Concerns About YA Fiction.

When I was young, I don’t think there was anything called “YA Fiction.”  In fact, I don’t recall having heard the phrase “YA Fiction” until after the Harry Potter series hit.

Now, I’m not saying anything bad about the Harry Potter series, and I’m not even sure that I’m saying anything bad about YA fiction, I just have some concerns.

It’s probably appropriate to mention at this point that I am not an expert and I very likely have no idea what I’m talking about.

So, like twenty to thirty years ago, which I think is a reasonable timeframe for evaluating my reading habits as a child, we started with picture books, like the Berenstain Bears, for instance, and then we’d move up to some of the Shel Silverstein stuff, which still had pictures but way more words.  Then you’d move on to the first chapter books, which are like Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary.  And then the Redwall books were more like novels, in fact I read the Redwall books over again in my adulthood.

But after that, at around age twelve, I was reading grownup books.  And it wasn’t just on my own, but I think that was around the age that schools started introducing me to some basic literature stuff.  Most of what I read voluntarily was science fiction or fantasy, but there was also poetry and Mark Twain, and Thoreau and things like that.  We went straight from kids books to adult books, and I think there’s value in that.  Now, I know that just because I grew up a certain way, that doesn’t mean that that was the right way (God knows), so here are some specific reasons that I have concerns about YA fiction:

It’s not a genre. I mean, sure, it’s used as a genre, but in this case it’s a differentiation that serves marketers more than it does readers.  There’s a lot of young adult fiction out there, on a dizzying array of subjects.  The purpose that genre serves for readers is that it allows readers to know at least some of what the book will be about, or what purpose the volume will serve, before the reader even opens it.  It’s a way to sort through the tremendous volume of printed matter that’s available to us.  YA fiction doesn’t do that.  It just provides a channel for publishers to further narrow down their marketing to a more specific niche.

It’s a false division.  There’s really no need to draw a line between what teens and “tweens” can read and what adults can read, unless you have concerns about sexual or violent content.  I was reading literature and sci-fi long before I entered adulthood, and most of the people that I know who read and enjoyed the Harry Potter series did so as adults.  This is entirely appropriate, the Harry Potter books were wonderful stories that dealt with important and complex themes.

I don’t want to limit young adults. My brother, who’s a high school teacher and admittedly has some expertise on the subject of getting kids to read things, says that one of the good things that YA does is direct kids toward books that are geared toward them and that they may be more likely to enjoy, and I’m the first to admit that for kids, getting them into books that they’ll enjoy is a good thing and can make that kid a reader for life.  But there are so many very good books that are in literature and in regular genre fiction that I really think kids should read, and I worry that since there is now a category specifically for young adults that teens might feel as though literature is not for them… or worse, that they’ll be force fed literature at school and all of their voluntary reading will be in young adult fiction, and they might be forever ruined  as regards literature.

It can damage writers’ credibility. Okay, so this is probably true to some extent with any genre division, since as discussed earlier, publishers and promoters will use genre to get your work to the most receptive audience for that work, and on the face of things, that’s great.  We all want our work to get into the hands of people that enjoy it.  The problem is that as you become a product, a publisher is going to want uniformity from that product because uniformity is easier for capitalism to deal with because it’s a lot cheaper.  But people aren’t uniform, and many writers have had to write under pen names in order to move outside of the genre that they’ve become known for.  Because if, for instance, you’re famous for writing a science fiction series, and then you have a book you want to write that’s literary, your sci-fi fans will pick it up, and some might like it, but some are going to feel disappointed and even betrayed.  To top that off you have to start all over with marketing your literary work, since you’ll be marketing to an at least somewhat different crowd.  So this happens with any genre, but I worry that the stigma against people who become famous for writing young adult fiction may be seriously damaging, because among some consumers, YA fiction is kids books.

