It’s Kinda Sorta (Almost) Finished

It’s finally crunch time. I’m going to publish this damn book if it’s the last thing I do. I’ve talked about The Fields from time to time on this blog, and that’s all it’s ever been… talk. Now I will do. And it’s going to happen in the next two months.

That’s as risky of a deadline as I’m allowing myself at this moment… god forbid I give myself an actual date. But I am the closest I’ve ever been, and I’m reaching the point where I feel I need to just bite the bullet and get it over with — a sure sign that it’s ready. There are just a few details I need to attend to in order to get it off the ground, mainly dealing with promotion.

Some of you have already obliged me in my feeble attempts at promotion, as I created a public figure page on Facebook. This feels so weird to me. I don’t like advertising myself, but I know I need to in order to get people to read my work, so it’s always an awkward battle with my self esteem.

As I get closer and closer to publishing The Fields, I find myself face to face with questions I do not like. One of those questions is, “who is your audience?”

I hate the audience question. No one sits down and says, “I’m going to write a story for x audience” (Okay, maybe children’s authors do. Whatever. That’s different). When you write, you’re creating a story that you’re interested in, and you don’t think about how it will conform to any one genre or age group. You just write the damn story. It’s only afterwards that you have to think about what the hell you’re doing.

That was definitely my process for The Fields, anyway. I technically started writing this book about eleven years ago, but I didn’t really gain traction with it until eight years ago, and then I didn’t even really figure out what the backbone of the story was until four years ago, and then the message began to piece itself together after that… yeah, I’m a really slow writer. But my point is, I didn’t start off thinking, “This is my audience. This is the plan I have for this book, and I will write within the constructs of this plan.” I was just letting the characters come to life, and babysitting, essentially, until those details began to fade into place.

Turns out, The Fields is definitely a young adult novel. And I tried to convince myself otherwise, but it’s true.

First, there’s the protagonist. Mukisa is nineteen years old. Ironically, when I first started writing this story, I was a teenager, and the protagonist was a 30-something year old man (the character who is now the protagonist’s father. Mukisa didn’t even exist at that point). I suppose as a teenager I hadn’t quite learned that I should push women’s voices into the forefront of my work? But as the story grew, the age of the protagonist shrank (I don’t know, I didn’t write the rules, I just wrote the story).

Now, just because the protagonist of the story is a young adult doesn’t mean that the story is for young adults, but it is a step in that direction, especially when you take a look at the themes being represented in the story. Though technically independent, Mukisa struggles with her relationship with her parents, and being able to make her own decisions. Both of her parents are authority figures in the community, as well, so that conflict is heightened. There are also themes of discovering your identity within a community, and a struggle with morality… a lot of the themes do line up with young adult fiction.

I’m not sure why I was initially so frustrated with the idea that I was writing a young adult novel. Maybe it was because some of the content is a little dark — which isn’t a good reason, because young adult books increasingly wrestle with darker topics. Or maybe it was because when I asked for feedback, some of my readers suggested that I simplify some of the language to make it more accessible to younger readers — the words were too big — which I will never, ever be ashamed of refusing. Readers, if you aren’t able to figure out the meaning of a word through context, then it is not going to kill you to look it up and learn a new word. God. (I’m a little bit too firm on this subject, perhaps).

For some reason, I wanted my book to be for adults. And in a way, it still is — there are plenty of young adult novels that adults read, like The Outsiders, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, etc. The nice thing about story is that if it’s good, it’s good for anyone.

So I’m learning to deal with this.

Maybe this shouldn’t have been such a difficult thing to come to grips with. Are you an adult who likes young adult fiction? Are you a young adult who reads everything you can get your hands on? I’d love to hear people’s experiences with the books they delve into, and/or prefer.

Advertisements

Loren

dsc_00101000194159796445708.jpgThere is now a kitten residing at This Damn House, and his name is Loren.

I told myself I would wait a while before I got a pet. I’ve been wanting one for years, but never was really in a good spot to have one, and then, when I moved to my own house, I had the ability, but I wanted to try and settle down first.

But then, I met Loren.

