringing or his social standing that would make killing a man seem like the only thing he could do in any given situation?

Why did Merida not question the way the witch said the word ‘change’?  What drove Abraham Lincoln to be so selfish in his pursuit to kill the undead?  What made Penny force Dodge’s dad to turn the plane around?  I can only answer one of those questions in a satisfying way.  The stories that fall short for us can be fun and they can teach us a lot, but it’s the stories that sit in that perfect space that really affect or change us.  I want to tell stories like the latter.  If only I can figure out how to do it every time.

.018 – Just leave the cat!

I will sometimes, in the course of reading a book or watching a movie, demand that the story explain itself.  Not that the thing that I’m questioning really affects the plot, just that the idiosyncrasy of it will have pulled me out of my immersion in the world.   The Boyfriend likes to remind me of the time I verbally chided a Harry Potter movie because ‘water doesn’t work that way’.

“They have wands,” he said.  “They’re doing magic and you’re worried about the water?”

“I can’t speak to the magic,” I said, “but the world of Harry Potter is grounded in our world and outside of magic the physics should still apply and water does not work that way!”  At which point I probably threw up my hands and decided to forget about the whole thing.  I don’t remember the exact conversation, but that was the gist of it.

The point is that I freely admit that I have very little logical reasoning for the things that do bother me and the things I let slide.  It basically depends on what kind of story is being told and how I’m feeling that day.  Pulp scifi I almost never question, because from my standing point in the future it appears to be as tongue and cheek as old comics stories and it appears that it’s meant to be that way.  Scope and breadth of imagination are the things that I find most important in those stories.  Fantasy is next, depending on what kind of world it’s set in.  The Xanth novels are entirely ridiculous, so most of that passes by unnoticed, but urban fantasy might get a few eyebrow raises from me if some part of the ‘real world’ is broken without reason.

The whole point of this is so you’ll understand that last night, while watching Alien for the first time, I spent the whole movie going:

“Why is there a cat?”

“Does the cat get frozen too?”

“How do we know that cats need to be frozen the same way as people?”

“If the cat doesn’t get frozen, what does it eat for six months while everyone is asleep?”

“OH CHRIST, YOU’RE GOING TO DIE IN SPACE, JUST LEAVE THE FUCKING CAT BEHIND. YOU CAN LITERALLY GET TEN MORE FOR FREE OFF THE STREET WHEN YOU GET HOME.”

There was also some girly shrieking and throat clutching and falling over,  because seriously, giant killer face eating alien, but that was what most of my commentary was about.  And I realize it’s a little silly that I so freely accept the conceit of deep space travel and mining and evil freaking robots and then draw the line at the cat.

I think I focus on these things because I’m still trying to figure out where some of my more grand notions really need to go.  I think that the Big Damn Existential Scifi Novel, for instance, should be realistic.  I want it to be realistic so that when the alien consciousnesses start flying it feels like they could be an extension of our world.  Volunteer Vampires, on the other hand, should be as tongue in cheek as the name suggests, but I’m having a hard time allowing myself to do that.  Strangely, it’s not the science-built-vampire portion of that scenario that’s holding me back, either.  I feel stuck.  I want to write science fiction like the science fiction I admire, both pulp and more realistic, but I don’t think I’m capable of it right now.  I would settle for writing science fiction like the science fiction I enjoy, if only I could get past the nagging questions.  It’s probably a good thing overall that I want to hold myself to the same standard I hold everything else to, but it can be frustrating.

The thing is, last night while I was peppering the movie with questions I felt more prepared and able to write my silly vampire in space story than I have been in a while.  I felt like I might even be able to get over myself and just enjoy writing in some of the elements of the genre, as silly as I sometimes find them.  It’s getting to ask those questions that so often makes me love science fiction as a genre at the end of the day.

I really enjoyed, Alien, by the way. A lot more than I thought I would, considering I hadn’t ever planned to actually watch it.  The set is amazing and intricate and tight.  A friend of mine pointed out to me some time ago that H.R. Giger did a lot of the design on it, and I can see that.  So much of it holds up to time really well.  The computers are probably the things that aged the worst, but I find that charming.  I especially love that they make noise when they’re running calculations, as if they were merely flashy boxes around a tape calculator.  I kind of wish my laptop would make that noise.

