Friday, August 29, 2014

The Worst Thing about Your Irrational Fears

Every once in a while I talk about cutting 60,000 words from a manuscript I wrote sometime back. I rarely discuss actual content, but something happened to me within the last few months that confirmed for me a thematic element I had a slight belief I was bullshitting. Recently I found this untrue; not only did I truly trust this philosophy, I had experienced it time and time again. In order for you to make sense out of it, I guess I need to start with the theme itself.

Let me explain in the least convoluted manner I can:

I’m a very logical writer. That doesn’t mean I organize or write anything down, but I do tend to get most of my ideas from, “If I want this to be true, then this must be true first.”

I also really like proper plot structure. Mostly because I’m lazy enough to want arbitrary rules instead of actually thinking, and spiteful enough for guidelines for me to appropriately screw with them.

I am usually fairly conscious of whatever “theme” I have going on. It helps answer questions for me, like, “How should this end?” (Well, if my point is “Cats rock,” the cat needs to tear the villain’s face off. Clearly.)

So the monster-of-a-novel started with some vague notion about fear—I don’t bother to be too specific early on.

So... that being said, it might not surprise you that I wasn’t really sure of what the plot was for… oh… forty pages. But hey! Captain Criticism! You could say that it was because of this floundering about that made me capable of cutting out a third of the novel.

(You could also say that it was because of this floundering that I needed to cut out a third of the novel, but I guarantee I won’t be listening at that point.)

In any case, per my own process, to determine what plot-based conflict was appropriate, I looked back to what my point was. My point was… something about fear. Thrilling. So that’s when I know I need to be more specific.

But there was one thing I know about fear, having experienced it in far too much abundance; whenever you stick out your chest, suck it up, and barrel forward, you get slapped in the face by whatever you were afraid of. I mean, I don’t care how unlikely it is, you’re irrationally afraid of something happening? The moment you try to overcome it, that shit will happen.

Afraid of shop clerks being assholes? Well, sure, you know that it’s unlikely—it’s their job to be nice to you. So you overcome that bone-crippling shyness, go to their counter and… BAM. In the most ridiculous turn of events he spins around screams, “FUCK YOU.”

I’m not even kidding.

Okay. I’m kind of kidding. I’m exaggerating anyway. But it happens. Whenever you manage to face your fears, you end up facing exactly what you were afraid. And you’re surprised. You knew you were being ridiculous… you managed to talk yourself into getting on the plane because it was so unlikely that it was going to crash. So when you happen to have booked the most hectic, back-assward flight anyone has ever seen, with the plane’s take-off delayed because there’s a “crack in the engine,” then horrible turbulence, then a white-out that forces you to go back to Denver, and you just have to go, “What the goddamn hell?”

Because not only are you back at square one. It’s worse. Before you had some solace in thinking you were crazy. If you could just face your fears… just once, you would be able to realize how ridiculous it was. But, as it turns out, it wasn’t that ridiculous after all. Maybe you still shouldn’t care, but you suddenly realize there are things to be afraid of.

I knew what conflict and stakes would take place in my book. The character—a brainwashed young girl from a religious cult ventures out into a dried-husk of a barren planet—is terrified of the unknown and leaving her comfort zone. The book, in the beginning, gives a sense that the narrator disagrees with her, that she is, in fact, “just wrong.” Those who’ve read it consistently assume her paranoia is just paranoia, that her religion is incorrect, and the exiles are actually the good people. By the point that the protagonist starts to grow comfortable and enjoy the beauty of the world, the readers are like, “Good, girl! It’s not so bad, is it?”

Then BAM.

The readers’ shock at her fears happening made a pivotal point in the story possible. When the audience sees her fear isn’t so ridiculous, it is possible, then it makes them question their assumption that the cult was wrong, and question whether or not Libra, the protagonist, was wrong to believe in it. Throughout the first half of the story, no one likes a man name John—they know his intentions were bad from the start, they knew he was completely capable of hurting the protagonist—the readers just never believed he actually would hurt her. And neither did she.

And that, right there, is my point about fear.

But in all irony, as much as I knew there was the possibility of this philosophy being true—that when you face your fears, you’re opening yourself up to experiencing the worst—I guess I didn’t really believe it. So I a few months ago I opened myself up to my biggest fear. I took a risk, I tried to trust someone, to stop being so paranoid, anti-commitment, and shy, and I immediately found my expectations were abruptly met.

This isn’t about writing, but it could be. I don’t focus on querying, I don’t focus on self-promotion, I don’t put myself out there… for anything. I am so afraid with being honest with what I want that I stay cooped up where it’s safe. But then, one day, I get sick of it. I get sick of being defensive and having walls up and I stand up and say, “I’m going for what I want!”

And BAM.

The truth is I have always been afraid of my emotions. I have always been afraid of revealing what I want, asking for what I need, or depending on others. I have also always believed this was ridiculous, and that the pain of being afraid was far worse than the pain of embarrassment or disappointment.

I was able to open up because I just had no idea how much pain I could be in.

Point is, a story reveals the author’s deep down beliefs, no matter how little he realizes it or even believes it. Nothing says more about you than what you write. Sometimes, it’s important to pay attention. It doesn’t mean that it can change anything, but maybe it’ll take away some of the shock.

