On discomfort: loneliness

One of the worst manifestations of discomfort, for me, is loneliness. When I’m all right with myself, when I don’t feel like a fraud and things are okay, then I’m perfectly fine with my own company.

But when I’m unstable, whether that instability is internal or external, then my own company is just not enough. I regress to the age of eight, with those little self-pity fantasies building up into a world where I’ve been unjustly left alone by my friends, who have realised I’m not that interesting at all and are off doing their own thing.

It’s a circular pattern, this loneliness: it feeds off that impostor syndrome — soon people will realise I’m nothing like they thought I was — and in some awful way it becomes a self-truth and I can’t stand my own company, and I’m just an awful person.

Is this a manifestation of anxiety? I’m reasonably sure it’s not depression. But I sit here and feel hollow when I send a text and it goes unanswered (usually for perfectly good reasons). How does it emerge? Why does it emerge? I believe some of it inherited, but that’s just predisposition, isn’t it? There’s something environmental that triggers it, or highlights it, or something.

Loneliness is when the echo chamber of your own head only repeats the bad stuff you write about yourself. Solitude is when you take time for yourself, to think, to reflect, to consider, to digest, in your own company and no one else’s.

I’m in a loneliness place tonight. I hope I’m not there tomorrow.

Year in review

For a few days now, I’ve tried to write some kind of retrospective on the year. The truth is I’ve never been all that good at reflection. I can do it in the immediate timeframe, or at least a small one — say, a few days or even a couple of weeks. I’m very good at replaying an event and agonizing over it, but often I’ll get something useful from it.

But longer timeframes and it’s another story.

I can’t remember January. I mean, I can; I was in the US — I try to come here for a month every year to be with my parents — but I don’t have anything solid. No big event, no milestone thing. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, or out of the ordinary, but I get that slippery feeling my mind has when confronted with something it doesn’t want to do and distracts itself with tumblr or something. A staticky rising frustration ending in a fit of distractive pique.

A good deal of this year is that way. I have no milestone for February, or March, or April. And I think there’s something distinctly wrong with that. I can point to part of it; I felt at the time that I was bungling my research and spinning my wheels (due to my own incompetence and cowardice), so the avoidance theory fits the bill there. Can’t deal with own shortcomings! Must play more computer games!

In fact: the avoidance theory is a huge fricking neon sign.

I used to love reading fiction. All kinds, but fantasy and sci fi and comics were my favorites. And that’s not the case now. I find reading stories stressful.

Stressful. Seriously.

I even have a hard time watching some TV shows. Because I’m not comfortable with the uncertainty, with the problems characters face that are the core of a good story (or sometimes crappy writing, but that’s a different issue).

My avoidance behavior has gone absolutely haywire. It affects me in all kinds of ways. I don’t go out, sometimes, because the uncertainty is paralyzing. I fight with myself to get research done not because I fear the uncertainty, but because I fear that I won’t measure up, that a theory will defeat me, that I’ll crumble under the goals I’ve set for myself. Failure.

I don’t like the discomfort of potential failure. I don’t like the discomfort of uncertainty. I don’t like them enough to curtain parts of my life I once enjoyed in order to avoid them. It looks idiotic when I write it down, but there it is.

So the first half of 2013 is a story of blinders. I can’t remember specifics because I did everything in my power to not face them.

The second half of the year is a turning around. I got accepted into a conference and presented there, met incredibly interesting people and had my work well-received; I accidentally went to a writer’s convention thinking it was a fan convention and made even more friends. And then presented my research at a milestone panel (a mini-viva, to be honest), and not only had my work validated, but was given a focus for finishing it that I didn’t dare to think was something I could pursue. (More on that in another post.)

Proof that if I suck it up, if I just acknowledge that things might hurt and be uncomfortable and that’s okay, really interesting things happen. And things often aren’t as uncomfortable as I expect.

It’s a weird kind of anxiety, and I suspect it’s rooted deep in my past. So maybe that’s my resolution, as much as I hate the practice. Sort out that anxiety and come to terms with it, so the momentum from the end of 2013 pushes through into 2014.

Academic writing

Is it me, or is it like some perverse wrestling sculpture event? It’s like cooking, or carpentry. There’s heavy lifting and assembly and then disassembly when you inevitably get a joist wrong. And there’s a lot of staring. And pressure. And waiting.

Scripts for me can grind, sure, but the grind is different, spooling too far too fast in a direction that I later realize doesn’t work. Lots of spooling. Tire smoke.

But this theory thinky stuff is a different thing, like trying to walk through gel. Pushing through. Stopping for a breather. Is it always like this? Does it loosen up the more you get used to it?