Heck, now that I’m thinking about it, I wish my laptop would sound like a mechanical typewriter when I was using the word processor.  I wonder if there’s an app for that.

.017 – This is a thing I said I would do.

I don’t like mysteries, but I like things that are mysterious. I don’t take great joy in solving puzzles, but I do take great joy in the puzzling of it. 

A couple years ago I decided that I was going to buckle down and learn to appreciate and understand poetry.  It’s not that I’ve spent the better part of my life hating it. I memorized Frost’s ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’ when my 8th grade class did their reading of The Outsiders. I suffered through Donne’s ‘The Flea’ in high school, though I’m still not sure it means everything we were taught it means. I fell fast and hard for Rumi and Bukowski in college, because they put words together in ways that made me understand the things I was feeling. No, it’s not that I hated poetry, it’s that I’d spent the better part of my life taking poetry for granted. Why should these groupings of words, often simultaneously dense and spare, mean more to me than any other groupings? After all, I can’t put together words like that. Why waste my time on studying word groupings that I don’t plan on emulating?

For some reason, 2010 felt like a good time to change that. I don’t know if it’s because I was starting to be more proactive about my life in general, or if it was because I had words caught inside of me that wouldn’t be wrangled into long-form prose, but I decided not to take this beloved form of self-expression for granted anymore. I started collecting recommendations. I started reading everything.

Finally, eventually, I got a better handle on it. Though I felt like I still didn’t understand what gave my favorite poets and poems that spark. I thought, then, that maybe I needed to understand poetry from the inside out. Maybe I needed to try and write some of my own. Last May I quietly started a Tumblr blog where I intended to put one poem a day, regardless of worth or beauty. I needed to practice sitting down and corralling words, rather than letting them lead me.

Some of those poems are terrible, but complete strangers still liked or reblogged them. Some of them are pretty decent, but need a lot of work to make them worth their time. Some of them helped me to voice things I hadn’t been able to voice up until then. When that happened I felt like I’d finally gotten it. I felt like I finally understood why some people gravitated towards poetry rather than prose.  Some stories don’t need a full arc. Sometimes moments are enough to make another person understand. Some things can only be digested in moments, I think. Which isn’t to say that a poem can’t tell a whole story, because they often do.

The reason I’m making this post is because this morning I was considering doing a poem a day again.  I’m already a day behind to do it in May, but it’s not like I can’t run over into June for a day.  And a poem a day might even keep the therapist away. But as I was considering this I realized that I might not want to publish all of them on the tumblr.  I might want to keep some of them to myself, to work and render and turn into something worthy of sending out into the world officially.  I realized that, while I find I still don’t feel like I ‘understand’ poetry, I want to be a part of it.  I think I would like to be a poet.

That’s a scary thought.  But I have that poem coming out in the fall. And I have another that Alli pretty much refuses to let me send to a place that isn’t an actual literary magazine, because she likes it that much. I owe a lot to a lot of my friends and their belief in me, no matter how misguided I fear it is. So I might as well gather up some belief for myself. I’m just a blunt shovel, but I’d like to be a spade, I think.

It’s an ongoing battle.  If you’re curious the Secret Poetry Tumblr is here. Feel free to follow along or leave notes and crit.  I’m a pretty strong believer in crit for any form of writing.

For getting through that, here’s a poem by a living poet who inspires me gads. I still want to be Margaret Atwood when I grow up, but I’d feel pretty amazing if I somehow became Anis Mojgani on the way.

Anis Mojgani – Come Closer

.015 – They let you hold weapons?

This past weekend the Florida Steampunk Exhibition East was held in Daytona Beach, Florida, which is only an hour or so away from me as the crow flies, so I had to go.  I feel like I don’t spend enough time here talking about how much I love steampunk.  I talk some about how I’m writing in the genre, but I don’t give it the same breathless space and time here as I do in other places around the internet.  So just to catch you up to speed: I LOVE STEAMPUNK.

