Thursday, December 4, 2014

Now What?

So, Ferguson.

I'm sure I don't need to tell you what happened there. Or rather, didn't happen. A grand jury didn't charge a man who shot down a teen. 

Though I think it's misleading to call it a lack of action or something that didn't happen. It was a choice that people made, a clear choice not to pursue justice. 

I don't often write about these things. I am made uncomfortable by the reactions afterwards, the cultural quagmire I have to sift through in my Facebook feed, the racism, the self-righteousness, and the confusion as to what is supposed to be my reaction. I am made uncomfortable by writing about my own emotions and reactions to these kinds of events.

I don't know what the right reaction is. I don't know what is acceptable for me to express or admit. Today I saw several posts on Facebook. One status: "If you are white and you are not angry about Ferguson, you are the problem."

I had an ex who constantly criticized me for not being open with my emotions and sharing my feelings. True, I'm not the most touchy-feely of people. But it's more difficult to be "open" with my emotions when I have trouble identifying what those emotions are. And here, I'm trying to identify what this is. I don't really have any deep emotions to share in this post because mainly I just feel blank.

Blank, or empty, because "dead inside" is a little too melodramatic. But there is some kind of numbness or deadness to this. Blank; that's a good word. Compartmentalization? Maybe.

I understand on an objective, intellectual level that this is not the correct, good way to feel about Ferguson. I ought not to feel blank or numb because that leads to cynicism, and cynicism doesn't enable change; it impedes it.

I don't think feeling blank necessarily has to lead to acceptance of "the way things are." It doesn't have to be this way. I'll keep following and signing my petitions and voting and doing the things that I do. I still want change in race relations in this country and I believe that that is possible and I can do my bit to help that happen.

And do all that feeling sort of blank. Like when you try to run a program but it's too big so your computer just quits and gives you the blue screen of nope. Maybe there's just too much here for me to process.

Oh, look, it's another white person twisting Ferguson to be all about herself.

But it's kind of misleading to say that this isn't about me, isn't it? That this isn't about all of us, all of America? Because every time a white person denies that Ferguson has anything to do with them, they abdicate guilt and pretend their privilege doesn't exist, and that is wrong.

Anyway, I wrote this post because I couldn't get away from the need to express something about police brutality. I am tired of hearing about these "he-said-corpse-said" scenarios. Tired also of the talking heads on Fox News claiming that police brutality or people's reactions to it have nothing to do with race. Tired of how invested America seems to be in sweeping shit under the rug. 

Tired. Tired, tired, tired. Fed. Up.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

When Writing Doesn't Make You Bleed


I keep stumbling across posts along the lines of, "Write the Thing That Makes You Bleed." That theme is present even in posts that don't specifically focus on that topic. The message? Writing hurts. You should write the painful thing, the thing that makes you bleed, the thing that scares you.

You have to bleed to make it real. It must hurt you to be valid.

I am an actor. In my experience, that method of work is unhealthy -- dangerous, even. You should take care of yourself and your mental and emotional health. You come before the work. It doesn't always have to hurt, and it certainly doesn't have to be painful to be valid.

Writing, to me, is like a more static form of acting where I get to be all the characters. Some of those characters have almost nothing in common with me. Do you know what I do when I don't "feel it"? I pretend. It's called acting, after all. I can pretend and sometimes that is safer than bleeding.

I got onto this topic thinking about my two main writing projects. One is more "bleed-worthy," shall we say, while the other is less so. I find that I enjoy the less "bleed-worthy" project more. I have fewer hangups. My writing is better, more efficient, and I get more words out per day. I also really love these characters and their story, precisely because I am less emotionally invested in them. I can like them as characters and not as scattered pieces of self.

The other project requires more emotional commitment from me, and I'm beginning to suspect that that's why it has dragged on for so long. Emotional investment means that I'm too close to the story to see it clearly. This story doesn't hurt, but I am closer to it emotionally, and that makes me a worse writer.

I knew a director who wanted to cast someone as Ophelia in Hamlet because she had recently and suddenly lost her mother. The director thought it would make Ophelia's grief over the death of her father more "authentic." I pointed out that it might not be a good time for the actress to play that part. The director countered that it could help her work through it. I pointed out that Ophelia commits suicide.

