Monday, September 12, 2016

People Don’t Know the Effect of Their Words

I fled my home today with nothing but a computer and a broken iPhone at my side.

I’ve never been productive writing around other people, and this summer has been extra hard due to having no real space of my own.

After moving back to the States from Australia, I desperately needed to replenish my savings, and so took advantage of the tourist season in my hometown. Not only would it make sense to live with my parents for financial reasons, our newspaper is all ablaze with issues of the housing crisis. There is no place to leave here even if I had been looking.

Unfortunately, my room and my cat have taken to their new resident, a family friend visiting our lovely town for a time, and I have been exiled to our R.V.

Fine, but the space is cramped, you can’t sit up in bed, and it’s filled with junk, so even perching at the table proves difficult. The darkness can zap me of my energy—it’s parked in a garage—and it just doesn’t lend to the sprawling out I need to do.

Working in the living room, as all family writers know, is impossible. If you have time to goof around writing, you could be doing something useful!

Okay, my family has typically been far more supportive than that. We all just have the problem of wanting things done on our time, needing help when we want to do it, and not being ashamed of asking for assistance if someone is handy. The only viable excuse, it seems, is when a cat has ordained to sit on your lap, then you’re practically an invalid. Might as well take a bell.

I’ve been working anywhere from 10 to 14 hour days, and last week it went up to five days instead of four. I spend a great deal of my time sleeping, and have struggled to get any other projects in before I pass out from exhaustion, just to go back to work again.

I have a great deal of deadlines coming up, not to mention that I’m moving across country in less than a month.

So, while I’m sitting in my living room, trying to write, my father brings in an obnoxious, good ole country boy who brags about how he walked into a gathering for some political party and harassed them until he got kicked out. How dare they? Can’t they have an intellectual conversation? The nerve.

I hate people who think everyone should allow them to act like an asshole, that getting kicked out or ignored has nothing to do with their attitude, but the problem of those being harassed clearly being wrong.

As I’m trying to concentrate, he walks by and shouts at me, “Smile, honey!” to which I send him my most hate-filled look I could muster.

“Or not,” he smirks.

To understand why I’m feeling violated would require me to fully illustrate the issue of ad nausem, and I’m not sure I can do it in a short number of words. Suffice to say, men telling me to smile is a constant attack, and even when done out of benign desire for conversation, to have it stated in my personal space while I’m concentrating caused a tear in my emotional state.

Let’s not deny the fact that men get a special pleasure from a woman’s smile. Despite its friendly surface, the request is sexual in nature, which is invasive coming from a stranger. No woman has ever said that to me. And, even if it wasn’t intended as a sexual comment, it is still criticizing your personal appearance, no different than having someone you don’t know flatly informing you you shouldn’t wear that shirt. Thank you for your unsolicited opinion of what I should do with myself? Oh? It would make you like me better? Well, that might encourage you to talk to me more, and as you can plainly see, I’m working, asshat. You’re already talking to me more than I wanted, and that’s without being approachable.

I’ve been getting harassed quite a bit lately, and it always comes at unexpected times. Moreover, the men who upset me don’t realize the effect of their words. Sometimes they should, such as in the case of the guy who started cussing me out after I implied that he was being annoying (“Yes?” I said to his weeks of “Hey. Hey. Hi.”) When I later told him he was a jerk, he was absolutely stunned, and argued with me whether or not he was mad while asking me, “What the fuck is your problem?”

“I wasn’t mad. I can say that without being mad.”

“Pretty rude for a calm person.”

“Well, now I feel like shit.”

Or the man who asked if I wanted to go with a group after a workshop at a writers conference, and when I told him I would have to see how tired I was, he sent me no less than five texts and two calls before it ended to see if I had my answer. They hadn’t even gotten there yet.