So there are reasons here on behalf of both writers and readers.  This kind of division benefits publishers because it allows them to finely dial in their marketing, and efficient marketing benefits authors as well, I suppose.  But I worry that we’re selling our kids short, and I don’t want the capability of our kids to read and understand good fiction, from literature to murder/mystery books, to be hampered by our underestimation.

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Refractory Period.

Well, it’s been well over a week since I’ve posted here, which in itself is unusual.  I’ve been writing; most of that writing has been dedicated to one or the other of my manuscripts, though.

I wrote somewhere around fifty or sixty pages in a week.  Now, this is in addition to working my full time job, so that’s about eight or nine pages per day over the course of about four hours a day.  I would get home, sit and write, and then go to bed and lay awake for three or four hours just chewing on words, sleep for a few fitful hours, and then get up and go to work.  I would write furiously into steno pads when I didn’t have access to the laptop.  it was sometime this weekend that I realized that the sun had been shining for days and each moment of free time I had was spent at the laptop with the curtains closed and the lights off.  It didn’t matter.  I was in a fevered state; it wasn’t until Tuesday that it started to fall apart… the hallways at work stretched out to lengths that they hadn’t previously occupied, and people seemed unusually small, even though I knew, absolutely knew, that they were the same size they’d always been.  I was having to get up and walk around the office when I found myself dozing at my desk… each walk would buy me another twenty minutes of alertness.

And that was my first night of proper sleep in over a week.

Each night this week has been dedicated to hanging out with friends, knitting back together the threads of a life that I had let get too frayed.  The cats are anxious and overly affectionate with the recent bout of complete emotional neglect that they’ve weathered, and I can’t blame them.  The house has taken up a new and interesting odor, and there’s a stack of dirty dishes on the floor near my workspace.  This can all be fixed with some dedicated attention, and it will be in the coming days… the mail will be checked and the floor scrubbed and the phone calls made.  The apartment seems to communicate a kind of despair, but I don’t see it that way.

Don’t get me wrong; nobody should do this.  Not even me.  It’s madness… but what a fine madness.  Nobody can honestly expect anyone else to peel themselves away from anything that feels that effortless, that sublime.  It was like a thick and soothing syrup for the brain.  The words came, endlessly, one after the other and there were times when I felt like I couldn’t type fast enough to keep up with them.  I would repeat phrases to myself over and over again so that I wouldn’t forget them while my hands caught up with my brain.

And I read over it after the fever broke, and I… I think it might be good.  The nightmare is always that you’ll come out of just such a spell to find that you’ve written a few dozen pages of garbage and wasted all of that focus and effort.  But… I think this might be good.  This was something I had worried about; writing a novel with essentially only two characters is a difficult thing.  It requires some delicate balance between exposition, action, and dialogue.  Things need to be broken up, and other things need a focus so granular that it narrows the whole scope of the thing, and then you need to let the mind pan back out in a way that isn’t unpleasantly jarring.  It needs a light touch, and a light touch is not a thing that I’m known for.

Now there are things in there that need some going over.  There are things that need to be trimmed down and rewritten; there are other things that I breezed right past that will require expansion.  But the point is that I’ve got it down, and I think I only lost a couple of things, and I have had people read a couple of scenes and gotten good feedback on them.

On Sunday I made the effort to not write.  By the time Monday came around, my busy social week started and I didn’t have the time.  Tonight, I promised Tina that I wouldn’t start on that short story I want to get started on.  She wanted me to get to bed early, so I’m probably cheating a little bit by writing this up, but it’s only a blog post, and I’m pleased as punch to chalk it up to the business of putting things back together again.

And this is not a feast or famine situation… I’m not setting the manuscript aside in any long term sense.  It’s just that this little romance was so destructive to other areas of my life that I have to try to get those balls back in the air right now.

 

Capitalism and Divergent Thinking.

For the purposes of this post it is important to note that when I refer to “capitalism,” I am referring to Big C Capitalism.  Also, it is worth noting that I am an idiot, that I am not an expert in any field, least  any of the ones that might relate to the following piece, and that I failed Psych in college.

