Tag Archives: character

Resurrection

6 Apr

Yesterday was Easter. As someone who know longer identifies strictly as either Catholic or nondenominationally Christian, the day does not hit my life as hard as it used to, back when Easter meant something like bunnies and chocolate and uncomfortable pretty dresses, weeks of waiting and a vague feeling of having made it somewhere when the trumpets played during the very last song, adolescence and jeans and strangled, crying prayers and final, desperate relief at sunrise. There was victory to it, back then.

There is some misgiving around it for me, now. I can look on it as a part of my family history and my life narrative, but not longer a part of my personal legacy. There would be less truth about me, if I went and sat in an Easter pew, now.

I am glad for those who can celebrate Easter with no taint of regret or guilt or hate or distrust lurking in the low notes of those Sunday hymns, whether the tinges be from wider eyes and disillusionment or vision shut down from hatred of the part of the world that isn’t you.

I belong to the former category. It’s a long story, but mostly boils down to my refusal to accept that what a group of arbitrary essentially-white men decided together in a randomly located room before the microscope was anywhere near invented is absolute truth about the universe at every single moment in time.

Call it doubt. Call it skepticism. Call it science. I don’t really care. It is where I am at, and I do not feel the need to try to force anyone else to try to be there. I claim no label because I do not presume that I know enough about the universe to say that yes, I am capable of finding absolutely the right one and yes, you should absolutely use it too.

I am not a god. I am not even a physics nobel laureate.

So instead, I have settled loosely upon allowing Shakespeare to describe my doctrine, with that Hamlet line, “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Science revisits and retests and grows and revises itself. Discards and discovers. Describes everything with an ever-expanding vocabulary. And as someone who grew up reading sci-fi and fantasy, who grew up writing sci-fi and fantasy, I am willing to clinging to a last little bit of hope that there’s some kind of magic out there, in this very wide place of existence.

Maybe it’s a network of universal consciousness. Maybe it’s a god. Maybe it’s the ridiculous self-trick that is the human mind, the reason that while I claim no religion I will still pray to the God that I muttered tearful little prayers to as a child because sometimes it’s nice to pretend that someone like that is maybe still listening.

Or maybe it’s just gonna be more science being really damn cool.

Whatever the case, yesterday was a day about celebrating resurrection. And even as the lovely little heathen I have become, I too could appreciate that feeling of a breath of fresh* air as a tomb opens and something you thought was dead walked out.

In my case, a character I spent five years writing and whose dead horse I thought I’d thoroughly bludgeoned beyond any future salvageability just up and showed up in the back of my mind and started talking and generating plot and apparently having a story again. And she’s not a character I’d heard from in a loooong time, outside of edits for that infernal manuscript of hers I swear I will finish cleaning up this year and finally send off into the vastly frightening, teeth-gnashing world of oh god please traditional publishing agents take on my book.

This character – Mariasa – she’s the closest analog of me I have in a character. Sort of. I’ve written short stories where the MC’s were also me, in some way, but I tended to be more self-aware about that. I wrote the short story because I needed to fling my emotions or my imagination into some other scenario so they could sort themselves out there. Or I was just playing pretend in words. That’s what we writers do, you know.

But Mariasa – I started writing her story when I was 14. I wasn’t super conscious of what I was doing, within my writing. I was just doing it. So I went along for about five years, pouring dreams and hopes and personality and adventure I couldn’t extract from my own life into this character. She was my soul, out having another life somewhere. And I didn’t realize this until about three years after I’d finished that first draft of her story. There is a line, in my development as a writer. “Before the time I realized that I’d used parts of real humans to shape many of my characters” and “After the time I realized that many of my female MC’s were basically alternate versions of me and that oh god so many of the male protagonists are based off of a certain guy friend and I should probably go smush my face into his and see how that goes.”

Ah, college.

Anyhoo. Mariasa. She lived in my head for so long. I would sit at my windowsill with my notebook in my lap and my dog at my feet and I’d loop the same 40-minute CD for hours and stare out my window at the world beyond it and it was really only a matter of how fast I could move the pencil to keep up with how fast Mariasa was traveling across her own world having adventures. She was the story I could just sit down and write. No writer’s block. No uncertainty. I’d sit down to pick up where I’d left off and suddenly have a backlog of five more scenes in my head that I needed to move Mariasa to. She was my great story.