Friday, August 22, 2014

When My Toxic College Asked Me For Money

Periodically, my college sends me letters asking me for money. One especially fine day, I received a picture of a beautiful girl with a sob story explaining how my donation could pay for her schooling.

Here was my response:

Dear University of La Verne,

I address this to the entire university, and not just one person, because, having experienced the school system myself, I know that not one person has any control or idea what anyone else is doing.

You have been sending me pleas for money for quite some time now. Keeping in mind that I owe 80,000 dollars to pay for your school which I have just recently graduated from, I cannot believe that you find your dear “Alexis” story convincing to me in the least. She doesn’t have to pay for her schooling? Good for her. I’m glad that she is getting some aid in this hard world. She will need it. Especially with a degree from the University of La Verne.

Now, let me tell you a story about a young student, and how the “positive atmosphere” and “quality, values-based education” led a girl to a great depression during her stay at your school. We’ll call her Eliza, because, close enough.

She is not me. In fact, I didn’t even like her all that much. It’s not that I don’t have my own stories of your positive atmosphere; it’s just that I have enough of other’s to really send it home that no, I am not just being bitter and biased (although those are the feelings the rise whenever I get one of these obnoxious letters). But I think that it goes to show, by the fact that I could be horrified by this event and feel for someone that I personally would be happy to see move to Zimbabwe, I wouldn’t wish your teaching methods on my worst enemy.

Once upon a time there was a young sophomore who had been inspired by our beloved acting teacher to become a playwright and thespian. She transferred from being an English major over to theatre and began the long hard road of what I like to call, “Finding out your idols are there for a paycheck.” She was particularly brash, blunt, and seemingly ignorant on most social cues. I will not say that the theatre department had a particularly normal hierarchy—filled with its sycophants and a great deal of students inflicted with a Peter Pan complex (Much as I imagine your Alexis Wood from Rancho Cucamonga does.)  The professors were only used to Yes Man and avid Game Players. My fellow students at the time were not malicious. On the contrary. I found them to be nice, friendly good people. They were open to all sorts of ideas. Just never their own.

Little Eliza was not much different. She did try to follow trends; she was a mimic. She took on the personality of whomever she nearest to at the time. The problem was she didn’t fully understand the trait she enveloped, meaning she lacked the most important part: charisma. When she was confident, she was arrogant. When she was silly, she was obnoxious. When she and several of her friends took to robbing Barnes and Nobles and leaving the merchandise in the theatre, she was the only one completely baffled as to how she didn’t have the right to do it.

Our professor didn’t like her. Many people didn’t. She had this indignation about her whenever she was not allowed to behave a certain way. Sort of like a three-year-old might. Hence the Peter Pan issue.

There was a class she loved to take. It was called Theatre and the Community, which, I’ll admit, was a fascinating concept. Except Mr. I-Don’t-Like-Conflict never forced the students to meet the requirements he set for them.

The idea was that they’d find a group of people they feel sorry for—excuse me, are “concerned about,” and write a play about them.

The shows often proceeded to be 20 minute diatribes on how their own lives sucked.

Well, you have to give a point for honesty. I’d feel sorry for myself if I were them too.

In any case, it was her second or third time around. She had picked a subject that had, amazingly enough, not been about her, but instead was about the gay population. Keeping in mind that our professor is gay and hates her, we can start to see the beginning of the downward spiral.

The showcase was a whole bunch of made-up “No, it really happened” stories with a tone of, “This kind of sounds about how it would be.” They were varied in quality. Some of them I very much enjoyed. Others I was got cramps from cringing too long.

But in the middle of the creating process process, Eliza had her script promoting gay acceptance. I had read the play, par her request, and I would judge it to be what you might expect from an unpublished writing student. Fine, not fantastic. Obviously not edited, but with some merit. It was not the worst script up there.

Yet our dearly beloved professor took it from her, without telling her, gave it to a fellow student whom he adored but who had absolutely zero writing experience, and told him to “fix” it. This student took the script and proceeded to steal ideas from the internet.

Anyone remember that post about “retaining the sanctity of marriage like Brittany Spears’s 24 hour Vegas jaunt?” I do. And so did he.

Now you might think, and the end of this whole tirade, that that became anticlimactic. I don’t think I pressed it enough. Our teacher, who this student looked up to, took away her script without her permission to punish her for being obnoxious, then gave it to someone else with absolutely no experience to change it. And surprise, surprise. He made it worse. Okay, subjectivity, fine. But plagiarism is pretty cut and dried.

You think I can’t prove he wasn’t doing that to hurt her. Then why was hers the only script to do so? He had people making up off the top of their heads what it felt like to be homeless, introducing weird gimmicks like rubrix cubes to make it “artsy,” spewing out pure gibberish, and just having poor dialogue, and yet hers, which showed some true experienced ability, was the one that was too terrible to be on stage “like that.”

