I’m a little overwhelmed

I’ve come down from the writing high. Or maybe it wasn’t a high. Whatever it was, I’ve come down, and I was all set to just casually, leisurely enjoy writing for awhile.

I’m in a dangerous place today, though. I was once again reminded just how little I know. I’ve been writing fan fiction in the Night Vale universe, but that universe is suffused with the occult and horror and other things that I have honestly never really been that interested in, and as such have very little knowledge of. And Night Vale is a very smart work generally, filled with allusions I know I’m missing.

Sometimes I can accept my ignorance, or rather, accept that I have a lot to learn and am capable of learning it. But sometimes I feel like I’ve wasted so much time, that I know so little, that I’m a failure. Today is tipping toward being one of those times.

Today’s episode was emotionally draining. It’s left me somehow restless and numb. I’m not sure what to do with myself.

I don’t want to write. I want to just…recover.

But if I don’t write, I will break my streak, and I don’t want to do that either.

I’ll write. I’ll write something. Maybe it will be really short, but it will count.

And then I’ll try to figure out what the hell I seem to be yearning for.

Cecil and Carlos: Best love story ever

Cecil and Carlos shirt designed by Melissa Shaw

Cecil and Carlos shirt designed by Melissa Shaw

Last November, I fell head-over-heels in love with a relationship between two fictional characters.

I’d been listening to Welcome to Night Vale off and on since the beginning of 2014, mainly in binges during long car rides. It was November when I finally caught up on the series, experiencing the major arc of 2014 all in a rush. The story was incredible, the expert culmination of two years of plotlines. But what stuck with me most was the blossoming relationship between a radio host and a scientist, played out gradually, naturally, beautifully. I had to go back and listen to the entire series again. (And again.)

When Carlos comes to town in the very first episode, Cecil says, “He grinned, and everything about him was perfect. And I fell in love instantly.” At that point, I honestly never imagined it would turn into a relationship. I figured maybe everyone in town would fall in love with Carlos, the beautiful stranger…that it would just be another weird thing that happened in Night Vale.

(It turns out that even the writers didn’t know Cecil and Carlos would become a thing. It just…happened, organically.)

Cecil’s apparently one-sided crush continues, mentioned here and there throughout the first year of episodes. In episode 16, Carlos calls Cecil for the first time, and Cecil breathlessly tells his radio audience, “Guess who called me this weekend? Carlos!” It’s adorable and funny and a little sad, because you get the impression from that episode that Carlos has no interest in Cecil at all. We have only seen Cecil’s perspective at this point, so we have limited data, but Carlos has been pretty focused on science, ignoring Cecil’s flirting, and he’s always turned down Cecil’s requests to get together. This time he asks Cecil to meet, but it’s about something he’s investigating. So when Cecil says “It’s just coffee, but maybe it’s more! Maybe lots more,” it’s played for humor, because obviously Carlos doesn’t think it’s a date.

We don’t get to hear that coffee non-date, nor the resolution thereof. In fact, we don’t hear about Carlos again for quite a few episodes. Cecil mentions scientists generally in the interim, and maybe one of those scientists is Carlos, but we don’t get any more rhapsodizing about Carlos until episode 25.

If Cecil was upset about the coffee thing, he’s over it now, dreamily describing how wonderful Carlos is and pointing out that it has been exactly one year since the scientist came to town. Cecil plans to give Carlos a trophy to mark the occasion. The one-sided crush humor continues! But then it’s turned on its head at the end of the episode. After surviving a life-threatening situation, Carlos asks Cecil to come meet him. “After everything that happened, I just wanted to see you.” We realize he’s been running from his own feelings, and it is all ridiculously romantic.

This is where a lot of stories end. Happily ever after! But not this story, and that is why I have fallen so hard for it. We get to experience Cecil and Carlos’ first date. We then get little windows into their relationship—Cecil still adores Carlos, but now there are comments like “lovely Carlos, with his perfect teeth and hair and penchant for sometimes chewing a little more loudly than is preferred” (episode 30) and “Carlos says he would like to study it, but that he promised to make a certain person dinner, and he has to learn how to put other things besides science first. Some of this realization might have come with help from those around him” (episode 31) and “I grabbed my phone to tell Carlos that if I didn’t make it home tonight, it wasn’t because I didn’t love him or didn’t want to watch a documentary on special scientific graphs, or was too obsessed with my job to relax and enjoy a good meal and some television” (episode 38).

