Six Month Update

Slowly but surely, I am putting myself back together. I’m learning how to be creative again without being afraid of creativity. You see, creativity is what got me into that whole mess to start with.

Ok, ok, I know that’s not true. But that’s what my internal hecklers are screaming. “If only” I hadn’t been so wildly imaginative as to think that something so preposterous would actually work out, none of that would have happened. I wouldn’t have been so totally humiliated and crushed. I would be somehow, some way, better off.

Honestly, that’s neither here nor there. What happened, happened, and now I get to deal with now. With me. With who I am and how I am. I am a creative; I can no more stop being that than I can stop breathing and expect to live. The relevant issue is: how am I going to be creative now?

Yes, I still hurt from the utter collapse of my world. I still have pieces to pick up and decide if I want to keep. I still have longings that are unfulfilled and dreams that seem impossible. So what am I going to do about it?

First, the practical. I give myself permission to be a failure. A spectacular failure, even. Every great person ever to live failed wretchedly at least once, even if history somehow neglected to record it. We’re all human, which means we all fail. None of us is perfect, and it’s high time I stop expecting myself to be what I cannot be.

Failure often leads to the desired results. Not the expected results, of course, but what we really wanted all along. Happy accidents are how we come up with some of our most brilliant insights, our most amazing advances, our most penetrating insights.

I sat on a bench, weeping rivers of shattered dreams into bitter winter air, and saw myself so clearly. I saw who I could be. I saw who I would not let myself be. I saw the agonizing struggle I would need to make in order to get where I needed to be. Because of that insight, I did not die that day, not in any sense of the term. Oh, I hurt. I was numb for months. I still need “rehab therapy” to deal with myself. But I did not give up. I did not give in.

More than six months later, I can stand upright and look around. I can forgive myself for whatever I did or didn’t do. I can allow myself to fail, to have failed. I can permit myself to move on and try again.

Second, more practicalities. I’m not yet able to live on income from my creativity, so I’ve secured a Day Job that pays something and am angling for a promotion to something more. It’s not what I want to do. I sort of like doing it, but it’s un-creative work. The salient points are that it pays and it keeps me active. Much needed at this juncture.

Third, internal work. The first two actions I did basically on auto-pilot, without much consideration on the conscious level. After the facts, yes, I did put thought into them, and that’s where this step comes into play. Facing pain is perhaps the bravest thing any of us can do. When Christ faced the cross, He didn’t just endure torture so cruel it required a new word to describe it: excruciating. He faced the pain of being punished for something He didn’t do. He faced abandonment by the One who had never before been apart from Him. It was the cruelest betrayal, and Christ did it to Himself.

Granted, His self-inflicted damage was far more noble than anything I’ve managed to do, but work with me here. He knew how much hurt He was in for; I didn’t. However, during and after, we both had to decide how to handle the agony. Christ arose a victor. Because of Him, I can do the same. It’s going to take me a bit longer, though.

I’m facing my wounds and examining them. I’m letting go of many, many things. I’m easing back into the creative flow. I’m trying again.

Fortunately, the manuscript for “Fall Through Space: Space & Time volume 2” went to my publisher long before the fiasco, so it got published without extra input from me. That helped wake me up a little; I needed to schedule a book signing and start working on volume 3. I’m happy to report that I’ve completed the first editing pass-through of V3, and I’m actually excited about releasing this book. It’s gratifying to see how much I improved as a writer from V1 to V3.

Despite myself, I make progress.

I’ve been lurking online and found a few interesting short story opportunities. I’ve gotten a fair bit of work done on two super-hero shorts and started thinking about another that will feature a certain Yerbran Lady who likes to tinker.

I’m not yet ready to dive back into serial writing. I have to admit this and learn to be ok with it. Thus far, I’ve had a huge sense of obligation to keep writing even when I couldn’t. On the one hand, it’s a good discipline. Life won’t pander to us, and we need to put on big-kid undies and BIC-HOK. On the other hand, we need to recognize when we’re pushing ourselves too hard and back off.

