Monday, July 22, 2013

Keep On Keeping On

The Trouble with Being As Yet Unpublished

So this week is going to be a rough one. The tempo of my day job is accelerating, Camp Nanowrimo proceeds although I am falling behind on my word counts (Thanks Weekends!) and I still have to keep up to my editing of RoboNomics. Also, I've decided to add pilates to my morning routine. Woot! Man I have not done pilates in forever. I used to like it a lot.

At any rate. This all means that I am scurrying for time. I don't have the luxury of sitting at my desk for hours at a time, staring out the window while I listen to the soundtrack from the Fellowship of the Ring and dreaming up characters, scenes and settings. This week I have to get to the task, get the task done in the time I've allotted myself between day job assignments, and move on to the next one. So, what can I do to trick that fickle muse to come visit me exactly when I want it to? Well, there's a list:

To Trick the Muse:

1. No lyrics. My headphones are always on my ears when I'm writing. But when things get serious and I need to get things done, all lyric is just another time waster. Fellowship of the Ring might even be a bit too iconic to be conducive to concentration. Classical instrumentals and ambient soundscapes all the way.

2. Tune out. Turning off the internet is always a good place to start. That way time is not wasted by the neverending conga line of articles that NEED to be read and videos that MUST be watched. Who cares what other folks say on the internets? When it's time to get this stuff out of my brain and onto the page.

3. Caffeinated Beverages. I use this as a break, when my brain really feels like it's about to go bust. Also, getting an accompanying snack helps.

4. Hype it Up. The theme from Rocky, anyone? Just one peppy song to remind me that the effort will be worth it. Then back to work!

And speaking of which...

5. Compared to an Athlete. I've read and heard a lot about how training/running a marathon are a lot like writing a novel in terms of epic effort. But is the training for the marathon the first draft and the marathon itself the revisiting/editing? Or is it the other way around? Either way, visualization is the key here. Imagining yourself doing it. And then doing it the way you imagine. I try not to underestimate my own capacity here: often I can tell myself what I'm going to get done that day, and then at the end of the day it is done. Isn't that what athletes do?

6. A tiny tad of research. Conventional wisdom would probably cringe at this one. But when I am stuck, I find that a little mental walkabout can revitalise my page and my typey typey typing fingers.

7. An Actual Walk. Also can help. Although these days, I frankly don't have that much time. Five minute walk, anyone?

8. The Early Bird. This is highly personal. For others it might be the night owl, or the afternoon...sun? Whatever. For me, the earlier I awake, the more hours of work I can churn out. And higher quality work! (to a certain extent. Before 5 a.m. I am probably useless). Plus there's that added bonus of feeling like you've accomplished so much today! And then you look at the clock and it's 10 a.m.

9. Shower. I've said this before, I'm sure. When coupled with #7, the mid-morning shower (if schedule provides) is dynamite. It's as if I dream up ideas, and then pour them out onto the page. By 11 a.m., I'm tapped. Then I take a shower and dream up another big set of ideas, which carries me through that fatal lull that is my afternoon doldrums.

Well, there it is. A recipe for getting it on the page. Productive days ahead!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Christmas in July!

I've always imagined the calendar year as a circle. Don't ask me why, I can't explain. At the top of the circle is January the first, and so in the summer (right now) we are currently at the very bottom of the circle. When someone tells me that their birthday is in October, I immediately visualized it at the left side. Et cetera.

Anyways, the weirdest thing always happens to me when at the bottom of the circle. I am always reminded of its direct opposite: the top of the circle. And so we have it:

Christmas in July

This year the phenomenon was greatly exaggerated by the show I binged-watched last week and weekend: Orange is the New Black. Amazing show!

Anyways, the final episode takes place at Christmas, with all the music and pageant and snow that entails. So now I have Christmas songs stuck in my head.

The Great Thing

I'm not talking about those silly marketing ploys that various corporations put on in July. The really great thing about thinking about Christmas in July is that I get to relive all of the high points and none of the low points. Like the great Christmas music:

Haha home alone. Had to do it. Anyways, I can remember the Christmas music that is actually appealing without having to suffer through the aisles of over-lit stores blaring the smultzy stuff for two solid months.

Another awesome thing about Christmas in July? Remembering the good times had about the holidays, like cats under (or in) Christmas trees without all the family arguments because everyone is so damn stressed over getting a million and a half gifts for a million and a half people who probably don't want or need gifts anyway.