These examples let us see that they’re negotiating their relationship. They have their irritations with each other, but they’re committed to being active participants in their love story. They’re compromising and thinking about the other person’s needs. The entire plot of the live show episode “Condos” (available on iTunes; I highly recommend it) was built around Cecil and Carlos realizing that perfection is unattainable, and that they wouldn’t want perfection anyway.

So many fictional “love stories” are dependent on the feeling of love enduring “naturally”—that is, without any effort on the part of the participants in the relationship. In those stories, the appearance of any new attractive character puts the relationship at risk. The Night Vale writers actually play on this trope in episode 51, making it look like Cecil might have competition for Carlos’ affection. Cecil and Carlos are talking on the phone, as Carlos is now trapped in another dimension referred to as the “desert otherworld”. Carlos casually mentions someone named Doug; when Cecil asks who Doug is, the call drops. Later, Carlos explains that Doug is apparently important in this world and describes how Doug saved him from falling rocks, and this goes on just long enough for you to start thinking Oh no. But then Carlos says how worried he was that he’d lost his only connection to Cecil when he dropped his phone, that he doesn’t care about making friends in the otherworld, “and the only person I truly care about isn’t in this desert anyway.” The entire Doug thing was a genius troll by the writers and I loved it.

As the storyline with Carlos in the desert continues, a lot of fans have grown concerned that Cecil and Carlos’ relationship is in trouble. I am not one of those people.

Carlos has asked Cecil to stop using the word “trapped.” We don’t know why, but he wants to spin it as though he is there by choice. However, he still hasn’t found a way to get himself back to Night Vale, or to get Cecil to the desert, so obviously “trapped” is still a valid descriptor. Cecil has a lot of trouble with this, but he does his best. In the meantime, Carlos, who had been bad about getting distracted by science and not contacting Cecil, has now apparently been calling (and Snapchatting, and whatnot) regularly. Both of these examples show that Cecil and Carlos are making their relationship a priority.

Obviously, I would love for Cecil and Carlos to be in the same dimension again, but I don’t think their separation spells doom for their relationship. These guys are committed to each other. Everything we’ve seen demonstrates that Cecil and Carlos aren’t depending on some magical outside force to keep them in love with each other. They are choosing, every day, to love each other.

And that is why I’m in love with their relationship.

Whew

Yesterday was pretty rough.

I’d been on a writing binge for the preceding four days, working on and then posting two long chapters of my fan fiction work “Opening a Door.” I felt driven; I needed to get the next pieces of the story out. I stayed up two hours late to finish the second one. I felt all right when I got up yesterday morning, but the lack of sleep did not bode well for the rest of the day.

(In an interesting parallel, my main character was also rather frenzied, and, like me, he had also forgotten to shower for a couple days.)

I’d waited to post the second chapter until morning, which was good—I ended up revising the ending paragraph, smoothing out the prose, and catching several errors. Then it was time for work. Due to the winter weather—there was a warning about black ice on the roads—I worked from home for a couple hours, then went to the office at 10.

Work was stressful, with various deadlines looming and lots of problems cropping up. I had to turn my music up as loud as I could in my earbuds to block out noise so I could concentrate.

I generally have a protein shake at 6:30 before leaving for work, then graze on some sort of breakfast food from 8:30 to 10. Because I’d left for the office two hours later than usual, I had second breakfast two hours later than usual, meaning I was actually still eating it at 1 o’clock when a coworker asked if I wanted to go with her to the cafeteria.

I really didn’t feel like I could eat, but I went anyway, thinking maybe taking a break would be nice. Unfortunately, I was wrong. As we walked, we got into a conversation I did not have the mental capacity for. She kept asking questions I didn’t feel like I could answer. I became increasingly frustrated. I couldn’t think. I ended up not buying any lunch, and, unfortunately, grousing a little at her. She was understanding, though, and I apologized for not being better company. Ultimately we just went back upstairs to our desks after she’d purchased her salad.

Finally at around 3 I got hungry again. The cafeteria had closed at 2, and I didn’t feel like I had time to leave the building to pick something up. So my oh-so-healthy lunch wound up being a package of peanut butter Nekot cookies and a Snickers bar from the vending machine.