Or is it easier for some people? I can completely understand if it’s not the kind of thing I’ve got a knack for. I dunno.

Meanwhile, back in academia

One 24 hour plane trip and my white blood cells are all offended. I have come and gone to a fantastic conference (Rethinking Intermediality in the Digital Age), left with my head bursting with ideas and a notebook full of unbelievably smart and astonishing new contacts, and after landing in Brisbane one evening, heading to work the following morning, and then attending fellow DCI cohort presentations the day after that, I am fallen.

Stupid cold. It’s not as bad as the lurgi before, but not for lack of trying.

On the plus side, reading. On the minus side, poor reading comprehension.

In early December I present a progress report of sorts for my research. There’s even a panel evaluation, so, like, no pressure or nothing. Really, I’m not terribly worried about talking. I can talk. Talking is fine. It’s putting this stuff down on paper that feels intimidating. That’s a funny place to be, for me. Usually the writing is like the talking. I got this.

Well, I don’t got this so well right now. It may only be the cold medication that’s keeping me from abject panic, but I don’t feel as mortified now as I have in the past. Maybe the conference toughened me up.

Anyway, I’m writing this post more as a quick note to say I’m not dead or hiding from postly responsibilities. I’m just locked down with other writing (hey — I’ll put up some excerpts) and an inability to focus for more than half an hour due to shocking sinus pressure. This thing took me two hours alone. Honest.

That said, I want to point you all to this entry over on You Suck At Transmedia (I love this title so very much): You Suck At Seeing Transmedia Change.  This entry (and the article linked at the start of the entry) touch on some of the things I’ve been seeing coalesce out of the fog banks between my creative work and existing theory: namely, the notion of paradigm. I find myself getting frustrated about people trying to fence out front yards, when what’s really interesting is watching people shift from house to house having arguments and barbecues. But that might just be me and my polyphony obsession. We’ll see.

GenreCon, or the smartest impulse buy I ever made

Okay, so, I’ve been gaming since, like, forever. And my family wasn’t the kind to get an Atari or a Nintendo or whatever. No, my gaming was pen and paper and the kinds of stigma you expect when not being whatever’s popular that week in high school (I actually started earlier, but hey).

I’m not here to talk about that, I’m here to talk about why I made my impulse buy. Which was a weekend pass to GenreCon here in Brisbane. I’ve know about Chuck Wendig since my White Wolf days, and then somehow, years ago, I stumbled onto his blog. If you haven’t read it, you should quit my site right now and go do so. I even linked for you just above. There’s a bit of a naughty word warning, but whatever, he’s a George Carlin variety of profanity-slinger. Trust me on this.

Anyway. He was coming to GenreCon, and knowing that, I was totally in.

Now, here’s the thing: I thought GenreCon was a fan convention. There’s nothing on the site to clue you otherwise, or maybe there is and I’m just obtuse which I’m absolutely willing to accept. No no, this thing’s a writer’s convention. Industry.

And it is the single most amazing thing I’ve participated in. Honest. It took me a few hours to sort out that it was an industry gathering, and when lovely people asked me what I wrote, after fish-jawing a bit I answered as honestly as I could, which was dissertation.

When I explained what I was doing, people were really supportive. I spoke with all kinds of authors from all kinds of genres and subgenres and hybrid genres and not a single soul was closed or unpleasant or anything.

There was karaoke, fer cryin’ out loud. (I have anaphylactic reactions to karaoke, so I had to demur, but others who were there have mentioned some small hints at the glorious experience.) And alcohol. And food. And silliness and business and serious critical considerations of all kinds of enormously useful and revelatory things.

Check out my Twitter stream from the 12th to 13th, I livetweeted as much as I could.

Anyway. One of the questions posed to a panel was, “when did you feel like you were a professional writer — not just someone who writes?”

For me, it was GenreCon. It was a wake-up call of the most positive and shocking persuasion. There’s a part of me sad that I’m in the middle of a doctorate because I have ideas. And incredible friends, new and old, who I know I can rely on in effecting these ideas, just as they can rely on me. Things.

Man, this is sounding a little culty, isn’t it.

We build an idea of ourselves over time. I’ve been making stuff up since I had any real capacity with words, and putting that stuff to paper or phosphor not long after. I was one of those folks who wrote. Sure, I’d done an occasional short work published here and there, but not a “real writer.” I always figured that door was sort of closed to me, partly by circumstance, but mostly due to my own inaction.

I was full of shit.

