Monday, November 4, 2019

ADHD: The Quest for Easter Eggs

Ever been in a video game with two paths? Ever been pissed because you picked the right one?

It should come as no surprise this has happened to me, mainly because I’m pissed about every five minutes. ‘Tis the territory of having Irish in me.

A little less than six months ago, I was diagnosed with not only Attention Deficit Disorder, but three forms of it, including ADHD. When I received the results, my counselor set the paper down in her lap, grim-faced, and asked, “How do you feel?”

I shrugged. “Makes a lot of sense.”

I didn’t know that so many of the things I was experiencing were related to ADD. I didn’t even know that it wasn’t common for everyone to think that way. After seeing my most misunderstood traits put nicely on a list of questions, I began to realize why I struggled so much in areas that others didn’t.

The Boyfriend recently argued that ADD was the same as phone addiction: the craving to distract your mind constantly was caused by how easy it is to do it. His statement sparked concern in me. Despite that I used to claim ADD wasn’t a real thing too, after I realized that not everyone’s train of thought runs on the same rails, I wanted to be understood. I’m not losing focus because I want to be thinking about something else; I’m losing focus because my mind needs something to chew over pretty much every second.

I have phone addiction too. It’s not the same. In some ways, it’s the opposite of ADD.

Attention Deficit Disorder is like a video game where you have all these side quests: some people go through and only play the main, while others get through everything else before finding their way back to the predominant storyline.

The cellphone addiction has to do with intentional distraction, rather than unconscious changing subjects.

The craving to be on an app has nothing to do with an inability to pay attention; it’s the desire to not pay attention. It’s the desire to distract yourself from unpleasant thoughts, to force yourself out of the present.

ADD is more like walking down a path and needing to turn on every offshoot.

I’m not good at following orders, or step by step instructions. Truth is, I can pay attention. I can get completely absorbed into a project. I can get absorbed into six different projects. But, and here’s the gist, only if I have a bit of a challenge. If I don’t see an action as being both interesting and valuable, even if I know it is crucial (or that I should just act like I care), my mind drifts off.

Which is nice, in a way, because when I am mentally present, I’m bombarded with stimulation. Sounds, smells, lights, movement, colors, and even my own thoughts are chattering at me from every direction. White noise is my greatest enemy. I can’t listen to a song without hearing the lyrics. My eyes hurt in several different kinds of lighting. I’m constantly queasy. Being watched cripples my competence levels, my attention diverted to the viewer.

It’s strange to learn how much of my neuroses are a part of this “disorder.” I thought they were just facets of my personality or only a side of being human. While I feel relief knowing that not everyone is experiencing the level of pain I do (and therefore, not handling it better), I also feel incredibly misunderstood when I need to take care of myself. And questioned in areas that I actually excel at remembering.

Truth is, I don’t get distracted as much as I detour. I find my way back to where I need to be. Just eventually.

Most people don’t trust that I’m going to do that, or can’t follow my thinking long enough to see me circle back.

The “H” in ADHD stands for “Hyperactive.” This means that I need constant stimulation; otherwise, I have pent up mental and physical energy that I can’t expend. I can’t sit still for long periods and become acutely aware of any sort of pain that I’m in when I try. I get incredibly bored often, especially if I’m not active in both hands and intellect. This boredom exasperates a need to escape, to run around, releasing this pent-up electricity inside me.

As an adult, I’m more capable of understanding these urges. The diagnosis of ADD actually gave me peace instead of offense; I now realized why I struggled to “behave” in classroom settings. It also told me what to do about it. Being an adult, of course, allows me to get up and walk around typically without someone lecturing me. As an older, paying student, I have permission to state my needs, less likely to be considered being anti-authority because I need to take a break. Everyone else is sitting here for an hour without needing to stretch or walk? Well, congratulations to them, but this is necessary for me.

There are, of course, times where it still gets me into trouble. Multitasking often helps me focus on something that I can’t tune out, but isn’t mentally challenging (like doing lights during a theatrical performance, which is glamorized button pushing). If it’s too simple, my mind goes to an alternative place. I completely check out. However, try sitting next to a director and write while you’re supposed to be working his brilliant show. I guarantee I make more mistakes trying to focus rather than keeping an ear out for key phrases to check back in. In fact, ADD allows me to do this, as I always have a little bit of attention diverted everywhere.