Capitalism loves homogeneity.  It’s no mystery why… packages that are all the same size and shape are easier to stack, store, and ship.  Financial predictions are easier to make based on things that are produced and sold all the same.  Shipping is cheaper.  Mechanized production is much easier, making the item in question even cheaper to manufacture.  One look at the dizzying variety in our grocery stores shows that despite all the different packages, we’re really looking at six different kinds of kidney beans, four different kinds of canned tuna, and a few dozen different kinds of bread that more or less taste the same.  Meanwhile the real variety is absent.  Each aisle contains countless versions of the same handful of products.  It turns out that it’s not all that difficult to acclimate consumers to this homogenized range of products, either… even our films have their formulas.  Screenplays must hit certain spots within specified time frames in order to be considered for production in Hollywood.  Almost any film is possible, as long as it follows the formula.

Capitalism values homogeneity in its people as well.  Oh, sure, job descriptions will tell you that managers are looking for creative thinkers, but the fact of the matter is that creativity involves risk by nature, and to capitalism, which pursues profit, this risk is not an opportunity but a cost.  When things are unpredictable, efficiency declines and costs go up.  In fact, every large, successful company really only needs in between one and ten “innovators” and then an army of robots to carry out the wishes of those innovators.  The fact is that for now, it’s easier and cheaper to employ humans to fill those roles.  Even so, a firm hand is kept to ensure that these people, these biorobots, remain within their designated parameters. Capitalism also offers a reward for this conformity.  We are told that if we follow the rules, and work hard, that we will be rewarded with prosperity.  Since most people in the post industrial landscape lack the means to scrape their own living from the earth, this is a pretty good deal for most citizens, and honestly it does a better job of making sure everyone is taken care of than homesteading would.

Even our own brains reward conformity.  Social conformity, in a primate with essentially no natural weapons, was a matter of survival for nascent man.  Social conformity made the group work, and the group was the weapon.  It is our social nature, after all, that turned us down the large-brain side of that particular fork in the evolutionary crossroads, and as far as I’m aware we’re the mammals with the most complex and highly developed social structure on earth.  This is what the big brain made possible, and a part of that is the ability and the desire to conform to social norms.  To feel as though one belongs to a group is a necessary feeling, rewarded with the impression of safety and warmth.  In fact, experiencing the fear of death can inspire greater urges to conform in us.

This is seen not just on an individual basis, but also on a broader scale.  Societies tend to fluctuate on a cultural spectrum, from collectivist to individualist, based on the level of prosperity being experienced.  Individualism is preferred when times are good; with survival needs taken care of, attention can turn to individual choice and self expression.  When times are lean, societies tend to pull together to ensure that the needs of the society are met.

In contrast to this urge for conformity that is encoded into our societies and indeed, into our very brains, we also experience a strong need for self-expression.  This need is considered a part of the need for autonomy as enumerated in the three needs in Self-Determination Theory… autonomy incorporates both the need for agency in one’s life and outcomes as well as the need to act in accordance with one’s self.  The nature and origin of the self have been discussed and studied by people far, far brighter than I, and I won’t have time to go through that in any depth at all, so I’m inclined to skip that conversation entirely and just say that for the purposes of this discussion, the self is a thing that we all have, and it is made up of all of the traits that make us who we are.

So we have a natural, intrinsically motivated desire to act in accordance with the self.  This desire is so strong that it overwhelms the risks of such authentic actions, and at times the biological urge for conformity… all for an action with no tangible or external reward.  It is an action which is its own reward; in fact the existence of an external reward can undermine the value of the act of self expression by preventing it from satisfying our need for autonomy.

This is not just a desire that we have for ourselves; we also seem to seek out authenticity in other people.  We cast about in the world, desiring not just authentic action and authentic expression, but authentic experiences, authentic interaction, and the chance to witness authentic expressions of self from other people.  We are moved by these interactions and expressions because they touch something inside of us, something that is terrifying and wonderful.  Authenticity plucks a string inside of us, and we vibrate in sympathy.