And then I finished it. And I was 18, and my world and mental health simultaneously started to crack. Probably causative, that. But this meant that for five more years, Mariasa’s story stayed ended. I got stuck in this endless loop of editing. Because of course it was never good enough. Fix it. Fix it. Fix it. Grow into a different person with altered values and more knowledge and greater exposure and fix it again.

Over. And over. And over again.

Locked into a life structure of my own where I come up against the same brick wall again and again and locked into an editing loop where I’ve continually tried to smooth over the same set of passages while repeatedly stalling and not getting any further, I’ve been frustrated with the staleness of the same words and the same sort of life I’m writing them in, and I’ve been at the stage of “I just want to finish the damn thing” for a while now.

And then I went to Europe.

There was a lot of fresh air in Europe.

Mariasa’s story is one of adventures. I went out and had some adventures. Parts of me long quiet woke up again, and the other chatter that’s routinely bounced around in my mind and made it impossible to be properly productive, properly imaginative went silent. There was room for the quiet little voices in my mind that murmur about adventure to wake up again. I guess it makes sense that Mariasa would wake up, too.

And it’s a desperate relief, this resurrection. Because it means a part of me that I thought might be dead forever is coming back to life. Or at least did long enough for Mariasa to come out of whatever tomb in my mind she’d been hiding in.

She’s older now. Which is good, because it means that she’s grown. She’s got the light I build her character from but there’s spark to her now, too. Less worried about “good,” more able to make hard decisions. But still, as always, caring really damn hard.

She’s slipped on her sweater and the first pair of shoes in reach. She’s ready to go into the world again.

I’ve started her story – not sure if it’ll be a short of a full-blown novel as well, but I’m letting her decide that. This isn’t a story with an agenda. This is just a story.

Mariasa woke up. Apparently we’re going somewhere.

———–

*Okay, I know any air coming from a newly unsealed tomb around the time of Jesus would have been anything but fresh. Whatever. Pretend it’s the shiny Hollywood version. We’re talking metaphors here. Deal with it.

Advertisements

And you didn’t even know they were crazy.

5 Oct

This week, October 5-11, we take a break from our *regularly scheduled programming, Depression Awareness Month,* for a tribute to all other brain fuckery with *this brief interruption, Mental Illness Awareness Week.*

If you’ve read the post before this one, “Depression Is,” you know some of my thoughts on the whole “awareness” bid. I have some bitterness, but for those who really have no clue about the fight that over a quarter of the globe is fighting with themselves, I think being bludgeoned about the head with some PSA’s in an attempt to wake them up is a good thing, at least as a start.

Something that I’ve learned from having my own slew of brain troubles and subsequently finally talking about them, with psychologist-type-peoples and random-strangers-on-the-street-types, is that these mental illnesses that we’ve got running around in our minds, they’re more pervasive than I would have thought. They’re insidious creatures, secret diseases. People don’t like talking about them, because we’ve somehow managed to stamp a stigma on this apparently basic and rampant human experience. So mental illnesses, and people with them, they can be everywhere, and you wouldn’t even notice. Strangers. Friends. Even yourself.

Let’s take a look at some surprising literary and pop characters with whom a lot of you are probably very, very familiar – but might not have known are, in fact, crazy.

1. The Cast of the Hundred Acre Wood

2. The Muppets Your Kids Spend Hours A Week Watching And Learning From

3. Charlie Brown and His Gang

Charlie Brown - Avoidant Personality Disorder (image source)

Charlie Brown – Avoidant Personality Disorder (image source)

Linus - Schizotypal Personality Disorder (image source)

Linus – Schizotypal Personality Disorder (image source)

Lucy - Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissism (image source)

Lucy – Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissism (image source)

So. We’ve got the Christopher Robin and his stuffed, furry friends; all the puppet neighbors of Sesame Street; and Charlie Brown and his club of kiddos. All of them mentally ill, in some way or other. Every. single. one.