He was in need of a home. His mama gave birth to him and his siblings at an animal hospital, and all of his siblings were claimed, but he was shy. So no one had claimed him yet.

img_20180709_163618_8508958878538062126834.jpgI couldn’t resist. I was a little nervous when, for the first several hours that he was in the house, he hid. I thought, oh no, he really is shy – not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I was worried I was never going to actually see him.

 

But then I managed to drag him out from his hiding place, and pushed him into the living room, and he freaking loves that living room. Loren has now graduated to running around, chasing his tail and being very, very vocal. And he is the best at cuddles. He won’t play with any of the toys I got for him – only his tail, and paper – but he is warming up to the soot sprites. He doesn’t yet seem to be a huge fan of food.

img_20180724_152410_9164926205345827315035.jpgAt first I thought that Loren reminded me a lot of me. I am often that shy little kitten who skulks in the corner in new situations, trying to blend in with the wall. I realize now that I may be projecting on my cat a little bit… just because it took a few days for him to come out of his shell with me, and just because it takes a few minutes for him to warm up to strangers, I rush to the conclusion that he has anxiety just like me. I’m not alone, I think. Loren and I can figure things out together.

 

 

But Loren is a kitten. And while he will probably grow out of this skittish behavior, mine got worse as I grew older. I suppose I am slowly learning to run after my tail, and I’m getting a lot better at enjoying what is in front of me and forcing myself to be present and engaged in my surroundings. But I still have a long way to go.

img_20180724_181406_5892414780616135367217.jpgSo as I try to socialize my cat with other people, I’m also trying to remind myself to do the same with, well, me. I want to be able to be myself around anyone, regardless of the situation. I don’t expect my true colors to come out in front of everyone, but I want to get better at revealing myself to those I enjoy, and to not feel stuck when I’m in their presence.

This baby boy has brought me a lot of happiness these past few weeks, and I can only imagine the fun we’ll have as he grows up. And for my sake, I hope I can grow up a little with him.

 

 

Those are human beings, you assholes.

I have never been great at talking politics. I have never found the right words to soothe pain, to explain cruelty, to reason with those who don’t seek reason. I learned to speak in images, not in outcries, and my arguments only go so far.

But I have been pretty good with metaphors, and symbols, and imagery. So this is what I have to offer.

America is a bear trap. It holds out a prize, dangles it until it gets the attention of a bear with particularly high ambition, and, when the bear takes a closer look, wooed by the tempting morsel, it snaps down and crushes the bear, trapping it in its claws, carving into its skin, digging deeper and deeper. The trap only trips for certain animals, with the hunter waiting just around the corner, watching to make sure that only those who fit his bounty get the morsel within.

America is a predator. It professes idealism, and freedom, and it doles out fear, hatred, and chains. Its citizens work tirelessly to limit the ammunition, but America keeps spitting bullets at an imprisoned target.

America is a siren, offering a song, luring with its sweet voice, with its years of hope and opportunity, and relishes in the splintering crash in the waves below.

We are a cove of bats, blind and comfortable on our perches, only stirring when a loud noise shakes us from our reverie, marring our rest. And the flurry that follows, with wings fluttering and mouths screeching, only lasts as long as the surprise that we have in being rousted, until one by one we settle, fading back into the dark.

We stand at the crosswalk, hitting the button impatiently, wanting to reach the other side, wanting to see a change, but we are waiting for an automated system. We could cross, looking both ways and making an educated decision, but we wait for the green, the signal that all is well. We wait and we wait.

And while we wait, the traffic thickens. While we sleep, the air gets thicker. The hunter reloads, the trap is cleaned of the blood of the many.

We need accountability. We need voices. We need hope, and we need love. Discussion. Truth. Education. Reaching across the barriers. We need to look each other in the eye. We need to understand each other. We need to see. And respond.

This Damn House

I bought a house today.

Those five words seem pretty easy to say, but I’ve been waiting more than eight months to say them. The path to homeownership has had its fair share of turmoil (okay, let’s be fair: every inch of the goddamn way was turmoil), but I’ve finally closed. No take-backs.

