Saturday, December 21, 2013

Victory Tastes like too Much Caffeine

A Novel Coming of Age Story

Today, I put the last words into the rough draft of Immortal Blood.

At last, it's finally finished.

This project has been especially important to me because I finally discovered an incarnation that would allow me to bring this universe into the world.

This is the fourth time I've tried to get the Chronicles of the Immortal Blood going.

The first incarnation was cursed with the lack of a strong climax. I'd started writing it back when I thought the characters would create the story, and I didn't need to be concerned with where I was going so long as I was going somewhere.

I learned from that mistake and began my second attempt to bring the universe of the Immortal Blood to life. Unfortunately, I fell into the trap of trying to tell too much too soon and created a story with two climaxes that mattered to two different characters...and managed to pen a full sequel before I recognized the flaw in my design.

After that failure, I pulled the two story lines apart, shelved the original setting, and tried to write something reminiscent of the Roman Gladiators with mutant powers, Gods that intervened in not so subtle ways, and technology that would have baffled the people of the time. I loved the premise. Words spilled out from the keyboard. I thought I'd found the path for which I'd been searching so hard. Then I hit reality. As cool as the setting and the idea might have seemed, the story I'd woven into my outline couldn't sustain itself for more than 50,000 words without being padded with useless fluff.

I felt like I'd hit a dead end.

All the hours I'd put into this world and nothing I did could bring it to life.

I put the Chronicles of the Immortal Blood on a shelf and drowned the sorrow of my failure in gun battles with Sven Nulis.

But as I toiled through two large rewrites of Sven's debut, ideas kept poking at the back of my brain. What if I combined the original setting with my idea for Gladiator-style battle? What if Zero was a bandit, a free agent not tied to the government? How about I pull the Gods further into the conflict? Could I get away with using personal philosophies to shape the reality of life in this universe? Wouldn't this be better if the terrible fathers had complex motives for their actions?

I started scribbling notes. And a new outline began to take shape.

A year and a half ago, I decided to give the Immortal Blood one more chance.

Today, I have a completed zero draft three months ahead of schedule. I feel like a zittery bundle of energy and a sleepy kitten all at the same time. I'm excited and exhausted, gearing up for the next phase of bringing Zero's story into the world.

And the joyous pride is a high I'd be happy to feel at the end of every draft.

I'd say all the hard work was worth it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Reality of Intent

I'm sure we've all heard, or said, or thought the words, "I didn't mean to." Some variations: "That wasn't what I meant," or "I didn't intend to," or "I didn't mean it that way," or "That wasn't my intention."

I know I have.

This reaction is a reflexive response meant to combat the guilt we feel for doing harm to another person because no one wants to feel like the villain.

So imagine my discomfort (indeed, the discomfort of many) when I first heard the phrase, "Intent isn't magick," and was thrust into a world where naming my intent didn't offer solace to the person I'd hurt. Where I learned that naming my intent often did more harm.

But then, opportunities for growth are rarely comfortable.

I've had time to think about intent, and I began to wonder what use it really had. If it could offer nothing to the people we hurt, what was the purpose of having intent?

At it's most simple, intent is just a contract we make with ourselves. It is a promise that, so long as we want something, we'll do what we can to bring that something into our lives.

Through this contract, our intent should drive our actions. Holding ourselves accountable for our side of the contract requires that we do things that would lead us toward attaining the thing we desire. Likewise, it requires us to avoid doing those things that lead us away from, or prevent us, from attaining our goal.

Sometimes the difference between the two isn't as clear as we'd like it to be. That's where learning and growth come into play. For just about every undertaking that exists, there is someone who can help guide us when we hit a snag. The difficult part is accepting the difficult teachings, the ones that require us to change.

And that brings me to the hardest lesson I've learned about intent.

Refusing to change a counterproductive habit means we didn't intend what we claim. For example, if someone says they want a deeper relationship with us, yet he or she refuses to respect our boundaries or shames us for having them, that someone didn't really want a relationship with us. They wanted to be able to boast having a connection with us without putting in the work. Or if we say we wish to be an ally to a marginalized group, yet we cling to an oppressive slur because it's "just a word" or we're so used to using it that changing our language would be "hard," we didn't really want to be an ally. We wanted to claim the label without putting forth any effort.