And hey! Look! Their worlds don’t fall apart! They don’t all kill each other or blow each other up or any of that! Those three story lines, they’re stories of kids and their friends helping each other get by, supporting and teasing and loving and making good choices and fucking up, just every other normal kid narrative. Because while “mental illness” may sometimes pull us into a world of our own, it doesn’t shove us into some non-human dimension, away from all the “normal” people.

I mean, functionally, dealing with some mental illnesses is simpler than dealing with oh, say, arthritis, or diabetes or even a broken finger. We are all people, dealing with people shit. Let’s stop making each other feel like we’re somehow weird just because our brain instead of our arteries and their fat content are involved, or whatever.

Welcome to the world, land of people who dreamt up Christopher Robin and Charlie Brown and Big Bird. Welcome to the world, where Christopher Robin and Charlie Brown and Big Bird are all perceived as normal, valuable, understandable people. (Or normal, valuable, understandable feathered puppets, as the case may be.)

Those of us with mental illnesses, we are not non-player characters, here. We are protagonists. Fucked up heroes and heroines, just like the rest of you. Not villains. Not ghosts.

We’re all around you, and might not even have known we were here.

Now that‘s kind of crazy, isn’t it?

Poem: Death’s Regret

22 Jun

Death’s Regret

I tire of this death,

I am weary of destruction.

I want nothing more

than to see the end of the day out.

 

I wish for nightfall

and yearn for explosion.

I ache for the cavernous

to hold me without doubt.

 

I cannot escape seconds

having none of my own,

and time is a cruel friend

as it only ever leaves me.

 

Constancy is frozen,

unchanged to the bone,

but I am infinite,

an in-understandable cruelty.

 

I give relief to the ones that are crying.

I take away the pain of your strife.

I am locked here, while you are escaping.

I am Death. I have no such life.

I do not write happy stories.

9 Apr

People want happy stories. Good characters. Sweet endings. Family-friendly. At least, that’s what a lot of magazine submission guidelines seem to be saying.

But I do not write happy stories. I swear, I try. Took me five goddamn years to write a YA novel with a happy ending and after another five years I’m still not finished editing it yet. Happy stories are not the ones that come to me most naturally or most frequently. They are not what my brain generates. They are not what my brain understands. They are not what my brain has had to work with.

Happy stories, sure, they can be nice to read. Like a delightful little square of baklava. But too many of those delightful little squares, and odds are you’re going to be left with sticky, nut-grimy fingers and an urge to go puke up at least half of the sickly sweetness now residing in your stomach into the nearest toilet bowl. Or onto the nearest politician. Either would be acceptable, probably.

I mean, too many sad stories, or difficult stories or unsettling stories or generally unhappy narratives, and you’re also probably going to be left in a huddles mess o’ blankets on your living room couch crooning yourself into a tear-slopped sleep with that bottle of whiskey you’re clutching as your only friend. Not exactly a more preferable kind of overdose.

But at least… at least those tears your crying are real. The elation you feel from a happy story may be a vicarious kind of wish-fulfillment but the pain you’re left dealing with from a grungier tale is a memory, the recollected aching from some time before when your story veered a little too closely to something a character got herself into. Probably why the sadness lasts so much longer; it’s no mere slap-on-the-surface temporary veneer. No, it’s an upwelling of past shame or doubt or anger or disappointment. The kind of sadness that leaves you as said whiskey-breathed mess has roots.

Maybe it’s just because of my own negative-lens tendencies the depression fairy apparently decided to, uh, gift me with at birth, but I know that I, at least, remember pain more than I remember pleasure. In my life-flashes-before-your-eyes-’cause-you-done-fucked-up-and-somehow-now-you’re-drowning reel, the moments of hurt, of regret, of loss would be the first ones to play out again before me. They are, unfortunately, what my brain, my memory centers, my inner interpretation mechanisms snap to first. Over time (read: SO MUCH THERAPY OH MY GOD), I’ve been able to re-groove my brain a bit (hoorah neural plasticity!) and convince my brain that it really is okay to go the positive route every now and then, really, there’s probably not even that much of a traffic jam,  but still… inner GPS forgets about those routes a fair amount.

