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Empathy and the ‘Strong’ Ones: a #HoldOnToTheLight post

Published October 28, 2016 by admin

 

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This was one of those things that got my attention immediately, something I feel strongly about, so of course I procrastinate. That’s not completely right, though. It’s more like I wanted to get things right, wanted to have something important to say when everyone else was already saying it better.

It’s also true that I have an exceptionally hard time being vulnerable in real life, but more on that later.

In reading all the amazing, emotional posts by friends and colleagues over the past weeks, and also in watching the news and the rampant anger being slung every which way in the media and in daily conversations these days, it finally struck me what I could contribute.

Where has our empathy gone? What happened to treat people the way you want to be treated?

There are tons of articles about how the internet makes it easier to be an anonymous slinger of vitriol, but it seems like even in “real life” these days, the need to be right is usurping the need to care for the person next to you. That terrifies me, that’s not the kind of person I want to be, not the kind of world that I want to believe I live in. Growing up in small towns, the importance of what others were going through was always stressed. They may not have been mentioned by name and it may not have been broadcast, but there was always the small town subtext that someone was having a hard time or their family was going through something – and it was your job to help do something about it if you could, or at least take that into consideration when interacting with them. Maybe it’s the upside of small town gossip, that yeah it can give you the ammunition to judge people, but it’s also information you can use to treat people gentler.

I did a convention earlier in the month where I joked on a lot of panels that I love writing about the crumbled cookies. A lot of my protagonists are broken, unlikable, or have huge lessons to learn. There’s a reason for this. I want people to feel something for them beyond just a knee jerk reaction. I want people to have time to dwell on why these characters feel the way they do and that they may not be who you’d think you’d spend time with, but give me the length of a book and maybe I can change your mind. Maybe you’ll walk away understanding that it’s okay to accept that people go through a range of experiences and issues, and that’s okay. They can grow. They can be fine just the way they are. They can be heroes even if they’re not the traditional tropes, that great things can come from anyone and everyone, that everyone is valuable. Everyone in my books has their own story, whether I elaborate on it or not. I want to know that people aren’t overlooking the crumbled cookies.

In some ways, maybe I want to know people aren’t overlooking me, too.

In a lot of ways, we’ve become a society that values strength and go out of our way to pick on weakness. I get it. Throughout history we have the tendency to go after things that make us uncomfortable or hit too close to home. The strong survive, after all, but I really think this is beginning to be misplaced in a bad way.

I was brought up to stand on my own two feet and I take a lot of pride in being fairly independent, on being one of the strong ones. It’s a joke in the family that I’ve been told ‘get over it’ as much as I’ve been told ‘I love you.’ And I honestly feel no shame in that, it’s helped prepare me for the real world in a major way. Sometimes, though, on the whole, I wonder if this get over it, suck it up buttercup, welcome to the real world mentality is a way for all of us to push people away, to put responsibility out of our reach.Well, what can I do, they just need to suck it up! On the other hand, when things don’t go to plan, when there are real issues like depression, bullying, abuse, and any number of things covered more eloquently by others, it turns into why couldn’t I just suck it up, why can’t I get over it? Mix that going on in the inside and the suck it up culture on the outside, and we have a big problem.

I’m the person in the family that helps others communicate with each other and double checks that all the ducks are in a row. I’m the shoulder for a lot of friends. I’ve joked lots of times that I’m the translator, the peacekeeper, the shoulder, the friendly little/big sister figure who looks out for people, even the surprise thug. In a traditional story, I wouldn’t be the protagonist. I wouldn’t be the heroine or the ingenue or whatever. I’d be the funny, crazy sidekick, the smart-ass friend, the one who enables the hero. And maybe that’s my function as one of the ‘strong ones.’ I generally like who I am, but sometimes I wonder if people get that us strong ones go through things, too.

Everyone, absolutely everyone has a story. Everyone has some sort of pain and personal journey going on underneath the surface.

Not all of us talk about it.

And there’s the problem. When you prefer to not be publicly vulnerable (because we’ve all seen what happens to some people who are, because other people need us more, because being seen as weak is bad, because we should be able to deal with it, because what would people think if we took off the smile for a day and actually answered for real when people ask ‘how are you’?) it can feel like the world is passing you by. Or doesn’t care. Or maybe that’s just the way it is.

Whenever I see that people have lost friends or family to the tragedy of suicide, or something else has happened which triggers the inevitable conversation of “I didn’t even know, why didn’t they say anything?”

Not everyone talks. They may think you need them more, they may not know what to say. They may not know what they’re feeling, themselves.

Everyone has a story. They may just not know how to tell it.

I’ve been through my share of drama, if you want to call it that, but I prefer not to be overly vocal. It’s hard for me to reach out, even though I have a great support network of friends and family. In some ways, it’s not my ‘role,’ though I know that’s a lie I try to sell myself some days. A chunk of my life in my early twenties was difficult and involved a lot of soul searching. For better or worse, I absolutely felt like it had to be something I dealt with on my own because it wasn’t like I was dealing with the kind of thing other people were and all that. It was not easy. My behavior and moods were all over the place. I wasn’t even sure I even knew the words to express what I was feeling.

