Friday, November 27, 2015

Flashback Friday #1: Waitressing

Heyall! I've decided to start a new feature on the blog: Flashback Fridays, in which I will dig through the mess of my ancient, outdated drafts and fish out something semi-presentable to an audience. Then I'll share it, with a little background and no minimal editing.* Hopefully it will be fun, provide you with a little insight into what I'm working on ... or, err, was working on a couple years ago, and allow ME to appreciate how much I've grown! Let's try it out!

[Now for the moment you've all been waiting for (drumroll, please) ... an unfinished scene written Jan '14, meant to be the opening of one of my WIP's, codename WONDERLAND. This book is one of my more troublesome babies, and you'll be seeing more alternate versions of it soon -- I think it ran up to seven openings before I caught the one I'm using now. Nothing about this scene is still accurate to the book, but I loved it enough to share, in all it's warty goodness. Comment with your favourite line below and you could win something awesome! (and totally imaginary shh just pretend)]

The restaurant was stifling, heavy with the scent of grease and bad cologne. Scarlett was sweltering in her black waitress uniform. She itched to get out, to burst through the doors into the cool night air and never come back. Instead she plastered on a smile and went to refill a tableful of water glasses.
This table sat a party of six — three adults, three children, the youngest of whom seemed to be painting a Picasso in the gravy on the table. Scarlett’s plaster smile became a little strained at this.
“Will you be having dessert today?”
“Actually …” The thickset older woman at the head of the table frowned at the man on her right, and he subsided.
“We don’t need any dessert, thank you,” she told Scarlett.
“Are you sure?”
“Quite positive. But do be a dear and get us some extra napkins. I believe Franklin has upset his plate.”
The heavyset woman had a sharp glint in her eye. It was the look of someone who only bought toilet paper on sale. Scarlett decided not to press for dessert.
On her way back to the kitchen, she caught sight of one of the TVs set up beside the corner booths. It was displaying a local news channel, where one of the news anchors was talking against the backdrop of …
Scarlett’s heart sank at the sight of the smiling fourteen-year-old girl’s face. Emily Keys, her name was. Local kid — she attended a school only six blocks over from where Scarlett’s own younger sister went. She’d been missing for six days.
There was no evidence of foul play, no unusual behavior on the girl’s part before the incident. She had left for school that day perfectly normal, had by all accounts had a perfectly normal day at school, and had biked home from school with a group of friends, only turning off when she reached a residential alley half a block away from home. Then she had simply … disappeared.
They’d found her bike in the alley, when they finally went looking. Lying on its side across a jagged crack in the pavement, one wheel spinning gently in the breeze. Perfect and unharmed. What they didn’t find was the girl.

* Originally there was going to be no editing allowed, but then I found a couple things in this snippet that I absolutely COULD NOT post without editing. So I've settled on a compromise -- I will edit as little as possible, and then tell you exactly what I changed in a postscript. Deal? Okay.

Edit #1: second paragraph, first sentence. In the original copy, for some reason it said the oldest of the children was painting in the gravy, but the wording wasn't absolutely clear as to whether the artist in question was child or adult. It was driving me crazy, so I changed.

Edit #2: tenth paragraph, second sentence. My subconscious does this obnoxious thing sometimes where it names minor characters after celebrities I know just little enough about to not realize, in the distraction of drafting, why the name sounds so natural. This scene was one of those times -- in original copy, the little girl was named Alicia Keys, and I didn't realize until I was uploading it to the blog. Oops.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

an experiment in authenticity

hello, internet.

I struggle with blogging. I know I've said this a million times, and I suspect that most people really don't care, because I am quite certain that most people do not actually read my blog. In fact, I'm pretty sure there are exactly three people who read my blog.

[...hi, grandpa]

What you might not know, if you are one of those three people, is that for every post you've seen on here, there are approximately a hundred more that never get written. I just did the math, and I have exactly 74 posts on my blog -- 75 if you count this one, which I hope will actually be going up. And there are 102 drafts on my archive. and there are a million and three aborted drafts lost in my brain.

There is a very real possibility that this post will never be read. There is a very real possibility that I will never share it, for the same reason I never shared any of the others. Because

Somewhere deep down in the core of my being, I firmly believe this. I believe that everyone who is reading this blog post 'right now,' in this abstract unit of time known only to writers and the mentally unstable which comprises EVERY SINGLE MOMENT in which anyone could POSSIBLY be reading my work, everyone is judging me. I hear your voices in my head: Oh, puleease, staaaahhhp. When are you going to realize, nobody cares? I am mentally writing to an audience of constant eye rolls and bored texting.