The truth is, existence as a human being is often a horrible burden, and not just in terms of practical stressors, like money or food or emotional security, but due to the fact that we bear up under great personal responsibility, the kind of responsibility that only a thinking creature gifted with free will can know, and exist in a continual state of imperfect knowledge.  We are creatures who conceive of the world, but who are incapable of conceiving a world without us, and still are cursed with an understanding of our own mortality. Is it any wonder that so often we retreat from authentic expression of the self into the comfort of the group, the safety of the homogeneous?  We relinquish responsibility of doing and instead sit back and watch.  We lunge for the carrot and in doing so accept the yoke.  It’s so easy to do, especially in a world that wants, needs us to be consumers, and will offer us pretty much anything that we think might bring us even a moment’s comfort.

This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but I do think that it leads to a deep and undefinable unhappiness… a sort of a sickness of the soul.  This is not to say that conformity is bad, or even that capitalism is bad.  These are just parts of being human.  But it does emphasize the importance of creative work; work often judged as not having a real place within a capitalist society.

The artist serves a purpose, in that through their actions they take on the risk and the burden of authentic self-expression and reproduce that for others to view and experience, so that everyone can feel that ahh feeling without taking on those risks themselves.  The artist reaches into what it is to be human, like a modern shaman reaching into a world of gods and devils (and indeed, I’m not convinced that art is possible without interaction with the Divine, but that’s for a different post) , and brings back meaning, and then reproduces it in a benign, non-threatening form for all to enjoy.  The artist helps to keep people spiritually whole in a terrible world.

So how does that work, arguably valuable work, fit in with a society in which all labor must be boiled down to dollars? Especially if we grant, as above, that the urge to express the self and to create are intrinsic, but can be undermined by the offer of an external reward? How is that compartmentalization accomplished?

The White Girl Blues.

I’ve been in a funk lately.  I don’t know for how long… I just had the thought sometime last week that there was a time when I was happy, and that I haven’t felt that way for a while now.  Actually, I don’t remember being myself consistently since I hit my head.  Cognitive faculty has returned, and I’m starting to pull my life back together, but I just feel estranged from the world.

I try not to talk about myself too much on here; I try to present my perspective on issues that may be interesting to other people.  I think the “diary” approach to blogging not only gets really boring, but it’s also too close.  I don’t want this to become a reflection of my identity, and I certainly don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking that every single bowel movement I have is going to be interesting to readers.  That way leads to an echo chamber, and an unproductive pit of self-gratification, and that limits or outright prevents any growth in terms of craft.  And that’s what this was put here for… for writing.  Not for wallowing in self.  I can assure you, I do enough of the latter in my spare time.

At the same time, it’s difficult to know exactly how to cope with this long period of dissatisfaction.  I feel like I don’t even have the right words to describe what’s going on, which results in confusion and frustration on the part of the friends that I’ve tried to talk to, a feeling of  regret on my end, and no resolution.

I mean, I’ve had a bad day or two before.  Hell, I’ve had some really bad days.  Days when I just wanted everything to go blank so that I could at least get some rest.  Days when I’ve wished that whatever part of my brain that was causing me to feel what I was feeling could be carved away, even if it left me a drooling idiot for the rest of my life.  But I could almost always count on myself to wake up the next day feeling better, or maybe the day after that.

Lately, though, I’ve been feeling like I’m just going through the motions of everyday life.  Output has slowed.  I feel distanced from those closest to me.  I feel hollow inside.  I feel disconnected from the world.

It wasn’t all that long ago, maybe last summer, that all it took to bring me out of myself was a particular shade of green on a tuft of grass, or the smell of wild stocks blooming by the roadside.  I could spin like a dervish through night-long revels, and wake up feeling bruised but refreshed and satisfied.  But even now, as I look out the window at this place that I usually love, with the new spring leaves of the red maple swaying in the breeze, I feel like the movement itself is a welcome distraction, but it brings me no joy.  My days are colorless, and most food tastes like ashes in my mouth.  Even the warmth and fluidity of drunkenness seems to have paled down to just a minor respite… which is a shame.  Being drunk used to be almost a transcendent experience for me.