They didn’t do these things because they thought, “This is a dickish thing to do, but I’m doing it anyway!” That's the worst part. They didn’t think about how they were making me feel, taking my needs or present state of mind into consideration when acting; they just responded impulsively to their current desires. If more men read my body language, my reactions, and gauge my feelings better, and used that knowledge we wouldn’t have to deal with this conflict as much. Or if they could even take a straightforward request to stop doing something seriously and well, that’d be great too, but enough don’t that being openly offended is more problematic than just sucking it up. Women would do much better if men sensed boundaries without her having to look like an ass by insulting him. Men would do much better if they learned to pick up on subtle signals of rejection or flirtation. They’re not incapable; it’s a learned skill these individuals haven’t bothered with, possibly because women hide how hurtful, annoying, disconcerting, or aggravating they’re being for the sake of peace.

So it doubles the importance of refraining from telling a woman to stop expressing her true emotional state in favor of a prettier one.

We all make stupid comments and idiotic decisions, but why is it that men’s interest comes off as so territorial? Why does the daily plea for a woman’s attention make us feel unsafe, helpless, weak? Why is that even though we can send a man running, it's not satisfying? Fleeing ourselves is the better choice? Possibly because if we react strongly, he’ll have no idea where we’re coming from. Just like the “liberal dumbasses” who kicked out a large, aggressive man secretly looking for a fight, I’m sure a woman who flipped out on him saying, “I’m working, not trying to pick up men,” is nothing more than a crazy, premenstrual bimbo.

I tried to swallow my anger, feeling invaded in my own home, when my brother—working with the other men on an outside project—made a passive-aggressive comment about the bathroom not being clean.

My father had already demanded I do it several times that day. I told him I would see if I could get to it; I had things I needed to get done. He lectured me that he too had work, to which I stated pointed out that because of his project, he didn’t prioritize any house chores either. Today was one of the two days this week I could my deadlines done—my webcomic, my newsletter, my blog, this month’s Storyof the Wyrd, plus any writing, editing, sewing, painting, and reading I wanted to work on either.

Is housework important? Yes. Who should do it? Well, that’s a bigger question, but had I been out working on ‘real work,’ I’m sure my father and my brother wouldn’t have taken the opportunity of my existence to badger me into doing it. I’m certainly sure if I had my own space to hide in, I wouldn’t have been brought to tears in frustration of the man who decided that he would tell me what I should do with my face in my own house while I was already struggling to stay focused.

To be clear, I am not accusing my father or brother of being sexist, and the distribution of chores is something to be discussed in any living situation. Perhaps our problem is that we need to better communicate what we all are doing with our days, who prioritizes what, and how often things should be done by everyone's agreement. But I’m tired, leaving soon, and am too bitter for that kind of maturity right now.

I still feel violated, stressed out without a safe place for my things to be left alone, to organize at my will, and to get my work done without being bothered. As I near the end of my work schedule—more and longer shifts being piled on until my last day—and think about all of the changes I’m about to make, I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t have any clue where I’ll be living, with who, or what I’ll be doing, how I’ll be feeling, how quickly I can acclimate. It makes it harder, I think, having no idea when I’ll have real space to call my own, to feel safe, to be away from the micromanagers who try to dictate my life.

I’m sitting in the library, jumping at the heavy breathing an older gentleman makes behind me, leering at his computer… until he blows his nose and I realize he just has cold. I can’t easily shake the feeling of being chased out, or the anger. Writing takes a great deal of concentration, and even sitting in a pleasant, well-lit public area isn’t the same. I know I won’t be hit on here in the quiet—maybe in the parking lot, probably not. Maybe at work tomorrow. Maybe the day after that. Maybe not for a month. Maybe too. I know most men are going to leave me alone. I know that asshole was just trying to be friendly, and I know the next asshole will be too.

What I don’t know is when it will come. From who. Or how I can let him know that he’s invading my space and is the one who needs to get the hell out.

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Friday, September 9, 2016

No More Talking Heads!

by Charley Daveler

The hexalogy I’m reading gave me a few epiphanies between the migraines:

I like series.

I have to admit that a part of me agrees with the naysaying of the masses in thinking series are LESS SERIOUS than stand-alones. But I always knew the snobbery was nothing more than just that, and even though I find some sequels to be written for the sole reason of money grubbing, I don’t think the judgment is founded overall.

I like the idea of following the same characters for long periods of time, and I even love how this hexaology features so many different series set in the same world. What I don’t like is when the series contradicts or alters the setting to suit its needs in subsequence story lines, which, bonus, I didn’t see a lot of in my current reading. Some sequels ruin the original, true enough. I don’t like that. At. All. But when it comes to delving deeper and deeper into the same world and characters, something appeals to me right at my core.