I hate missing updates. Hate it. It’s a failure. I’m a failure if I miss an update. (Didn’t I recently say something about failing?) Note to Self: I’m not a machine. I’m not capable of churning out products without rest. Given all the internal cleaning I’ve been doing and still need to do, I can’t make myself push through certain points. I have to step back, admit that I’m not perfect, and let myself come at it from another angle.

Fourth, Doing Stuff. I’m still working on writing, I’m still learning how to act, I’m still pursuing job opportunities in performance. I’ve had almost no luck, but I’m still getting myself out there as much as I can. I don’t live anywhere close to a market for actors and models, but I’m keeping myself available. I’m not giving up on my dreams, however impossible they seem. I’ve no earthly idea how they will come to pass. I don’t know how I will be able to move to a place where I can get paying performance work. I don’t know how I will compete with the tens of thousands of others who want those same jobs.

I’m doing stuff. Small stuff, big stuff, any stuff. I’m coming at my goals and problems from different angles. I’m regrouping, relearning how to be me. My life doesn’t look anything like what I wanted it to. I’ve had disappointments, setbacks, and catastrophes. I’ve had victories and perks. Most importantly, I’ve had do-overs.

I’ll close this rambling with a recap of the beginning: I’m putting myself back together, and I’m letting myself do so slowly. Not everything that broke will fit back in. Pieces I didn’t know about have settled into place. I admit, I’m frustrated. I want what I want. Today, however, I’m being myself. Unique, creative, me.

Author and Perfector

A friend of mine from college recently embarked on the writer’s journey and has been enjoying himself immensely. Last night, he shared a soul-changing realization that he had.

He’d come to the portion of the narrative wherein he explored the MC’s backstory, all the horrifying things the young woman went through to become the hardened badass that she is in the book.

My friend will soon hold his first child, a little girl who already has a name and a place in his heart.

“Welcome,” I told him, “to being an author. Nothing forces us to face reality so much as crafted fiction.”

Readers may call authors all manner of names relating to our ability to do terrible things to made-up people, but how many truly understand what we endure when we write those horrendous scenes?

Our characters are our children, our best friends, our nightmares, our hopes. We live both sides of every tragedy we pen. We are the oppressed and the oppressor. We experience that dichotomy in the deepest places of our souls.

When we write backstories of violence done and overcome, we see the faces of the children. We shed the tears of the women. We scream with the voices of the tortured men.  And yes, we laugh as the sadistic villain who orchestrated it all. 

It’s not easy being an author.

And yet, I find that I can enjoy those dark paragraphs. I look forward to writing those scenes. Not because I enjoy suffering; please don’t ever think that. What I enjoy is what comes next. I know, because I’m the author, that this is the lowest point for my character. After this, it all goes up. My character learns and grows through this horror in ways she would not have if I wrote a kinder experience. Armed with these invaluable lessons, my character can rise and win.

Every point of conflict is a chance for a character to rise or fall. Each event is a choice, and the consequences of that choice change the story completely. I must ask myself, what is ultimately the best thing for this story? For this character? If I give her easier tasks, less harmful opponents, am I really doing her a favor? 

As with the children we bear and raise, the children we write matter to us. We want what’s right for them, even when our preferred genre involves tragic endings. We weep over their downfalls, get frustrated over their bad choices, and rejoice when they finally “get it.”  For something that only exists in our minds until we shape words around it, fiction is shatteringly real.

My friend confronted the reality under his imagination when he saw his unborn daughter on the page in front of him. Any writer who sticks it out and treats this creative gig as a profession will come to such a moment. It breaks all of us. The great among us pick up the pieces and reshape them into a new story.

This, more than anything, helps me to see God. He authors each of our lives and endures everything alongside us. When I write, I see whole worlds come to life in my mind, yet I know that what I am able to make of it pales milkishly compared to what I envision. I can’t make it as good as I see it. I can’t hold all the threads in my hands, and I often make mistakes in how I craft the story. I know how big a job it is, and I know how intimidated I get by the thought of trying to pull it all together in a cohesive whole. How much more is the scale of the universe?