The other thing is, people don’t believe me. They argue that, because of how they are or what they’ve read, “you don’t know yourself that well.” You’re making things up to do what you want. Or they prioritize one goal over others: Yes, multitasking can make me worse at quality control compared to when I am completely focused. But if I’m not initially focused, if I don’t care that much, ultimately doing something else can help me stay present.

I think this is the mistake that people make when dealing with kids like me; it’s all about being interested. It’s all about seeing a purpose. If your child is continually getting sidetracked, getting out of his seat, and distracting others, punishing them isn’t going to do much. They’re not doing it to receive attention or regain control, or any of the other reasons a student might typically misbehave. It’s to alleviate the massive storm pushing in your chest. It is incredibly hard and painful to try and stay on the straight and narrow path going in a direction you don’t care about arriving at. I’ve found that challenging the easily distracted students—telling them what they’re capable of, giving them better tools, and showing them harder goals—makes them more likely to engage.

Both my counselor and the practitioner who prescribes my medication were a little surprised by the results. I don’t act hyperactive. I feel it. I control myself. I have learned coping mechanisms to help me focus. I also am very good at deduction. I zone out a lot, but I can pick up on cues of what I’ve missed. To deal with my mind’s tendency to wander off, I have learned skills that actually make people believe I’m more intelligent, not less. Directly because of ADD, I take in everything. This is upsetting, overwhelming, but it also means I notice more about my surroundings than most of my companions, make connections quickly, and remember seemingly inane details.

ADD is often a more significant problem for those around us than ourselves. Many of the traits that consider me a prime candidate are things I’m proud of. It just requires a great deal of self-control to make others comfortable. That can be frustrating. The misunderstandings are common. We are expected to stay on the main path when there’s so much more to see off it and are treated as rude when we go in a new direction. People often take the way I think as a personal reflection on them.

The hardest part of having ADD is a lack of empathy people have for me. Because it is in some ways standard human traits, just heightened, more chronic. We all zone out, dream big, and get overstimulated, it’s merely that people like me have to take more breathers. That’s all.

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Monday, October 28, 2019

Worse Case Scenario, You Might Learn Something

SPEAKING OF wasting your life doing things because you’re too young, (No, you weren’t. I was. Stay with me now.) I recently hired a young assistant/apprentice to help me do all the time-consuming, super important, and useful tasks every artist should learn but doesn’t want to do.

Bobbi Miller

A significant factor showed her struggling with the expected issues of being a 14-year-old. I strongly believed in her more than she did herself, and I strongly believed that I didn’t want to organize all my awful paper. Who has time for that? Not 14-year-olds, sure, but throw them a few bucks, and they’ll slop something together. And that’s more than I’d do.

Diane Lyon
We trekked deep into the Grand Teton National Forest in attempts to develop a new style of newsletter images. Chatting about her interests, we brainstormed alternative entertainment over the stupid crap kids do.

“My problem is,” she told me as we shivered in the snow-blown ridge during the first week of October (What is this Fall nonsense you speak of?), “is that I keep changing my mind what I want to do.”

“Skills are transferable,” I told her. “And life is long. So even if you decide for the next ten years to be a photographer and realize it’s not for you, it’s not like you’ll regret knowing how to use a camera and photoshop. Especially in this day and age. It’s possible you’ll spend all that time trying new things, completely missing your calling, and waking up at 24 lost instead of on Forbes’ list, but I’d recommend talking to the adults in your life and see how often that happens by waiting for certainty.”

It’s strangely a huge phobia for some. Wasting time! Changing your mind! Starting too old! How will I ever be able to catch up?

In my experience, most things I’ve achieved didn’t come from a direct path. Some talents I was “naturally good” at really came from other (so-called abandoned) endeavors that I previously pursued.

Kathryn Sobieski

Shannon Troxler
When I walked into the life drawing class in practically a bathing suit, I was told I needed to come up with a new pose every minute, unlike the previous portrait class I where I held one position for three hours. I had no idea, and terror socked me in the ribcage. I had to think of so many other poses? I wasn’t going to be placed like a doll and told to hold still? Half-naked, standing in front of twenty people, and I had to think of a way to place myself?! I don’t know what my body is doing half the time. Where’s my apprentice telling me what to do? What do I pay her for?

Yet, I have a B.A. in theatre. I have already been scouring the internet for real-life examples of poses I myself wanted to draw. I already knew a list of positions I had been searching for, and due to the powers of 20 years of being humiliated in front of classmates, I could do them. I made less money my entire “acting career” than two sessions of art modeling.