That, really, is the truth behind intent.

It's meaningless without effort.

A contract is meaningless without both parties being invested in keeping their parts of the agreement.

When it comes to intent, the only party invested is ourselves.  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My Apologies

For the second time since the regime change at the night job (that currently pays my bills), I find myself dealing with the kind of ridiculous treatment I'd only experienced through the words of feminist bloggers and childhood memories.

I'd convinced myself that no "professional man" would dare be so blatantly biased and dismissive of the accomplishments of an employee just because she wasn't six feet tall and composed of testosterone. I told myself this was a dying breed and males acting like entitled children when their errors were presented to them was the thing of elementary school and spoiled jocks. Somehow, despite all the evidence, I made myself believe that misogyny was becoming a rare thing, that the Boy's Only Club was losing members.

Unfortunately, those spoiled boys sometimes turn into entitled men. Men who can't stand to admit their mistakes, especially when those errors are presented by a woman. Men who can't work with independent, empowered women because they have no idea how to speak to women as equals. Men who reward sterotypical displays of masculinity even at the detriment of the social environment and the businesses to which they show loyalty.

One of those men dug through the professionally spoken interview he conducted with me and came to the conclusion that my experience, work ethic, and sparkling history could be ignored because I admitted to a habit of explaining concepts in more detail than was necessary. And by ignored, I mean treated as so insignificant that a man with none of my experience or skills was deemed a better candidate.

This experience shook me, caught me off guard. Despite everything I'd learned and read, I wasn't expecting the treatment.

I knew there were women all over the world dealing with this kind of treatment on a daily basis, but somehow thought myself immune. I now recognize this thinking, and the patterns of behavior around me that led to its formation, as a form of bias, and privilege, all its own.

Subconsciously, I held myself as too exceptional to be treated with the same indignity as the average woman.

And that was shitty of me.

To all the women everywhere, I apologize. I regret having internalized the Exceptional Woman trope to the point that I was mentally discriminating against the members of my gender who don't have the privilege of my skill set. I'm sorry. From this point forward, I'm going to check that internal gender bias and do better.

And I plan to start by using what privilege I have to make it as uncomfortable as possible for the aforementioned men to continue treating women the way they do. Even if the only recourse I have now is to demonstrate to them that "sometimes info-dumps on people" and "lacks communication skills" are not the same thing.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Feeling Pretentious

I would wager that most artists have had instances when the image in their heads wasn't making it to reality intact.

When scenes were being pesky. When the characters had all gone to their trailers, boycotting the plot. When the note dancing in the imagination can't be found in the piano. When the red on the canvas wasn't deep enough to rival the mental one. When the right word was a cousin of the only one that agreed to present itself.

Those times can lead us to ask ourselves, "How will I ever do this justice?"

Sometimes they even lead us to wonder, down in the quiet and terrified parts of ourselves, if we deserve to call ourselves artists at all.

I'll confess. I have one of these episodes in the middle of every first draft. My writing hand stutters and falls impotent. Every sentence becomes a battle against the white page. And I start to doubt my commitment, my ability to write long term.

I only get one day a week to do any serious work, and my uniform isn't exaclty professional (as can be seen from the picture above). The demons of the Valley of Doubt like to use these facts against me when I've hit a rough patch.

It hasn't gotten any less frustrating or terrifying over time. Even knowing these times yeild some of my most creative breakthroughs doesn't ease the worry that I'll never write anything worth reading again.

But I have picked up tricks to help manage the doubt.

1) Plan for the slump.
I plan my writing goals to reflect the time I'll be spending grappling with doubt.

2) Give myself permission to make something awful
This helps during the first draft slump when everything I put on the page looks like utter garbage.

3) Push on until the goal is met
When I get to the point that I need to make a goal, I bang away at it until I hit the word count, even if its stiff and will get the editting of its life come next draft (see number 2).

4) Allow myself a short break.
Sometimes, if it's a temporary slump, I can get the brain moving by giving the old sinews a stretch.