Listen. If you’re at all interested in genre writing — which is where all the awesome stuff is at, by the way — then do yourself a favor and start saving up for the next one. Which apparently is in 2015 and I’m inconsolable over the fact I have to wait that long. Doesn’t matter if you finally decided yesterday to be a writer, or you’re a seasoned pro; the kind of insight, support, camaraderie and conversation — and lasting friendships that emerge from this — are invaluable as you make your way as the writer of your design and choice.

Seriously. I got a crash-course on dissecting story using action flicks. I learned about the amazing Anita Heiss (forgive me — I’m one of those awful women who was all “ew, romance” until properly schooled by the fantastic Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches about how ridiculous I was being, and how much I was missing out on), reveled in the irreverence offered by John Connolly, and if I list all the fantastic people I got to hear from and meet I’ll never end this blog post.

But before I end it, if you don’t know about the Queensland Writers Centre, you need to. Both as a resource and as the entity that pulled off one of the most unbelievable things I’ve ever attended.

Anyway — I have scripts to wrassle, so I’ll check in here after a few days. I leave for Romania on the 22nd (I’ll do up a bit of a post on what I’m tackling), and I’ll be back on the 30th. Depending on connectivity, I’ll try to livetweet the sessions I attend at the conference. Seemed to do reasonably well this weekend.

Right. Off to make stuff up.

Wait, PS: if you want to know more about people’s experiences at GenreCon this year, keep an eye on The Australian Writer’s Market twitter feed, as they’re gathering and collating relevant blog posts. Okay, now I’m done.

Spoiled for choice

It’s funny, seeing as how the work I’m doing is all about choice, that I’m critical of it. I just saw an ad for RSVP, an online dating service, and the theme of the ad was winnowing down preferences. “Must like dogs. Loves to cook.” Blah blah blah.

We’re spoiled for choice, and by choice. Before we could move across great distances at will or chat with strangers on the other side of the world, we had who we had, and that was about it. You grew up in your family, your town, your neighborhood, and you took the things you disliked with the things you liked. And because you didn’t have an option to get away, surround yourself with the safe and adored things of your heart’s desires — physical, political, imaginary, whatever — you had to learn how to cope.

I am forgetting how to cope.

I am a liminal child. Born between cultures, now living between two different ones, I grew up in the waning days of rotary phones and the era of air travel as a sign of sophistication. I remember sitting in the smoking section with my mom, that’s the kind of era I’m talking about. Problem people and problem issues could only be ignored so long before they had to be confronted.

There are two kinds of ingenuity: the kind that adapts, and the kind that escapes. Bruce Lee and Houdini. In the days before the super-granular preferences of subreddits and Facebook groups and whatnot, your options for avoidance of the unpleasant and adherence to the comfortable was limited; being Houdini was hard. So was being Bruce Lee, but you learned how to cope, how to adapt. I had to learn to cope and adapt. I had amazing friends who stuck with me, and I had really awful people in my life who reveled in watching me squirm. Here’s the thing: some of the former started as the latter. Because we had no escape, we had to find ways around ourselves, our own judgments, for the sake of our own continued coexistence.

Now I can count on one hand the people who I know and admire who think very differently from me, ideologically. And it’s a problem. If you don’t think so, then please see US Congress, Exhibit A. People toss around that quote — by Jefferson, or Franklin, one of the US founding fathers — that, paraphrased, says ideological disagreements don’t have to be friendship dealbreakers. Because we can learn from each other, we can learn from people who don’t see things the way we do. It’s why travelling is so important. But key to this exchange is respect. And when you can Houdini away, you don’t have to be the respectful but assertive Lee.

We must be responsible with our choices. We can’t put the tech genie back in the bottle, nor should we. It would be a waste. But what we do need to do is step up and take responsibility for ourselves, stray from the people and places we find comfortable, because it’s only through this kind of mindful confrontation that progress happens. Sometimes that progress is hard and painful, but often it’s meaningful and well worth the trouble.

To defeat the luxury of choice, we don’t eliminate choice: we just learn to decide better.

Progress! Though it might not look like it.

I’ve managed a bit of a breakthrough, tightening the pacing on the story (improving the first episode significantly) and getting a much livelier sense of the characters, which is immeasurably valuable.

I did it by eliminating/consolidating three characters.

799px-PSM_V38_D605_Lever_shears_for_cutting_bar_iron

Bar iron lever shears. For CUTTING. (Via Wikipedia entry Alligator shear, public domain image.)

Reminds me of a phrase used when it comes to modern media technology: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Polyphonic stories require ensemble casts: it is the nature of the tale. But too many characters and you muddy and confuse everything, and no one remembers who anyone else is. Too few, and you have no tension at all.

