Monday, December 10, 2018

Why I Miss “Because I Said So”

After receiving four messages of, “Are you coming?” and two phone calls, I agreed to meet with a man who had taken a serious interest in me. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, even though he knew that I was in a workshop and I had told him I would let him know if I would meet with him and a group of mutual friends after, deciding that he was so anxious he just wasn’t thinking clearly.

During this lovely dinner in which no one else showed up, he proceeded to criticize me constantly, mesmerizing me with his opinions on writing, love, and the world as a whole, I finally had enough of him when he asked me to explain the plot of the book I was workshopping.

“It’s a science-fiction novel about a biomechanic who falls in love with a brainwashed member of the cult who wants him for heresy.”

“Why would he fall in love with her?” he scoffed.

“Well, you’d have to read the book.”

I understood the accusation as, of course, that I hadn’t developed a chemistry or rapport between them. But, looking back on it, I recognize some of the assumptions people have about those who “are capable” of being brainwashed, and it raised a good question about a fight that was occurring within me. What did Libra have that Raiden didn't?

There was safety in her world. She got along with everyone. She knew her goals and she could ask—and listen—to most authority figures about the best way to follow them. He was alone, constantly having to make life or death decisions with no one to trust.

There is, in fact, a lot of appeal about trusting someone enough to obey them.

Of course, there’s a reason that mentality is so criticized. Many of us have been burned by bad advice, or not being able to fit into a formula. An older friend of mine spent her entire youth doing what she was supposed to by marrying a Jewish man, being a good wife, not wiling her way on education, so on and so forth, only to be left for another woman, blamed by her children, and struggling for money to survive for the next forty years. Personally, I’ve been checking every box for depression—eating right, sleeping right, meditating, counseling, medication, socializing, following hobbies—and it feels like it’s just getting worse as I progress.

Writers know best that there is no “right” way to getting into the publishing world. Even back before the popularity of ebooks there were successful authors—Gertrude Stein, Edgar Allan Poe, Virginia Woolf—who made their start via self-publishing. J.K. Rowling got picked very quickly by an agent, but rejected by many publishing houses. Andy Weir, Cassandra Clare, and E.L. James got a following from posting free content online. Some people met their agent in person and made friends first. Others submitted blindly to the slush pile. There are celebrities whose fame got their novels picked up, and those who sold the story on the merits of their pitch alone. Blake Snyder never got famous for writing screenplays, but did manage to make his name popular after writing a book on how to write for screenplays.

The path is twisting and ever changing and that in itself makes it overwhelming.

In recent months, I’ve been seeking out an app that would tell me what to do. It would ask me all the right questions and give me instructions on how to live my life so I didn’t have to keep thinking. After all, diligence wasn’t working. I spent years writing every day, polishing a pitch, and putting myself out there to just constantly be staring into a void. Nothing seemed to progress in my life, regardless of my efforts towards it, and one day… I just quit.

Knowing what to do can be far more inspiring that being uncertain about the right path to take. What happened to the good ol’ days where we had teachers and parents telling us the right way to live life. Not that I trusted them, of course, but it would be nice.

I often feel like my biomechanic, unintentionally having stepped outside the system and no longer protected by it, wanting nothing more than reassurance that, “If you do this, this will happen.” I feel like I’m lost in a bleak world where one misstep—faith in the wrong person—can lead to terrible, lasting pain, but standing still is not an option either.

For those of us who struggle to understand why anyone would be eager to turn to a cult, how we can condemn those “foolish” enough to be brainwashed, I would like us to think back on time when we faced nothing but uncertainty and pain, and how much we would have liked to have someone we trust, someone we have great faith in, tell us what to do. I don’t think that feeling is unique.

But, it’s clear to me that any time I want someone to trust, it’s because I’m spending too much time doubting myself. I know better than anyone what I want, what I’ve tried, and what’s important to me. I can make good decisions, give myself good advice, and just because I can’t trust myself blindly doesn’t mean I should give that power to anyone else.

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