And then there are always the Christmas specials:

Not so much a Christmas show as something they showed on TV once right near Christmas, and so is forever after related in my mind to Christmas hilarity. And then there's always:

Video Cassette. So awesome.

Anyways, yeah. Christmas in July is amazing. Did I mention there's no cold and no snow in July? I think we should move Christmas to July. Or maybe just I will.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


I've just had an epiphany. Since I was two years old, I've had pets in my life. And children: my extended family is vast, I have at least 25 first cousins. Possibly up to 30. Most of which are ten to twenty years younger than I am. So for most of my life, I've had young children and small animals as a part of it. And as my mother-in-law recently pointed out, these two classes of beings have always been drawn to me. Not to mention the fact that I've noticed that these two classes of beings in particular have thrived when under my care.

I've always had my own theories about why this is: why I have an uncanny, snow-white effect on the little children, the tiny animals. I used to tell myself that it was due to romantic notions like having a gentle nature, a pure heart, or a nonjudgmental attitude towards the innocent, nonjudgmental creatures of the world. I accept and love them as they are and they mirror back the same to me. My animals especially, I have noticed, gain thick glossy coats and don't want to leave my side. My skittish kitty who was born feral follows me around the house, clinging to my ankles as if she were a puppy dog. Even though I feed her dry corporate cat food that everyone knows is full of crap.

But it occurs to me today that it's not so much the quality of the food as it is the quality of the care. I can remember my mother, when she taught me baking and cooking, telling me that the secret ingredient in every recipe is always 'love'. It's a bit like that, isn't it? I don't mean to go all wacky new-age on you, but that is the thing about it, isn't it? The intention is more important than the content, I think.

So, the question that all this thinking beckons is: why can't I do that for myself? Why can't I put a nonjudgmental, loving intention behind my own care? Maybe then I would thrive like the little ones I've cared for. Maybe then I would -- oh, I don't know --  become balanced and healthy within myself, maybe? What do you think?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ground Squirrels

So the other day this guy from the water company had to come because apparently our water meter has been reading the same numbers for the past year. Yes, here where we live we are obliged to do what we have never had to before: that is, every month call up the water peeps and record the numbers that appear on our water meter. Backwards land of weirdness.

Anyways, when he was leaving he observed, going down the front steps and I standing at the door, that we have "a healthy population of gophers." He meant Richardson's Ground Squirrels, called gophers by a lot of the locals.

And we do. When we came back from vacation in early June, the two that we started with had multipled into eight or ten, little chubby babies that are just the best with their tiny tails rapidly flicking. The children have since moved on to other holes, and we're back down to two. ish. Twoish.

But I don't have the heart to trap them, like most people do here. They are considered pests. How could they be pests? Little Prairie Dog-like creatures that I have never seen before who stand up on their hinds legs and chirp with high-pitched noises when they're feeling territorial. Those times, you can see their long, sharp digging teeth. I love to watch them from my writing desk. They are a source of slight distraction and endless fascination. Oh, and did I mention that they kiss to greet each other? Adorable.

I mean, sure, they put holes in the ground everywhere. If you let them run rampant, as we do, they'll undermine all of your structures. Especially foundations. And there's so many of them here, especially at the zoo. But they exist no where else in the world. And they were here before the foundations, they'll probably be here much longer than these ephemeral buildings. The city has eventual plans to tear down the houses anyways.

And after all, its only a rental.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

An Old Project Gets a New Life

I am working on so many projects at the moment. Working through a manuscript with Humber School for Writers. Writing out the first draft of a new novel with the help of Camp NaNoWriMo. Generating ideas for future projects.

And into the mix I've just thrown my masterwork, as I know it. A high fantasy epic that leans to the YA side that has dominated my mind since the first character appeared to me for the first time when I was seven years old. It's been that long that the world and the story has been evolving.

But because this particular tale has been evolving along with me for so horribly long, it's very close to me. It is a scary enough prospect to write a novel and send it out into the world. About a thousand fold for something I've been thinking and working on for...about 25 years. And so I've had, for the past few years (since I went back to my teenage way of thinking -- of taking a career as a novelist seriously) thought about My Fantasy Epic as a project that would begin in earnest when I was an established author. Something in the future, at some unspecified date. Despite this pronouncement, the wheel keeps turning and round again and again I come to This Project.