I’m glad I only have pretend people to look out for, because I am daily reminded of my limits. When I see what God does around me, in me, and for me, I’m glad that He’s in charge and not me.

Sex in DC: What’s Love Got to Do with It?

This is me, jumping on the currently-most-popular bandwagon in internet geekdom.

The DC Reboot.

If you don’t follow the comics industry, DC is one of the two biggest publishing houses (the other being Marvel). DC brings us Batman, Superman, Catwoman, Teen Titans, and a slew of other heroes and villains. Due to the decline in readership and sales, DC decided to recreate, or “reboot”, 52 characters and storylines.

The first few titles released over the last two weeks have met with a backlash of public outrage. The reason? The female characters are now mere porn stars.

Everyone knows that sex sells, and that isn’t really the issue here. What the internet is screaming over is the treatment of sex and sexuality in these volumes. And it isn’t just the women in the audience spewing vitriol; a large part of the male readership is also disgusted.

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DC stated that it wanted to create, among other things, sexually liberated female characters. I heartily support sexual liberation; I believe that we labor under a great deal of bondage regarding our sexuality. The difference is in how I and DC define “liberation”.

Is it liberating to put a woman in an outfit that would not survive a shallow, indrawn breath? I can assure you that even for the alien female characters, those outfits would not survive a single step in the dressing room, let alone a battle. Why give her that outfit? It does her no good in any portion of the storyline, and she would not choose it for herself because she knows that needs a garment that will hold up under whatever activity she does. Ah; it isn’t for the story. It’s for the audience. When a woman is dressed by someone else to sexually provoke the audience, is she liberated?

Is it liberating to put a substantial amount of focus on a woman’s sexuality? If she constantly moans about not having or boyfriend or lover, to the point that half the pages include at least a mention of it, I doubt she is liberated. If a goodly portion of her screen-time revolves around enticing men or engaging in sex, it falls flat in the reading. We readers feel that the editor is a pimp requiring the characters to put for the audience, and we are about as satisfied as if we were Johns.

Is it liberating to require a woman to demand sex? Women do have natural sexual urges, but I would argue that a truly liberated woman can say “No” as easily as she can say “Yes.” A liberated woman can choose her partner(s) as carefully as she wishes. Writing a character who cannot refuse any opportunity to get laid is not liberating. Additionally, writing a character who is incapable of caring about her sexual encounters is not writing a liberated woman. Whores and slaves cannot care about who bangs them; free women do care about those with  whom they make love.

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Why do we read comics at all? What started the fandom? I would venture it was the characters and the stories. We all want a hero, someone to save us from torment and show us how to stand tall. We want inspiration and encouragement and hope that a brighter day can and will come. We needed larger-than-life, beyond-human figures to provide perspective on daily human life. Aliens come to our world show us how human we are and how we can maximize our humanity.

Superheroes are those individuals who decided to use what they had to do what they saw needed to be done. They showed us the best and worst of themselves, thus enabling us to see the best and worst in ourselves. They usually won, but not always. Evil had a face, a name, and it could be stopped by someone determined enough to figure out a way.

Even the shift to allow for villains to have their own stories maintained the driving force of character. We want an interesting protagonist, one we can in some way identify with. Sometimes, we want to know more about the ones we vilify so that we can better root for the hero. Sometimes we have compassion and understanding for these archetypes of people. We want to know what they’re up to and why they’re doing it, and we wonder how much longer they will survive against the good guy.

Through it all, what keeps readers coming back is the character and the story. We find our entertainment in all the complex simplicity of heroes who fight crime and struggle to keep the rent paid. And yes, we want our heroes to look good. They are, after all, the ideal we strive for.

How many of us grew up wanting to be Superman or Batgirl? How many of us wanted to be the hero fighting Bad Guys, Saving The Day, and Getting the Girl/Guy? We wanted to be as attractive as they are, and we wanted to be as good as they are. Reading their stories inspired us and told us what to look for in ourselves and in others.