I did learn some lessons from La Verne, however. I learned that the people who are demoralizing you are demoralizing everyone. That professor who is telling you you’ll never amount to anything? He’s saying the exact same thing to everyone else. And you’re lucky if you’re a white male, because he’ll have to get creative. He can’t just depend on you “being too dark,” to prove that you’ll never be an actor. He’ll have to tell you you’re “too fat,” or even “blonde” because “blonde hair doesn’t light as well.”

The worst was not for me. For those who can question authority, we could get out of it. We could consider just how truthful this was, and just how much we cared. Of course, we were outcastes in the cultish nature of the department, but at least we could overcome the demoralization and continue on.

No, the worst part was seeing my friends. People who I thought were talented, who I knew if they put some effort into their work could do great things, were being so completely convinced by these faculty members that they’d just give up. They believed these professors because they looked up to them.

Let me tell you one thing about your “positive atmosphere.” It is a black, bleak, sludge-like atmosphere in which students are in competition with their professors, in which the child-like ways you treat the students—the babying, the pandering, the installation of fear—only fuels their insecurities. You should not have tour guides saying things like, “We have a month-long exchange program for people like me who can’t bear to be away from my family for a long period of time.”

You’re supposed to be giving them courage, bravery, the willingness to explore the world, to tear off the umbilical cord and enter life brazen. Not try to remain in high school for as long as possible. They’re not children anymore, and you need to convince them of that. So your last letter about your new program to pander to their inability to make decisions didn’t impress me either. In fact, I thought it was the exact opposite of the direction you should go.

Do you know how many times I’ve been told, “You’re not ready yet,” in that school? That’s something we tell ourselves. That’s the excuse we tell ourselves. That’s the excuse that prevents us from chasing our dreams. And I got to say, it’s a bad one. You’ll never be ready if you’re waiting until you’re ready. You need experience to improve. You need to do it in order to do it.

And when I asked Honorable Teacher why he cared if students would fail, he always said, “Because they’ll be upset.”

They’ll throw a tantrum? Really? Is that your job? To prevent them from climbing trees on the off chance they’ll fall? No. Let me do my work so you can do yours. I may not be ready yet, but you know how you learn? By trying.

Let me leave you with what your “positive atmosphere” did for me. I wrote every day since I was twelve. Then I went to your school, and it. Just. Stopped.

It was not because your curriculum was “so hard.” You know that. You know that your classes are the same classes we took in high school, or are something that the teachers just made up. You know that the only way to fail was to not show up. You know that the workload at the university is less than what most middle schools see in a day. You know that you are not challenging at all.

I was demoralized. I was depressed, and I was constantly fighting. Sure, my high school teachers had little respect for my abilities, but they didn’t actively try to prevent me from doing what I wanted. They thought the shows I produced there would fail, but they let me do it. And guess what? I overcame their expectations.

When I went to college, however, every time I managed to weasel my way into doing a project I wanted to do, I was met with derision. The best thing I ever got from my teachers was a, “That was cute.” I mostly found, however, them bad mouthing me to other students, trying to convince them that going off on your own and doing your own projects was the work of the devil.

And yet, whenever a potential freshman came in, asking if they could do their own shows, the faculty would smile and point to me, saying, “Sure, she is.”

After graduating, however, I had a dauntless task of trying to bring back the passion. I believed, for a long time, that writing was hard, that it couldn’t be fun. But then, after a year of being in my hometown, working in my theatre, and watching my fellow coworkers, all of whom are at least 10 years older than me, be excited about new projects and opportunities I am introducing to them, I remember that art is supposed to be enjoyable, and, when you are surrounded by people who actually like it, it will be.

This year, I’ve started writing again, just as much as before. Nothing has changed about my life or who I am, except for where I am, who is around me, and the “atmosphere” therein.

Please do not ask me for any more money. Your letters sting me each time I get them, bringing back terrible memories of active demoralization. I will never give the University of La Verne a dime. If I ever make a fortune, I would, perhaps, offer you a good chunk of it, but only if you were to install a 20 foot high plague stating, “This is where dreams go to die.”

If you do decide to not remove me from whatever list you have, or if, as I suspect, someone else also out of the loop deals with your next embarrassing ploy to gouge its alumni, I will just proceed to send another letter in your SASE of the same tone.

I apologize, because I know that you, my reader, have absolutely no say in what happened to me, or, in reality, to yourself there. But I thought I needed to make myself perfectly clear in that the University of La Verne is a past experience that I would like to remain in the past.

Thank you for your time,

Charley Daveler ‘12

Friday, August 15, 2014

Writing for Skimmers

So, I might just be the worst reader in the world. In fact, I like to think I am because it gives me a sense of importance. Many times people ask me to read their work and give them feedback, and I tell them, “I will read this as I am, not as I should be.”

Skimmers can often be excellent readers to have—they tend to give more benefit of the doubt, hear what you mean to say over what you actually said, and like to fill in the blanks. They can also be a pain in the ass because they aren’t actually paying all that much attention, they’re the first people to zone out in a lengthy description, and they love making unpredictable assumptions.

While an author has every right in the world to ignore this type of reader in favor of people who are actually, I don’t know, careful, there are a couple of things he can consider when working with the bastards.

1) We always hear the first sentence in a paragraph and often skip the last.