I’m tempted to write that to me, happiness just doesn’t feel natural. But I know, really, that’s not true. Happiness is totally a natural thing to experience. It’s more appropriate to write that for me, happiness hasn’t felt usual. I grew up in a household of parents who had been fighting since before I was even born. I wasn’t exactly the cool kid in my class for much of high school (but then come high school people realized I was smart and that they needed me and then I ruled the world! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!). I’ve been battling mental health shit since god knows when. Yes, there has been a lot of happiness in my life, but it’s not exactly been the baseline or background. Happiness has been an exception.

But honestly, I don’t think it’s just my own experience that’s made writing happy stories so difficult for me. Ever since, well, ever, I’ve been an emotional go-to for other people. I may not have been the cool kid, but I wasn’t ever that kid – but I did usually end up getting picked out as OMG BFF! by that kid. Then come middle school, when puberty hit and we were all just leveled to a singular playing field of awkwardness, the girls who became my closest friends were also the ones who, like me, had some inner demons that started clawing a bit more actively at our vulnerable brains. And our vulnerable hormones. The rest of pre-college schooling for me was a slew of late night phone calls, desperate pleas to hang on just a little while longer, letters sent every day to some treatment center other, constant scans of wrists and arms and rib cages and stomach circumferences and little pricks in the back of our minds any time one of us wore long sleeves or baggy clothing. Chat sessions into three and five am, glowing laptop screens hidden behind closed doors and under the covers.

Yes, there was a strain of hope. Maybe, just maybe, if I can get through this, you can too… We were all one giant mess of hands and arms clinging to each other and brace the entire structure of our lives. Support went in all directions. Hurt went in all directions. Despair abounded. Hope was a parched substance. It did not rain; it sludged through the ravaged sewers of our tenacity, tainted and unsafe even by the time it got there in the first place. But when you’re dying of thirst, you stop being so picky about these kind of things. Even dirty water will keep you going. For a little while. It might kill you a little while later. But I don’t think any of us would have minded that for ourselves.

We would have wailed over it, though, for each other.

The real-life stories that I have known have not been ones that work out. They have been ones of struggle. Constant struggle. You think you’ve gotten over one thing, and then something new crops up. Your once-savior becomes your new slave master. Relief only lasts so long. Every so often you may find yourself on your feet again, running, and you run as far and as hard and as long as you can, but then some invisible un-reason reaches its ugly snag and you don’t even see and suddenly you’re on the ground, scraped knees and bleeding elbows and your legs are so tired they don’t want to work anymore and your arms are wondering what the use even is anymore to try to pull yourself up one more time if you’re only going to end up down here covered in the dirt of a failed attempt again anyway…

And yet somehow we keep going. Knowing we have likely only doomed ourselves to repeat the process. But the way out is no more glorious than the struggle. So you might as well finish the race. Might as well find out if it was ever going to get you anywhere anyway.

You understand if your fellow runners decide they can take no more of the dizzying, soul-quenching exhaustion. You understand the decision to finally cease running, cease panting, feel only one more final sharp stab at the weary lungs you have forced to keep filling you with breath before saying that no, no more, I will stop here.

It’s a tragedy, yes. But it’s less of a tragedy than most people seem to realize. The loss of uncertain future happiness ways a little less to you than the end to present, undeniable pain.

So far, only one of us has dropped out of the race.

This impossible, endless race. There is some pride in my fellow runners, every time I look around and see them still there, straggling through this thing with me.

We will arrive at the finish line cut and scarred by thorns and brambles that held no roses. Our souls will be impossibly bruised. We might not have the strength to hold even our heads high. But we will have made it. We will have finished.

That is not a happy ending. That is not the kind of story I write.

But it is a story. With a horridly natural, un-fairy tale ending.

And that is something.

A Dying Dreamland

17 Oct

dreamland 1

I think I have forgotten how to dream. There is a dead and dullness in me that can provide no spark for the shell of my imagination. My soul has gone silent, weary.