Theatre as therapy? Writing as therapy? I agree with and support those things -- in a controlled setting, when the writer or theatre-maker is ready for it. Your journal is a safe space. Art therapy is a safe space. Writing professionally for something that you intend others to read and publish -- not necessarily a safe space.

When you are writing, you need to know when -- if -- you are ready to write the thing that makes you bleed. And part of that is being able to realize that writing the thing that makes you bleed is not necessarily the best thing for you to write right now. Or, hell, ever. Healing is realizing that you might not be ready. Healing is prioritizing your health and not feeling guilty when something you want to write scares you.

I reject the notion that you need to hurt yourself to validate someone else's idea of what a writer should be.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Acting Woes

Brief update, not on writing, because I'm mostly not doing that at the moment, but on the other side of my life: theatre.

I'm facing an odd problem in rehearsal. The scene is done with a spa concept. And everyone is talking about spa things and props and stuff you stick between your toes, face masks, pedicures, what people always do when they go to the spa. What spa days are like, what they look like and feel like. The process. The atmosphere. Things that are not my "normal."

Pedicures and manicures were a treat for me, for special occasions. I have had one pedicure and one manicure in my life, both before junior prom. In high school. Never a spa day. I've never been to a spa place. And as for the dinner party exercise we did, well...nope. Not much experience with those, either.

Now, I don't need to go all "method actor" and have a spa day just to be able to understand this scene. I pick things up, take cues, and besides, I've seen plenty of movies. It's just been a very illuminating experience. The thing that gets me is how everyone talks about it like it's totally typical. A commonplace feminine experience. My understanding of this experience is assumed. Yet I was never privileged to have this experience because spa days are expensive and impractical -- at least for people of our means. 

It just makes me aware of difference. It struck me at this time because of another comment in class, about how basically everyone has iPhones nowadays. Yes. Many people have iPhones. Many more people can't afford iPhones, though. That is not their normal. It is not my normal.

I mean, I'm in grad school. I have a certain amount of money. My family is not poor. Experiences like this, though, are just...illuminating. Interesting. But not necessarily in a good way. No one is deliberately excluding me or anything malicious, but...

Awareness of difference. That's what has been on my mind lately.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Quick Pulse Check

This is less an "update on what I've been doing" so much as it is a "pulse check to make sure Laura's still alive." I haven't been doing much worth updating you on, but I can assure you that I'm still breathing.

I haven't been active on the blog or on my Examiner book review channel, or even on twitter and Facebook. I wish I could say this is because I'm busy with "real life." Graduate school and a part-time job are time-consuming, yes, but the main reason is because I was sidelined by illness. When I get sick, my body goes into full-on pouty brat mode and refuses to get better or do anything. And everything is so hard to do that I find myself slacking not only on online stuff and writing, but on my homework, reading, job performance, and various other functions. Basically, everything that requires effort.

I had tonsilitis, lost my voice, got it back in raspy form again, am still coughing a lot, had an asthma attack last Tuesday, and a migraine on Wednesday (probably partly due to coughing so much) and I hurt all over and *insert paragraphs of whining here.*

I don't really want this blog to become my diary, so I'll leave off there, with the promise that as soon as I feel better I'll be back.

In the meantime, I stumbled across an interesting post: Divergent Tastes in Books? by Chuck Wendig of terribleminds.com. The post challenge is to list a book you love that everyone else seems to hate, and a book you hate that everyone else seems to love. Here are mine:

Image source: waldina.com. This book has also been banned before...

1. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne: This was the book in high school that everyone had to read and hated. I chose it as free reading from the library and I really liked it. I think most people hate it because it's not plot-driven, their teachers made them read it, and most modern American high school students probably can't relate to the culture the book is about or what it meant in that culture for a woman to commit adultery with a preacher.

Image source: Wikipedia.

2. Paper Towns by John Green. Actually, most of what I've read by John Green. I feel bad -- I really like his YouTube personality and I've tried really hard to like his books. But I am forced to conclude that they're sentimental drivel. Most that I've read use the mysterious unattainable girl as a prop in the male character's coming of age story cliche. And John Green never can seem to resist explaining the moral at the end in an unnecessary three pages or so. I hate books that do that. He's funny -- he does humor very well. It's when he tries to get all deep and philosophical that it ends up sounding forced, moralistic, and sentimental.