5) Project planning
Putting ideas down for another project, brain storming a brain worm, or fleshing out the details of the scene I'm stuck on can be just the thing I need to break through the barrier.

Doubt is something we will all have to deal with at some time in our lives. We will suffer at least one crisis of faith. But these times can be overcome, can be useful. They will either solidify our resolve or lead us down a new path that is better suited for us. Either way, as horrible as they seem at the time, these episodes serve an important purpose for my art and my path. I'd wager it could be useful for all of us.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Making it Work

Some days I work well under fire. The pressure of a looming deadline is enough to burn out the detritus. I throw words down, caring more about the getting there than the how.

Other days, I follow a meandering path. The feel of an idea tugs me along, begging to be expressed. The what of the work is more important than how far it takes me.

Still other days, I might as well throw darts at the dictionary and see how many times I can use the skewered word in a paragraph before the sight of it turns my stomach. At least doing so would result in sentences being produced.

I've breezed through 2500 words in one sitting just to struggle with 500 the next.

Conventional wisdom tell us to write every day. Doesn't matter what or how much. Just hit the page.

But if, on those slow days, it takes me four hours to get those 500 words down, wouldn't my time have been better spent doing something else? Planning a challenging scene to come? Making notes for potential revisions? Networking? Blogging? Research?

And that doesn't even take into account the spontaneity of life.

For those of us who live in a world where we're forced to pursue our dreams part-time or not at all, writing everyday is not only impractical but impossible.

Thus, the insistence that we must do so in order to be "real writers" serves only to  heap on guilt and doubt. And we can do that to ourselves without any outside help.

So what's a more realistic alternative?

Do what works for you.

Each writer is different and works from a different environment. It should go without saying that we'll all approach the work in different ways and at different paces. Yet we're told to adhere or have our pen privileges revoked in the name of protecting the efforts of "serious writers."

Completely ridiculous.

If you have to take notes through the week and power write on your day off, do it. If you need to spend months on a super-detailed, moment-by-moment outline, have fun. If you need a little less (or a lot less) structure, go with it.

Every trick and technique in the world is a tool, not a taskmaster. Make them work for you.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Lessons from the Revision Desk

Making Time

The adage goes that if something is truly important to us, we'll make time for it.

If we really cared about our writing careers, we'd make time each day or week to put words on page. If our art was truly important to us, we'd schedule the time to work on it, with it. If a relationship has value to us, we'll take time to be with the other person and make it grow. If we want to acheive anything, we'll give your energy to it.

But what if it takes so much energy that we have none left for anything else?

When I first added this topic to my list, I'd planned to make it inspirational. I'd planned to use it as a way to demonstrate that taking time for ourselves is just as important as putting in the long hours on a project. I wanted to show that giving ourselves time to do the things that fullfill us is just as meaningful as chugging along to the tunes of others' needs.

This week I received a little taste of reality that brought home exactly how difficult all of those things can be.

I'd always known they weren't easy things to do. I've been struggling with them myself for two years now.

And I'm pretty sure I've just had a major setback.

The idea of guilt and the idea that we owe anyone our time are tools of control. Tools that have worked effectively for generations to keep communitites together and working toward a common goal. They still work today, even though our increased ability to communicate with one another has made them obsolete as community growth tools. And these ideas are ingrained in many of us from the cradle up.

I come from a family that uses "family comes first" as a mantra and a guilt tool. As I've aged, I've come to understand that the latter was, and still is, unintentional. The family group, to my relatives, was a safe place, a normal place, a place that didn't change (even when it needed to). To an unconventional child, it was a prison, and it takes a powerful control tool to keep a caged specimin where one wants it.

I mention both of these things as context for the story of my wake up call.

My grandmother passed on this week, and I've done some crying. But it wasn't until this morning that I realized I'd been crying more because I wished we'd had a stronger relationship than because she was gone. (Part of me had, honestly, been wishing for her suffering to end.) But I couldn't bring myself to visit because that cage was too small for me, now. The expectations and the demands of those around her were too much for me to bear just to interact with her. To see her just once would put me in a downward spiral of listlessness that would last for two days afterward. My life would suffer, my work would suffer, and I would suffer.