A lot of houses have names, like Graceland or Green Gables. After my grandparents had both passed and we could no longer call it “Grandma and Grandad’s house”, my sister and cousins and I gifted the home with the title “Boyne Manor” (their last name). But we also gave it a nickname. See, “Boyne Manor” was the official title, but it sounds a little stuffy when saying it in everyday conversation, so we nicknamed the house “the G-House”, after the G-rents themselves (for years, our family referred to them as Gma and Gdad). This is actually the name that is used more often, and it quite fits.

So my new house will have an official title as well; but until I come up with it, I will refer to it as This Damn House. Because, to be honest, that’s how I’ve been referring to it for months now, anyway.

It’s funny how easily I let myself bear the burden for things I can’t control. Of all the circumstances that swooped in and prevented or delayed me from buying a house, about 95% of them were external – the sellers changed their mind about selling, or the lender read the inspection report wrong, or a bunch of paperwork got shredded so we had to start over from scratch, or the house was listed as part of a commercial zone and the only person who could sign a form saying the house was a house was on vacation [insert steam coming out of ears here].

Most people, I hear, find a house, put an offer on the house, and in a couple of months, have the house. I, on the other hand, had long stretches of time where I began to convince myself that I wasn’t good enough to be a homeowner — that I hadn’t proved myself to the world, somehow, and my penance was to have my closing date pushed back every few weeks until the end of time.

All of this is bullshit, of course. The truth is, I ran into some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad luck. But had you asked, my anxiety-ridden brain, worn down by months of self-disparaging thoughts and a slipping grasp on normality, would have told you otherwise. I owe my sanity to some very good people at Century 21 Real Estate, who encouraged me not to give up after countless dead ends.

I know some exasperating times are coming up in terms of rolling with the punches that a house may pull, but for now, I’ll be content. Because when all is said and done…

I own This Damn House.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

I’ve been practicing how to yell.

A friend and I have been working on an improv show that explores relationship issues. It is for sure the most serious improv I have ever attempted, and the same for my scene partner, and boy, does it feel weird. The form involves discovering a relationship problem on stage, and then uncovering and unpacking that problem through dramatic scenes. So far, it’s felt really good and cathartic, but it’s hard to know whether that’s just for us as the performers, or if the audience would enjoy the mess we make too.

There have been some bumps in this process. The form has changed a lot from practice to practice. And at some point we realized that we would have to break a major rule in improv… Typically in improv, you would try to avoid conflict — and if there is conflict, then an improviser should resist the urge to solve it, and instead allow the conflict to develop a game, or the improviser’s character. Improv is not about fixing things, it is about showing the truth in the unfixed. But in this case, my scene partner and I realized that our form requires a conflict. So whether it gets fixed or not, it needs to be there.

In most cases, though, the audience wants to see the relationship succeed, and to see the conflict resolved. While we made ourselves promise to not always have to resolve it, we did decide that the fun of a form like this would be to see the couple handling the conflict. Or, in other words, getting in a fight.

It became clear that my scene partner and I were going to have to learn how to fight with each other.

This is an incredibly tricky thing to do for me. I am not used to putting it all out there when I’m angry, and I usually try to avoid arguing. So now we find ourselves having to step outside our comfort zones to master the form.

We are still in the early stages of this problem, which is wicked interesting, because we both gravitate toward conflict resolution. We keep working our way to a solution too quickly. This is not the end goal. I mean… yes, that’s the end goal, but let’s be real: no realistic relationship manages to problem solve every little thing before dinner. That’s just not the way things work. So we’ve been pushing ourselves to stick to our guns, to find our point of view and own it, to a fault. To take sides. In essence, to do the unhealthy stuff first, and then work up to the healthy stuff.

What a bizarre feeling, to do something “wrong” in order to get it right.

It’s also really interesting to have to raise my voice at someone. I mean, it’s not like I’ve never gotten in arguments before, but even at my worst, I’m not yelling. My volume level never really reaches above what other people would consider 30%.

I have always been quiet. In high school, my english class was preparing a performance of Romeo and Juliet as a part of our curriculum, and one day the teacher took us out to the football field and told us to yell. It was supposed to get us comfortable with projecting our voice, but it did little more than terrify me. I hated the idea of being loud. I was a generally shy individual. My sister and I had gone through speech therapy in elementary school because no one could hear us, for goodness’ sake, and after a few sessions, my mother had finally relented and allowed us to stop. We just didn’t have it in us to speak up.