The world turns and I am on it; each day is much the same as the last, and there is seemingly nothing to look forward to, or to move toward.

I have largely stopped reading the news, as it just weighs me down further with problems that can’t be solved; injustices about which something both must and can never be done.

And there are times at which I want to unleash my anger and sourness on everyone around me, deliberately, to drive them as far away as possible.  Not because I dislike them, or because they are a part of this problem, but just to protect them from the chaos, and to protect myself from the potential guilt and shame of involving them.

Which is insanely self-destructive.  I am undeservedly surrounded by some of the most brilliant, loyal, and supportive people that I have ever come to know in my whole life.  Without my friends, I am just an idiot, sitting around and chewing up my own brain, and staring at my navel.  Without my friends, I am nothing… a strange, unnoticed obituary.

As much as I need that contact, whenever I try to reach out, I fail to make contact.  I fail to feel that connection in my chest that tells me that I’m not all on my own.  I’m not sure why.  This thing, this contact, is what I do.  It’s what makes me happy, to be able to connect with people and offer a smile or a joke, or whatever insight or foolhardy advice I might have on tap that day.  It’s what I do to bring value to my little community.

And I just can’t do it, for whatever reason.  Not right now.  It’s like hands almost meeting, but separated by a pane of glass.  The desperation and the yearning are there, but the comfort of company is not.

I think it’s folly to expect that someone else can lead me back to my old self anyway, but I keep hoping that if that feeling happens, that feeling of connection, maybe I’ll remember.

It’s so self-indulgent, this unhappiness.  It’s so much like sitting in my own stink just for the safety and comfort of it.

I want to push all of my belongings into a pile, and set that pile on fire.  Then I want to walk out into the woods, and find somewhere to sit until the tree roots and the scavengers take me.  It is taking so much effort just to be a participant in my own life that I hardly have the energy to write anymore.  Even watching television, a common escape strategy, feels hollow and ridiculous.  I feel like I’m locked in a prison, the manufacture of which I recognize as my own, but that I neither remember constructing nor locking up.

Maybe it’s just that this has been a cruel and hungry winter.

Maybe I’m forever changed by one blow to the head.

I’m writing all of this down, not as an outlet, not as a cry for assistance, and not as a plea for attention.  I’m writing it out perhaps as a way of being able to reach out and grasp my own hand; to make some kind of contact, and maybe to find that little light that used to be me, that used to carry through my days with a buoyancy that I faintly remember but no longer feel.

God help me.

 

 

 

We Are, In Fact, Our Egos.

Last summer, I think it was, a bunch of paper fliers showed up around town.  They were on white letter-size printer paper, and they had a message hand-written on them in what appeared to be highlighter:

“You Are Not Your Ego.”

ego2

This is a regrettably common sentiment among the creative types; the idea that the Id is somehow the true self and that the Ego is harmful or not a real part of you because it restrains the Id out of a sense of fear.

Okay, before I go on, I want everyone to know that I have no background in psychology, and in fact am a community college drop out.  It’s important to understand that I do not at all know what I’m talking about here.

Got it?

Okay, so I think that people who dispense this claptrap do it with the best of intentions, I really do.  But I feel like either a) the people who do so don’t understand Freud’s Structural Model and are using the words incorrectly; b) that it’s a side effect of an aspirational approach toward human thought and behavior that is not just wrong, but also damaging; or c) both of the above.

So let’s talk terms.

The Id, as Freud described it, is a mass of instinctual desires.  It is the only part of the structural model that we are born with.  It drives libido, aggression, hunger, all of those things that are more or less common to all animals.  It will not tolerate delayed gratification, it wants what it wants immediately and there is no reasoning with it.  Infants have no moderating influence; they are just Id… so if they are hungry and are not fed, they cry.  They cannot tolerate the conflict between the desire and the availability of the object of that desire.  I’m sure that you can see, particularly in adults, how the Id can be capable of a lot of darkness and danger.  This is why it terrifies me when people assert that the Id is the true self.