People were amazed, no more than myself. They laughed at my pouting and cringing, exclaiming praise at their seats. Which surprised me.
Elliot Goss
I had no intention of being a life model before last week. Now that I plan to spend the next year marketing and traveling for the launch of my debut fantasy novel, Making the Horizon (Releasing September 2020, stay tuned for more official info), I decided I need to get some actual money in my business account. I do this like any real artist does and began taking up a few odd jobs here and there. Literally, the day I decided, I received four opportunities—an extra 200-300 dollars this month—Which is a lot of extra funds for someone who makes her living selling B.S. and imagination.

The paintings here are from the artists in my portrait class—many older, retired individuals who finally had money and time to do that sort of thing. Usually by doing real jobs their entire lives. One woman approached me afterward, learning I also taught art, and immediately she brought up age, listing out several artists who started at a late age. Maybe to reassure herself? I, too, pulled out some authors who didn’t begin writing until after sixty, and she was impressed I had already thought about this.
Shannon Troxler

I said, “A lot of people tell me that they want to write a book and they’re too old. I ask them, you planning on dying in the next two years?”

Why do we waste so much time being afraid of wasting our time?

I couldn’t have walked in there and posed for those people if I invested everything in being a writer, on being a teacher, on making money, on creating only what I wanted, only what was in my wheelhouse. Being open to new experiences that might not go anywhere is easier the more you do it, predominantly because skills are transferable.

If your biggest fear is changing your mind, you’re doing pretty good.

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Monday, October 21, 2019

I’m My Own Kind of Messed Up, Thank You

“What about this surprises you?” my counselor asked as I flailed my hands like Billy Mays with a waffle iron.

“It’s not a surprise she lambasted me with insults. It was that she could’ve been talking to anyone! We’ve been friends for two years, and she doesn’t know how to hurt me?”

Analytically speaking, I’m scared of the deadness: the apathy from the last four years of my life. I blame everything wrong on the void—the lack of optimism, the lack of yearning, lack of impulsivity. Emotions hurt, but their absence, feeling the biting cold of where passion should be, killed my body far worse than what anger or rejection could do. It was scary how little her words bothered me.

But these generic insults of “You’re shitty” had more to do with her fears than mine. She said things that glanced off me like marshmallows, and fresh ones at that; a frustrated mourner taking out her pain on a stoic stranger. Maybe it’s that I misinterpret her reasons behind blitzing me with broad judgments, but at the time, it not only seemed she couldn’t step in my shoes, she didn’t even know me well enough to hit me where it hurts. And we were close. If she didn’t understand how I saw myself…

Last April, I woke up to the announcement my script, To Waste, won first place in Riot Act’s New Play Festival. A reporter came to interview me. He pulled out a recorder, enthusiastically asked deep, intelligent questions, and morphed the strange gut punch from when I heard about my win, twisting it back into the tickling, butterfly-filled queasiness I had come to know and love. (Look, I don’t like change.)

Then the paper arrived. And misquoted me. Slapped my verboseness around until the reporter came up with a simpler viewpoint. A naive viewpoint. The greenist viewpoint a greenhorn could ever gleam.

It’s not the first time a newspaper messed up. Typically understandable. An interview earlier this year was with a peer and me over the phone. Quotes got misattributed. I didn’t see the world like my companion, and I certainly didn’t want the world to see me like my companion. But it was what it was. C’est la vie.

I called up my friend in shock of my distress, and she quickly jumped to her story: Emancipated, she managed to move halfway across the country at 18, receive a scholarship, and grow from a troubled teen to a disgruntled artist. After graduation, her story gained the attention of a national newspaper, and thus one day, my friend’s mother picked up an article explaining in gory detail the horrible monster she was. Yet, my friend claims she never said any of that. She never even believed it. The interviewer already had a narrative of what happened, and she wasn’t listening to the view of the person experiencing it.

What surprised me was my reaction. The misquote in the newspaper wasn’t even the first-time people assumed I was unprofessional or inexperienced. Possibly, earlier events were what caused my pain.

When my depression eased, a colleague pulled me aside to inform me he didn’t like who I was becoming. I felt more like myself than I had in a long time. My apathy, lack of interest in attention, lack of humor, lack of drive, lack of opinions, made me pretty malleable. Now that I started to care about things, well… Now I was morphing into a square peg. How dare I?

But I was always a square peg, really. I was just so tired I couldn’t hold my shape. I didn’t see the point in having a shape. I could fit into any hole because I simply didn’t care about where I went. Put me where you want me. Now that I’m a person again, I’m changing for the worse? Fantastic.