Last November, during the usual session of NaNoWriMo, I wrote a draft for what I thought then to be the first novel in the series. I wrote it from my extensive notes I keep on the subject. Then, of course, having finished it, I went back to work on RoboNomics, the manuscript currently in edits with Humber. And now I come back to it, with new found resolve.

My Fantasy Epic involves a cast of five main characters, each with their own stories, whose stories eventually are intertwined. So the plan was originally: a novel for each character, and then a sixth novel during which they meet up and enact the end of the story. But the more I thought of it, the less sense it made to keep going back, in a series, to another chronologically parallel plot line. And so my mind dug up an idea that I'd seen someplace before:

I've mentioned this book on my blog before. It really is a great book, but I can see now that it does not cover everything. Or rather, that it covers most of everything but it is like a beginner's handbook. I am very grateful to my brother for giving me this book. I know that I've always had a raw talent as a writer, but I needed this kick in the pants a few years back to really begin storytelling. It's an amazing place to start!
Anyways, on page 162, James Scott Bell -- the author of the book -- describes a system for plotting that I found intriguing. It involves a roll of butcher's paper and color-coded post-it notes. I've never had need to use it before now. But I thought I'd give it a try for an epic that has parallel but related plots. So I made my own version:

I didn't actually have any butcher paper, however. And frankly, I don't know where I'd obtain some. In such matters, I have a tendency to want to rely on what I already have. So I took up some old pads of paper that I had lying around and started taping them together. In the image above, you can see that I've outlined one plot, and have started on the second. Each post-it is a scene, each color the story of a different main character.

The only thing is, having laid out two thirds of character #1's story, the length of it makes the entire thing unwieldy:

It's super long. Thankfully when it's rolled up, it does indeed present a nice, compact little package:

More or less. I'm actually pretty happy with the results so far. The point of it is that, once I've laid everything out, I can rearrange the structure of the intertwining plots while still having them color-coded for character. It's already, at this nascent stage, proved effectively. I can already see the plot holes in character #1's story. Superb! It's things like these that make me excited about projects, injecting new life into them even though they are 25 years in the making. :)



Monday, July 15, 2013

Adventures in this Hinterland

So he's gone again. The obligations of the job mean that he has to go away from time to time. At least now, the fourth time we'll be separated, I have finally figured out coping mechanisms to deal with the inevitable roller coaster of emotions that has already begun.

Yesterday, the first full day of my being on my own again, I decide to do a little urban exploration. Or, suburban I suppose as the place I went lies on the edge of the city, beside a golf course. A provincial park known as the Trappist Monastery Provincial Heritage Park. Ruins. Can you believe it? It's not as grand as you'd think, though. The ruins are only about a century old, used all the way up until the late 1970s. Then there was a fire, which gives the place its older feel:

It was a hot, pretty day and there was nearly no one else there. An older couple who sat on a bench. More folks started to show up when I was just leaving.

The tragic thing is that every June, apparently, they put on "Shakespeare in the Ruins". Missed it. Damn. "Julius Caesar." Can you imagine it?

It puts a question in my mind. Is this a Canadian thing, or do other countries do it as well? It seems that in every major Canadian city of a summer, there is a "Shakespeare in the Park" or "Shakespeare by the Sea" or what have you. Is it all of North America? Is it all of the Western hemisphere? Or just English-speaking countries? I am curious. Anyways:

Look at that little door from outside to outside! By god, I dig that stuff so much. Beyond it was a vast, wild garden and an arts centre that looked quite abandoned on a Sunday.

All right, that's the last of them. A little Artist's Date for me, as per Julia Cameron's the Artist's Way. The only problem with those has always been the obligation part. If I am alone with not much to do on a Sunday afternoon, sure I'll go and see something beautiful (and free). But the whole needing to do it once a week. Ugh. It stirs that rebellious spirit in me that's left over from teenagehood.

As it was, the whole experience was very pleasant. Quiet, contemplative, low-key fun. :)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

MY Song of the Summer

You know how billboard, or whoever else it is who have named themselves the pop music gods, take a bunch of data each year and then name the song of the summer? Well, I don't really care what they determine this year. There has been one song that has been playing for every important and not-so-important moment of the season:

Bonus points for space/robot suits.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Music for a Friday

I just discovered this amazing track. Via Songza, of course!