If the information is imperative and people are missing it, put it in the first sentence in the paragraph. That is the only one a skimmer is guaranteed not to skip. Skipping patterns can change sporadically. Sometimes the reader will read the first sentence, ignore the second, read the third, ignore, and so on and so forth. Sometimes she’ll read the first two and then ignore the middle bit. Sometimes she starts skimming due to content rather than placement, and sometimes she will skip whole paragraphs together. But, in any of these cases, the skimmer knows a paragraph break always indicates an important change. It says, “We are now talking about something else.” Even if it’s still very related, there’s a reason the paragraph is there.

So if readers keep missing something important, consider where the info actually is in the paragraph. By moving it front and center—by that I mean, “front”—it’s very unlikely they’ll skip over it. Although, if they actually understand it, however, is a different matter.

This is why a lot of people suggest having short paragraphs. If you have twelve sentences in two paragraphs, a skimmer might read six. (Half of each paragraph, one-fourth the whole thing). If you have twelve sentences in four paragraphs a skimmer is more likely to read eight (the first sentence plus one more, two-thirds the whole thing.) It is unlikely that a person will read only one sentence in a paragraph before feeling confident they’ve gotten enough information, so if there’s only two or three…

On the other hand, there are certain places where a reader is much more likely to skip. One is in the middle of a long paragraph, but then which sentences specifically have to do with content. The most commonly skipped sentence is the very last one because the reader knows something interesting will probably happen in the first sentence of the next paragraph, and so jumps the gun and goes straight to it.

Skimmers don’t always skip the end, but by the end most skimmers think they “got it” by that point and have moved on.

2) We catch on to patterns and concepts quicker, but are more likely to not notice abrupt changes or contractions to our assumptions.

This issue of “getting it” is a big one. This is why smart kids can be such pains in the asses, and often why they look like colossal idiots. Once people get it, they have a hard time listening, and if you’re quick on the uptake, then you have to wait around for others to have it explained to them, which makes you zone out. This is true in reading, although the reader will just skim worse instead of waiting.

For example:

Susie stepped out on stage, her golden dress clung to her curves, rhinestones glinting in the light. Her glossy blonde hair fell over her shoulders, her shoes click-clacking on the floor…

Translation: She’s beautiful. Got it.

The rest of the paragraph continues on to explain the unique ways in which Susie was beautiful, but honestly, we got it from “curves.” I’d probably read the next sentence to make sure that’s what this paragraph will be about, but for the most part, I’m going to gloss over the rest to see if anything weird pops out and be done with it.

Skimmers can be skimmers because they can catch on to your gist very quickly, and often don’t care what the actual image is. Blonde, beautiful, probably an actress, they are great at picking up small bits of information and putting it together fast, so they don’t see a reason to gather any more details after they think they’ve figure it out.

Which means that if the paragraph shifts points, or even goes so far as to contradict its earlier implications, the skimmer is likely not to notice. If you explain for five sentences that she’s beautiful, then point out she has a dagger up her sleeve, there’s a good chance that’s why I have no idea where the dagger came from in the next paragraph.

What does this mean for you? Only if there’s a problem you’re looking to solve. Are readers missing something important? Do they tell you they’re confused about something you’re perfectly clear about? Look at the sentences before it and see if maybe you’re explaining things they would assume, which is a good reason why they might be tuning out.

3) Variation, variation, variation.

The key to drawing a reader’s eye is variation.

One short sentence in a lot of long ones.

One long paragraph in a lot of short ones.

A weird sentence structure.

A weird word choice.

Comedy in the middle of drama.

A weird object.

A weird fixation on an everyday object.

Telling me things I don’t expect to hear.

The key to grabbing the skimmer’s attention is to do something they don’t expect. It still needs to fit, and not be so noticeable to be jar us completely from immersion, but skimmers constantly look for something unusual. This is exactly why I appreciate clever word choice.

4) We learn from nouns, emotionally absorb verbs, logically notice adverbs, and skip over conjunctions, putting emphasis on prepositions.

Okay, quick lesson: The quick, brown fox jumped carelessly onto the author’s keyboard.

Nouns: Person, place or thing. Fox, author, keyboard.

Verbs: It’s what you do. Jumped.

Adjectives: Describes a noun. Quick, brown.

Adverbs: How you do what you do. Carelessly.

Prepositional phrase: Anything you can do to a tree. Onto.

Conjunctions: Pretty much anything else, or, when it doubt, just assume it is. (Yes, that’s the technical definition. Quit asking.)

When writing for the skimmer, remember that your verbs are the most important part of the sentence. That’s the one thing the skimmer is guaranteed to get his information from. Adverbs change the cadence and the point of the sentence. Skimmers are likely to notice them, but if they contradict the skimmer’s assumption, the skimmers are also likely to be jarred. So, an adverb should either enhance the verb in a non-noticeable manner, or be the most important part of the sentence, making sense why it has all the attention drawn to it.

Put most of your atmosphere, tone, and language in the nouns and verbs, because that’s what the skimmer will remember most.

A cat walked down the alley.

A feline crept through the shadows.