So being out on that football field and being asked to yell in front of my classmates was probably one of the most uncomfortable things I had been asked to do at that point in my life. I don’t think I ever was able to be as loud as my teacher wanted me to be. I just couldn’t do it. I “yelled”, and it didn’t sound natural. It wasn’t a real yell… I was just raising my voice.

So now that I have to yell in a performance, it’s a bit strange. I mean, sure, I’ve had arguments on stage before (usually when I’m not supposed to, because I suck at doing the right thing in improv — read: avoiding conflict), but it’s never been a yelling match.

It has been a very backwards experience, trying to craft this form. I only hope that it will be well worth it once it makes its way onstage. But it’s also beneficial offstage, too. Learning to yell may be a stretch for me, but maybe it can train me to speak up for myself in real life circumstances. And maybe studying the way I argue can teach me about how to pinpoint the healthier forms of dissent in relationships down the line.

It’s going to take time – both with the show, and with myself. But I’m excited to see what places the show takes me, both in improvisational goals and in self-discovery. Sounds cheesy, but if I can use a source of enjoyment to cultivate myself, then I’m all for it.

Learning To Be Selfish

I don’t know who swore first — me, or my therapist.

But the feeling was mutual: there was a point where my awkwardness began to melt away, and more and more I found myself able to be me.

I’m not sure if she does this on purpose, but my therapist naturally inserts her very being into conversations. I am able to glean little bits and pieces of her life from things she says, and the way she acts. This is not a bad thing to me. I don’t know if it’s at all normal, but I like it – I like being able to engage with a real person, instead of a textbook, and it is good to feel like the therapy process is not just some stiff ganging up on me and telling me how to live my life; it’s refreshing to be able to just connect with someone and be myself.

I started therapy for a handful of reasons, but one of the main reasons was for anxiety. And even with that knowledge, it took me a while to not be anxious about my therapist. Sometimes you end up finding a therapist that isn’t good for you; what if that was happening to me? What if I had picked someone who just wasn’t on the same wavelength as me, and I was just wasting money by going and sitting and telling her about myself?

But something finally clicked in my head these past few sessions. Possibly it’s because I switched to twice a month instead of once a month… I never quite felt like I was getting everything out over the span of a month, I felt like I wasn’t conveying what I was supposed to convey and so was not helping my therapist help me. Ha. How’s that for anxiety?

But therapy is finally starting to pay off. I’ve got a long way to go, but after a while, some of this stuff starts to sink in.

It’s funny about therapy… I know plenty of people who scoff at the idea of sitting and talking about feelings with a person they don’t know. And that was completely me a few years ago… I refused to believe that talking to my friends about my thoughts and emotions wouldn’t provide the same comfort.

But that was because my perception of a therapist was someone who listens. I didn’t think that a therapist could tell me anything I didn’t already know about myself. Now I realize, regardless of what I know, it is the matter of taking action that’s the problem. Deep down, I don’t trust myself — I’m not willing to follow my own advice.

So a therapist is part accountability, and part… well… teacher. She tells me that a lot of emotional stability is conditioning, working to continually correct my thought process until it naturally goes in the direction I want it to. That’s wicked hard to do on your own. But the goal is to eventually be able to do it without help.

I do feel like this blog has gotten a bit me-centric lately, and I almost want to apologize for that. But I will hold my tongue… I never promised that I would treat my readers to issues only pertaining to them, and 80% of what I say in this blog is me just sound-boarding my thoughts and ideas. I realize that may not be what people want. I also realize it’s what I need.

I’ve always announced that perhaps an additional benefit to writing about personal stuff is that someone else may read and gain something from it. But I have begun to realize something else: I didn’t see that as an additional benefit, I hoped for it to be the benefit.

screenshot_20180329-203804~25469824480030066544..jpg

Maybe my relief in finding a therapist whose personality I can see is because I like focusing on others instead of myself. And maybe my hope that others will relate to my posts is really just a hope that people will take the me out of what they read, and insert them.