Making me feel inspired like nothing else can today!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Positivity/Critical Thinking

Critical, ever critical

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about trolls. Specifically of the internet sort. And thinking about how I shouldn't be thinking about trolls. Because really, critical thinking about issues and articles and soapbox exclamations found on the internet is one thing. But I could go absolutely crazy thinking through the arguments of trolls. Those that do not adhere to any logic of any kind. And here I do not mean a personally determined 'logic' but Logic. As in, informal reasoning. As in, formal symbolic logic. Rhetoric. Those branches of philosophy that predate and form a base for critical thinking, law and the scientific method. Other formalized branches of human knowledge. If everyone debated in this way, there would be no such thing as trolls. Alas.

I've always been pretty critical in my thinking. Okay, perhaps not always. But from early teenagehood onwards. As soon as I had that feeling of the ugliness of the world as fabricated by others grinding with painful cognitive dissonance against the beauty of mine. Hey, I wasn't a perfect child, but I least I looked at the world through rose colored glasses. When those glasses fell off or I took them off or were torn off, I was embittered. What I saw then displeased me.

And sheesh, doesn't it still? Corruption, hypocrisy, and in the end the failure of promising intellectualism and individualism that I held dear earlier in my life. 

Let us take a pause. On Positivity

But thinking about trolls leads me to think about the massive amounts of negativity there is in the world currently. This huge free floating mass of negativity becomes oppressive and soon enough I feel as though my rational, critical thought that, in my mind, counters the ignorance of the trolls is just adding to the negativity in my world. Is it so?

It's not as though I want to accept false premises. It's not as though I want to surrender, just say those folks who are blatantly wrong are right. I do not want to nod in agreement with glossy ladies' magazines or scientific reports that, oh I don't know, illogically twist data to reinforce once again and for the millionth time the deep difference between the genders (I mean, for god's sake! You'd think by now we'd have gotten past that whole five-year-old's phase of 'you're a boy and I'm a girl' observation. Move on, already! There are more important things to research like oh I don't know maybe how to move to a post-scarcity economy so that folks no longer have to harness greed to live their lives? Seriously.) And I never will nod in agreement to such farcical uses of the human intellect and human imagination.

So, what? Can I be positive and critical? Can I contact my friends and put a little love into their lives, can I listen to some fun music and dance wildly in the kitchen and still be an intelligent adult? Can I build my life fun and whimsical brick by colorful and lovely brick and not accept a bunch of mindless nonsense along with it? That's all fine when I'm in my little house, but as soon as I step out my front door or do a little surfing on the information superhighway and all this ridiculousness of other people's idiocy really, really gets to me. Like, is rage-inducing.

If anger is an indicator of the things I don't want in my life, it would seem that I don't want to be a moron. Is that it? Perhaps the key is not to get so mad and just learn from other people's mistakes. But that is more negativity, you see? "I don't want to be like that" when what I am trying for is "I want to be like blankety blank" or rather, "I want my life to be like blankety blank."

Things are never so simple. I had a friend once who was Eastern European. She told me that in North America, she had observed, we want everything to be positive, all of the time. We want everything to be good and everyone to be happy. Then she explained that in the country of her birth, folks were a little more understanding of the full spectrum of human emotion. That there are negatives and positives, darkness and light, and we cannot deny either. To do so is to deny ourselves the experience of being fully human.

So perhaps the key is balance. There will always be negativity in my life. There will be things I dislike, there will always be irrational people arguing about things that don't make sense. And bad drivers (unless we soon get an automated car. Fingers crossed) and bad children and bad parents and impoliteness. I suppose I have to just cherish the positivity where I can find it, when it comes and when it is truly and thoughtfully warranted.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I don't want to do that anymore

There was a time, about six or seven years ago, when I used to dance randomly and uninhibitedly. The conditions were perfect: I was just (finally) out of a particularly unhealthy on-again, off-again relationship, and I was living on my own for pretty much the first time in my life. I would wake up every day knowing that I could do whatever I wanted with my time. And it made me want to dance. So I would: I'd just turn on some music or other and flail around the room without rhythm or reason. Just spontaneously.

 Of course, the impression that I could do whatever I wanted with my time was a bit misled. I wasn't doing what I wanted with my life. I wasn't writing. But I was dancing, nevertheless.