I wanted that relationship with her. Yet making the time to nurture one required me to sacrifice everything else.

In the end, making time isn't just a matter of shifting hours in a day. It's a matter of deciding if this thing you want is worth the energy expenditure it will take to get it. And if the answer is "yes," only then would a schedule change be necessary.

Our priorities are our own. As much as the guilt tries to tell us otherwise, we have to accept this fact, because acknowleding this idea is the first step into truly taking control of our lives.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Myth of the Solo Success

Have you ever heard the phrase:  "I've worked for everything I have." ?

Or how about: "I've never asked for anything I didn't earn." ?

It's a nice sentiment, right? It brings to mind ambitious individuals who aren't afraid to do what needs to be done. isn't true.

Mind you, this doesn't mean successful individuals are exaggerating their accomplishments or the effort they put into their goals. It simply means they have forgotten an element to every success story.


The inherent advantage they have merely by being who and what they are at a specific moment in time.

These individuals did not earn the basic education that allowed them to pursue their fields. The privilege of being born in a time and country that values education gave them that. The did not earn the cerebral capabilities to do what they do. Genetics and biochemistry contributed that without any effort on their part. The ability to stand, talk, care for themselves, use technology, even to make their own decisions are things they didn't earn.

But these things were necessary for the success they have.

Success isn't a measure of hard work alone. Success is a better measure of privilege than effort.

How much privilege a person has, how well that privilege stacks toward his or her goals, and how well said person manipulates that privilege effects how the work translates into success.

For example: let us consider two writers. They have the same amount of free time, work ethic, and they can produce the same amount of words each day. The only difference is that one writer (I'll call her Sally) has access to a home computer and the other (Hellen) does not. At the end of six months, each one has a rough draft, one digital and one handwritten.

Unfortunately, agents won't accept handwritten manuscripts, and self-publishing also requires a digital copy. Therefore, without doing any extra work, Sally is a step ahead. In fact, to reach the same goal marker, Hellen will have to work harder.

Yet we're told that the success Sally has when compared to Hellen is proof that she put more work into her goals, when the reality shows the exact opposite. And that example assumes Sally only had one advantage over her counterpart. Real world gaps are much wider than that.

The truly insidious part of this myth is that the individuals who claim it as their own don't purposely erase the role of privilege in their narratives. They actually don't realize they have any.

LIke many of us, these individuals mainly interact with others who are like them. Which is good for cooperation and self-esteem. But it normalizes their experiences, and makes them incorrectly assume that everyone has the same advantages they have, which in turn leads them to believe what separates them from the unsuccesful is only work.

The solo success myth.

And we're all succeptible to it.

That's why being an ally takes vigilance and the willingness to listen. It's also another reason why the idea of a socially acceptable form of success should hit the wastebasket at terminal velocity.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Price of Power

I've been dealing with something recently...something I wouldn't wish on any person.

I thought I'd left the tantrums and pettiness of school life behind. I thought, by forging my own way, that my struggles would be defined by the friction of trecking over uneven ground. I thought I'd left behind the games that weakness plays by accepting that power wasn't inherently evil. I thought by accepting the power in my chosen role, I wouldn't be bombarded with the limitations of weak thoughts.

But I was wrong.

In accepting the strength I'd gained from experience, I accidentally took up the mantel of service. Service to a higher good than just my own. By searching for my own happiness, I'd gone through a forging that most people never experience. That forging gave me an inner solidity that many never find.

Power is a ruthless taskmaster.

This week I have been tested.

My ability to hold my standards above the dragging waters of despair have been challenged. My ability to stave off attackers to my boundaries has been poked and prodded. My ability to create and maintain meaningful, understanding relationships even when the forces above seek to batter them is being placed over the fire.

And even as I cry in frustration, I recognize that I am not broken. My spirits sag and my physical endurance drains. Sleep is a faded dream and security wobbles around me, unsure of itself. But I am not broken. I am still me. I still have myself. The great, nuanced metropolis that I've created with the core of my being still stands.

I am weary and parts of me are ready to escape to softer shores. Should I give in, there is no shame. It means, simply, that I was not ready to take on the new level of power, for which I'm reaching.