Oftentimes, I feel uncomfortable taking ownership of something that’s solely about me because I feel that people may not be interested in it, or that it’s selfish in some way, and essentially discredit my own personal journey in hopes that someone else will find their focus. But is it so wrong for a personal blog to focus on the person who writes it? It’s like writing a story… You obviously must recognize the audience you’re writing for, but if you don’t gain anything yourself in the process, why write it? To some extent, the act of writing should be selfish.

I’ve got a long way to go with therapy, but I’m learning more and more every day that sometimes I just need to working on satisfying my own needs, instead of freaking out about everyone else around me. Sometimes there will be things in my life that no one cares about, and maybe I shouldn’t hesitate to write about those things like I have in the past. Maybe I should just let the chips fall where they will, and if one happens to land in someone else’s cup, then lucky them. But otherwise, they’re my chips.

Hope Sucks

I don’t get why everyone’s so in love with the concept of hope.

Seriously. Everybody’s all like, “Don’t give up hope,” and “Without hope, we’re nothing.” But can we just take a moment to differentiate between the words, want, hope, and fantasy?

Want. Noun. A desire for something.

Hope. Noun. A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

Fantasy. Noun. The faculty or activity of imagining things, especially things that are impossible or improbable.

So the difference between want and hope is expectation. I could want a million dollars, but I don’t expect to get it. Therefore, I do not hope for a million dollars. But I do hope in the sun rising. That is a desire, and an expectation.

There are two differences between hope and fantasy. One is the outcome – how probable is it? Do I want a million dollars? Sure. Do I sometimes imagine what it would be like to have a million dollars? Yeah, sure. But the idea of having a million dollars is highly improbable, so again, I don’t hope for it. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, it is very possible that the sun won’t rise tomorrow, but it is more likely that it will… So I don’t fantasize that the sun will rise, I hope that it will.

156ecf22-76ca-4240-9137-8f283adf71ec-49848-00002c5449f062f4

The other difference between fantasy and hope is that fantasy doesn’t include expectation. Pay attention, because at first glance, this concept looks the same as the previous one. I can fantasize about having a million dollars, and I don’t actually believe I’m going to have a million dollars. But what about those who fantasize realistic things, but don’t expect them to happen? For instance, you could apply for a job, and be fully qualified for that job, but not get it, because there is also someone else that is just as qualified for that job. There are some who would hope for the job, and some who would fantasize about getting the job – they want and imagine it happening, but they don’t believe it will actually happen. Okay, so maybe that’s a self-confidence thing – it’s still possible that they could have gotten the job, but they don’t believe in themselves enough to have hope. But it proves my point: imagination does not necessarily equate to expectation.

Adversely, sometimes you can fantasize about something so much that it starts to seem like more of a possibility in your head, and so your fantasy transforms into a hope. And that is the most dangerous thing to ever happen.

This is what really messes me up. You see, wants are perfectly natural, and human. And so are fantasies. And so is hope, right? Except that sometimes, hope is more soul-crushing than anything else… just because you expect something doesn’t mean that your expectation is justified. I could expect a million dollars, but that would be so unrealistic, so why would I do that?

It’s a difficult game to play, because, as I said before, a lot of the time we don’t hope for things that are possible, because we can’t understand that they are possible. And so in those moments, it’s great for someone to push you to hope. But nine times out of ten, my wants are fantasies. I don’t want to be told to hope in those circumstances. Hope is hurtful in those circumstances.

Some call this pessimism. Okay, fine, if there’s truth in that, then I’d rather be pessimistic than continually upset when life doesn’t match my expectations. But if you apply for a job, and you don’t have hope that you will get the job, and you do get it, how awesome is that feeling? Your fantasies just became a reality! I wish that I thought all of my wants were fantasies, because my life would feel like a fairy tale. But that, I’ve been told, is more hurtful than helpful, in the long run.

This is something I’m struggling with hardcore right now. I don’t want to expect unrealistic things, but if I don’t expect anything at all, then I get taken advantage of. I need to have standards. I need to understand what is realistic. But a lot of the time, I can’t tell whether a want is realistic until I see the outcome in retrospect. And so begins the anxiety.

So let’s push ourselves to have wants, and to have realistic expectations, and to be very careful about keeping those things separate. Sometimes they do align, sure. But let them align naturally, and not because we force them to. Hope is only helpful when it’s reasonable.