I haven't danced like that for years. The last time I thought about dancing, it was to harness my love of it in order to lose weight. I found some 'dance' workouts that took my spontaneity and arranged it into precise movements that I repeated day after day until I was bored. Over the years, I've done the same with a handful of other activities. Yoga, for instance. And I don't want to do that anymore.

There was this one time I decided to go back and read some of my old diaries. I've kept diaries since I was seven years old. And you know what I found? I've been on one type of fitness and diet regiment or another since I was 14. Why the hell did I think I had to exercise and/or diet when I was, at not quite yet my adult height of 5'5", probably 110 lbs soaking wet? Looking back, it was probably a mixture of cultural pressures (delivered handily to me by YM magazine -- remember that one?) and familial pressures (I was a book worm as a kid and I hate hate hated gym class and team sports. So I "needed more exercise" my mother would insist).

And I don't want to do that anymore. I have been, when it comes to health, obsessed with what Foucault called 'governmentality'. Or perhaps more precisely what I should refer to as 'self-governmentality'. At least, that's the way I think about it. It could argued that this way of conceptualizing governmentality is not exactly what Foucault had in mind -- but it helps me in my thinking about my life.

I am a creature of routine -- I like to think about how I'm going to spend my day and dividing my time into chunks: it helps me to be productive and it's one of my characteristics that makes me a good writer. But when applied to weight loss and health, the whole thing takes on a different form. I have to patrol the borders of my consciousness. My wants are all scrutinized, interrogated, and jailed if found to be of 'evil' nature. Anything determined 'good for me' or 'helpful in losing weight' is distorted: ritualized and routinized until those things I found tasty or joyful lose all flavour or joy.

And I don't want to do that anymore.

In other words, I can no longer do whatever I want. At this point in my life, I found made a decision to finally go after my chosen career. And I am meeting, slowly but steadily, with more success than I thought I ever would. So why do I feel the need to deny myself what I want to do, what I want to eat -- and instead force myself to do what I think I should do. Look, it comes down to this: to the realization that when I was at my thinnest as an adult: when I was at that weight that gained other people's approval, was the most miserable era of my life to date. Why would I be focusing on something that I need to be miserable to achieve? I am not an 'ideal' weight because I am unhappy, and I am not unhappy because I am not at my 'ideal' weight. If I am unsatisfied with my life, it has to do with more substantial issues related to my career. So why dumb it down? I don't want to look at women's magazines anymore. I don't want to look at clothing models. I don't want to think about the way I look. I don't want to count calories. I want to be healthy. I want to have a healthy relationship with my body and with my food and that begins, I think, with doing what I want. Or -- perhaps that is a bit simplistic. I want to do what makes me feel joyful. Eating an avocado for the pure joy of it, not because it is good for me. Dancing when the spirit moves me.

Taking all that energy wasted on someone else's version of an ideal and rolling it on back into being myself. Because I'm great. :)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

On My Chosen Genre

Speculative Fiction

Ah, spec fi. How much do I love thee?

More precisely, science fiction and fantasy. I have a few horror stories in me, no doubt, but I'd rather save those for much, much later in my career. But for me, Sci fi and fantasy are superb methods of expression. Even more precisely, soft sci fi, high fantasy. So many, many ways we find to cut our world into little tiny understandable bits.

I have to admit that I've never been much for reading science fiction and fantasy. As an adult (like, in the past year) I've read a bit of Asimov, Philip K. Dick, a volume from Martin. But it's all so foreign to me. Everything is either too vague in the case of sci fi in the classic vein or too detailed in the high fantasy genre. It is not what I expected. I have been writing my own brand of speculative fiction since I was about nine years old, but this was high fantasy informed by classic literature of the western cannon. Jane Eyre and the Metamorphosis, Hardy and Dickens and Dostoyevsky. And later, the classics of western philosophy.

There was a little on the edges of speculative fiction along the way. C.S. Lewis was the first: the Chronicles of Narnia were bedtime stories. And then the BBC did something that helped form me as an artist:

Later there was Star Trek: TNG, watched because it was my father's favorite. And Tolkien. And much later, Rowling and the Hunger Games and well, that pretty much brings to today, doesn't it?