Another coworker came by and started asking me a bunch of questions about myself. I can’t even remember what she was asking now; all I know is I felt like I was being put on the spot, and I got really frustrated again. I was able to express this without being completely rude (though I was a little rude). She backed off, explaining that she is just really interested in finding out how people tick. I apologized and said, “I am more open to that sort of thing at other times.”

Since I’d spent the morning revising and I didn’t write anything at lunch, I only had the evening to get something down. At first, I just tried to unwind, let my mind relax a little. I had a little fun with the dress meme and the llama meme that both happened to crop up yesterday, and I read a recently-posted chapter of an excellent fanfic I’ve been following. Finally, I wrote 77 words on a story that will be a companion piece to “Opening a Door.” Not much, but it was definitely enough for my exhausting yesterday.

I’m definitely going to try to eat properly today. There’s no winter advisory this morning; it’s cold and the cars are frosted over, but there should be no problem getting to work. I’ll grab second breakfast as usual and eat a real lunch. That should help today be a better day.

A little more on Fifty Shades

As I’m hearing more and more about Fifty Shades of Grey—again, I have no plans to actually read or watch it—I’m becoming more and more unhappy with my waffling in the previous post. The movie sounds horrible; not only do we lack the apparently comedic effect of Ana’s narration, but Ana also is never actually shown having an orgasm. I mean, what is even the point then?

The more I think about what I said about Fifty Shades of Grey, the more I realize that my own perspective was clouding my analysis. I wasn’t imagining the perspective of someone who is naturally submissive.

You see, I do not have a submissive personality in the slightest.

As an introvert who has suffered from social anxiety, I have behaved in ways that could be called submissive many times. But it makes me chafe. I like being in control. Years and years ago, when Sean and I were first dating, we were in a play-by-post RPG together. I was the GM, meaning I should have been in charge, but Sean, who also has a strong personality, and who had been playing in and occasionally running the game far longer than I had, argued hotly against a story decision I had made. I ended up changing the story to please him, and this lost me one of my favorite players.

I have despised having made that decision ever since. It was my game, my decision, and I rolled over. I didn’t want to fight with Sean, so I just did what he wanted.

(Thankfully, I eventually learned that this is not the way to behave in a relationship, and I have been much happier since figuring out how to actually have discussions. Sean has too; my unwillingness to fight for my position had been a source of frustration for him.)

I don’t want to mischaracterize submission here. Being submissive doesn’t mean you’re weak or that you don’t stand up for yourself. It just means you are relinquishing control willingly. You’re demonstrating absolute trust in another person. This is something that is extremely difficult for me to do. I’ve tried it, and I’m very bad at it. When I wrote my original post about Fifty Shades, I wasn’t coming from that perspective at all.

Now, I’m reconsidering. If you crave a dominant to take care of you, if you’re actively looking for someone to make decisions, you might miss the warning signs of abuse. Stories that paint abuse as romantic make it harder to see the difference between a loving, trusting relationship and a relationship in which one person abuses the other.

I would never want to abuse a partner. If I were the dominant in a BDSM relationship, my purpose—the thing that would make me enjoy it—would be pleasing my partner. I would never want them to be afraid of me or to feel like they couldn’t say no. I would be so thankful that they were willing to indulge my controlling nature. I would want to reward them with whatever treatment they desired.

Sex can be wonderful, but it’s so vital to actually communicate. You have to tell the other person what you like, and ask them what they like. Ask for what you want. Or demand it, if your partner likes submitting to your demands. Every relationship is different. But you should never feel afraid. You should feel safe, and happy, and excited. You should be enjoying yourself.

Making yourself vulnerable to a person who loves you is absolutely romantic. Having an abuser take advantage of your vulnerability is not.

A completely unscientific comparison of my social media sites

Today I posted the same status across three different sites: Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Here’s the status as it appeared on Twitter:

HILARIOUS RIGHT

Anyway. I posted the status at approximately 9am. Here it is, just after 8pm, 11 hours later. How’d this plucky little status do?

  • Twitter: Absolutely no response
  • Tumblr: Absolutely no response
  • Facebook: 7 likes

To be fair, if the status had had anything at all to do with human rights or Welcome to Night Vale it probably would have gotten a couple reblogs on Tumblr. I know the audience there. (Look how many notes this ridiculousness has.)