When I lay down at night, my head is filled with the noise of the words I was meant to think during the day, when only the repetitive, solid clunk of sandpaper phrases like “job search” and “paying rent” were heard instead, because no matter how I try, I do not have time to sit and think. Not when there are textbook chapters from a week ago to be read. Not when there is neurology homework to complete. Not when I woke up too early, stayed up too late, been too sick and too tired for too long and my brain is too slumped from fighting itself or too hazy from illness. Not when there’s always one more thing to get done.

I am empty. I have written myself – what more can I do? I have faced the truth of myself, found the cathartic relief, the cathartic release of turning myself into words. I have written my pain and written my cracks and written the rawest understanding that I have of myself. I have written my memoir. I have written my truth. Now, all else feels a sham.

I have always been too much in my characters. My heroines, they are vessels of my dreams set out upon a sea of words. They are the stories I could not tell in my life, the adventures, the happily ever after. They were the stitches for wounds I had no other way to heal.

But it was all subconscious before. Sure, to some extent I knew I had been projected into my characters, but now – there is an awkward consciousness that what I am trying to write is just one more shadow.

Do I have no more dreams? Every time I set my mind wandering, the worlds all feel thin and shabbily built. Nothing feels like a good enough premise. Nothing feels good enough to be made real.

And so I toss the frail wisp of narrative away and watch it drift off, flimsy and sticky on the wind of being forgotten.

There is a ghost of a girl mourning within me. She holds a pen. She thinks that I have forgotten how to dream.

The Voices, or “On Being An Author”

5 Jul

Image

Well. It’s been a while.

Life is life is life. That’s really all the explanation (or excuse) I have.

But anyhoo. On to what I really want to write about.

Authors. There’s a thing about authors. Actually, there’s many. Authors are pretty weird people, where “weird” is defined as some amalgam of wacky, whimsical, wonderfulness that produces the best of the odd types of this world.

But today, I realized that perhaps one of the primary “things” about authors is that we can talk with someone else’s voice. The butcher’s, the baker’s, the candlestick maker’s. The lion’s, the witch’s, even the wardrobe’s. Just about anybody, really. Even – rather especially – the anybodies that don’t even exist yet.

We can speak with the voice of another. An infinity of tongues come pouring through our minds, a handful or so making it out of our pen nibs or fingertips. We imagine our worlds and the chatter that fills them. And usually, out of the myriad voices that tell our tales, one of them is ours.

Sometimes it’s the heroine’s. Sometimes it’s the narrator’s. Sometimes it’s the villain’s or perhaps the voice of the minor character inconsequential enough to not even merit a name. Sometimes we authors know who’s got our brain on their mind. Sometimes we don’t.

Sometime’s it’s just too much fun to not let our brain tell us who it is and try to figure it out on our own.

But in the end, we are the bringers of voices, the dreamers of dreams, the movers and shakers of this world forever, it seems. Or something like that.

But really, we are the tale-tellers. And I think that’s why I like writing so much. I grew up telling myself stories. They were so much more comfortable than real life (even when I was the tragic lady lying on the daybed dying of tuberculosis or something). My small world’s usual host of voices didn’t hold much to attract or soothe me, so I made up ones that did. The whole I-don’t-like-your-reality-so-I’m-substituting-my-own bit. Except I didn’t like my reality, so I’d substitute fiction.

Even when I was the only character, life was still better with a narrator. Walking down the driveway became a thing of art, instead of just another mundane moment eked out on the black tar of a Midwest suburb. And what’s more, I was never alone. Having some “other” writing my life along with me meant there was always somebody else who understood my thoughts, my emotions. There was “someone else” who would understand the unexplainable, who would know perfectly what I was feeling through all of life’s deep hurts and trivial injustices.

And sometimes… sometimes it was just easier to be someone else. To be a nineteenth century Irish landlord’s daughter running with the crowd of fishing boat captains and twenty-something urchins. To be a precocious young female lawyer in a town of incredulous rural folk. To be the prodigy of Jane Goodall, growing closer than ever before known and infiltrating the mysterious of social circles of… the deer in my backyard… *cough cough*

Sometimes, it was just easier to be someone else. To take on the voice, the words, the life of someone else. And so I did.

And then… and then I became an author.