Actually, now that I think about it, I am mentally writing to a mass-produced audience of middle schoolers.

But, for some reason, I keep writing.

And I'm not going to quit.

And so if you are one of those non-imaginary people who is actually reading this, right now, in any moment in time ... this is for you.

hello. my name is sarah.

i have monsters in my brain.

i would like to be your friend.

please, let me know if you are human too.

dysfunctionally yours,

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Thoughts On Writing Diversity And Other Complicated Things

[ETA: There are a lot of things wrong with this post that (as of a couple weeks later) I now see and wouldn't write today. However, this were my real and honest thoughts that accurately represent a period of my life, so I'm going to leave this up. Please read mindfully -- I hope to have follow-up posts soon.]

Crap, crap, crap. I shouldn't write this post.

Crap. I'm writing this post.

Let me start out by saying that this is NOT a post about how to write diverse fiction. NOT EVEN CLOSE. This is NOT a post about how to talk about diverse fiction. NOPE, NOPE, NOPE. This is a post about my experience as a straight, cis, white girl with mental illness who cares, cares, cares about the whitewashing, straightwashing* and otherwise homogenization of fiction to exclude marginalized groups, AND DOES NOT HAVE A FREAKING CLUE WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT.

Brace yourselves. This is going to be a long one. You might want to grab a drink. I know I'm going to need a drink.**

(brb getting water)

(got the water. drank the water. now let's do this.)

Okay. Okay.

First, before I go flailing like a chicken with my head cut off into territory I don't understand, let me give you some background into what I HAVE experienced. Because although I don't have a FREAKING CLUE what it's like to be a person of color or LGBTQIA+, I do know what it's like to be marginalized in fiction.

Exhibit A) I am a girl.

And I know: females are not a minority group. But in fiction? It sure as heck feels like it. I have lived my entire life in a world where speaking male characters outnumber speaking female characters by a ratio of 3 to 1,••• where the precious few women who do make it through are stereotyped and objectified, where stories about men are considered universal and stories about women considered "niche." I fought my entire life against a world that tells me MY stories are not important, that MY voice is not worth listening to, that I will never ever be as 'relevant' to the human experience as that neighbour boy down the block. And I HATE IT.

When I have spoken up about this, when I have protested a fictional diet of active men and passive women, when I have cited statistics and studies and anecdotal evidence, I have repeatedly been told to sit down and shut up, to get the chip off my shoulder, to forget about female representation, because there are more important things to worry about. But I do not sit down, and I do not shut up, and for this I make enemies and I shed a LOT of tears. I am familiar with the experience of being told I do not matter.

Additionally, I have serious mental illness. To be more specific, I have lived with moderate-to-severe anxiety and depression since I was about five years old. Sometimes it's not so bad. Sometimes it's a living hell. Currently, as I write this, I am living through one of the worst depressive episodes of my entire life. Some days, it takes literally everything I have to get out of bed by 9 AM, eat, shower, exercise, read my scriptures, pray, watch a couple YouTube videos, and go to bed at a reasonable hour without killing myself. I am not saying this because I want your pity. I do not want your pity. I am not saying this because I want you to worry about me. You do not need to worry about me, although I will happily accept any good thoughts and prayers you want to send my way. I am saying this because I am sick and tired of living with a legitimately life-threatening illness that everyone pretends isn't real. I am saying this because the other night as I was sobbing in my mom's bed because all my broken brain would show me was repeated demands that I smash my brains out against a wall, that I hurt myself cut myself kill myself MAKE IT STOP, part of me was STILL whispering, "you know this isn't really a thing. mental illness isn't a thing, and if it is, you don't have it. you're probably just selfish. you're doing it for attention. grow up and get a life."

Not okay. This is not okay. I am no longer okay with living a world where the thing which threatens my life is dismissed as laziness, or bad character, or immaturity. I am a hard worker. I have to be, to stay alive. I am a positive thinker. I have to be, TO STAY ALIVE. I have more willpower than you would freaking believe. EVIDENCE: I AM STILL ALIVE. I keep the door to self-harm or suicide tightly shut, locked and superglued, and I get up every morning and go at another day in spite of living in a world which tells me I had better not exist, and where there is next to no one like me represented in the media.