It was sometime in the early 90s, watching those episodes of Star Trek with my father, that it occurred to me that a lot of sci fi and fantasy (actually, I would argue all) is allegory. Clumsy or profound doesn't really matter. To me it seemed and still does that in constructing worlds that are impossible or improbably, the speculative writer can indirectly illuminate our world by having direct access to the human heart. It is much easier, in my view, to highlight lessons of life when a reader is reading about a world that they assume could never be.

However, as I've grown, I've learnt two things about my early assumptions. One is that whether or not I read certain texts and television shows as allegory, the grand tradition of the creators of speculative fiction is to deny the allegory implied. Tolkien certainly did it. The exception to the rule is anytime the thing written is a Jesus allegory. And I think we both know there are far too many of those things to list. I'm not actually sure having another "the one" story really could teach viewers or readers anything new about the world. But, art for the glory of god and all that stuff, I suppose.

Anyways, where was I? Oh, yes. The second thing.

The Second Thing

The other thing I've noticed most recently among many artists, both literary and visual, and across any genre, is this insistence on art for art's sake. We're not supposed to teach anyone anything, so the argument goes. If you set out to write a novel with a theme or even more appalling, a lesson, already intact, you're going to create garbage. Or so it goes.

Well I just thinks that's a bunch of Hooey.

Edit: Although I will fully admit that there is plenty of narrative in the world for which one is beaten over the head with the lesson. Usually while the artist is simultaneously doing something even more harmful and insidious than that cultural crime they are warning against (I'm looking at you, Cameron, Martin, and yes, I'll admit it -- even sometimes Star Trek)

It's a Bunch of Hooey

I will give that creating art, especially in the details, especially in the details of writing, requires great amounts of freedom. Especially in that first draft, I certainly can see the need for turning off the inner censor and just going. To explore the created world and most especially the characters and what they do, how they act (and thus the plot) uninhibited. Sure. Fine. But art, however high-minded I'd like it to be, is not created in a vacuum. Art is an important part of culture. It is one of the elements that helps to create culture on an ongoing basis, pushing it ever forward. You can't just say you're to write a book and then not edit the first draft, right? At some point you've got to decide how much of your explorations you want to present to the public and those decisions, each tiny minute decision is going to eventually shape the culture in some way. Even if you have only one reader.

So, what? So saying that we do not teach lessons with our art, intentionally, is irresponsible. I believe that the writer of speculative fiction should not squander their most powerful position for shaping culture and cultural responses by just shrugging and saying, "oh, well, I didn't mean for it to be read that way." For instance, I learned about the profound negatives of xenophobia and messing in another's culture from Star Trek. If it weren't for that show, would I even understand now what xenophobia is? Okay, well, maybe I would. But I wouldn't have until perhaps undergrad, if then. The use of characters with whom I identified was a more powerful pedagogical vehicle than any textbook ever has been.

The Only Real Danger

The only real danger in claiming allegory and creating culturally responsible speculative fiction as I see it, is when readers miss out on the fact. (Edit: well, okay, and also like the other edit pointed out above: trying to teach a life lesson through allegory while not really having it nuanced enough to identify your own limitations to do so. Or, as I am talking about my genre and my art, not being able to see my own limitations, my own privilege).

When the allegory is not claimed, the impossible world and the created characters are cherished more than the lessons themselves. It's happened to me: I love certain characters in certain books more than some real people. The places they inhabit are like a second home to me. I am under the impression that this phenomenon happened to a lot of folks who grew up reading Harry Potter. Whether Christian or not, kids growing up reading those volumes adore them despite the allegory (I'm sure in some cases because of it). So I think as a speculative writer (or literary author) denies the chance to come out and say that this is an allegory, or this was the theme, or that this was meant to be the lesson -- they're being irresponsible. Plain and simple.

I suppose to sum up I just think it's a shame when you see quotes by writers along the lines of, "oh, no...I didn't mean to write an allegory. It had no theme. No life lesson. I had no motive in writing it."

Of course you did. Everyone has motives for everything they do. Complex motives. So does every character you write. That's called plot, remember?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

This Whole Weird 'Grown Up' Thing.

Hey, I'm back! I could say I was busy and it wouldn't be entirely untrue. But it's more that I didn't really know what to write about. And now I do.

So I just read this amazing, life-changing article on NewStatesman call "I was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl". And other than loving its every word, I have a few thoughts.