For now, I'm stubborn. I've made the decision to pass this test.

The price for power is a pound of flesh. But the flesh is only the veneer.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Public Arena

Part of the difficulty I've faced when discussing my art are the sideways questions that amount to, “Don’t you think you’re being naive?” The talk of statistics, how so few artists “make it.” And how the term “making it” is used when what they really mean is “making a living from it.”

I've been wondering lately…

Who decided the purpose of making art was to make a living?

Making money from our art can be fulfilling and even add a level of joy to our work. But it isn't the point of going to the page, the canvass, the piano, the stage. The point of showing up is to make art, not money.

Demanding that all artwork be backed monetarily means demanding that all artists put themselves under the scrutiny of the public eye. And that eye can be toxic.

The world is full of blocked creatives whose fear of embracing their own art causes them to denounce the fledgling muse of an individual new to the craft. Making a leap of faith takes courage, and it is easier to belittle another's attempt than it is to make the jump for oneself.

“Trend” and “tradition” are tossed about as if the only good art belongs to the past and those who follow in its rigid footsteps. Being creative involves leaving tradition behind, which is a frightening prospect to some.

The public eye is quite fond of measuring the baby steps of a creative toddler to the great strides of an artistic pro. We don't test kindergartners on advanced algebra, yet somehow a young artist is required to know how to navigate a project while adhering to ever-changing whims and staying true to their unique voice.

All of these things feed a beginner’s dark inner dialogue. We hear individuals claim that “they don’t make music like they used to.” Fans of realism sneer at the wobbling lines of a modern sculpture, meant to say more than stark edges ever could. Critics tell us the firewalls of business are meant to keep the riff raff out.

We doubt ourselves. We doubt our art. And we stagnate.

It doesn't have to be this way.

If we truly seek to have better art (as opposed to rigidly hunting more of the same), we must nurture the gawky seedlings. We must learn the difference between criticism and shaming (the former asks, “How can this be made better?” while the latter claims there’s nothing worth saving).

If we want to have more variety, we have to embrace the idea of different paths. We cannot continue to hold one method of delivery as more sacred than another (i.e…the ridiculous declaration that indie artists are ruining their respective genres).

To grow art, we must be willing to grow artists. And growth is a painful and sometimes ugly process. But if the desired outcome is flow, it won’t be achieved by standing still.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Individual Paces: Learning Curves

Each new skill requires a learning curve. And each individual will require a curve unique to him or herself. There is no shame in that. I've said this before (and perhaps if I say it enough, I'll more easily incorporate it into my own life):  there is nothing wrong with being a beginner.

"There's a first time for everything." As the saying goes.

I'd like to make a minor adjustment:  "There's a first time for everyone." In other words, everyone is a beginner at least once in their lives (and usually much more than that).

What may be a simple task for an experienced individual will be a complex endeavor for someone experiencing it for the first time.

For example:  Last week, I bought Photoshop CC for the purpose of creating novel covers and promotional material. I hadn't touched the program before in my life when I first opened it on my laptop. There were so many shiny buttons, and I had no clue what any of them were for. I had a basic understanding of what a layer was used for, and the most extensive things I'd ever done with a photo before were to resize, crop, and paint over it. Anyone who has used a simple paint program knows how much time I've probably wasted when changing my mind mid-paint.

I knew Photoshop CC would streamline my processes and provide me with more creative freedom, but I didn't know how. So I spent a week watching tutorial videos, reading how-to material, and practicing with my own photos. In a week, I went from knowing nothing about Photoshop to creating two series logos that I'm absolutely in love with. (I'll share those when the website goes live. X-3 )

But I have a shallow learning curve for creative expression.

On the other hand:  About two months ago, I was taught how to run a new kind of machine at my night job. I'd watched other operators from afar. I knew the number of responsibilities I would take on by learning this new machine, but I had no idea how to do any of those things. For two weeks, I was followed around by a trainer who helped me when I forgot important details and provided step-by-step instruction on how each task was to be done.

Two weeks ago, I stopped brining my cheat sheet. Last week I felt comfortable enough to make the decision to call maintenance when a problem arose.

Obviously, my learning curve regarding technical skills is much steeper than with creative ones.

