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Monthly Archives: February 2012

A Part of the Problem

I had given up on being in a relationship, around ten or eleven years ago. I was living in Fayetteville, Arkansas at the time and all of my previous boyfriends never worked out for one reason or another. I had gotten out of another relationship, and after thinking on it for a few months I had determined that I would be one of those people who were alone for all of their lives. My personality and goals weren’t in sync with most people’s, and it was tough to find friends who understood me well enough to be close. A boyfriend was at best a long shot. It took me a few weeks, but I had begun to make my peace with it. I was actually starting to seriously consider joining a Buddhist monastery.

Then I met this guy online that I really liked on one of the role-playing MUCKs I frequent. His character had this impossibly hot body that I instantly fell in lust with, but he coupled it with a quote that stopped me cold: “Size is no guarantee of quality.” It was a warning, a set of quills that could be used to push people back. It was prickly, but in a self-deprecating way. This wasn’t the usual guy playing the usual muscle-head. I wanted to get to know him after our Internet one-night stand.

Over time I learned that he was an English major at a California university, that he had family in Arkansas that he visited whenever he could, that he wrote poetry. We shared poems, critiqued each other’s work, talked about music and books and all those things young geeks getting to know each other talked about. We were both strange and damaged people, but we actually liked rifling through each other’s baggage. We helped each other through a lot, and with every bit of dirty laundry we sorted and put away our bond got stronger.

Then came the visits — he’d come to my room in Fayetteville on his way to family holidays, and I’d go to California in the summers whenever I could afford it. Every time we visited each other, it got harder and harder to leave. After a few years of this, we decided parting wasn’t such sweet sorrow after all. I moved in with him.

We had both been in long-distance/online relationships that had fizzled, so we agreed to be careful. In a lot of ways, we had to treat this like an entirely new thing. Knowing someone primarily through the Internet is so much different from knowing who they are in real life. The adjustment was so easy it was almost non-existent. After a year and a half, Ryan proposed, and on September 27th, 2008 we were married.

I never got what a big deal marriage was until that ring was slipped on my finger in front of my closest friends. When people proposed on TV shows and in movies, I felt a vague sense of happiness, a distant reaction to this emotional beat that was played up to be momentous. I would think, “How nice for them.” But it never really affected me.

Now, every proposal nearly brings me to tears. I’m endlessly fascinated by the process of discovery, the way two people find each other, identify and look past their flaws, and decide to spend their lives together. I never get tired of watching people in love face the world together. It’s amazing. Every young couple takes me back to our courtship. Every proposal takes me back to that mountain vista where Ryan showed me my ring. Every kiss, every “I love you” is one I say to him.

And I think that’s why terrible romantic comedies persist, and why there’s way too much time devoted to courtships and marriages and babies in TV shows. Because despite the fact that most meet-cutes are trite and uninspired, or the witty banter between new couples is so tired, there’s enough of a reflection in our relationships that we overlook it. We’re comforted by it anyway. It reaffirms the bonds we have with our husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends and mates. It helps us to escape right back to ourselves.

Valentine’s Day, for better or worse, is a day concentrated with all of that terrible, mushy crap. If you hate any movie with Katherine Heigl, chances are today is not really your bag either. And that’s fine — I understand. Ten years ago I would have been annoyed about today right along with you, just waiting for all of the chocolate to go on sale tomorrow.

There is no story that’s going to be all things to all people. Love stories are meant to resonate with those romantics and couples who have a bank of memories to draw on, I think, and it’s all right if that’s not there yet. It’ll come, with hope and patience.

In the meantime, allow us this little folly of rolling around in the stink of our stories and delusions about love. Let us wallow in it, fill ourselves with all of the corporate-mandated crap designed to get us to buy flowers and chocolates, go to restaurants that we would never be in otherwise. We’ll come back tomorrow, plucking rose petals and hearts from our shoulders, with an embarrassed hangover. And then you can call us saps and suckers as much as you want. I won’t argue, and I won’t deny it.

I LIKE being a sap and a sucker. Because it means that I get to have something to be sappy about.

I love you, Ryan. I’m so glad that I get to be stupid about today with you. And I’m glad that because of you, I get weepy over marriages and all of the other mass-produced pap. It’s worth it.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Writing as a Shark (or an Artisan)

Earlier I made an analogy that I’ve been trying to keep in mind when thinking about my writing practice. As an artist, you have to keep moving — it does you no good to sit back on your laurels and admire the work you’ve completed. I mean, sure, some looking back is good for self-awareness, and there’s nothing wrong with being proud of what you’ve done. But as a writer, you can’t confuse the completion of a work with the completion of your craft. No matter how many really tough short stories you work out or how many novels you’ve completed, you’re never really done. Just like a shark can never stop swimming, a writer — or anyone who wants to take up the title of artist — can never stop creating.

So how have I been doing with that? I’m happy to say that creating has become a fundamental part of my life now, even though there’s often not a lot to show for it. One of my big goals this year was to make sure that I actually…you know, showed my work to an audience at some point. This requires completing all of those half-baked short stories floating around in Google Docs, refining them once they’re done and then making them readily available to my audience, wherever they may be. Each step of the process requires that I wear a different hat, and each of those can be equally rewarding.

When I’m writing, I’m giving shape to chaos, taking these raw, unformed ideas and finding a way to make them tangible. It’s during this step that you feel most like, well, a deity. You’re taking these atoms, these abstract notions, and putting them together to make something full of potential. Not to mix my metaphors here, but you’re scraping together atoms and finding new ways to put them together. Sometimes you end up with nothing, just dust and wasted time. Other times you end up with clay or steel, plastic or gold. Something raw and valuable that can be molded any number of ways.