The Ego moderates the desires of the Id with reality, and seeks to satisfy those desires in the least harmful way possible. For instance, the Ego is responsible for enabling us to not just take what we want, but to purchase it instead.  The Ego restrains the Id, and as it does so, it fulfills basic and genuine needs.  Functions such as cognition, judgement, intellect and memory reside in the Ego.  The Ego is the root of conscious awareness, and of a sense of self.

For the sake of completion, the Super Ego is the portion of the psyche that internalizes societal rules and expectations. It is where morality and feelings of guilt come from.  It restrains the Id, galvanizing the psyche toward morally and socially appropriate actions.  The Ego mediates between the Id and the Super Ego.

It’s worth noting at this point that as I understand it, Freud’s structural model is no longer in use in practical psychology, or if it is, it’s generally not used in the way that it was originally conceived.  Freud had some odd ideas about human psychology that are too firmly based in gender and sexuality to be of much use in modern psychology.  Still, if you’re going to use words, you should probably know what they mean.

The fact of the matter is, we are very much our Ego.  As seen from my brief and inexpert description above, the Ego acts in a conciliatory and defensive way, and some of the strategies that it employs may be deceptive in nature, but that doesn’t mean that the Ego somehow doesn’t exist, or can be excised from the psyche.  The strategies that it employs are employed in the pursuit of fulfilling very real and valid psychological needs.  Moreover, the ego is what makes us people, rather than a collection of desires and social directives.

This idea that we are not our ego is well-intentioned, but incorrect and in the end probably damaging.  It’s a sort of a hippy-dippy notion that says that you can have whatever you want and can be whatever you want to be if you live without fear.  This on the surface is a benign statement that some may find inspirational, but it’s yet another aspect of the sort of aspirational thinking that seems to come in cycles in western culture.

The most extreme example of this that I’ve encountered is The Secret: a book and a film that propose that one can have whatever one wants through the miracle of positive thinking.  This of course leaves people dying of cancer bearing up under the burden of not having thought positively enough to cure their cancer, or the homeless person not having thought positively enough to bring himself a modicum of prosperity.

I feel like I’ve been writing about this a lot lately.  What I’m saying is this: while it might seem harmless to espouse this living without fear as an ideal, the reality is that these fears, these dangers, and these risks all exist, and are valid.  To insist that the ideal way to be is to exist outside of them is to insist that the ideal existence is outside of humanity, and this sort of thinking is why I left religion.  This view of life as a struggle toward unattainable goals sets all of us up for failure.

The doctrine of the positive thinking movement does not set us up with the tools that we need to deal with the darkness and the horror that exist in the world… instead, it seeks to distract us with work that will never be finished, like Sisyphus and his stone, and we never give ourselves the opportunity to feel and work through those feelings, and this activity, this experience and internalization and rationalization of horror is a big part of what being a person is.

People are not perfect; they were never intended to be and not one of us every will be. We are all just people; and we are all a little monstrous.  We are all terribly terribly flawed, and we are just thrashing in the mud and struggling to find or make a place in the world for ourselves.   And to expect ourselves or anyone else to be anything more than that is not just wrong… it’s cruel.

We are all our egos.

Looking At People.

I had a very talented writer friend who complimented me recently on my ability to describe people.  I don’t know if he was sincere or not, but I opted to take the praise as sincere and allowed myself to feel flattered by it.

I think that describing people is a touchy subject in fiction.  There has been a recent push back against description, as a flood of bad fiction has relied heavily on descriptions of extraordinarily beautiful or cliched characters in lieu of actual character development (I’m looking at you, Dan Brown, you son of a bitch).  I have read some people who go so far as to say to not describe people at all, in order to avoid this admittedly unforgivable crime.

