Friday, January 13, 2017

I Constantly Deny My Life’s Application

Life isn’t complete if you can’t ever be the one rejecting people. Sure, many hate that process and would love to never have to tell anyone bad news ever. Your now ex can entertain himself figuring out why you’ve stopped calling him. We’re sure all those people who sent in their resumes will get a hint eventually. Just don’t show up to work next time you want to quit and save your boss the heartache.

Okay, so life is much easier on the people who can avoid rejecting anyone ever. Yet, even though many have taken to a more evasive lifestyle in the recent years, there is some power in being on the Rejecter. So much so, I recommend it for any writer or artist; it can be a great learning experience on how rejection can often mean absolutely nothing.

This is the case with my life. It’s not a bad life, as of November, it’s shaping up to be a good life. But when it comes to its application to my writing, it just doesn’t seem to make the cut. I find that to be an issue with the process, however, and not my life itself.

Previously I complained about the idiocy of a one Jonathan Jones, the art “critic” for the Guardian. Jones, a self-proclaimed poorly read individual, claimed that Terry Pratchett’s novels were nothing more than pot-boiler drivel. After receiving a horrific backlash, he rephrased it to suggest that it was entertainment, but still not art. Because Pratchett didn’t take from “real life” as a great writer should, Pratchett’s work didn’t have as much meaning as someone like Jane Austen.

Of course, that was bullshit. Because Pratchett is a science-fiction writer, it would make sense to the untrained eye why it isn’t a parallel to real life. It’s not as meaningful, some believe. But as much as I hate Jones for, what I believe to be, a confusion of judgmental thinking being critical thinking, he actually made a valid point.

It wasn’t that speculative fiction novels don’t take from real life, but rather the best ones do. When examining my favorite fantasy and sci-fi novels, I realize just how many of them are empowered by their real-life application. They discuss people they know, problems we’re currently facing. Yes, the situation seems completely different when it’s the Vogons’ bureaucracy destroying the lives of many versus the British government, but the truth is that great science-fiction is relatable on a less superficial level than setting.

But I’m saying something obvious, right?

It’s not as though I don’t apply my life to my books. The characters aren’t me in a superficial way—I’m not placing a flesh-mask over my fantasy self and trying to pass it off on someone else. Yet, each of them, of course, the best of them, represent parts of me, whether it be certain flaws, motivators, or issues I’m going through.

In the manuscript I have been preparing for submission, I very much pulled from the experiences I was going through at the time. I had written it a few months after I had gotten out of college, when I was in the process of breaking up with a boyfriend I’d have for four years. My university, I felt, was ripe for a cult, the students yearning for a leader and mentor, willing to listen to the ideas of their professors even if they directly interfered with actual goals. I remember one time in which my teacher passed around a bottle of so-called vitamin B pills, telling us we were all too tired and should take enough of them until our pee turns yellow. Sure enough, everyone popped on in without questioning if they really felt like they needed it, and not remotely worried that the left over hippie might be lying to us…

He wasn’t, and the only reason I didn’t take one had to do with my abrasion to pills after my mom forced me to eat those disgusting Flintstone’s vitamins as a child. It was more of a control issue for me; I never believed that they were anything but what he claimed.

The point is, however, that it never occurred to us to question these people, at least for the first few years. Most of us, eventually, started to recognize them for what they were—regretful older men who wanted nothing more than to prove that their lack of success was just due to fate and not mistakes. They didn’t want their less glamorous students to succeed (What would it say about themselves? Those average, ordinary men who didn't overcome their innate mediocrity?) and they would often give detrimental advice and demoralize their devoted followers.

“If they can be discouraged, they should be,” one told me when I demanded to know why he refused to let a student perform a senior project.

If they can be discouraged, they will be. What makes it your job? The 80,000 dollars we paid for you to teach us skills?

During that time, I was considering going to school on the east coast. I was hating California, very unhappy, when I briefly mentioned this to my boyfriend. He said, “So, what? We’re going to have a long distance relationship?”

“Oh, I was thinking we’d break up,” I replied, furious.

He was afraid of the world beyond California. It hurt to know that he didn’t care about me enough to sacrifice living near his mother for two years. He didn’t even consider it for a second. It wasn't until I actually graduated some time later, when we actually did break up, he suddenly changed his tune, but that just made the original opinion sound even more like a threat and served to irritate me even more.

When I wrote The Dying Breed, I didn’t intend for any of this to be in the book. It wasn’t until after even the second draft that I began to make the correlation between what I had been going through and the choices I made.

Libra, a brainwashed girl living in a cult, falls in love with an outsider. He tries to survive with the people there, but never really can be happy living in fear they might learn of his criminal past and special abilities. When he escapes, he takes Libra with him, not telling her why or where they are going, believing her fear of the outside world will prevent her from ever choosing him.

I wanted to be important to my ex, enough for him to come with me. I wanted him to be important enough to me that I couldn’t be without him. I was living in fear of the unknown; I wanted someone to help me be courageous and explore the world, not hold me back from it.

Libra and I were cut of a different cloth, her accepted and faithful, the pious and kindhearted servant to society, me a cynical curmudgeon pissing off authority figures by disobediently circumventing them. Still, there are similarities, both between her and me as well as her outsider lover who really just wanted to find someone he could trust.

Connections like that come up constantly in my books, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. On many occasions, there’s a subtle parallel to my life, but as I’m looking at work now, I think I can do more.

I’ve been feeling like my manuscripts have been lacking a certain amount of oomph. Partially, I knew it was because I needed higher highs and lower lows, combing the dark, gritty ambiance of some pieces I admire with the sarcastic real-life commentary I adore in others. But what Jonathan Jones made me realize, ironically enough, was that my speculative fiction was being held back by a lack of life’s application.

The works I adore make social, political, and artistic observations in a non-abrasive or hate-filled way. They are fun, sarcastic, and creative. They take from real life and put them into new situations.

In the past, I have refrained from talking about things I was honestly angry about, knowing I took it too seriously to be funny or entertaining. Now that I look back on it, I consider this a mistake. Yes, there are times when I said something out of sheer rage that proved to be terrible material, and I don’t mean to completely ignore my gut when I believe something is too personal to be humble. But for the next few books, not only am I aiming for a wider fluctuation of good and bad events; I am also going to start channeling more from my real life.

Now I just have to have one.

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