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The shift we see in the DC reboot is troublesome because readers are so invested in the characters and stories. Yes, we want attractive characters who live The Good Life, and most of us don’t mind being able to sigh (or whatever) over just how attractive a character is, but that’s not our real purpose in reading comics.

We want stories.

We want realistic characters.

We want to be able to see ourselves in the panels.

Those of us who are liberated from sexual bondage know that sex is a beautiful thing that must be honored in order to be enjoyed. When love turns to gratification, there is no purpose. When sex does not further the character’s development or the plot, it becomes cheap and meaningless. And we are bored with that.

We do not want gratuitous shots of anatomy that give us no idea of who the character is.

We do not want ridiculous poses that serve no developmental purpose.

We do not want shallow, callow characters who don’t connect with the other characters or the audience.

If “sexiness” is integral to the story, then let it have an actual function! Sprinkle it in like choice seasoning; don’t dull us with too much spice and not enough meal. If there is more pepper than potato, we have a problem.

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I find it interesting that as many men as women are disgusted with the recent comic issues. Many of the comments I have read state outright hatred for the female characters, frustration with the lack of coherent story, confusion about how the sex scenes are portrayed (as in, that’s not even anatomically probable), anger at the removal of all that made the characters wonderful to begin with, exasperation at wooden characters, and despair at not feeling comfortable with introducing their children to the comics they once enjoyed so much.

Numerous comments also revolve around the supposed target audience for this reboot. Stereotypically, older boys and young men read superhero comics. What DC seems to have missed is that those original 14-35 year-olds are now husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They still love their childhood favorites, and they don’t want to see them destroyed for the sake of a new crop of sexually-jaded post-pubescents.

What continues to amaze me is how few of the traditional comic publishers grasp the size and variety of their female readership. There are a lot of female readers out there who are every bit as invested in superheroes as the males. And we don’t appreciate having our own sexuality trashed.

A sexually liberated woman understands her body well. She knows what is normal, what is pleasing, and where the proper boundaries are. She knows how far to push and when to say, “Here and no further.” She appreciates what makes her female and refuses all attempts to make her less, in any form or fashion. And the sexually liberated male is, not so coincidentally, of the same mindset. He respects himself as much as he respects her self. Together, they create a healthy balance.

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When a character’s main selling point becomes her ability to gratify “natural urges,” she can no longer be “real.” We can no longer identify with her and we can no longer care about what happens to her. She becomes an inflatable doll that we keep in the corner or under the bed and would really rather no one knew we had. Comics become that dirty habit that we hide, giving fuel to the argument that only masturbating boys living in Mom’s basement read that stuff.

Earlier I mentioned that most of us started reading comics because we learned more about ourselves through them. What do these new versions tell us about ourselves? Who can we be, according to this?

I see a tale of twisted expectations, wherein the most desirable individuals are the least real. I see a tale of hollow existence, where right and wrong don’t matter and sexual gratification trumps passion and love. I see a world become The Wasteland in which humanity is utterly lost.

Are there any heroes left?

PSA via SaS

I hope that you’ve been reading my serial, Swords and Sigils. One of the recent comments on SaS made me smile and then sigh. I was working up a response to that comment, and it became rather longer than I thought was appropriate for a comment thread, and thus we have a blog post. The reader mentioned that he would like to be able to comfort the character who is currently hurting, who has been hurting for so long that she finally broke under the strain of her internal wounds.

My first reaction was, “Yay! I have created a believable character with whom my audience identifies and about whom they care!”

My second reaction was to think about the people In Real Life who don’t get that kind of care.

I’ve personally known two suicides in my life. Both were young men on the cusp of greatness. They were talented, popular, and bright stars in the world. And both of them had some wound that they felt they couldn’t share with anyone, that they thought could never be healed. They chose to end their lives because they couldn’t share those things with anyone.

Now, both of those young men had loving families and friends. Why would they throw all that away? No one was beating them, using them, or oppressing them. They had resources readily available to them for counseling, encouragement, relaxation, talking, all that. But somehow, everyone missed the fact that each of these brilliant young men was hurting.