I know what it's like to be discriminated against. I know what it's like to be marginalized.

I don't know what it's like for you.

I do not know what it is like to be targeted by racism, by homophobia, by transphobia, by physical ablism, or by any of the other things that make YOUR life hell. I cannot even imagine wearing my differentness on my skin. I could pretend I do, try to compare it to the way I experience sexism or the fear I sometimes experience as a woman, but we both know it's not the same.

I have spent most of my life in an unusually homogenous environment. For the last eight years, I have lived in a small town that is not only overwhelmingly white, but in which 80% of people belong to the same Christian faith. This is not good preparation for writing diversity.

I am aware that the burden is on me to educate myself. Problem is, self-education has proven to be more difficult than it looked in the commercials. This is partially because of my anxiety issues, and partially due to a horrific tendency I have of speaking before I think and the fact that I tend to try to lighten all moods with humour ... which usually results in me saying something hideously offensive and then I want to crawl into a hole and die because A) my ignorance is showing, and B) I KNOW WHAT THAT'S LIKE. I have been the one cringing in my seat because someone else just said something nauseatingly sexist, or they have innocently reflected a whole society's worth of damaging stereotypes about the mentally ill. I know what it's like to be hurt by someone who's not intending to hurt you, but is just accidentally stupid today. And I have also been that stupid person. All the freaking time.††

And all this is made even worse when I see white, straight, cis authors (who appear to genuinely care) make attempts at including diverse characters in their fiction, and mess up, and then I see the Internet rip them to pieces and spit on the remains. And I get it. I get that the voice of the privileged should not take precedence in conversations about marginalized groups. But when I see privileged authors who attempt to write inclusive fiction villainized for their mistakes, the message I get is YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE. WE DO NOT WANT YOU HERE. GET BACK TO YOUR SIDE OF THE PLAYGROUND AND NEVER COME BACK.

And then I think, oh crap. If I attempt this, I am going to mess up so bad. And so I slink away and write another MS with another white protagonist, in a very white cast where everybody is straight and able and Hollywood beautiful. Because it's safe. Because it's where I'm comfortable. Because, ultimately, no one wants to be where they do not feel wanted. Not even straight, able-bodied, white people.

And yet I still want to write diversely, because honestly? Although POC writers should absolutely be the loudest voices in fiction about POC, although queer writers are the MOST IMPORTANT sources of queer representation, although women know best how to write about women and we mentally ill writers SHOULD represent the mentally ill, I honestly do not believe that our society will ever progress to the place it needs to reach unless those who are privileged put in the effort and the courage to write about those who are not like them. Plain and simple.

Unless men write about women, white people write about POC, and the mentally able learn to write stories about the mentally ill, marginalized authors will always be "niche." Nothing is ever going to get better, and I will continue to write long, rambly blog posts with random passages bolded. I don't know about you, but to me, that future looks pretty bleak.

So, please, CORRECT MY MISTAKES. Correct all the mistakes, because bad representation is worse than no representation, and those who are not oppressed do not know what the heck they're saying about those who are. When I do something racist, or homophobic, or otherwise hurtful, PLEASE, please, PLEASE CALL ME OUT ON IT, and EXPLAIN. Otherwise I will never get better. You will never get better. None of us will ever get any better.

Just ... try to show a little compassion, if you can. Try to have a little patience, even with the ignorant. Especially with the ignorant. Because some of us are like five-year-olds, and we speak before we think, and we will make stupid mistakes, because we have not hurt like you have, and we do not understand.

Help us understand. And by all means, make your voices heard. You are the only ones who can get us out of this mess.


[P.S. I'm not editing this post, because I've learnt long ago that if I 'edit' something for postage online, I will end up deleting the whole thing. So I'm just going to post it, and you can let me know if you see any typos or otherwise strange things I should fix? Thanks. Really, really thanks. <3 S]
* Is that a word? Let's pretend that's a word.

** Of water. As a Mormon health food junkie, I strongly advocate the drinking of water. You can, of course, drink whatever you want. But I suggest water.

*** In animated movies/this is an approximation/blah, blah, blah. I don't really want to nitpick about statistics. You can look them up yourself if you want.

† I have not officially been diagnosed, because ????. I have had a handful of doctors say things like, "Yup, you have depression," and "I think you just have serious depression," to which I reply, "You don't say, I never would have figured that out thank you for your help." /sarcasm

†† If you know me in real life, you are nodding along. I have the insatiable curiosity of a novelist and the tact of your average five-year-old. Baaad combination. On so many levels.