If the atmosphere is in the adjectives they will be less likely to notice the nuance, and if it’s in the adverbs, it will sound like you’re insisting it’s true rather than proving it.

5) I have no idea what your characters’ names are.

Characters’ names, things’ names, big words, anything I don’t recognize, I skip over and just keep going. This means that no, I probably won’t remember who Jimmy is sixteen pages later, I have no idea how to pronounce K’aftken out loud (even Ada probably), and if you explain to me what HRM stands for, I still won’t know what HRM stands for a paragraph later.

The good news is I won’t be as tripped up by not knowing things, and I’ll give you ample time to clarify it for me. I am far more likely and willing to figure things out for myself before I’ll admit to being confused. But it also means that you might have to redescribe someone by a characteristic other than just his name, and you might want to refrain from any acronyms if you can help it, and always name your characters something interesting with different first letters.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I am a Hypocrite

When my friend returned from his mission (you know, that Mormon thing where they dress like accountants and learn how to say “Hello, my name is Elder Price and I would like to share with you the most amazing book,” in four different languages), we hadn’t heard a word from each other in over two years. He had, of course, sent his emails but punctuation. Seriously, man, I’ll read about your life when it involves periods. And, no, that’s not a feminism thing.

Of course, when I picked him up and we sat in the car for the first time together, we realized we had absolutely nothing to talk about. So the first thing my companion did was bring up the past. Actually the first thing he did was tell me I looked good then looked at me expectantly until I got it.

Oh. You look good too.”

It was about a 20 minute silence.

But the past came up and we started chatting about memories I’d long repressed. We were much nicer to each other that first day back than we had ever been in our entire relationship, and only a few passive-aggressive quips were made. Sentimentalism I guess. Somehow we got onto the topic of admiration, in which my friend told me, “I love how you never care what other people thought of you.”

And I just laughed and laughed and laughed.

The truth was, I didn’t. I had a blind confidence in myself that, to me, proves ignorance is bliss. I was far more obnoxious, alienated myself more, but really did what I wanted. And I remember being happy. I remember actually sitting there thinking, “I can’t believe I feel this happy.”

I met conflict indignantly. Someone told me I was incapable of doing something, I proved them wrong. I was far better at making friends, much more productive, and could bulldoze even the toughest of teachers.

Too bad I was producing crap.

See, the problem with not giving a shit about what other people think is you don’t keep up appearances. I could see no merit in playing the game, and so would often turn in scribbled out paintings to contests, then feel like the reason I got third place was because I was “too weird” for those damn traditionalists.

College changed everything. I became more aware of the people around me, I became far more aware of how respect comes from appearances, and I realized how “quality” sometimes is just about playing the rules.

Of course the questions became which ones.

I lost my confidence, my certainty in my knowledge. My black and white mentality drained away, and I was left with questioning everything, all the time.

Plus, we had the added benefit of me realizing that I was an irrationally shy person.

Apparently when you grow up in a small town, you can be completely unaware that you hate strangers.

My confidence disappeared. It’s not that I didn’t see value in myself—on the contrary, I can be quite the narcissist—It was that I didn’t know how to portray my real self to others. There was so much room for misinterpretation (often which people did deliberately), so much room to show a small, less appealing side of myself at an imperative moment, that I shut down. I was getting sick of fighting, I was getting sick of putting in all this energy to create plays, books, art, and everything else I worked day and night on, just to have some stranger stand in my way because I accidentally said the wrong thing in front of him a year ago. And, as ridiculous as it sounds, that shit happened.

I developed my fear. It was all encompassing, exhausting to overcome, and every time I tried, I got little to no reward. It was—is—so much easier to just avoid the confrontation. I tucked away, started to only work on independent projects—things I never needed to depend on anyone else for, because, honestly, so many people would bail—and began to isolate myself.

So where does the hypocrisy come into play?

I dated my ex for four years. It was great, and he was a fantastic boyfriend. The reasons we broke up were just the “sum of its parts” sort of thing—a bunch of little things that added up and made me realize that what I wanted in life conflicted with what he did.

But, unfortunately, one of the main things came down to fear. He never had an adventurous nature, and I wanted to. I did, in fact, but it was often hard for me to take the first step, to take that risk, and to be with someone who enabled me to keep hiding, I realized I would never be able to overcome the safe-funk I had been in.

I was so irritated at the people around me who much preferred to accept their problems than to change them. Some of my classmates would often watch an issue evolving in front of them, but refused to act until it was too late to change anything. Only then could they get mad. Then they’d complain. They’d bitch and moan, but they would never act, never try to change anything.

After four years of dating, my ex still had the same complaints, the same problems. At times with the same exact people. His friends continued to screw him in the exact same manner for four years, and he had never done anything to fix it.

We rarely fought, but when we did, I learned there was no solution other than to not care. Or even if it had nothing to do with me, I couldn’t help him when he was hurt. He, on some level, liked being miserable. If I tried to fix the problem, he’d just seethe deeper into his mood. I often had the thought, “You’re not even trying to feel better.” I judged him for it. Anyone who didn’t try to make themselves happy couldn’t be helped.

You see where I’m going with this.