While we don’t want to lean heavily on character descriptions, the fact is that as long as a description supports the development of the character or supports the story in some way, then it not only should be done, but it must be done.  Part of the point of the literary art, though, is to allow the reader’s mind to impose itself on your work so that the audience can connect with the piece, and so we don’t want to tell too much… but giving a general impression of the character’s appearance changes how the reader interacts with your character.

When I was working on my first novel, an unpublished and ridiculous NaNoWriMo project, I described my protagonist as tall and lean, with a blonde ponytail and goatee.  My intent was for the reader to connect with the character as if he were a no good ex-boyfriend, or if they don’t tend to date men, the no good ex-boyfriend of a friend or family member.  A lot of that connection can be established through dialogue and actions taken by the character, but the long hair and the dirty jeans helped set the readers’ expectations early, before they had a chance to get to know the character.

I also think that being able to describe a person’s body language is essential to setting mood and contributes to a reader’s perception of the action or dialogue, for better or for worse.  Whether a character’s shoulders are slumped or not can make a huge difference in tone, and a really effective description of how someone is standing can make or break a scene.  Note that I said “really effective” and not “long and detailed.”

To write effective descriptions of body language, it’s important to know what that language looks like.  We all communicate using paralanguage every day, so we know kind of instinctively what body language is saying, but unless you consciously know what movements create that language, you’re not going to be able to describe it effectively, and you’ll be stuck just saying that someone stands dejectedly, or that they shake their head angrily, and there’s a lot of adverbs and it contributes almost not at all to the character or scene.  They end up being stage directions rather than a seamless and useful description.

The problem is that in order to be able to effectively describe body language, you have to actually look at people.  Feeling how you yourself move when you’re feeling something is not the same as seeing that same thing expressed, really seeing it, seeing what parts of the body move where and how.  This is one of the rare situations in which women are at an advantage, because we’re often able to observe people without drawing a lot of attention to ourselves or seeming terribly creepy.

As an artist (sort of), I also can’t help but feel that some very basic anatomy is very useful for this. It’s not the sort of thing that you need a text book for… but there are certain parts of the body that are very expressive that get left out of things… even artists things.  Ever look at one of those little wooden figure drawing models?  Their shoulders are attached to their ribcage.  Do you know how weird it would be if your shoulders had to move with your ribcage?  For one thing, shrugging would disappear almost entirely.  You also would not be able to reach your hand nearly as high as you can now, and sweet breakdancing moves would be out of the question.  We owe a lot of the expressiveness of our torso to our floating shoulder girdles, and for a writer, it might be useful to know that when a character is reaching for something, the collar bone, which is a part of that shoulder girdle, could pop a bit.  It might also be useful to know that there is a protrusion on the pelvis that is above the hip joint that can be visible beneath the skin on very thin people.

I do want to say that as a reader, I don’t remember any descriptions of characters’ clothing that I enjoyed.  That doesn’t mean that any and all discussion of clothing is bad… after all, knowing whether a character wears a leather vest or a polo shirt can send useful cues to the reader.  The point is that I don’t remember any of the effective clothing descriptions because they didn’t stand out, and I really think that’s key.  If it serves the story, it should read as seamless and I shouldn’t notice it.  Another thing; if you’re going to describe an article of clothing, describe it.  You don’t have to go into a lot of detail, but not everyone knows what an empire waist is, or what a pencil skirt is.  Telling me if a piece of clothing is flowing or fitted gives me something to work with without having to do a Google image search.

As always it is absolutely vital for you to understand that everything written here is a reflection of my own uneducated opinion, and I have no idea what I’m talking about most of the time.  If you have a different opinion, I would be genuinely pleased to hear it.

Scrambled Egg.

When I first hit my head, I didn’t think it was possible that I had a concussion.  I went right back to work.  After I had been diagnosed with a concussion, I didn’t think it was possible that I’d broken my skull.  I went back to work a week later and thought I’d be better within a month.  Now that I know that my skull was fractured, and that it could be months before I’m back to normal, I am beset by feelings of frustration and sadness.