On top of that, the play writing group I founded was imploding. Two members were at each other’s throats. Against my insistence that no one was getting kicked out, they still didn’t want to end the conflict. Problems spiraled, making every one of us look a gaggle of schoolgirls trying to green-light our own Desperate Drama Queens of Atlanta.

All of a sudden, the reputation I built was gone. Not only was my group’s name losing respectability, I (and our other member) became “one of them.” The man I just started dating made a comment about how the problem was we were all difficult to work with, even though the only time he’d witnessed how I act was one critique reading I headed. It went extremely well. He had no reason to think that outside of the rare drama then around me.

Too easily, people shifted their view of me on par with the two members who notoriously burned bridges. Individuals I’d created with successfully for years, people who requested me often, people who couldn’t work with anyone else but me, even people who had several negative experiences with these women still talked to me like I was another emotional amateur letting my ego ruin everything. Everything I had done to be trustworthy, the effort I’d put in for someone specifically, projects they personally witnessed going well, didn’t matter at all, it seemed.

When you walk into a room, people start developing a story about you. Their perception is not always defined by what you say or do. This is terrifying, even for a white girl. I just turned thirty, but to some, I look sixteen. They don’t know why I speak like I’m not. They smile at me placatingly as they tell me the ways of the world and wait for my youthful wonder. I’m not only plastered with doubt because I look like I’ve never seen a flip phone—even those who know my age still presume my 60-year-old counterpart has more experience than me, even when… they just don’t.

There’s aspects like my posture, my high-pitched voice, my empathetic-oriented style of speech, that detract from my respectability. We all know that inexperienced egomaniac who people have faith in simply because he announces he deserves it. Because he struts like John Travolta, because he speaks with certainty, because he is older, therefore wiser, right?

Since I find my natural intensity scares people into not telling me their opinion, I trained myself for years to encourage everyone’s ideas. To be sweet. Yes, I’m an opinionated asshole, but the existence of my thought does not detract from my interest in hearing yours. At the same time, just because I listen to you doesn’t mean I think you’re a genius. Yet, when in my diplomatic state, I’m seen as submissive, passive, na├»ve, insecure, ready to learn, and apparently, have nothing of value to say.

This begs the question: how much should you change to look like you are who you feel like?

feel like someone who loves other people’s ideas helping them. Yet, if I speak naturally, so fast and loud with energy and frustration and excitement and big words, I make so many people feel stupid.

I feel like my actions—producing other people’s projects for no reward other than the vicarious excitement, for one—and my experience level—two decades of writing, drawing, acting, a life’s commitment to the arts—means nothing because there are people who see me as they want to, based off my looks, or technical resume, or their own insecurities, or even others who I remind them of.

This reporter—a smart and friendly, good-natured person who paid more attention than I think I’ve ever seen any reporter give a show—saw me as he did, saw me as he wanted, and didn’t question it. When I told him anything that contradicted his view of me, he didn’t hear it. Despite my excessive workload, despite any quality of my work, despite what I said, he saw me, a young-looking woman from a small town, and something, something told him I hadn’t written much.

When he asked, “Did you write the show specifically for the Riot Act Festival?” I praised the contest:

One of the beautiful things about the New Play Festival—something other people have told me as well—is it gives you a deadline; it’s short, it’s achievable. For many I work with, it is excellent motivation to get something done when you’re struggling. I was dealing with depression, and I wasn’t writing as much as I wanted to. Annually, I try to create something new specifically for the festival, which can help me get back into the swing of things, and this year it forced me through my block.

To be fair (and you possibly noticed this), I’m a long-winded Mother-Mocker. I said a lot. In his attempts to summarize the thunderstorm of words, he crafted a quote he considered the gist of what I wanted—one that completely misrepresented what I was trying to say, to the point of extreme embarrassment. Impressive, actually, in my zombie-like state. It showcased his view of me, and that view was not a driven, experienced playwright:

“I felt encouraged to submit something because writing a short piece seemed reachable,” Daveler said. “Completing it was a personal victory, and being able to share a piece of theater created from my experiences might not have happened without the contest.” 

Who am I?

I am not a short writer. Most of my scattered manuscripts range between 100,000-200,000 words, which is a shit-ton. Too much. My common goal for the first three drafts is to cut my word counts down by half because I have a hell of a time being concise. In fact, we probably wouldn’t be discussing this if I didn’t. Writing a short piece is not so simple. Not for me.