I love it as a genre and an artform and a dress sense.  I love the endless possibility and the optimistic daring do of the people involved and the characters that they write or portray.  I’m just as fascinated with the darkly tinged not-so-nice-history parts of it as I am with the bright, shiny leather and brass parts.  And as you might imagine, this all lays very neatly over my general appreciation for Wacky Victorians anyway, so it’s a perfect fit for a person such as myself who loves reading and writing in the science fiction genre.

Even more specific to my urge to attend the convention than my love of steampunk in general, I had seen that there was going to be a three hour panel/class called Victorian Self-Defense.  I had thought that it would be about bartitsu (which is an interesting subject in itself), so you can imagine my jaw dropping surprise when Alli and I showed up and found two gentlemen standing at the head of the room with rapiers.

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We both sat down and immediately began taking furious notes.  Two of our characters are kind of swords-for-the-cause in employ of the main gentleman driving our revolution, and while I had done research into sword fighting with both fencing foils (and epees) and sabers, there is little internet or book research that can compare to having two people in front of you actually explaining things like footwork and posture and timing.  We spent a good thirty minutes taking pictures and scribbling diagrams and whispering back and forth to each other about how cool this all was…and then the instructors* asked if anyone wanted some hands-on instruction.

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Alli jumped at the chance, and I followed.  There were about seven to ten of us at the time.  Each one of us was handed a bamboo rod shown how to stand and we were off.  The two instructors would explain and demonstrate what they wanted us to do–things like forcing your opponent’s sword offline or giving and avoiding a beat–and then have each of us perform the action against them.  The two gentlemen running the class were professional and patient and seemed to enjoy being able to have the interaction, and that made the whole thing all the more enjoyable for the rest of us.

Then came the tipping point in Alli and my’s mutual giddiness about rapier instruction in general.  They acted out a throw and then had each one of us practice and perform it against one of them using the rapier.  I know that logistically they had to give us the rapiers, because bamboo rods don’t have hilts with which to hold down another person’s blade, but I honestly felt a bit like I’d been handed Auryn** in that moment.  The sword was a little heavier than I thought it would be and the basket fits around your hand in a way that makes you part of the sword and just.  It was an awesome moment and I really want to thank the two of them for it, as well as the organizers of the event for inviting them and setting up an experience like that in the first place.

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The rest of the day was kind of spent in the hazy glow of ‘oh god they let me hold a sword!’  I was extra pleased as well that Alli noted during the class that most of the sword fight scenes I’d written between our characters were actually pretty solid, technically.  Not that they’ll end up in the novel because I just wrote them as character pieces, but it’s extra nice to know that I wasn’t completely off base.  (Though I am going to have to make Edmund spend a bit more time with foil or rapier when he’s teaching William, even while he prefers saber himself.)

We were still buzzing from the rush of it all when we got home in the evening, so right now we’re looking into fencing clubs here in Orlando.  You never know, it could be a fun way to get in more exercise and learn a new skill.  It is definitely a way to have a few more of All Of The Experiences and would give me even more things to blog about.

Now for the informative part of the post!

  • If you would like to learn more about steampunk, there have been a whole slew of excellent articles written, but Tor does a Steampunk Week that always has articles of interest for people who are new to the concept or find it all to be old hat.  The links from 2011 can be found here.
  • The instructors of the class gave me several resources for reading about swordsmanship and style with different types of weapons.  Those are:
  •  Chivalry Bookshelf – who publishes many out of print texts on all sorts of things, including swordplay.
  • HEMA – The website for Historical European Martial Arts.
  • The Western Martial Arts Coalition.
  • And the works (if I can find them) of William Wilson, Achille Marozzo, Fiore dei Liberi, and George Silver.
All of that should keep me and you guys busy for quite some time.  Now I must away to work some more at our wonderful little steampunk world.  It had been too long when I started in on it today and immediately fell in love with our characters all over again.  Funny how that happens.  And just appease the voice of Edmund in my head after all this talk of straight edges with points at the end, here’s my favorite of the sabers I’ve researched.  Turkish, 19th century, housed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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* I didn’t catch their names! It’s not in the program or on the site or readily available in any search done by me in the last ten minutes! If anyone knows, please share so I can add them to the write up and also love them from afar.