First of all, the premise that girls grow up expecting to be the supporting players in someone else's story. I can't argue with that -- for the most part. What I can say is that it highlights the central tension in my life -- the nameless, floating sadness that has plagued me for the past few years. That which has torn a hole through my early thirties.


You see, I didn't grow up that way. Oh, sure: I was exposed to Disney Princesses. No doubt. Belle from Beauty and the Beast was my favourite. But only in the beginning of the movie. You know, when she's running through fields singing about how everyone else she knows has sold their lives so frustratingly short and how none of them understand how much more she wants for her life. Totally identified with that. Maybe now even more than when I was nine and was first enchanted by Belle's ambition.

What really bothered me, then and now, was the end of the movie. I mean, girl starts out by wanting adventure and ends up being some dude's wife in his castle down the lane? Not so damn adventurous.

I blame Emily of New Moon.

(holy crap. I just did a search of Emily of New Moon and there's an anime version someone made of it. That just made my life a thousand times over! Someone get me a subbed version, like now.)

Anyways, Emily's was the story that made me discover that I was a writer. About a thousand years old, a found a smelly copy in my elementary school library, and that was that. I was in love. It will probably always be my favourite book, even if I try to rhyme off more sophisticated titles nowadays.

The most important aspect of the book is that this novel is Emily's story. She is the protagonist, she is the main character and in the third and last book of the series, she moves to New York City to become a journalist. She has a career that she is determined, even as a little girl, to pursue. She has mentors along the way.

Maybe it was reading such a story about a little girl during my formative years that has led, inevitably, to this point. Because now I cannot find in my life another reader of the book who believes in the story. Deeply. At the phase in my life, it seems all my like-aged female friends read those other stories. Stories in which girls stayed girls, never to grow up but to become a supporting character in someone else's story.


On top of writing little stories and poems and dreaming of being big enough to be a real grown up writer, I used to look through this giant Reader's Digest atlas that my parents owned. I wanted to travel. I wanted to be an explorer. I was so sad as a realized slowly as I grew up what borders meant and how restrictive they were.

My need for adventure has led me down some interesting roads. I've lived in eight different cities and towns in this country, and it is one of the (many, complex) reasons why I fell in love with and committed to an Air Force man. The life that stretching out before us will always be uncertain. We may never know where we'll be living next. It is one of the things that makes me happiest about our union -- we both embrace the uncertainty.

Grown-Up Career

But being open to adventure is easier for some, it seems, than for others. It is easy for me to accept a life in which I will always be moving, never being rooted. I am a writer. I write sci fi, I write fantasy. All I need is a laptop for my career. But for others, the prospect of being a military spouse can be daunting. It can mean giving up on one's own story to be a supporting player in someone else's story. I am lucky that I have the opportunity to have it both ways: to be a (grown-up) supportive partner as well as having support for my own endeavours from my spouse. What bothers me about some of my female friends is not so much the agony they feel at this prospect, as it is the gleeful way they speak about their husbands' careers at length. Sometimes, when we have a 'girls' night', I feel like we may not have even bothered, since so much of the talk is taken up in either their husbands' careers or, when the ladies' futures are spoken about, it's in relation to the men: the marriages that are coming, the babies that are coming. It is all very tedious.

Having it Both Ways

But how can I blame my friends? When, really, in the awkwardness of my social interactions I deny myself the chance to be brave. I want it both ways, it seems. I want to fit in. To seem like I am just a supporting player in someone's else story. I fold my hands and bemoan my inability to find work as a teacher. I hide the writer part of me. I pretend as if I don't have my own story. I pretend as if my story is not interesting.

And it's the same when we hang out with the guys as well. Most of the time I am the only girl who shows up. I'm not sure where the only girls go, but my drive for adventure (and fun) will not let me stay at home when there are parties afoot. But there, too, I use the excuse of how awkward it would be to tell any of our friends that I am a writer. I imagine the conversation. I have imagined it so many, many times. It goes like this: "Yeah, I'm taking this correspondence course in writing fiction." "Oh, yeah? You're writing a novel? What's it about?" "It's about robots..."

And that's when Imaginary friend laughs.

So the morale of the story? I should grow up. I should be brave. I know the point of my life was never to live happily ever after. It was not to find a handsome prince (although I have, into the bargain) and it was not to have children. The point of life is contribute something of good to this crazy beast we call humanity, and to do it through writing. So I have to be brave. I have to be myself.