For the last couple of years, I allowed my social anxiety to control me. Now, I’ll be the first to slap any idiot who thinks social anxiety is solved by the Power of Positive Thinking, but I will say this: When I try, I can pass as relatively normal. When I try to function, I can.

It’s just so much easier not to bother.

I’ve been wanting to take more risks for the past few years. I had all of these goals and ambitions that I refused to even actually consider. They involved talking to people, making new friends, propositioning strangers… phone calls. Delving into the unknown with little ability to predict how it will turn out.

For the last few months, in which I was completely capable of breaching out, getting out of dodge, and doing the things I always thought I wanted to do, instead of acting, I just stopped fantasizing. My ambition dropped the moment I didn’t have a distant deadline to protect me. I became less productive than I have ever been since the age of twelve.

Now is the perfect time for me to make a decision. At the end of November, I’ll have no job. I have been slowly weaning myself off of the extra theatre work, so I’m under no obligation to any of the playhouses. I have my cat, but no one else I have to take into consideration. My friends have all moved away. I own no property or anything that requires maintenance. I am about as free as I’ll ever get.

And I want to move. I want to get out of dodge, meet new people, fresh faces. I want to take chase the things I care about. I want to trust that I actually want what I want, and go back to the high school days where I have no doubt I can get it.

I know that my biggest flaw is this fear, that any of the failure I’ve had in the past year is due to this fear more than anything else. Fear has made me make the worst decisions, prevented me from going after what I wanted, made me refuse opportunities that I really wanted, and embarrassed me more than anything else has.

I’m at a crossroads. I have to decide where I want to live, what I want to do with my day job, what kind of lifestyle I expect to have, and basically every other question you can have in your life. I am restricted to nothing, the world is my oyster.

So why am I so afraid?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Fifteen Books I Need to Read Before I Move

So for the last couple of weeks I’ve been looking around at the stuff I can get rid of so I don’t have to pack it. It’s been a trying experience. Canvasses? Too expensive. Fabric? Too pretty. Clothes? Ha. Video games? DVDs? Not planning on paying for television, so that’s a big not gonna happen. Furniture? Well, sure, I could go with a little living on the floor I suppose, surrounded by piles of my crap.

But as I looked around at all my absolutely necessary junk my eyes drop on an obvious demon in my path. My book case. Or should I say, book cases.

They take up a lot of room. I’m a big tree killer, and I love reading print books, and buying them rather than getting them from the library. A part of that is me fighting for my fellow authors, but a bigger part of that is I think they’re pretty, and looks always get me. I can’t pass a mirror without losing half an hour out of my day.

As I glanced through the shelves, I realized that there’s a lot that I’ve been packing around for the last few years and it’s just… not really necessary.

I set out to rid myself of the slack. I removed of all the books I’ve read and knew that I wasn’t going to read again, all the ones I thought I should read, but really wasn’t going to happen, and put the books that I knew and loved (or were just so damn attractive I couldn’t possibly dismiss them) aside in one remaining shelf to keep.

But then I found myself with a problem. There, across my bed and my cat, was a pile of questionables. They weren’t books I wanted to keep, but they were ones that I wanted to read, and, by the means in which I read, I really benefited from not having the mere two weeks a library would offer. I owned them now, I should read them now. And then get rid of them.

So my answer was simple. I’d read them all before I left, and then I wouldn’t have to pack them with me. “Which books were they?” you yawn? Oh, let me tell you.

1. Game of Thrones.

What is it?

Fantasy novel, about 800 pages in length. Lots of death and sex.

Why I want to finish it before I go:

            It’s not mine. The book belongs to my brother and needs to be returned. And I definitely want to read it; I’ve gotten really into it. Plus, if I wait until post-move, I will have forgotten everything and need to read the first 500 pages again and I might never get through it.

How far I’ve gotten:

            Further than half way.

Why I haven’t read it by now:

            Game of Thrones is told in multiple points of views, and some of the characters I just can’t be forced to listen to. I’m reading along intently, devouring every word, and then, BAM Caitlyn. Go die, Caitlyn. So I decide I’m done for the night, and I continue to be done for several nights afterwards. And, this last month, I’ve gotten a negative association with the series, and picking it up brings up bad thoughts—it’s not a cheery book anyway. So I’ve been kind of avoiding it.

2. The Host

What is it?

Young adult, science fiction/romance novel. Aren’t they all? Aliens burrow into everyone’s head save for the one girl who didn’t have enough of a personality to get it taken away.

Why I want to finish it before I go:

            Also not mine. And as a fair-weather fan of Stephanie Meyer, I feel like once I get into it, I would probably enjoy it. The parts I’ve read so far were fine. And honestly, analyzing and picking apart Meyer’s works has always been a blast for me. Mostly because everyone knows what you’re talking about and has an opinion on it, which is rare in books.

How far I’ve gotten:

            First hundred pages.

Why I haven’t read it by now:

            That’s the thing. I don’t even know. I remember thinking it was fine, and I got past my anti-commitment stretch, so I should have finished it in a day and been done with it. But no. It didn’t bore the hell out of me, but apparently, there wasn’t enough going on for me to keep going with it.

3. American Gods

What is it?