When I’m editing I’m taking this raw thing I’ve created and I’m giving it shape. Depending on what I need, it can something crude, like a hammer or pot, a bag or a trinket. Or it can be something refined, like a fine dagger, a scalpel, a magnifying glass. This is where you look at the raw form of the story and see what sort of thing is lurking underneath it. What were you trying to say with this? What do you want the story to do? Answering these questions actually drastically changes the shape of it — it determines what aspects of your protagonist you should punch up, where the conflict should come from, whether or not secondary characters are useful. There’s a lot that gets cut there, and I think the most difficult thing to learn is not missing that. Does a potter miss the clay that gets lost when he’s making a pot? Does a woodcarver fret over the shavings she leaves when she makes something? The plot elements that you really liked or the characters that you fall in love with can be dropped, but they’ll always come back if they really resonate with you.

When I have a finished product, then I have to act as a merchant — which is actually really difficult. The marketplace for writers is really crowded, especially for furries, and it’s hard to drum up interest for your work. However, I’ve got a bit of a plan for that, based on what I’ve learned from hanging out with folks who have a fair degree of success there. Furries, for better or worse, will pay attention most easily to the things that titillate them (a lot of people are going to cry foul over this, but it’s true — and the subject for a post in the future). So, if you really want to build a name for yourself, I think you have to go where the people are — at least at first. You write stories that grab their interest on a visceral, physical level, while still trying to incorporate the other things that are important to you. I’ve found that while we like our sex, we also won’t really object to socio-political messages, musings on spirituality, world-building or any of the other stuff you tend to see in science fiction and fantasy. You give us something that excites us, you’ll get your foot in the door. Then you can slip in your other stuff once we’ve gotten to know you.

Anyway, that’s the plan that I’ll be trying to take this year. I have several ideas in the pipeline, and though I haven’t been enough of a creator and editor, I’m working harder on this than I ever have. If I’m a shark, then I might be oxygen-deprived and sluggish as a result, but at least I’m moving. And the more I push myself, the faster I’ll become and the more my movement fuels me. The momentum is slow, but it’s building. Hopefully I can build it through the course of the year so that by the end of it, I’m much faster, leaner and savvier as a writer than ever.

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2012 in Writing

 

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The Writing Desk Mission Statement

I fell in love with stories as soon as I learned how to read them. As I was growing up, most of time after school was spent in the library looking for books that would catch my interest. There were a lot of authors I fell in love with immediately: Kenneth Grahame, Anne McCaffrey, C.S. Lewis, Robert C. O’Brien. Like most kids my age television was a really big influence too, and I remember Nickelodeon back during its salad days of Special Delivery, David the Gnome and its anime versions of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I lived and breathed fantasy, and it didn’t matter what flavor it came in. If there was a comic book lying around, I read that. If there was a novel that caught my eye, I read that. If there was a TV show that I really loved, I tuned in every week. I grew up with a brain choked in a haze of stories.

The next step from being a voracious reader is becoming an aspiring writer, and I jumped into it with an electric typewriter and a desire to write a sequel to The Wind in the Willows. It never did take off, but I kept at it. I developed all kinds of games and stories, spin-offs of cartoons I loved and imagined tales of bit characters that I had been fascinated with. I told my sister really vulgar bedtime stories every night. I played pretend with the neighbor’s kids for far longer than I probably should have. And as I grew older, that desire to tell stories branched out into other areas. I discovered tabletop role-playing games in high school, as well as MUCKs, MUDs and MUSHes. I fell in love with theatre and poetry in college, and learned to play around with what those could do. Formalized vocal storytelling became a brief passion after I dropped out of college, and over time I’ve come to incorporate all of it. To me there’s no wrong way to tell a story — you can play Dungeons and Dragons, write short stories, act in a play, speak around the campfire, or write screenplays. It’s all fascinating in its own way. I love them all.

Stories are so much more than mere entertainment. By paying attention to the kinds of stories we tell and love, or the character types that come into fashion, or the genres that suddenly permeate the public’s consciousness, we discover things about ourselves that it would be difficult to find out any other way. Stories give us an outlet to talk about things we would find too painful otherwise, allow us to express truths we’d find hokey or shallow if spoken outright. They’re a mechanism we use for revealing and reaffirming who we are. It’s difficult to point at the direct influence they have, but it’s impossible to deny otherwise.

I’d like to use this blog to deconstruct and examine stories and the effect they have on us, from a variety of angles. I’ll talk about the stories I attempt to tell, the difficulties I have putting them together, and my thoughts on stories that affect me and seem to be affecting the society I live in. I want to take a look at our modern myths, the fictions we weave about our history, our present and our being. Stories can be a means to understanding our world, but they can also be our means of hiding from it too. Like any tool, we can use them for good or for ill.

This blog won’t be quite so lofty much of the time, I suspect — I just wanted to write up something that sounds impressive so I can talk about the stories I love and/or create. Role-playing games, TV shows, movies, books and comics are all fair game here, and I’ll be talking about it all. I’d love for you guys to join in the discussion as well; I’d love some help in solidifying and refining my theories or having my opinions refuted and debated. With respect, of course. While most people think of pop/geek culture as little more than a confection, I think that there are many deeper things that could be explored. I’d like to look at those together!

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2012 in meta