As for the whole, not being able to share a piece of theatre… I produced a hell of a lot of plays while I was living in Los Angeles. My plays even.

I am, regardless of my anonymity, a prolific writer.

I am grandiose. I am a risk-taker. I am driven! The test that diagnosed me with three kinds of ADD even said so.

Does this quote come across as me at all?

I didn’t want to be seen as an aspiring writer who finally made a piece because it was “attainable.” I wanted to be seen as the depressive, manic genius filled with neuroses and hordes of mysterious scripts no one was allowed to see. (For very good reason.)

And so, despite my tendency to turn the other cheek, despite my knowledge, no one reads corrections. I sent him a (very diplomatic) email. The idea of telling this guy that I despised the piece after he took so much care bites like a rapid monkey, but there was an online version, and I really needed that statement out of the ether-world and buried dead, dead, dead in the ground.

It occurred to me. It was not the embarrassment of how people would see me on reading that quote in that bothered me so profoundly, but rather that the reporter saw me that way from the jump, that he ignored my actual words and told a conventional narrative based purely on assumption. He assumed I didn’t know what I was doing and didn’t hear any signs that possibly I did. I know I had told him about my other writings. Something about me made him think of me like that. Nothing I could do would have fixed it.

BoJack Horseman once asked, “Well, do you? Think I’m a good person? Deep down?”

“I don’t think I believe in ‘deep down.’ I kinda think all you are is just the things that you do.”

It stuck with me. I wish.

Sure, there are times are your intentions are good, and the results didn’t happen the way you expected; stupid things happen to tired people. But what happens when you’re continually making others miserable, regardless of why?

More to the point, what happens you do something respectable and no one sees it? When they define you not by what you’ve done, not by results, not even by intentions, but by something that tends to happen to people “like” you? People seen as being like you, even when they’re not?

How much do you fake it until you make it, or do you ignore how it looks and hope that someone will understand what’s really happening? How much time do you spend worrying about giving off the wrong perception?

While my depression has lifted, and I have moments of authentic joy, real excitement, sometimes I feel desensitized. I don’t necessarily feel like I exist, it’s hard for me to be flattered. What I do changes nothing. They saw me positively because they decided to. I had no say. What do I care?

When I heard I won first place in the festival, I was in pain. Something was very wrong. At first, the win felt hallow, and I waited for the other shoe to drop. I knew that some would scrutinize my play—a script I considered some of my best work—simply to prove that I didn’t deserve to win. That I wasn’t better than them. It didn’t matter if I had written gibberish or genius; it was about expectation. There would be those who thought it was good simply because it was a winning piece. My skill, my efforts, and the parts of me I put in the writing simply werent relevant.

How can you be seen for you, rather than memories of others? Stereotypes? Projection? Proximity? How can you be defined for all your good actions unless you run around narrating them like a lunatic? You better hope to God you’re what you think you are, in that case.

How can you fight being defined by a narrative that stemmed from something outside of you?

I am a flawed person, but please criticize me for what I am. Don’t come up with a list of insults that could apply to the majority of the world. Don’t assume that you’ll hurt me with typical insecurities. React to me. React to me. Let me know I exist, and even if you don’t like me, please, at least don’t like me because of what I’ve actually done.

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Monday, October 14, 2019

Thirty was Supposed to Make Me a Real Boy

Mathematically, (and isn’t that what’s truly important?) 30 doesn’t seem like a particularly engaging number. It’s somewhat obnoxious even, considering it doesn’t go into 100 very nicely, or even 75, which is supposed to be the average life span of a human (the last time I checked. No, I won’t cite it. Go away.) It’s impossible to make it into a clean and quick percentage - unless I decide to live to be precisely ninety. But then again, why not? Ninety is a good age. Hopefully, I won’t be brain dead, and I can still pick up a pen; I’ll be doing great.

So why is 30 significant? Some people define it as the end of youth, but wouldn’t that be what menopause is for? Or wrinkles? I don’t know. I still can have the babies and have my common sense questioned, so I feel pretty young.

I was told when I started writing at twelve that I couldn’t write anything real until I was 30. Why? What happens at the stroke of midnight on the eve of your 29th birthday?

Midlife crises, for many, I suppose. I always felt, in my egotism of youth, naysaying by the older generation was a means of self-defense against regret. Those older people who insisted I have nothing to say until that magical birthday when my life experiences would suddenly matter didn’t seem to have spent their youth well.

Apparently, my egotism as a mature adult agrees with my younger self; I still see it that way. A bunch of self-loathing dingbats, the lot of them. They, always, after fifteen years of sticking in my craw, have not found it easy to get anyone to listen to all these important things they have to say.