I know about trying to be strong enough, to be tough enough to take care of myself. I know about presenting that perfect mask to the world so that no one ever sees the mess I really am. And if I had not had friends who cared enough to brave my defenses and I had not made the choice to trust them, bad things would have happened.

Do people in your life know that you can be trusted? Do your family members know that they can come to you and unload their deepest wounds without censure? Do your friends think that they can be real around you? Are you willing to let someone fall on you for a little while?

It’s true that only the person experiencing the wound can deal with it; we all have to face our hurts and seek healing. We can’t expect someone else to make our bodies or souls regenerate. But for a time, we all need someone to help us. For a season or a moment, we need to let go of our strength and rest in someone else’s.

It’s scary when someone we’ve always respected as strong shows a weakness. We poor creatures of habit tend to settle on our expectations that things should not change. A strong person suddenly becoming not-strong tweaks our simple notions rather painfully. Yet I would argue that allowing ourselves to be weak upon occasion makes us stronger in the long run.

As with any vulnerable creature, we humans need a safe place to rest while we express that weakness.

Will you be a safe place for someone else? I spent much of my life refusing to “enable” the weeping-willows I met in life, mostly because I was upset that they wouldn’t do the same for me. Why should I let them soak my shoulders with their shallow woes when they would run the moment I tried to talk about my legitimate concerns? You can probably determine who was being shallow in this scenario.

To get, you must give. You must sow in order to reap. If you want to have trusted friends, you must be a trusted friend. This does not mean that you become a garbage dump for everyone and anyone to trash. You have to be wise and particularly seek out relationships. Some of the people you become close to might surprise you. I’m a middle-class, “white bread” yuppie; what am I doing being best friends with ex-gang members, drug dealers, and cons? Yet these have become some of my dearest friends, along with a few who are much more like me.

Seek out relationships and be willing to give without getting. But also, don’t overlook the random, one-off moments when you can give comfort to someone in need. Maybe you’re in a public place, and you see someone crying in the corner. Don’t ignore them. Maybe they will tell you to go away, that they don’t want to talk to you, but let them know that someone noticed and that someone cared enough to stop and say something. Even if you don’t think it amounts to anything, that moment could be definitive for that person.

I recall a friend from college who started the same year I did but took off the second year. I hardly heard from him at all, though I sent emails at least once a month. I ended most of my messages with “Keep in touch,” primarily to urge my friend to be nice and reply to me, because wasn’t it rude of him to be ignoring me like that? When he came back to the university, he told me that he had been hospitalized for severe depression. And my emails, with that simple (if selfish) closing entreaty for contact, had helped him through some of his darkest moments.

Never underestimate the impact that you can have in someone’s life. Take an extra moment to look someone in the eye. Be brave enough to let someone weep in your arms. Be wise enough to keep your mouth shut while they work through it. Take a chance and love someone through your actions.

Maybe you won’t prevent a suicide. After all, the person has to choose to accept what you offer. But if no one offers comfort, what then? If no one, even out of poor motives, reaches out to them, what then?

We’re all human and all in at least occasional need of someone to turn to. Be the person that others can turn to, and you will find people to whom you can turn. I would urge you to seek out someone of your own gender to build the deepest relationships with; there are some things best shared between women or between men. I can’t really understand what it’s like for a man to struggle with X, Y, or Z, and he will always have difficulty understanding my concerns. That is not to say that cross-gender friendships can’t be life-savers; they can. You should have both in your life.

To wrap this up, if you can care about a fictitious character, you can care about a real person. You can make a difference in someone’s life. You could be the difference. So please, please, please don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you know is hurting.

Book for sale!

I am very excited to tell you that I have released a book for sale! You can quickly and easily get your own copy of the e-Book in any of ten different formats suitable for reading online, on your preferred device, or even to print out as a hardcopy (though it will take a fair amount of paper!)

Please go to this website to buy a copy today:

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/42768

Please take a moment to purchase a copy (or more, if you want to distribute it!). Each sale boosts my ratings, and honest reviews will help my chances of being listed on a major distributor like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes. I’m so excited about this, and I can’t wait to share it with you! God bless and have a great day!

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