I’m pleased but not surprised that people on Facebook liked the joke. The people I’m friends with on Facebook are people I actually consider friends, people I’ve known for awhile either online or in person. So there is actually a relationship there.

Twitter, I don’t know. I don’t think many of my followers actually follow me. Even if they did, there are so many other people posting things that are far funnier. I haven’t managed to make many real connections on Twitter, even though I’ve been using it the longest out of all three services. Maybe that’s why? Maybe I sort of learned how social media works from Twitter, but only applied that knowledge to Facebook and now Tumblr.

In any case, it seems like the best way to achieve interaction is to make friends with people (shocking), and I really haven’t done that on Twitter at all. It feels so public, it kind of embarrasses me to try to strike up conversations with people I don’t know. I have started to make friends on Tumblr, which has been a lot of fun. Nothing too serious yet, just reblogging and liking each other’s posts, and a few asks here and there. But it’s nice. I like friends.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I use Twitter, and what I even use it for. I’m not sure what I’m going to do, if anything—I do have a couple friends there. But I feel like I spend an awful lot of time on it, and I want to be sure it’s worth it.

Swept up

The other day on Facebook, I posted,

I just want to read, and write, and read, and write, and read, and write.

That is all I want to do.

Yesterday I published chapter four of my fanfic “Opening a Door.” It was the most difficult chapter so far to write. For a long time it didn’t feel right; I had certain events that I knew should occur, but the story wasn’t cohesive. I’ve been writing in Notepad, but I needed to be able to “see” more of the story, see its structure, so I pasted it into Word, and that helped. I moved the part of the story that had been the climax to the beginning, because I realized it wasn’t really the climax…and suddenly everything started working.

It was so satisfying to finish that chapter, to keep digging at it until it came out the way I wanted it to.

I love this feeling. I want to keep going. I want to know what happens next in this story, and I want to work on all my other stories.

I’m so happy I’ve committed to writing every day.

Fifty Shades of Controversy

NSFW. Trigger warnings: abuse, rape.

It was intriguing to watch the various reactions to Fifty Shades of Grey play out online as the movie’s release date approached. I’ve seen many discussions breaking down how the story is a grossly inaccurate portrayal of BDSM. People are worried that 1) this will reflect poorly on people who engage in BDSM safely and with proper consent; and 2) people will hurt themselves and others. In my opinion, these are very valid concerns. On the other hand, I’ve also seen it pointed out that fantasy is just that: fantasy. Just because someone reads or watches a story about something doesn’t mean they want to try that something in real life. If that was the case, we would have a lot more serial killers. I think this viewpoint has merit as well.

Portrayals of BDSM in popular culture have been strange. I obviously have not consumed all media, and I often feel that my pop culture knowledge is inadequate, so keep that in mind…but Fifty Shades is the only high-profile example I can think of where the main characters engage in what is supposed to be BDSM. I can’t remember there being a mass-market motion picture advertised all over the place like this. And usually when I see BDSM in a TV show—often a police procedural or medical drama—it is engaged in by a suspect, victim, or patient. The main characters may raise their eyebrows, or even discuss how it’s perfectly fine, but they never seem to go so far as to dabble themselves.

While looking for examples of portrayals of BDSM in media, I read through this Wikipedia page, and it gives me the impression that two different things are being treated as if they are the same, when they obviously aren’t. The first thing is abuse: domination and punishment of someone who has not consented. The second thing is play in which all parties have agreed to certain rules and situations and which will stop at any time if any of the participants wishes it to.

I recently read a series of stories in which the characters engaged in BDSM. One of the characters wrote storylines that they all then acted out. In one ongoing storyline, the submissive characters were literal sex slaves of the dominant character. There was no consent involved whatsoever. But the characters who were acting out the storylines were all equals, and any of them could stop the play at any time. In other words, one of the characters pretended to own sex slaves, and two of the characters pretended to be sex slaves, but they were never actually those things. The stories spent a lot of time on after-care, as the dominant (or dominants, depending on the story) pampered the submissive(s) afterwards.