** Auryn, for those of you not into 80s movies, is the serpent pendant from The Neverending Story that guides Atreyu on his quest.

.014 – April.

Before I launch into the recap of first quarter of relative failure I wanted to share the link to a short write up that Sierra Houk did about the Wrong Opinions About Movies Podcast that I am lucky enough to be on with my friend Matthew Bowers and my writing partner Alli Martin.  It’s great fun for me to be able to discuss movies with my friends on the internet, but it’s even more fun if other people get in on the conversation.  Today we recorded our Titanic episode and in the coming months we’ll be doing a whole slew of Batman episodes with special guests in preparation for The Dark Knight Rises.  If you like movies and wrong opinions give us a listen!

So, back to March!

Words: 5,776

Flubs: That is a depressing number and I know it.  I would feel bad about it, but most everyone I know also had a bad March, word-wise.  Divided we blunder, together we procrastinate!  March was a rough month in general mentally, which isn’t an excuse, but it is part of the problem.  And now that I’ve rooted out where I am I can start to rebuild and get back to the important things.  The writing things.

Looking back at my Impossible 2012 Plan, this month I have failed at: completing Volunteer Vampires, finishing the rough of my parts of of The Steampunk, and submitting a second poem for publication.  I haven’t started a second short story either, but I’ve decided I need to try and be less ADD  about everything that directly affects the rest of my life.   We’ll see how that goes.

I will continue to be ADD in the day to day, though, lest you’re concerned I’ll stop derailing conversations with ridiculous non sequiturs.  Worry not!

Follow Throughs: But I DID start the second round edit of my friend’s manuscript and submit a poem for publication.  In case you missed my yelping when I got the news, that poem was accepted!  I will have a steampunk themed poem in the fall issue of a small online poetry zine–which I will link back to when it goes up–and I am very excited about it.  The non-writing people around me don’t understand my excitement, because it’s not “really being published”, but I don’t expect them to.  My writing friends understand and I feel personally like it’s a good start and a small victory in the war with myself, so I’m excited.  I wrote a poem!  People didn’t hate it!  I now need to carry that ego boost into a forward momentum and see what other things I can churn out that people won’t hate.

Words to date: 24,411

And onward to April!

I am going to finish the draft of Volunteer Vampires THIS WEEK, even if it kills me.  Alli knows where to submit it for me posthumously if I do die.  Barring that unfortunate possibility I am also going to write at least two more chapters of The Steampunk and edit half of my friend’s manuscript.

I can do this.  Deep breaths.  One railway tie at a time.  Or at least, that’s what I imagine my good luck hard work charm telling me.   

 

.013 – My hair’s favorite band is Bloc Party

There is a short OpEd piece from the New York Times making the rounds on my twitter feed.  It’s all about how the author thinks that adults should read adult books and leave the YA to the pre-teen girls.  I’m not going to link to it, because such a ridiculous and obviously baiting statement doesn’t need any more traffic than it’s already getting.  And while I realize that his opinion is ridiculous and obviously baiting, there was something else about it that caught me up short.  The author states that he himself is embarrassed when he sees adults reading YA and seems to somehow believe that his personal embarrassment should jump from him to the reader.  He clearly finds his feelings and opinions to be more valid or informed than that of the poor soul caught up in what he assumes to be a poorly written dystopian world.

I grew up in a pretty small town and I am very familiar with this kind of skewed mutual embarrassment.  The kind of embarrassment that you don’t really feel until you realize that the other person thinks that you should be embarrassed.  Then you’re almost obliged to give in to it out of propriety.  It took me moving away to college and several years of making poor decisions based on the wants of others to realize that this embarrassment was a thing that I could actually control.  Without getting too deep into the philosophy of it, I had the all too mundane realization that I am my own person and free to make my own choices.  What a relief that is, to know that I can do things that make me happy and not have to answer to anyone else with a twig up their hind end about my happiness.