††† Lots of things have happened on Twitter since I wrote this post. (This post originally happened because of things said on Twitter.) I have a lot of different thoughts, and conflicting thoughts, and new thoughts. But here is the ultimate thought:

With my writing, I want to help people more than I hurt them.

I don't know how to do that. I don't know if that's possible.

Maybe the only way is to write lots of books about white, straight, cis, mentally ill girls like me, or maybe there is a place for my carefully-researched-novels that will never ever ever measure up to the Real Thing -- books by people who have LIVED the experiences they're writing about. It's hard, because I know the industry is biased towards me right now, through no virtue of my own, and so any 'diverse' books I publish will tend to obscure the voices we really need, by making people think that's enough, we have diversity, game over. When really, what matters is the diversity behind the author name, and I'm not it.

For once in my life, I really don't know what to do. That's where this post came from, even if it doesn't communicate it clearly. I want to find out what I'm supposed to do. It seems that I am, by default, part of the problem. I want to do whatever I can to change that, but I will need the help of people like you to figure out how.

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Monday Poem

"Chocolate Cake"
by Sarah

I would like a chocolate cake.
A rich chocolate cake.
A moist chocolate cake.
A dense chocolate cake.
I would like a rich, moist, dense chocolate cake.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Blogging And Mental Illness

Sometimes, I hate blogging.

Why do I hate blogging, you ask? Well, because blogging, in its simplest, purest form, is the intersection in Hell where all my demons pass each other on the way to work, exchanging friendly hellos and paper bags full of blood money. Or something like that.

I don't remember how much I've said about my personal cocktail of crazy on this blog, (and frankly, I'm not about to find out, because if I leave this post for longer than ten seconds I am literally never going to get it done). Suffice it to say that I have experience with a wide variety of mental disorders, all generally agreed upon by doctors (although never officially diagnosed? because apparently there was no motivation to get me diagnosed? Internet, what do I do about this -- do I even need to be diagnosed? These questions and more) and they all make blogging difficult in their own particular way.

Today, I am going to share some of my experience with these conditions ... particularly as they relate to blogging. No, I'm not sure this is a good idea either. But I'm doing it anyway.

Here goes.

1. Depression: If there is such a thing as a *primary* mental illness, this is probably mine. I have lived with moderate to severe depression since I was about 5 or 6 years old. Sometimes it's just the faintest grey haze in the corners of my eyes. Sometimes it is a black, crushing weight on the solar plexus of my soul. Usually, it falls somewhere in between.

What it means: Deadlines kick my butt. If there's anything I absolutely hate, it's feeling incapable of meeting my commitments. Unfortunately, with depression, this happens all too often. (Note that this failure to meet commitments doesn't come in the form of blowing off the commitments entirely: if I promise to get stuff done, I get it done. However, I often have little control over when I get it done -- and I am blindsided by this reality more often than not.) Blogging, in its traditional form, constitutes a commitment. And every. single. time. I have made this particular commitment, whether to myself or to you, whether I promise to blog every month or every Tuesday, it falls through. Every. freaking. time. And that brings us to ...

2. Anxiety (ALL SORTS): If depression is my primary mental disorder, anxiety is my second. I suffer primarily from generalized and social anxiety disorders, with a side of what I think might be panic attacks?*

What it means: The primary function of my anxiety disorders -- in blogging and other threatening social situations -- is to make it very, very difficult for me to behave like my actual self. I am hyper-aware of possibilities, and my anxiety zeroes in on the negative ones, enlarges them until they're all I can see. I become terrified, and then I try to cover it up, often becoming hyperactive, occasionally becoming belligerent, almost always saying or doing things I don't mean, and then I panic and lose it completely.

Social media makes this both better and worse, because it provides both the illusion of control and, you know, the complete lack of actual control. I can edit and consider what I say on the internet, but once I've said it, it can be really, really hard to take it back. And while normal social situations move on and fade into the past, the internet is forever ... and there are some very scary possibilities associated with forever.

This leads directly into ...

3. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: I am blessed with very mild obsessive compulsive disorder, which means that although I spend rather more of my life than I would otherwise choose dealing with the niggling feeling that something is wrong, that the world is off-balance and needs to be fixed, that feeling does not lead me to, for example, punch myself in the face. Or bash my head into walls. Or go running in the dark at -20°C. These are all real things, some of which have happened to people I love. OCD is brutal, and I am grateful that my experience with it has been so mild. That said, it is still unpleasant, and I am here to tell you what it means for me (and for my blog).