This meta-portrayal of BDSM really drove home to me the idea of fantasy. A person might, for example, have a rape fantasy. They might simply imagine it. They might read stories or watch pornography about it. They might go so far as to ask a partner to act out a situation with them. But they don’t actually want to rape someone, or to be raped.

In the case of Fifty Shades of Grey, there is no meta level. The person having the fantasy is the person reading or watching. The fantasy is the book or movie.

I imagine there will be varying levels of response to Fifty Shades of Grey. Some people will keep the fantasy in their heads for their own private amusement. Others might decide they want to try acting it out. In the latter case, I think it’s good that so much has been discussed about the book and film—people who are interested in BDSM have plenty of resources to draw upon.

Ultimately, I think it’s important to give people as much information as possible, and then let them make their own decisions. It’s dangerous to look at any work of art as a guideline for how to live. Art is an expression of emotion and thought and possibility. It’s a way to explore ideas. It asks questions; it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) provide answers. Answers are up to the person experiencing the art.

I’m more interested in making sure people have the tools they need to critically evaluate the world around them than I am in trying to “protect” people by banning certain stories or types of story.

I do hope people take advantage of all the information that’s out there. I hope all the discussion of Christian Grey as an abuser will help people recognize abusive relationships and avoid being abused. And I hope that as the film raises the profile of BDSM, people research it instead of making snap judgments. I really hope people stay smart and take care of themselves.

Beyond the realm of fantasy vs. reality, there is the fact that individual works don’t exist in a vacuum. The stories we surround ourselves with do have an impact on our perceptions. Men have been told through culture, pop and otherwise, that they are entitled to women’s bodies; women have been told that they are worthless without a man’s approval. These are issues that go well beyond one work, but Fifty Shades certainly does nothing to change the situation.

I’m nervous about the movie, honestly; this author says that while the book is easily understood as fantasy, the movie plays out just a little too real. I don’t want to see that. I’m actually pretty sensitive about abuse. I won’t be seeing the movie.

I don’t plan on ever reading Fifty Shades of Grey, either. Beyond my ambivalence about the story’s potential impacts, there’s the simple fact that I’m kind of picky about writing. I tend to get tripped up by wildly improper punctuation, poor word choice, bad sentence structure, and a lack of smooth narrative flow. The story has to be really good for me to get past that sort of thing. I enjoy rule-breaking when it is intentional, but not when it obviously isn’t. Based on the excerpts I’ve seen, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t force my way through the book. (I can’t read Dan Brown novels for the same reason. Hell, I had trouble with the last few Harry Potter books because of all the ellipses.)

Links:

Writing myself raw

It seems that writing every day puts me even more inside my head than I usually already am, and that has resulted in some pretty dramatic mood shifts. Either that, or my moods have always shifted like this, and I just wasn’t paying attention.

There will be days when I feel absolutely wonderful, days when words flow like water and joy bubbles up at everything. There will be days when I’m fine, not great, not terrible, just fine, and things can make me smile even as dark thoughts creep at the edges of my consciousness. And then there will be days when I think that my writing is terrible, that I am terrible, that everything I do is pointless.

Those are not good days.

Being aware of what type of day I’m having has helped me to start developing appropriate responses. On the good days, I just enjoy it. I indulge in thinking about how great everything is and pat myself on the back and pat other people on the back and engage in many conversations–those are the days I feel the most sociable. On the lukewarm days, I often have trouble focusing, so I set out tasks and plow through them with the help of music. When I think something disparaging about myself, I reject the thought as quickly as possible, and remind myself that I am doing something, that I am learning and growing, and that there is no such thing as perfect, just a path of improvement. As long as I stay on that path, I have no reason to hate myself. And staying on that path doesn’t mean writing thousands of words every day…it just means writing something every day.

On the horrible days, I just take care of myself as best I can. If I don’t feel like going anywhere, I don’t go anywhere. I generally don’t talk to anyone. I read things I enjoy and eat good food and go to sleep. Sleeping helps. But no matter what, I make sure that I write something, even on those days.