Neil Gaiman’s urban fantasy novel. Man gets released from prison to lose everything he cares about and then… magic happens. That’s as far as I’ve gotten.

Why I want to finish it before I go:

            Actually, this is a book that I kinda just want a reason to commit to. I love Neil Gaiman, and people have boasted about this book, so I believe that if I can just devote myself to it, I’ll probably like it. I doubt that I’ll be giving this copy up, because it was given to me as the most romantic gesture I’ve ever gotten from a guy trying to win me over. Nothing happened—his sentimentality was ruined by the fact that he lived a thousand miles away meaning it was an attempt at a quick lay, but I have to say that giving me a Neil Gaiman book is probably the best way to almost get it.

How far I’ve gotten:

            Fifty pages.

Why I haven’t read it by now:

            Don’t really know what I’m hoping for. Shadow’s life sucks at this point in time, and I don’t see it as getting any better. I know it will, and that it will involve magic, but where I am, he’s just lost what’s important to him, won’t ever get it back, and yet kinda just has to get over it. There’s not even horrible things happening to make me want him to get back to the status quo.

4. Insurgent

What is it?

Sequel to Divergent, a Young Adult dystopian novel. A girl lives in a society segregated by personalities, but apparently she has more than one trait, which is just unacceptable.

Why I want to finish it before I go:

            Also not mine. And I read the first one, I feel obliged to read the second one. Actually, when I finally got into Divergent, I did finish it in one day, which is my main test to see how I like something. If I can’t put it down, then there’s something there, whether I’m logically satisfied or not. I consider how long it took me to get to the absorption point before I was engrossed, and I figured it would be the same with the sequel. I’ll like it eventually.

How far I’ve gotten:

            Zero pages.

Why I haven’t read it by now:

            I love Veronica Roth’s blog, and so take what I’m going to say in that vein, I also didn’t really understand what made me be so engrossed. There wasn’t anything about it that made me excited. I found out about the series via Goodreads one-star reviews, and so already know how the trilogy ended. I don’t care too much about the characters, and a big reason I think is simple existentialism.

5. The Devil Wears Prada.

What is it?

Contemporary novel the movie was based on, but lacking the character arch of said movie. (Not even kidding, the commentary told me they added her change in.) A young idiot struggles trying to be competent in her first ever job, which is the hardest job anyone will ever have ever.

Why I want to finish it before I go:

            Not mine, and I loved the movie. I also love bitching about this book.

How far I’ve gotten:

            One-third through.

Why I haven’t read it by now:

            The main character is so stupid. I mean it. She’s a colossal idiot. And she’s not supposed to be. I cannot stand her, and while I meet a lot of characters I find dull, there’s not a great deal that I actually hate. She’s the winner.

6. The Lies of Locke Lamora

What is it?

I guess I would classify it as a fantasy, but it’s not the typical swords and dragons, and I’m not sure if there even is magic yet. Orphan boy joins other orphan boys in dark, horrible world. I haven’t really gotten that far.

Why I want to finish it before I go:

            I read the first couple of pages, and I loved it. I’ve read the bad reviews and I think it’s going to be fantastic. It has the possibility of being a favorite book that requires keeping, but that may be my wishful thinking, and I’d liked to find out now if I should lug it around.

How far I’ve gotten:

            Page, like, five.

Why I haven’t read it by now:

            Other books took priority. The Lies of Locke Lamora is great because it’s not dense or trying, but not simple and fluffy either. Unfortunately, I tend to either go for really simple or the damn hard books that I’ve been avoiding-for-years these days. I don’t feel required to read it other than I want to, so I haven’t.

7. Crescendo

What is it?

Sequel to Young Adult romance novel, Hush, Hush. It’s about angels, and one who falls in love with a human despite wanting to kill her.

Why I want to finish it before I go:

            Loved the second half of the first book, Hush, Hush. Don’t judge me. This one is also borrowed from a friend, and I’m certainly will not be paying for it after I leave. I also will not be seen checking it out from the library. No, this shame is saved for blogging—but I trust it’s just between us.

How far I’ve gotten:

            Sample chapters in the last book.

Why I haven’t read it by now:

            So, I try not to criticize bo—
            Ahem. I couldn’t even get that one out. I’m sorry.
            I try not to place absolute labels of quality on books because I like diversity, and sometimes simple fluff is all I damn well want, and I know for a fact that, as a writer, tapping into your inner desires like that is hard work that shouldn’t be discouraged just because we prioritize philosophy over fantasy.

            But after I read a scene where class started, the characters talked for a few pages in real time and then class ended, I couldn’t deny that that was a huge editing mistake, and I couldn’t trust it again. Add that with the fact that I did not find Patch sexy at all in the beginning, but actually wanted to kick his ass (and I like jackasses), I’m not entirely confident in the sequel, despite having my hopes.

8. The Name of the Wind

What is it?

Fantasy book following a great hero and how he became the humble innkeeper he is today.

Why I want to finish it before I go:

            My brother owns it. I have heard so many people praising this book, telling me that, while “there’s some boring parts in the middle,” it is amazing and their favorite story ever. I feel like if I don’t read it now, I never will.