Because it’s just not. Easy. For anyone. Thinking people will believe you’re smart simply because you’re old ignores how moronic you consider some of your peers. People don’t automatically expect you to be insightful regardless if you’re 10, 30, or 60, because how many people do we know who aren’t?

So, what is being 30 like? What did happen at magical midnight when I was supposed to be endowed with the knowledge of life, the universe, and everything?

Well, as I waited for Douglas Adams to call me from the afterlife, I did not experience a euphoric epiphany, chasing my spirit animal into the wilderness. But I did have to admit something, something I never expected myself to feel: My 20s brought me to exactly where I wanted to be.

Yes, I mean literally. Not entirely literally, but yes, where. I was in Hawaii. I woke at dawn on October 9, 2019, stepped out onto the balcony of my hotel, and stared at the sunrise over Honolulu. That was the right spot. The right place for me to be.

Six months ago, I decided to spend this significant birthday somewhere unique, somewhere memorable, somewhere I could breathe in the new life of “mature adulthood” (or “positive adulthood”), and start my thirties afresh. I booked a trip to Hawaii, invited all my close friends over the years, and, more to the point, continued the long hard journey of digging through the baggage, depression, and making my life one that I want to live until the time came for me to get on a plane and escape reality for a few days. I was in Hawaii with a beautiful man, feeling happy about who I was and what I was doing because I had decided to make my Big 3-O great, long before it hit me.

On the first day of my 30th year, I was hiking up an abandon railroad with an attentive, funny, sexy guy, in Oahu, my phone buzzing with personalized texts from friends wishing me a good day. I sketched a picture I was proud of. I could peacefully take time off of my work because I wasn't behind. Creatively, I was making headway, I set myself up for the trip, set myself up to make my deadlines for October. I was ready for this. Not creatively? I'm not doing any work that isn't oriented around my true goals. Not right now. I could do all of this, not because I planned on changing when I turned 30, but because I was building up until then.

The twenties were painful. To put it politely. If I look back on 18-27 without picking it apart, it feels like a blacked-out fog of pure stress and anger. A college that taught me how to deal with assholes instead of any craft. A relationship with a self-destructive Australian, forcing me to question my own sanity. A job that burned me out for two years and left me with medical problems that I still haven’t recovered from.

Yet, at the same time, I would be wrong to say these periods were useless. That were all bad. That I didn’t get anything from these years, and that I didn’t do anything for the decade initiation to adulthood.

In my mind, I spent my adult life succumbing to the darkness. Yet, I have proof that’s not true: physical evidence of the art I’ve made, memories of the people I’ve loved, skills I didn’t have five, ten, twenty years ago. I did not spend my twenties dead. I did not waste them.

And I will not miss them.

I was learning. I was kind. I kept moving. I wrote. I traveled. I worked. I healed. And 2019, my 20th year, became the time where I truly understood what I wanted, got me moving where I am today, right at this moment, right on my 30th birthday.

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Monday, August 26, 2019

Branding: At Least I'm Not a Cowboy

For one thing, it's hard to come up with an abstract logo - people still ask me what the owl griffin is - and for another, there's all these rules that seem kind of like a pain in the butt. Recently I read a book about a woman who thought she had a lazy M, but it wasn't because it was on its side in the wrong direction, and someone else had the "real" thing. To think that people had to do all this research before the internet too. I guess we writers have it easier. I mean, I could always take my granddad's if I wanted to get into the cattle life, but I have my doubts any of them would listen to me. And even that wouldn't be easy because you got to figure out all of the inheritance laws and fight with some cousin who decided she wanted it more.

That being said, good amount of artists cringe when using the word brand. I don't blame them. There is this weird sort of commercial, fake connotation to it. Authors don't like being limited on the best of days, and even the request of "Come up with a genre so we don't overwhelm our shoppers with options" can lead to a New Orleans amount of sweat.

We could call branding by many names. Style, voice, name recognition, theme, tone. It's all one in the same, really. Branding is about having a (seemingly) genuine consistency that tells you who that company/author really is. It's about being familiar to your readers in a way that makes you trustworthy. It's about being recognized when you produce something completely new. It's about utilizing the reward of a good reputation.

Which you absolutely don't have to do. But, in some ways, if you really are expressing yourself, you're going to have some sort of recognition in those who liked it. For most of us, branding is already there, we just have to emphasize it.