I’m not sure what kind of day today is yet. I feel like it has the potential to be good, if not great. Wednesday was awful, but I figured something out on Wednesday, a new way of thinking about things, and Thursday was an absolutely wonderful day. I did a lot of work-related writing, which of course doesn’t go toward my word count, but I also went back to a story I haven’t written on in awhile, and it was good. I was cheerful and chatty and smiling all day. Yesterday I sort of coasted along on Thursday’s momentum; it was a nice day, but quiet, subdued, like I wanted to just plug happily away at things by myself. I wrote a few sentences in the morning, spent the day working and reading, then went to dinner with Sean and our friends Charles and Heidi. Finally, late last night, I wrote and wrote and wrote, and yesterday’s total word count ended up being 1175. Not amazing, but good, and I was happy with what I’d written. It’s not beautiful–I really hope someday I can write something beautiful–but it’s interesting.

I like writing at night before bed. I’m typically a morning person, but if I stay up past my bedtime I get this strange, fresh burst of energy. And late at night it’s quiet; there are few distractions, and there’s nothing else to do. It’s not chore time or work time or socializing time. It’s my time.

Another nice thing about writing before bed is that I wake up thinking about my stories. If I don’t let myself get distracted by social media and news articles, I can jump right back into it.

I have decided that today will be good. It looks like the weather will be nice, clear and cool. Maybe I’ll go somewhere, let nature or art or some other kind of beauty rejuvenate me. And I’ll write, of course. Of course, I’ll write.

Word count

It’s the last day of January. This morning I tallied the words I’ve written so far this month, and it came out to 27,935.

The first thing that leaps out at me is that this is about half the words required to complete National Novel Writing Month. I’m actually pretty happy with this, because I wasn’t trying to meet a certain word count at all. I get the feeling that as I keep writing every day, as I get used to doing it and it becomes part of my daily life, my output will naturally increase. By the time November rolls around, I might actually be to the point that I can do NaNoWriMo.

I’ve tried NaNo a couple of times, but I never made it past about ten days of writing. The shift from not writing at all to suddenly trying to output thousands of words a day was not sustainable. I quickly got bored, frustrated, and blocked. (I also ended up losing everything I wrote in my 2004 attempt in the 2005 apartment fire.)

This more gradual approach seems to be much better; I can write whatever I’m inspired to write, and I don’t feel pressured to be particularly prolific as long as I write something.

It’s been heartening, too, to see that I’m able to keep writing despite the weird highs and lows I go through. Noticing how often they’ve been happening has been strange. I don’t know if my moods have always swung this frequently, or if writing daily is causing me to spend even more time inside my own head than usual. I wonder if I should come up with some way of tracking and quantifying my moods.

In any case, the month isn’t quite over yet. I’ll be writing more today, and I look forward to updating my tally sheet with the final word count for January. Then…on to February!

It’s almost February

In anticipation of Month Two of Daily Writing, I have created a main filler page for 2015 Daily Writing, under which I have placed 2015 Daily Writing: January and another new page, 2015 Daily Writing: February. Right now the filler page is just there to act as a container in the drop-down menu, but I think I might end up using it for summaries of each month (total word count, completed works, types of work, whatever).

Yesterday was pretty great, writing-wise. The night before, I was feeling restless and ended up staying awake way past my bedtime. As I was trying to force myself to go to bed, an idea for a new piece of fanfiction came to me all at once. I immediately went back to the office and turned my laptop back on and wrote 241 words. The next morning I woke up and wrote a couple hundred more, and again at lunch, and then after work I wrote until 1am, ending up with a completed chapter of 4511 words. I edited it and posted it at 1:17am in a happy haze and was finally able to go to sleep.

Fortunately, I have today off, so staying up late two days in a row didn’t hurt anything. I slept in until a little after 8. The day has been spent doing laundry, emptying the dishwasher, and closing a bunch of browser tabs–though thanks to Twitter and Facebook, I’ve opened a few new tabs as well. There is just so much out there to read.

I haven’t done today’s writing yet, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m not sure if I’ll continue the project from yesterday or jump to something else, but whatever I do will certainly be fun. I have the following to choose from:

  • Opening a Door: yesterday’s fanfic
  • Whispers: a fanfic I’ve been working on since January 1, which currently has 8 chapters and 7758 words
  • the untitled childhood memoir I started writing on Wednesday
  • the franchise reboot I’ve been working on since January 13
  • Impostor: an original science fiction story
  • the vignette I promised Heidi
  • something else! who knows!

It sort of seems like now that I’ve started writing every day, I can’t stop…it’s a good problem to have, but I do hope I actually complete these projects!