I recently got a pretty daring haircut, for me anyway.  (I always want to go for the fauxhawk, and I always remind myself that I’m not quite that cool yet.)  While the response to it has been largely favorable I can still hear my mother and the people I left behind in that small town commenting on it in my head.  How silly and frivolous all of these brain phantoms find me.  Why don’t I just grow up?  Why don’t I stop wasting my time on concerts and writing stories about steampunk vampires in space and playing around on my movie podcast?  Why don’t I settle down and have children and buy a house like an adult?  I do wonder if the writer of the New York Times piece would agree with these voices.  And then I remember that it doesn’t matter, because I’m happy.  I can read YA in public.  I can wear ridiculous clothing.  I can get all the stupid haircuts I want, and anyone who wants to bring my happiness down must not find as much joy in such things as I do and therefor really aren’t worth my time.

I’m preaching to the choir here, but YA is a LARGE umbrella.  Stephanie Meyer is not JK Rowling is not John Green is not RL Stine.  If you don’t like Twilight (paranormal romance) that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy Looking for Alaska (young adult literary).  If you don’t like Harry Potter (fantasy) then you might like Goosebumps (horror).  Just like in adult books, there are different shades of YA literature with different intended audiences.  Honestly, while I wish I’d had Looking for Alaska as a teen, its message still rings true to me in my adult life and I’m very glad to have been able to read it.  I don’t personally think I could work in YA, given the types of stories I’m tempted to tell, but I greatly admire the writers who do.  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is one of the most devastating and beautiful books I’ve ever read, and it’s only made better by the fact that it’s accessible to a younger crowd.

I almost pity people with the attitude of the New York Times piece.  How heavy must all of those societal restrictions they’ve built up around themselves be?  How boring must their very serious adult conversations become after a while as they circle around in the same, stagnant pools of approachable thought?  I think they must miss out on an awful lot, with their lists of approved reading and watching and listening.  It’s one thing to find something simply not to your taste, but it’s another thing entirely to look down on a whole genre simply because of the way it’s marketed.  Hey, if you try something find you don’t like it, at least you’ve given it a go and not written it off from the start.

I’m going home in two weeks.  I’m going to flaunt my ridiculous haircut absolutely everywhere and take pride in having allowed myself to become who I wanted to be, even as the adults around me try to make me someone else.

.012 – #ChangeWriteNow and in the Future

I have a friend who takes stealth pictures of me even though I’ve asked her not to many, many times.  It’s annoying as a general rule not to be listened to, but the reason this bothers me so much more than any other thing of the myriad of things my friends refuse to stop doing is because the end result is photos of me, and I’m hideous.

Image

(One she snuck at Epcot last weekend.)

By which I mean of course, I feel hideous.  I’m fat(ter than I used to be by at least 70 pounds) and unattractive and it drives me nuts when people tell me I’m not because I know I am.  I know it.  I don’t want people to argue with me.  I’m not looking for attention or pity, I just know who I am and what I look like to me and that’s what matters.  It would be ridiculous to deny that a lot of that feeling is internal.  I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with all of the ways in which I let myself down and that only adds to the pile of things I find disgusting about myself.  So at the last minute and almost on a whim I joined the second round of Change Write Now.

I’m not a competitive person by nature, but I do find that a lot of times I’m motivated by simply feeling like I’m a part of something.  I don’t want to beat my team members, but I don’t want to let them down either, and that’s huge for me.  For the past two weeks I’ve had more water than I may have had all of last year, a mere four Cokes overall, and I’ve been eating better and cheaper (read: not takeout).  It’s kind of amazing how much I find that I want to do these things now, after just two weeks of having to be conscious of my decisions.  I’ll have soda left over from lunch and give it up in favor of my afternoon water.  The boyfriend doesn’t even know who I am anymore.