I’ve had to be mercenary about this story, looking at every scene from a screenwriting perspective: no wasted airtime. No wasted words, no wasted sound, no pointless scenes. But the difference here is that in a three-act film, every scene pushes the story forward on the shoulders of the main character (even though some scenes may not include the main character at all). In an ensemble/polyphonic story, each scene illuminates the nature of one or more relationships; and it’s these relationships that define the boundaries and spaces of the story. 

I’m bold-facing that because it’s the kind of thing I want to come back to later on. That’s important. That’s exegetical document important.

Wendig on how we talk about pop culture

He says it much better than I can get my thoughts to string together. Also, do take time to check out the link he includes in his post. That’s also well worth the read:

…You’re also allowed — encouraged, even! — to not like stuff. While I don’t know that “hating” something is valuable, at least in the sense that, say, That New TV Show is worth the hot irons of your internal furnace, but hey, you feel what you feel. Once again, unless you’re a paid critic, you’re allowed to dislike something without any rational or cogent reason presented. You can just be like, “Man, that show Homeland just, it just, gnaaaarghle vvvzzzzz ahhhhhh. You know?”  And then you flounce about and angrily eat a churro. CRUNCH CRUNCH FROWN.

Here’s the thing.

When it comes to pop culture –

Someone is going to dislike the things you dig.

Someone is going to adore the things you don’t.

And that has to be okay….

From The way we talk about pop culture.

Excerpt: Ep 3, Draft 1

Pukka: Is this what it’s supposed to be like? It’s not even a game, it’s a dance. Everyone knows their place, and there are songs and people move to them and sometimes a country gets an advantage and sometimes another, but nobody pushes really hard. No one starts a real war.

Neyu: It’s why Sami left. She knew things were going to get a lot worse. She wanted to help stop it.

Pukka: …She told you about that?

Neyu: She said we shouldn’t stop trying to do the right thing even if people told us to stop, even if no one else did it. But how do you know what the right thing is? If everybody’s doing something different, how do you know which one is right?

Yes, and

So this was meant to be small and short, and isn’t, but I want to get this down because I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Yes, and.

I first heard about it when I interned for “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” in the early aughts. It’s a part of improv; when you’re working with others, when they throw you an idea, or they throw one out to get picked up and carried over the next goal line:

Yes, and.

It’s a simple principle, and it’s terrifying, and it’s the thing that will make us better people and it’s what shows us to be good people.

In a collaboration, the instict to deny or negate comes from a protection of the self — sometimes a concern over sovereignty, over who gets the credit, over the dilution of ideas. But real collaboration, teamwork, trust, does not happen unless there’s this sense of yes, and.

As I think about it closely I lose the feel of it, and it’s frustrating. It was clear to me when I was at a writer’s festival early last month, listening to people I admire both professionally and now personally, as they talked to one another on stage. Genuine admiration and support — not the sugary bullshit that we can all discern when we see it. There’s a kind of honesty demanded from yes, and.

I think I have notes written about it but I don’t want to go downstairs right now.

Anyway. Yes, and. It forces you to lock down prejudices and assumptions. Certainly, this isn’t the way to go when you’re being genuinely threatened. But when someone comes to you earnestly and honestly and presents something, take the extra seconds of thought to contrast what might be your initial reaction with yes, and. And it’s not a sarcastic and, it’s not

Yes, and?

It’s an affirmation and build. You accept what someone’s given you, you work with it, and you add something of your own that builds positively on what you’ve been handed. The final answers that may come from a long string of yes, and may not be immdiately useful, but what happens around that conversation is priceless. People will trust you when you listen, when you show you listen and then back it up with words and actions. Saying yes, and is an affirmation. And when it’s done toward you, the feeling is deeply surprising, possibly because we as a people are very fearful and cagey right now. But when someone genuinely says to you, “yes, and here’s this thing that builds on what you gave me, on to the next person,” the usual calluses of the heart shear away in that moment of suprise.

Or at least that’s how it is to me.

Being vulnerable, in my mind, is the only honest way of making art. Vulnerable to criticism, vulnerable to judgment. Wearing your heart on your sleeve not only keeps you honest — people can spot shifty art from a mile away — but it keeps your heart honest. You’re forced to think about others because you’re leaving yourself, raw, out in the open, too.

Or at least that’s how it is for me.

I’d like to incorporate more yes, and in my life. I tried to do it, to a limited extent, when I taught first year English composition for a little while. I was still new to the notion of it, and I was also in a fairly nasty financial situation, so my heart-callus was pretty thick and not readily sloughing off. But there were days when I did that: when I was generous with the people I worked with, I was teaching, and even if most of them took advantage of it, the ones who did responded in a way that made the effort worth it every time.

Just a thought that’s been banging through my head for the past few weeks.

Yes, and.