I haven’t written a series as of yet, unless you count Stories of the Wyrd, and writing an expansive storyline would be time consuming. Due to my dwindling rate of productivity in the last few years, I’m not sure I would be willing to commit like that unless I had a publisher and lasting fans behind me.

In the hexalogy, I find myself wanting to like it, wanting to read all of her writing set in the world, but I don’t consider the setting to be very well developed or interesting. I never picture the scenes or physics well, or ever find myself wondrous at all her allegedly wondrous items. They all seem generic magical equipment, and the few original choices don’t have a lot of clear rules and development to them.

If I were to do a series, it would have to be in a thoroughly developed setting.

I don’t like ebooks.

Burn me at the stake if you will, but I’m not saying it for the attention. When I dedicated myself to the series back at the beginning of the summer, I had zero dollars to my name to spend on books. So I went to my friendly public library to retrieve the third installment and found it sorely lacking. However, it was offered to me through their ebook program, and I checked out the next three through them.

Reading proved difficult and tedious, a chore. There were obvious, plot-related reasons for that, but something didn’t occur to me until I bit the bullet and decided to get the last story from the bookstore instead. As I started to read, I found myself comprehending more, being more excited for its beautiful cover and the thrill of having something substantial in my hands. I have been speeding through it faster than I did any of the others, and I guarantee at least some of it has to do with the medium.

Would I burn the world of Kindles? No. I don’t denounce ebooks any more than I did before, but the truth is, for me, there’s a difference between reading on a screen and on a page.

Yet, most importantly, I realized…

No more talking heads and off-screen action!

A while back I read a comment by a novelist-turned-comic writer. He and his friend set off on a new endeavor to create a graphic novel and realized within the first five scripts all they had were talking heads.

I became painfully aware of my own Talking Head Syndrome as I worked on a scene from MightyMorphin’ Canine Powers where I had to find more interesting visuals as two characters engaged in a conversation.

Then, as I read along in the hexalogy, asking myself why this didn’t interest me, I found the story itself wasn’t boring, but the way the information was being delivered was.

She had great, fantastical events that were told to us during the aftermath. The battle scenes were epic in scope, but not in magnitude. Explained from the perspective of the main characters (who wouldn’t die) fighting “fodder,” the destruction and stakes in war and battle didn’t cause impact. The loss was discussed, but seemed distance—it happened to them not us. Many times someone would appear to detail the events to the protagonists, or the protagonists themselves would come rushing in to state what had occurred while the reader was away.

Most of the hexalogy sits in calm moments, plot points interspersed with daily teenage drama, except the sort is handled well and maturely with no questioning of morality or toxic relationships. Good and evil are concretely separated, and all of the myriad of “good guys” react in appropriate, non-petty ways. On the rare occasion they do make a mistake, it is tailored to be forgivable, and they never have to face the ramifications of their betrayal permanently. The scene of forgiveness comes with a whimper and not a bang—they discuss their feelings logically and are reunited without having to embarrass themselves.

I’m finishing up a manuscript started and abandoned back in 2014. The end is nigh—hopefully I only have 10-20,000 more words, and if I work on it daily, draft one should be complete weeks before I move in October.

Upon picking up the last book in the hexalogy, I adamantly decided, “No more talking heads.” All major events should be revealed with trumpets, happiness should be rife with humor and envy-inducing bonding, and any calm moments should be quick and to the point. Scenes should change things between each of the characters—for the better or for the worse—and the effects of what came before still visible as the plot goes on. That was my goal.

Then I picked up the manuscript I had put aside for a while and found myself right in the middle of… talking heads.

I could try to artificially insert an event or an emotional reaction, spinning what I had planned for the oncoming scenes to something new, but I decided, instead, being so close to the conclusion—the penultimate moment—I would finish up the conversation as is and wait until draft two to consider what to do about it.

Talking heads are easy. Discussion is controlled by the characters; conversation propels the scene forward. One reaction begets another, and even if you don’t know where the scene is going, the natural agency of words will force it to continue on. Events tend to happen to characters, and it’s hard for the author to allow a character to do something the writer knows what end well, something that will cause the conflict we all avoid in life.