How far I’ve gotten:

            First hundred pages.

Why I haven’t read it by now:

            I got pretty far, but then I reached a point where I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for. The storyline is deliberately vague about who the main character is, and the questions raised are so unanswerable at this juncture, there’s not really a point to think about it. It’s getting into world building and background story, but the protagonist doesn’t really have anything he wants that I want too.

9. The Mortal Instruments Series.

What is it?

Young Adult urban fantasy/romance books. A  young girl finds out she’s actually a member of a demonic fighting institution. Has a movie based on it.

Why I want to finish it before I go:

            I’ve read Cassandra Clare’s other books, The Infernal Devices and I fell in love with them. I read the trilogy in three days, only stopping to go borrow and then buy the next book. (I live in Wyoming and “going to town” is a process, so it becomes a once a day trip, no matter how exasperated you are.)
            I bought the first book of this series on my iPad, which adds to the necessity. I’ve frickin’ paid for it, I guess I better read it. Especially because it’s the virtual kind and I can’t even write it off as decoration. (Which, in hindsight, may be what got me into this mess.) The second and third books, however, my friend owns, and I’m not frickin’ paying for those. I think I’ll like it, but not enough to own it if I don’t have to, or deal with the library.

How far I’ve gotten:

            I don’t know. Fifty pages?

Why I haven’t read it by now:

            Already saw the movie. Liked it fine, but now I know the plot, and it’s not the kind that’s really all that rereadable. Romance hasn’t started in yet. Don’t care yet. Clary is an idiot in a generic sort of way, and I’m really struggling to find the motivation.

10. Prince of Thorns.

What is it?

Not really sure. Fantasy of some sort.

Why I want to finish it before I go:

            I have it. My brother said it was good. That’s all I know.

How far I’ve gotten:

            NO WHERE.

Why I haven’t read it by now:

            I have way too many other books I’m not reading taking up all my effort.

11. The Throne of Glass.

What is it?

I don’t know if it’s classified as Young Adult, but it certainly reads like it. The greatest assassin ever is freed from jail and brought to earn her freedom by challenging other criminals in a battle royale. Or something.

Why I want to finish it before I go:

            I, honest to God, have not one single clue. It has a pretty cover. I mean, damn, that’s a pretty cover, and I have been fooled into trying to convince myself that something pretty will improve if I just commit more. It’s a curse.

How far I’ve gotten:

            Far enough.

Why I haven’t read it by now:

            It bites like a rabid monkey. Yes, the bad reviews tried to warn me, but they’re always so wrong.
            I don’t really want anything to happen yet. The main character doesn’t really want anything to happen either. And, low and behold, nothing has happened.
            I think the moment that took the cake was, however, when she asked for some books to read. Now, in Young Adult fiction making your character a bookworm is equivalent to slapping a name tag with “COOL” written in bright red letters and leaving it at that. But that doesn’t bother me as much as the snotty attitude towards certain writing styles. Many Young Adult books enjoy raving about the classics and hypocritically implying the sheer superiority of the “intellectual” based books over the emotionally charged ones. Throne of Glass does the opposite in which the two characters bond over the arrogance of any complicated prose. Annnnd we’re done.

12. Douglas Adams Biography.

What is it?

If that wasn’t self-explanatory, I don’t know what self-explanatory means.

Why I want to finish it before I go:

            I love Douglas Adams, I love author’s biographies. But it’s big, and I don’t think I’m ever going to read it again.

How far I’ve gotten:

            First couple of pages.

Why I haven’t read it by now:

            Sloooooooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwww start. I know, a biography? Right? Feel free to be skeptical.

13. The Night Circus.

What is it?

Dark Victorian fantasy in which two wizards pit their children against each other, and I guess it all happens at a circus. Or something.

Why I want to finish it before I go:

            I was really into it for a while. I see myself really into it again. It just requires more effort than I’m putting in.

How far I’ve gotten:


Why I haven’t read it by now:

            It’s another game of hating the characters we’re now suddenly following. Bratty children, cold and personality-less socialites. Get back to the protagonists please, before I brain myself with this book.

14. Crossed.

What is it?

Sequel to Young Adult dystopian novel, Matched. The world is highly controlled, including choosing who you are going to marry. The main character fell in love with another, and he got taken away. Now she has to find him.

Why I want to finish it before I go:

            The first book, Matched, ended on a note that really made me interested in the second book. I needed to see what would happen.

How far I’ve gotten:

            Thirty pages.

Why I haven’t read it by now:

            What I wanted to see happen? Hasn’t even really started yet. I don’t get to see the two lovers together, and I think, if I remember right from the reviews, I’m not going to see them together for a long time. I’m struggling to care.

15. The Way of Kings.

What is it?

Fantasy book. Not really sure what it’s about yet.

Why I want to finish it before I go:

            My brother’s, and I was really into what I had read so far.

How far I’ve gotten:

            Couple of chapters.

Why I haven’t read it by now:

            Way too easy to put down and forget about.

So, there you have it. I have three months to get them done, thousands of pages and tens of pounds later, I shall fill my head, lighten my load, and not feel so damn guilty about being such a quitter. Pray for me.