What do you think? Have you read either of those books? Are there books you love that others hate, and vice versa?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

We (Still) Need Diverse Books: Mind Games by Kiersten White

A little while ago, I wrote a post inspired by the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag, begun by Ellen Oh (@elloecho).

The book I chose was Mister Monday by Garth Nix, an MG fantasy/steampunk/alternate universe adventure about an adopted kid with debilitating asthma. It also portrays a "non-traditional" family. I picked that book in particular because Arthur has asthma and so do I, but also because I've noticed that people are a lot less willing to mess around with traditional family values in fiction than they are willing to use other elements of diversity.

We still need diverse books, and to do the hashtag justice, I'm thinking this post might become a weekly thing. Today's pick is Mind Games by Kiersten White, which I chose for one of the same reasons that I did Mister Monday: it portrays two main characters with disabilities.

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-n-M0f7Jc6x0/T-QGQptiAAI/AAAAAAAAEgM/uOPRV9umHjk/s1600/MindGames_cover.jpg

And yes -- both main characters have superpowers, but no, it isn't handled in an insulting way to people with disabilities. At least, I didn't think it was. If you think otherwise, please feel free to share in the comments.

What it is

Mind Games is a science fiction/paranormal-ish novel about seers, empaths, and mind readers who are controlled by a Big Bad Corporation that uses their psychic talents to its own benefit. Fia is a unique psychic who has the gift of intuition; her gut feelings and instincts are always right. Annie, her sister, is a seer who is blind. Bid Bad Corporation holds Annie hostage to get Fia to spy, steal, and assassinate for them. Meanwhile, they train Annie to spy on Fia, since no other seer can predict her actions.

Why I liked it

Actually, this wasn't my favorite book, and I don't know if I'll read the sequel. Parts were quite good and I loved some of it. Overall, I didn't get a very good sense of the heart of the conflict and I wasn't a huge fan of the plot or even the concept. Its strength was the characters (even though it did resort to the tired good-boy bad-boy dilemma). Annie and Fia are very well-written, I liked the viewpoint chapters, and their relationship development was great even though they are depressingly co-dependent.  

Diversity

First: Annie. I think Mind Games dodged the bullet with Annie by having her go blind at the age of four, long before she develops any psychic powers. This avoids the all-too-common trend of giving a character cool superpowers to compensate for a disability...and making that character the best ever at the superpower (or at overcoming their disability, whether or not such a thing is physically possible). Annie isn't any better or worse at being blind than anyone else. Neither is she The Best Seer Ever. Big Bad mostly uses her to spy on Fia, considers Annie expendable, and actually sabotages her seer training so that she doesn't get too powerful. Mind Games doesn't sugar-coat Annie's life. Nor does it portray being blind as the worst thing that could ever happen to someone.

Second: Fia. Annie has a psychic/mind-based ability and a physical disability; Fia has an instinctual/physical-based ability and a mental illness. I thought that was a neat parallel. Annie is blind, and Fia is suicidally depressed. She also seems to have an addictive personality and self-destructive tendencies. I enjoyed Mind Games's portrayal of her depression because it showed someone who is depressed in an angry way, and I haven't seen that very often. Many people with depression cycle through angry and depressive periods.

I don't think Fia's mental illness is handled as well as Annie's blindness, and this is also where the plot starts to fall apart. The bad guys have empaths and mind readers -- but apparently they can't treat Fia or see the warning signs. They don't care about the mental or physical health of their most valuable asset and the only known person with this ability. The Big Bad Guys spend all this time manipulating and cozying up to Annie, who is barely useful to them, and let Fia become a suicidal, angry wreck who hates them all. 

I know they're supposed to be EVIL, but really -- that's no excuse for Stupid Evil. "Murder-suicide attempt? Here are some pills and a long vacation without any mental health professionals, adults, or bodyguards, unstable spy/assassin-in-training! Oh, and we'll just send along the (superhot) heir to the company. Not like Fia has any reason to hate him. He's not valuable at all! She won't have plenty of opportunities to kill him and her romantic rival and/or herself!" 

This entire plot could have been solved if Fia had taken Hot Heir (pun intended) hostage for her sister's freedom. Which they gave her ample opportunity and motive to do. But I suppose if they had done the logical thing, there wouldn't be a plot. 

Have you read Mind Games? What did you think?