So, talking heads.

This is why people want you to outline. It is easier to avoid a scene of sheer discussion when you already know what’s going to happen, though sheer discussion can help things occur organically.

In any case, I shut my characters up after what was important was said, pushing them to arrive at the castle where the final scene will take place. It helped me transition, and I assume that while I’ll have to change it in the first round of revision, talking heads, it seems, can help in understanding what the book is about.

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Monday, September 5, 2016

I Write Better When I Pretend I’m a Writer

Don’t give me that, “But you are a writer,” bullshit. I know.

What I don’t know is why the label means so much to many of us, why getting to the point of saying it can be so difficult, and why the fear of people’s reactions can cause our stomachs to clench by the mere mention of the word—even though I have been on the receiving end of a, “Are you now?” smirk enough to know what I’m afraid of.

I learned a trick back in college where I heard an actor explain just how different the commitment to “presentation” helped him in “mind over matter” of getting disgusting jobs done. By perceiving himself as ‘an actor,’ he could pretend what he was doing ‘wasn’t real,’ and therefore desensitize himself to it.

Sometimes I use this to choke down food. There have been many times in my life when I do not want to eat and find that by “playing the part” of a diner, I am able to get it down without my body gagging in disgust.

And sometimes, when my manuscripts are causing reflux, I will sit up, focus, and play the part of being a writer, just to get that shit done.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve struggled to write or blog—or really do anything than sleep and work. Partially, it’s the lack of routine and 12 to 14 hour days that get me; I’m completely fine while doing the deed, but the second I get home, I crash. I intentionally asked for three a.m. so that when I got home, there would be plenty of daylight hours to get shit done. Doesn’t work when you’ve turned into a bat.

I leave in a little over a month for New York City. My job has less than four weeks left, and my plan to buff up my bank account has worked well. I’ve picked up the violin again and was shocked to realize that “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” is still in my rapport. The E string also makes my cat come out from his hiding place, so at least something will. I’m almost finished with that damn trilogy turned hexalogy I’ve been struggling reading since… forever, and have found a couple of T.V. shows I actually enjoy. I made my first Etsy sale last weekend, started my newsletter, and have hopefully embarrassed myself enough to get my beloved coat back from Arizona where I left it. Things have been going better at least, and I feel a lot of the stress and anger subsiding.

But I’m surprised how much my hand fought me opening a word document today. I finally have some time to write, and I even needed to post a blog today! Blogs have always been easy for me, stream-of-conscious drivel that pours from my psyche, so I’m usually stoked to write one. I have a lot of things to say to myself. But today, and over the last few weeks, blogging has been impossible. I’ve held no interest in it, and even now I’m over thinking how not to be boring or bossy. (BUT I MUST BE ME!)

Point being, the habit of writing makes writing easier. Skipping a day always screwed me, skipping weeks have been worse.

In attempts to procrastinate, I’ve gone back into my folder of finished, but never posted, blogs, to find over 71 pieces finished since 2013. How the hell did I manage that?

There’s a reason they went into that folder instead of going up; each of them I found at the time of writing to be closed-minded, boring, angry, or bossy, not suitable for the internet. Or rather, perfectly able to get along there, but we don’t need any more of that.

They’re not as bad as I thought, though. Some of it clearly had to do with self-loathing or nerves. I’ve been going through and editing, and hopefully will have some suitable for the oncoming months as I move. It's possible that in October and November you'll be seeing some old pieces as I gather my life together.

My plans to submit my manuscript finally in August have fallen through, and I’m not sure if sending it out right before I leave for New York is a great plan or a terrible one. On the one side, I won’t be able to fixate on refreshing my email (or avoiding it), on the other side, 40 hours of driving gives me a lot of time to think.

I still need at least one more read through and to re-examine my list, so that might answer that.

Today is a one of the few days I’ve had off with absolutely no plans, so I hoped to get some junk done, but it’s not turning out well. Having not done it for a few days…

It’s easier to just pretend like I’m competent and act like it than to try and fight who I really am—Lazy and freezing.

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