But that's my individual style.

There's no shame in being a beginner and needing time to learn a new skill. The only shame to be had is when we try to push ourselves above the level at which we naturally gather, understand, and retain new information.

Asking for help when I needed it used to be very difficult for me. I wanted to be able to do everything on my own from the starting gate with minimal instruction. I don't learn most skills that way, and it caused more problems and frustration than swallowing my pride and asking for advice would have done.

In our desire for independence, we've forgotten that standing on our own power requires us to understand when our power alone isn't enough. Teachers would be unnecessary if we all came equipped with all the knowledge we would ever need. Trainers wouldn't exist if everyone who walked into the door of a company could do every job in it. School wouldn't be a word in our vocabulary.

Learning in an essential part of life. It's best to make peace with it and our individual style of doing so.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lessons from the Revision Desk

Part 2: Sometimes It's Just You

There comes a time in every artist's life when the notes inside a well-meant critique will hit us the wrong way. A line we love will be reduced to cliche. A beta reader will cringe at wording we thought was clever or inspired.

It stings.

For some of us, it might spark the dreaded I'll-never-write-again-this-will-be-the-death-of-me head space. For others, it might bring about a snarling cursing match with the paper.

Those of us who are meant to will move past this, reaching for our calming ritual of choice and examining the advice a second or third (or dozenth) time. Often, this revisit is enough to convince us of the validity of the hated critique, and work may resume.

Occasionally, we'll come across that rare moment when the problem isn't the work. It's us.

The "problem" isn't so much a flaw of craft as it is a quirk of voice or style (perhaps in need of refinement). There will always be individuals who don't like our unique brand of expression. And there will always be individual aspects of our brand that avid fans will wish didn't exist. There's no need to sand ourselves down trying to please every dissenter, even as it is important to undergo polish to become what we were meant to be.

This is true of the selves we keep when we leave the desk.

Our planet would be a dry place if humanity was a monolith. Yet we are blasted on all sides by messages demanding we conform to this or that ideal. We are urged to curb our own needs in order to please a faceless hive lord who claims the pieces of our core can only manifest in a binary.

There is a reason the visible spectrum has seven themes and endless variations on those themes.

Embracing our own voice doesn't require us to disregard all outside influence and trudge ahead only as we please. It forces us to be responsible for the flavor we bring to those influences. It makes us both our own creators and our only unfinished project (remaining incomplete by design). It necessitates that we grow to prevent stagnation and boredom.

Cultivating our voice requires us to read our own minds instead of looking to others to do it for us. In the beginning, there will be no plan, only a desired destination.

But isn't that what vision is for?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Lessons From the Revision Desk

Part 1: Loving Something Doesn't Make it Good

This is probably the hardest lesson a writer has to learn when it comes to making a piece shine. As we go along, typing that first draft, we'll fall in love with certain paragraphs or scenes. We'll snicker as we re-read those beloved lines, proud of our wit.

These words may make us feel good about our skill. They may make us believe in ourselves even when the hard pushes come, even when it feels like we'll never put another productive word on the page.

Then the revision stage arrives.

We take out the red pen, put on our ruthless hats, and get to work.

And, in the light of a new day, our favorite scene doesn't seem so shiny anymore. The jokes that made us giggle and bolstered our spirits seem trite and unoriginal. The cute interaction between characters does nothing to drive the story. Witty sentences become awkward to the point we forgot what their purpose was.

So they have to go...because they're hurting the piece.

The same could be said of things we're clinging to outside our writing.

Trips to the coffee shop that result in more pastry than productivity. Friends who demand more of us than is healthy to give. Lovers who expect much and give little. Online interactions that steal our energy and depress us. Pretty shoes that pinch or harm our muscles.

In the end, we have to think about us first, about our needs.

Don't mistake me. I'm not talking about neglecting a friend to indulge a pleasurable pursuit. I'm not talking about ignoring a responsibility in favor of a fleeting fancy. I'm not talking about sacrificing family for unnecessary monetary gains.

I'm talking about removing people from our lives who refuse to respect our boundaries, who refuse to value our time. I'm talking about axing the things from our lives that make it harder for us to be happy and healthy. I'm talking about fulfilling the parts of ourselves that need nurturing.