I've been thinking a lot about my brand in the past. Talked about it quite a bit too. I struggled with certain aspects, like who my target demographic is, or the fact that my skills as a painter aren't high enough to repeat styles.

Funny enough, a part of my problem was what I would call the "Bronie Effect," and the secret lovers of so many genres who you're not exactly allowed to write for.

My Little Pony, for those of you who have never met a little girl, is an ongoing brand of toys and T.V. shows that created a highly successful cartoon in relatively recent years. The strange thing about the show was not why it was popular, but who it was popular with. Yes, little girls, but also adult males. Some of their interest grew to obsessive degrees, changing from simple fan art to actually petitioning to marry a stuffed doll. Or so the Reddit rumors grow.

What's noticeable about this, however, is that once you decide to market for a certain demographic, it tells you it is only for that demographic. Commercially, this can be problematic because networks have canceled shows like Firefly and Invader Zim partially due to the viewers being outside of their target. Women rated Firefly much higher than they expected, men lower, while Zim was a cartoon on Nickelodeon that interested adults.

What I'm more concerned about is the fact that stating your book is young adult almost banks on the idea that it's major audience will be teens, probably girls, even though in my research I've found that the audiences of stories that are similar to mine are actually 60% male ranging from 20-35. As we all know, the shame that falls around someone doing something intended for children, and men enjoying something meant for women is pretty intense.

As I write what I'm looking for, I'm, at least partially, writing for 30 year old women who just want a little more bite out of young adult novels, and NOT the misanthropic, isolated pessimism of the majority of adult fantasy. Yet, I've heard adult women be embarrassed to be seen in that section.

So what made me change my mind?

Well, I went to the Jackson Hole Writers Conference with pages from my new working manuscript, Making the Horizon, and as I spoke to an agent, he felt the story would be pretty marketable to teens. He also agreed with me that teenagers do not need dumbed down language or struggle with complex stories, a criticism that made me hesitant in the past.

As he said it, I reflected on the students I'd been working with and the fact that I tend to like young people better, that they understand me (and my word choice) far more often than anyone else. Then, when I taught mapmaking camp, the kids and I, in our freetime, played around with liquid watercolor and made a map of Sandbysk to help me develop the cultures better. As I told them about each place, they grew more and more intent on my words, and three begged me to give them the book. They became quickly invested in the characters, each having someone they routed for and wanting to know all about them.

It was time to accept who I was, and that is someone who likes the younger generation.

Does that mean that I am going to turn into Cassandra Clare or Sarah J. Maas? No. Of course not. That's what it means to be you.

Sure, the decision to promote my books as young adult means some changes - two of the twelve characters have become teenagers, and the swearing was watered down - but I connect with them because I didn't write down to them. I didn't have simplistic language or spell it out for them. They responded to what I had already done.

Which lets me have my cake and eat it too.

I will still showcase the more serious side of things along with the beauty, I will still fight to challenge my readers just enough, and I will still talk about human issues that aren't limited to coming of age. Yet, I will acknowledge the fact that I like the youth of the fantasy community.

You will see some changes around my sites. The branding goes far beyond the demographic. I am looking to gain consistency and a style that people will recognize even out of context. Some of the drawings will not be as beautiful as the ones there now, but I am hoping, with time, I can come up with something that really tells people who I am and what I care about without too many words.

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Monday, August 19, 2019

Where Expressing Yourself and Flipping Your Lid Diverge

"Just be yourself," they told me.

My concerns were growing by the minute. I couldn't get one laugh during a three hour social interaction. I didn't try. Nothing even occurred to me. My impulses were buried deep in the ground, farther than the shallow grave my grandfather was plopped in. It wasn't that I felt fear or restricted; I felt nothing. No inspiration, no compulsions, no personality. I wasn't me. Depression made me not me.

"Okay," I said, hands on my knees. I looked around. "Nothing's happening."

Because the truth is that many of us don't wear masks, rather hormones, experiences, and circumstance shape who we are. Those things constantly change, even moment to moment. I claim over and over that if you get me in a room filled with people, I'm going to be paying attention to them. Their needs. How am I coming across? Whose feelings am I hurting? Are they okay? Is there something I can do? What would be interesting to them? What's the guy in the corner going to do? Oh, please God don't come over here. What is he doing with his hand? Oh, a handshake. Right. That's a thing normal people do.