What it means: OCD is a funny thing. It might be the mental illness I understand the least (out of those I experience myself). It hitches very closely into my anxiety disorder, which makes sense, as OCD is technically an anxiety disorder, but I'm listing it separately both because it's often recognized separately and because my OCD symptoms are quite distinct from the symptoms I experience with generalized anxiety.

Sometimes, when my OCD is acting up, I find myself compelled to use words that have the 'b' sound. As many 'b' words as possible. (When it's really bad, I can end up rocking back and forth and crawling in circles on the floor, but that's a story for a different day.) When my OCD is triggered by journalling and/or blogging, I can find myself compulsively writing and deleting, stuck on a sentence I want to say because THIS word is a 'bad' word and this OTHER word is a 'good' word and I somehow have to find a way to cut the 'bad' word and use the 'good' word.

I don't know. It doesn't make sense to me either. All I know is that it's real. It's something I regularly experience, and while it doesn't always affect everything like my depression and anxiety do, it does make blogging a regular pain in the neck. The intricate workarounds necessary for me to get around my compulsions and actually write the blasted thing are exhausting, and frankly I usually don't have the energy to do it. Because depression.

CONCLUSION: This has been a really hard post for me to write, for all of the reasons I have listed above. There is a reason I haven't talked much about my mental illness on this blog. The stigma against abnormal mental processes -- even the terminology we use to describe them (mental illness, mental disorder) -- makes it easy to identify those who experience these processes as diseased. Undesirable. Broken.

I don't understand a lot of the things going on in my brain, but I am 100% sure that it isn't broken. I am objectively brilliant. (Another very risky thing to say on the internet.) I absorb information quickly and easily; I acquire new skills in a lightning flash, so long as they don't require kicking a ball or otherwise using my body in any way. I read voraciously. I love unashamedly. I draw and act and dance and sing.

I could afford to be better at all of the above. But so could every human being on the planet.

I am not interested in being broken. I am absolutely interested in being human.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that I am tired of being ashamed.** My mental processes affect me. They do not define me. Honestly, I am grateful when I think of the abnormalities of my brain. They remind me that I'm still breathing.

Even when it hurts, even when I feel a little less than alive, even when I have to drag myself out of bed and I'm living on the verge of tears and writing a simple 500-word blog post feels like sledding uphill, I am grateful for the person I am, and I am even more grateful for the person I am becoming.

Even if she never gets a handle on the whole blogging thing.

 *I have done extensive research on panic attacks, and I don't seem to manifest many of the physical symptoms that seem common to panic attacks, but I don't know what else to call them, so I call them panic attacks.

**I am also tired of missing deadlines, and freaking out around mosquitoes, and drinking water with chlorine in it, but unfortunately we cannot have everything in this world.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Reinventing the Wheel

This year, I realized something important. This is something I probably should have figured out a long time ago, but being remarkably unaware of my own creative processes, I figured out now instead.

Writing is freaking hard.

Sure, there are days where your fingers fly across the keys and words come streaming out of brain and onto page like ... like [vivid metaphor].* But those days come at the expense of months and years spent painstakingly picking a story out of ... out of ... yeah.

Daydreaming is easy. Everyone's mind is full of fantasies, and there isn't a writer I know who can't happily sit for hours just playing with the people in her head. But writing.

Writing is like reinventing the wheel. Every. Single. Day.

I used to get disheartened by this. I used to feel like if writing was hard, I was doing something wrong. And I do still believe that, to a certain extent.

Writing is doing something wrong over and over and OVER AGAIN until you figure out how to do it right.**

I have learned that if you wait until you can do something perfectly, you will never do anything at all. If you aren't prepared to do something horrifically, mind-bleedingly hard, nothing worthwhile will EVER seem easy. And when you feel like you can't, that is the time to decide that you can.

Sometimes, you just have to sit down and make the mistake.


*Clearly today is not one of those days.

**Not that I am advocating the perpetuation of bad habits. If you know you are doing something wrong, and you know WHAT IT IS, then you should fix it. My point is that you should not be writing unless you are prepared to make mistakes. Because art, like science, is a series of increasingly intelligent mistakes. (But hopefully with less explosions.)