All that said, there’s still major room for improvement.  I need to get over my internalized fear of the gym (and a lot of things really) and just get back into going in the mornings.  I’m going to try again tomorrow and see if I can’t actually drag my sorry ass out of bed at 5:30.  I know I feel good when I work out in the morning, but I still can’t make myself do it half the time.  That’s almost as messed up as my self-image.  It’s not just working out I mistreat that way, though.

For instance, I also know I feel good when I’m working on my stories.  I often feel like I can conquer this real world if I’m keeping things in order in my made up ones.  I know that if I sit down and write I can finish things which can lead to publishing things which can lead to my ultimate goal of a writing career, the only type of career I’ve wanted for quite some time.  I don’t want to be rich and famous, I just want to be able to pay my bills by doing things that make me happy.

And yet…sometimes I don’t finish things.  Or if I do sit down at all I let myself be overtaken by a feeling of ineffectuality and give up before I start.  This month has been the lowest production month for me this year, even while I’ve been keeping my mind on and working on other things that I need to get under control.  Why, even though I’m almost thirty, do I still sabotage myself?  Why do I maintain an undesirable view of myself and let it stick?  I can’t control what other people do or how they see me, but I can control me, and I’m still the person who sees the worst in me all of the time.  I need to stop.  I need to stand up and take control and just become the person I want to be without giving in to the fear of failure.  It sounds so easy when other people say it.

Change Write Now has done wonders for making me really think about some of the choices I make and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to carry them over.  In the meantime, when I do get out of bed in the morning, whether it’s two hours early or thirty minutes late, I’ll just continue to recite the mantra written on my whiteboard.  It’s a song lyric from a band that has sadly broken up, but it’s a good reminder of the person I can be.  I can be relentless too.

.011 – To know absolutely nothing is certainly human.

Australia!  I don’t know very much about it!

Back in February a local writing friend sent me a link for a steampunk story call.  The woman who is editing the anthology wants stories from the Victorian period set in almost any place but England or the States.  She has a specific list of location wishes.  We’re not in any way obligated to fulfill those wishes, she just wanted to point out areas which aren’t typically covered by people writing in the steampunk genre.  I took a gander at the list and decided that it would be fun to set something in Australia and it would give me cause to do some reading and learn more about the area in general.

My basic starting premise was to deal with a young woman who had been born into one of the native groups (my reading suggests different attitudes towards whether using the term aboriginal is currently culturally correct) and then had been ‘rescued’ by some of the European settlers and raised by them.  The story itself was to pick up when she learns some of the truths about who she is exactly and denounces her white family to leave and find her true home.  (Ostensibly to touch on the idea that no home is really ‘true’, because I saw Garden State one too many times or something.)  Over all the story would be kind of an adventure and she’d pick up a lady sidekick who she may or may not develop feelings for.   Anyway, I felt like all of this would be a good way to break down the themes of colonialism, race, gender, and sexuality.

The problem I continue to run into is that I really know very, very little about Australia, and while I’ve done some reading, it’s hard for me to get a good feel of the place during that period.  I think it’s simply that I haven’t been steeped in it throughout my life the way I’ve been steeped in period work from the US, Canada, the UK, France, and even Japan, so it’s just not as comfortable.  Also, as a denizen of the internet, I’m extremely wary of committing the very issues I’m trying to write about.  I don’t want to fetishize her native background and I don’t want to be too disparaging about either the native peoples or the European settlers.  I feel a bit like I’ve taken my usual old tightrope and moved it from the skyscrapers over New York to Niagra Falls and the change in view below is throwing off my comfort in performing the feat.

So the question becomes, do I get an Australian tutor to teach me about their perspective on the issues of the time period, or do I simply give in to my fears and change the setting?  I know I could come up with something interesting set in Germany, say, that wouldn’t leave me with this many uncertainties.  But then, it might not cover the themes I want to cover.  It certainly couldn’t cover them in the same way.  (Unless there were Roma in Germany at the time.  Although, that wouldn’t have as much to do with colonialism in particular.)

We have to query the story before we can send it in, so this worrying might all be for not if she doesn’t except the query, but that just makes me want to choose the right mixture of setting and issues all the more.

Anyone out there want to give some informal history lessons?

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