Mostly I’m disappointed in myself; I’m managing to keep normal people hours, but I’m still sleeping nine or ten hours a day, which is nearly double my usual five to six hours.  I feel as though the time spent sleeping is wasted time, as though it’s indulgent and the time could be better spent actually accomplishing something.  The fact of the matter is, though, that by the end of the day, I’m so sleepy that I can hardly keep myself awake.  In the morning, when I used to jump out of bed right away, I hit the snooze alarm two or three times.  I remember being up for sunrise pretty regularly.  I even remember scheduling sunrise walks to the bay to watch the herons fish.  I went out with friends (sober, on account of the symptoms I’m still having) last weekend, and when I used to be able to stay up until four in the morning, I was yawning by one thirty and crawling gratefully into bed by three.

It’s more than just the sleeping, though.  I came home from work tonight and was without the mental energy to do anything.  Television was out of the question… video games required too much concentration… even a podcast was too jangly and noisy to be tolerated.  I struggled to work on my novel last night, and it took an hour of agonizing effort just to put a hundred words down.  And the crazy thing is, I knew exactly what I wanted to write that day.  I just couldn’t organize it enough to turn it into words.  It spun around in my head, crystal clear and sequential and perfect, and I couldn’t capture it.  I just couldn’t… for reasons that I, of course, still don’t understand.

I’m absent-minded, and I still struggle for the right words when I’m talking to people, especially on my bad days.  I have a hard time finishing tasks, even simple household chores.  I just kind of get distracted and then forget that I was working on something.  I can’t listen to music while I’m doing things, because it’s too distracting.  It either pulls me out of the work I’m doing, or I become so annoyed and frustrated by it that I have to turn it off.  The loss of music pains me.

So I came home from work tonight, and I just couldn’t do anything.  No television, no podcasts… nothing.   It was like I got through the door and had to shut out all the noise and lights and movement and demands and jangling chaos.  I fed the cats and just sat around in a dark, silent apartment.  Reading something as simple and short as a news article was a struggle that I eventually gave up on, leaning my head back and closing my eyes for the relief of not having to look at anything.  So I just sat.  Normally this would be unbearably dull for me, but I didn’t feel bored.  I just felt sad and empty.  People all around me are busy accomplishing things; my friends are all working on their own pursuits, and when they’re not, they’re out doing something fun.  And I was sitting in a dark, quiet house.  It’s isolating, and it makes me feel lazy.  Since fat people already labor under the lazy slob stereotype, well… it doesn’t feel great.  Not all days are as bad as today, but all told I’m barely managing to put in time at my part time job, feed the cats, feed myself, and look for work.

I had always thought the one good thing about having this much free time available to me was the opportunity to follow creative pursuits.  I have several projects going right now, and I honestly haven’t gotten much done since the beginning of November apart from this blog and a handful of drawings.  The house is a mess and all I’ve been able to do is just keep it from getting any worse.  My bills are getting paid, sort of, and I’m not at all going hungry, but I feel incapable of handling even the basic parts of keeping a life together.  And it’s not just laziness or procrastination, even though it feels like it is, because I don’t even have the capacity to handle the fun stuff.  A lot of the time it just feels like I’m counting the hours until I can go to bed without seeming like a very old person, and I don’t remember doing that since I was an angry and whiny teenager.

I mean, what good am I if I’m not doing anything?  If I’m just sitting around taking up space?

Not all of my days are like this.  I have some days when I’m clear as a bell, and some days when you can hardly tell.  It’s a subtle difference… it’s not something that you would notice if you talked to me.  I would seem normal; though I might stumble over my words a bit, it wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary.  There are days, though, when it is an earth-shattering difference to me.  Like the difference between being an adult and a child.

I tell myself that tomorrow will be better, and most times it is.  But I feel lonely and worthless a lot of the time, and I think it’s starting to wear me down.  Apparently it could take another four months to heal… with gradual improvement within that time.

Two more hours until I can go to bed.