This means coming to an understanding of what we each really need. It means understanding who we are as individuals. It means allowing ourselves to be different. It means looking inside ourselves and using the cave drawings there to tell us what we really need, what desires would make us happy.

And doing so can be hard work, just like cutting up something we spent months creating.

But it will be worth the struggle.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Over the last few months, I've been absent from my desk. I stepped away from my (personally assigned) responsibility to put words to page. I gave myself some distance from my social media accounts.

In essence, I retreated from the world outside myself.

I imagine some of you are now expecting me to wax poetic about stress or depression.

I'm not going to do that. Neither of those are the cause for my retreat. The reason I took a step back is much more productive.

For several reasons (some of them self-esteem), I decided to make another effort to lose weight. I've tried before with varying degrees of success, but I wanted to do this the effective way. I wanted to make it stick this time. Doing so meant I had to devote time and energy to the endeavor. Time and energy I usually reserved for writing projects.

Because, for me (and so many like me), losing weight isn't about "calories in, calories out," which is nonsense pseudoscience to begin with. (But that's not the topic at hand.)

For me, weight loss had to begin with understanding why I'd gained it in the first place. What habits had I developed over the years that contributed to my current weight? Why had I developed those habits in the first place? And what could I do to change them?

The first and third questions were easy enough to answer.

It took digging to understand why, and that digging required emotional energy.

I had to crawl down inside myself and chip away at the walls to understand that I'd developed a fear of being small. Small things were treated as weak. And weak things were to be exploited and bullied. Large things were treated as strong. And strong things were respected and allowed freedom.

I had to wrap myself up in my own being to understand that I'd conflated eating with abundance. The more abundant your food supply, the higher up on the hierarchy you were. And the higher your place in the hierarchy, the less likely you were to be bullied.

I had to sit with my past to understand that I associated largeness with masculinity. The more masculine you were, the more revered and complimented you were. The more feminine you were, the more shunning and verbal attacks you received.

The worst part of it all, isn't knowing I took these toxic messages to heart.

The worst part is knowing I learned these messages at home. But I've grown to a point where I can only feel sadness for this knowledge. This sadness has led to a certain amount of determination.

I will rise above the toxicity of my past, and move toward a future of my own making, a future in which being myself is enough.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Finding Permanence

Permanence. Legacy. Meaning.

At some point in our lives, we all come to a point where we wonder what mark we've left on the world. What have we contributed to society? How will we be remembered?

The difficult part is eventually coming to the conclusion that at some point in the future, our contribution will be forgotten, no one who remembers us will be alive. So how do we leave a lasting impression when everything we know and do will eventually become obsolete and forgotten?

It's much easier than it sounds.

Step one: realize that people, ideas, and things are impermanent. New people will be born. New ideas will take shape. New things will be made. Your personal permanence will not be found pursuing them.

Step two: recognize that the only permanent thing in this universe is change, flow. No matter how we try to stop it. No matter how much we cling to the past, the future will come to pass. The new will replace the old. Sometimes this will yield productive consequences. Sometimes it won't. But it will happen.

Step three: understand  that you have a role in that flow. Each new person born has a place in the flow of the universe. That place is determined by their individual skills, desires, backgrounds, and opportunity. It is by striving for this place and being willing to allow ourselves to be that person that we find our permanence.

Meaning and legacy and, yes, even permanence, are found in the impermanent, ever-changing landscape of time. Permanence is found in the archetypes, and plenty of them exist for all of us to claim as our own.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Writing What You Know (Part 2)

Last time, I approached the subject of "write what you know" from the perspective of activism. For this post, I want to approach this issue from the perspective of gathering inspiration.

To do that, I'm going to start with a little story.

A few weeks ago, Trevin and I drove six hours to Iowa for a friend's wedding. Despite the awkwardness of meeting new faces and conversing with people who'd been absent for a good amount of time, it was fun. We tried new food and got to watch cable for the first time in at least a year.

Along the way, I learned a few things:

1) Jalepenos provide a perfect balance with tater tots when rapped in bacon and smothered in cheese. This might have become my new favorite junk food.