You can rightfully chalk it up to social anxiety, but that's somewhat my point. Your personality changes because of fear - or any mood you're experiencing at that time. Even if you have a pretty healthy relationship with the external world, the stimuli you witness is going to change your reaction. It doesn't matter if that reaction is an excited share of energy or fear induced chills. You get into a room by yourself and you may, like me, change your thoughts from the people around you to, "How do I paint things to be shinier? Do I need a gloss? Or do I just need to paint better." Or you might say, "Remember that time in fifth grade I made Julie Burgess cry?"

People's thoughts change based on their location, even if there's not a considerable difference in population. Pay any attention and it just seems obvious it would. Colors, ambiance, food, lack of food, entertainment, noise, etc. we all seek out new environments because of how they change our inner life.

To say that we hide who we are assumes that we know who we are, we are always able to act in a consistent manner regardless of fatigue or mood, and, finally, that we know how to express ourselves.

I'm not much for emoting. It drives people nuts, to be sure, and drives me nuts in multiple ways. Not only do I find living my own life in my introverted, socially anxious way can come off as rejection to those who I don't know, but communication becomes extremely difficult. As an adult, I've learned to feign facial expressions and tones because my default reads as angry. Yes, great skills to grow, but it requires me to think through most of my reactions. How can they be the real me?

"Nothing's happening," is not just a reference to how my instinctive thoughts lost their sense of humor in my darkest hour, but that if I were to behave how I wanted to, I wouldn't be communicating anything at all. Words are hard. Body language is hard. Tone is hard. If I were being me, I wouldn't have forced myself to go out in public. Best case scenario, I'd be home with my imaginary friends, talking to myself in the guise of writing. More likely, I'd be succumbing to the void that is mental illness and not forcing myself to get out of bed at all. Instead of my impulses telling me to say or do a thing, they're telling me DON'T DO ANYTHING EVER.

Over the past year, I've been doing a lot to overcome this chronic weight of apathy, and I'm thrilled to say that it seems to be succeeding. Not necessarily at first - never does, does it? - yet now I'm in the best shape I've been since I was 23 (Almost seven years ago.) One thing I must do, especially when I am in the throes of it, is to try and control my emotions. I'm afraid, I admit, of the disfunctional side of me who comes out every so often. I believe that if I am not on the top of my game at all times, everything goes to hell. A prime example is how easily the results of self-advertising disappear. Gone for a few months, geez, a few unreliable posting, and you lose many of your constants. As someone with a chronic illness, it is terrifying how easy it is to lose momentum and reputation because you are too exhausted to even watch T.V.

Yet, what happens? A friend pulls me aside to give me some "kindly advice" on how he doesn't like me anymore. All because I'm feeling more vocal. All because I'm looking to actually connect with and entertain people rather than just existing alongside them. Obviously, what he didn't like was how I wasn't as submissive to his ideas (as I didn't care about anything), which was disturbing to me.

I got into more drama over these last few months than I ever had before. In each case, I expressed my concerns and solutions as much as I could until something sent me over the edge. And the two times I've blown up in 2019, no one could understand why such a nice, level-headed girl could get so angry... there must be something going on with me.

Which there is, but there always is. And it begs the question, why am I always the one who has to control my emotions?

The answer is (and here's the rub), I don't. Truth is, the ones who don't control their emotions, the ones who have blown up at those around them over and over again until someone lashes back do face the ramifications. They lose jobs left and right, their names being shot down for opportunities they didn't even know they'd been suggested for. They alienate their friends, they have a bad reputation, get fired or chased out, and they create their own ceiling in both social and professional circles. It's actually hard to remember that the low expectations others have for these provokers is actually undesirable. Thinking something must be going on with me in order to break me... Pretty fair to me, actually, even if I don't feel like they're on my side.

My reactions are understandable, damn it!

I struggle with this self-expression on many levels. Not trusting others to find my tastes interesting, not trusting myself to be interesting on my own accord, not knowing what other people prioritize, not knowing how something comes off? Plus, the added bonus we all have to face is that negativity sells. That obnoxious blowhards are interesting. That mean-spirited jokes are ballsy. That a strong opinion is going to contradict someone else's, and that fights are an excellent form of entertainment. Ask any inciting incident.

But, I've gotten better. What I've learned from this experience, I think can tie into everyone else's inability to feel heard: You can't always flip your lid and expect people to respond well, but you can't keep your mouth shut because they won't. Yes, you're going to have to control your emotions. Even the hot-tempered rant that sells needs a cool-minded edit. But you write because you want to bond with others, and you will never do that if you don't indulge who you truly are. It may not come naturally, so take advantage when it does.

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