2) Don't guzzle OJ if you've waited so long to eat that you're feeling jittery. I discovered the body doesn't take to an overflow of food when it's crawling into starvation mode.

3) I'd be fine with living in the suburbs. I've been craving the city life for as long as I can recall, but i discovered living outside the bustle of urban turf and traveling to enjoy its bounty aren't as bad as I'd once thought.

4) Apparently, I have twilight blindness. Bright day and full dark are perfectly fine, but driving at twilight, when the sun hasn't completely left and the headlights come on, is a good way to have an accident.

5) Starers are everywhere. I used to think people only stared when the environment made them feel safe, and thus entitled to do so. I guess hotels are neutral ground.

6) Reuben pizza is a thing. I didn't get to try it, but there's a place in Des Moines that serves a pizza inspired by a reuben sandwich.

But what's the point in all this?

Material is everywhere. It's only a matter of looking around.

Learning is a full time job. Most college students already know this, but it seems once we leave the classroom behind we forget how important acquiring new information can be. This is especially important for creatives. No topic should be considered safe from a curious eye.

- Psychology
- History
- Culture
- Fashion
- Techniques
- Yourself
- Everything

The more you know, the larger the pool of resources you can draw from when creating. Thus, learning increases the diversity of your creative potential.

So: Write what you know, and what you don't know, learn.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Writing What You Know (Part 1)

Write what you know. At least, that’s the conventional wisdom. But what does it really mean?

I’ve seen plenty of media creators who seem to believe this means you should stick to the formulas you know, despite how harmful those formulas may be. (For an example of this, I can suggest the Tropes vs Women Series )

Considering that many of us have been raised in a culture that claims to “know” that women are less intelligent than men, people of color are more violent than whites, or trans*gendered individuals are just going through a phase, it isn’t surprising that we see these wrong ideas spouted back to us from the media we consume.

Sad, but not surprising.

Part of the reason why marginalization is so widespread is because wrong ideas about individuals who don’t hold privilege have been normalized. In everyday discourse and in media. The insidious thing is that these two sources feed off each other in a circle that requires energy and commitment to overcome.

But that energy sacrifice isn’t impossible to overcome.

As I’ve stated before, the key to rewriting what we “know” is to listen to the groups most affected by these ideas. Listening, truly listening, inevitably instills a sense of understanding in the listener. But that requires us to take the words of our fellow human beings at face value without attempting to validate the information we’re receiving though the lens of our own experiences.

The things each of us has lived through is not the whole of human existence. Recognizing that is the first step to learning.

So writing what you know is only half of the equation. The other is being willing to learn what you don’t.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Why of It

Trevin asked me an important question the other day:  “Why do you write? What do you hope to fix?” (I know, that’s technically two questions.)

At the time, I was emotionally distraught and had no answer to give. All I knew was that the idea of giving up, or letting my art fall from focus, filled my belly with dread.

But I’ve had time to think since then.

Books provided me with my first strong female role models, the kinds who could do for themselves and didn’t measure their self-worth by their relationships with men. Books gave me my first look at what non-toxic masculinity was like. Books allowed me to explore forgotten lands, feel the wind of places I’d never visit. Books gave me a country where social justice was normal, where bigotry was the minority, where the guilty party couldn’t buy a lighter sentence.

In books, I found my beliefs distilled and mirrored back to me in a place and time where I was only supported in private. In books, I found epic struggles that made it easier to ignore how my ideas and feelings were ignored, simply because I’d been born female.

I write because the written word was the first place I could express my ideas in their entirety without fear of dismissal or interruption. I write because I want to see more media with strong heroines and heroes who know how to feel. I write because someone, somewhere needs his or her ideas of real justice mirrored back. I write because those who’ve come before me have given me gifts that I cannot keep to myself, not in good conscience.

I write because the written word is one of the places I can go to learn and grow. I write because the paper draws me in, and ignoring its call leaves me depressed and angry. I write because I can go shopping and come home with a hundred ideas. Those ideas need a place to nest.

In short, I write because to do anything else would be a disservice to myself and the precious gifts I’ve acquired through doing so.