On two different occasions I had been around friends who out of the blue came to hang out with me, but had to leave to deal with their own lives and pressing problems. We hung out sporadically, but inevitably they had things they wanted/needed to get back to. I get it. They had their own stories to deal with, their own happinesses and fights and I’d never begrudge anyone that. I definitely get it, and my instinct is to say it was my fault for not speaking up. But watching them walk away, even after briefly hanging out, even being able to email or write or phone them made it infinitely harder and so much worse. There’s one incident in particular that is still my go to gut-rip sense memory feeling for scenes I write, if I’m being honest.  Was it my fault for not being able to say anything? Was it my fault for not being strong enough? Maybe I shouldn’t even be bothered by what was going on. Years later both had remarked to me that they wondered if something was going on but didn’t mention it at the time.

That still makes it very hard to this day to talk to them sometimes. I have had to do a lot of work to get over the resentment of Why didn’t you say anything? Why didn’t you even ask? If you like me or know me so well, why did you leave me alone? These are people I care for deeply, but it does not make things easy when thinking about that time frame.

One of the greatest gifts a third person ever gave me was admitting they had noticed a change and apologized for not doing something at the time. It was something I never expected to hear and touched me way more than I ever dreamed. Later, when recounting this, I was asked ‘Well, would you have even known what to say or would you have shattered? Maybe it’s better no one said anything at the time.’

I don’t know, honestly. I’ll never have an answer to that question. The thing is, I came out of it, though it took a while. Some people don’t. It makes me wonder how many people I’ve walked away from. I know better than anyone how easy it is to act like things are skippy and turn a conversation around so I can focus on them. Part of it is that’s more my comfort zone in some ways, part of it is a sick way to put my theater degree to use. But I know how easy it is to slip under the radar, so I try to pay attention. It’s become a balancing act to try to be there for people while still taking care of myself. I try to be better about being vocal and up front about what I feel, and I’m lucky that in my growing circle of friends I have people who have my back and who have found ways to get me talking beyond a running commentary of my to do list.

It’s a fine line. I get we can’t be on call every single hour of the day, but still, I just wish that people would remember empathy. We have got to redefine this sense of what strength is, that it’s okay to ask for help or reach out. And it’s okay to ask people how they’re doing, even if you’re not sure what you’re going to do with how they answer.

You never know what the person next to you is going through. You never know what they’ll say if you really ask how they’re doing. We’re alone for so much of our lives, we shouldn’t be isolating each other on purpose. We all need someone at the end of the day, we all need each other.  Absolutely everyone has a story, has a journey they’re walking through and their own dragons that they’re fighting.

Even the strong ones.

 

About the Campaign

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go tohttp://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight

 

Southern Haunts 3: An interview with Alexander S. Brown

Published May 8, 2016 by admin

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It’s blog tour time! Today I have an interview with not only a fantastic editor and author, but one of my favorite people and podcasting co-host. But first, ze book.

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Amazon           B&N

Genres/Subgenres: Horror, Short Story, Paranormal, Occult, Folklore/Southern Regional

Deep within the South, read about the magickal folk who haunt the woods, the cemeteries, and the cities. Within this grim anthology, eighteen authors will spellbind you with tales of hoodoo, voodoo, and witchcraft.

From this cauldron mix, readers will explore the many dangers lurking upon the Natchez Trace and in the Mississippi Delta. They will encounter a bewitched doll named Robert from the Florida Keys, and a cursed trunk that is better left closed. In the backstreets of New Orleans, they will become acquainted with scorned persons who will stop at nothing to exact their revenge.

These hair raising tales and more await you in Southern Haunts 3: Magick Beneath the Moonlight. Read if you dare.

Authors:

Alexander S. Brown

Angela Lucius

  1. H. David Blalock

C G Bush

Della West

Diane Ward

Elizabeth Allen

Greg McWhorter

John Hesselberg

Jonnie Sorrow

Kalila Smith

Linda DeLeon

Louise Myers

Melissa Robinson

Melodie Romeo

J L Mulvihill

Robert McGough

Tom Lucas

***

SJ: Tell us about SH3.  What makes it unique compared to 1&2?

ASB: Actually, each vol. of Southern Haunts is unique, as the subjects vary with each book.  Vol 1. Spirits that Walk Among Us, focused on ghosts.  Vol 2. Devils in the Darkness, featured on demonic entities.  Vol 3. Magick Beneath the Moonlight, regards witchcraft and cursed objects.

SJ: Why witches?  What attracts you to the theme?

ASB: I have always been attracted to the occult.  I find the whole subject fascinating and since Spirits that Walk Among Us was published, it was only a matter of time before we released an anthology about magickal persons.  But for this to happen, I had to wait.

For vol. 3 to be about witches, there is a great significance to the vol. number and the subject matter.  In the occult, there is the belief that what one puts out into the world comes back to them in triple abundance.  Also, in paganism, the maiden, the mother and the crone are recognized and honored as a trinity. These reasons are specifically why this vol. could be none other than occult related.

SJ: What makes for a good southern horror story?

ASB: Multiple elements can make a good southern horror story, such as elaborating about the habitat, cultural development, history, verbiage, and so forth.  But personally for me, what makes a southern horror story great, is the way that it is told.

Many times during childhood, I had found myself at family gatherings and I would overhear elderly relatives speak of infamous legends from the region.  The richness of their slang and phrases, made their ghost stories all the more horrifying, because it seemed more personal.  It seemed like the story tellers weren’t utilizing proper words and phrases to identify something infamous, they were using an age old southern dialect that seemed even more tangible.

SJ: Why do you think readers gravitate to themed horror like this, especially in short form?

ASB: I think the majority of readers are under attack from having a short attention span.  Because of life being so hectic, short stories can allow readers to enjoy complete stories in minimal time.  With the subjects being themed, it lets the reader know immediately what they are in store for.  This can result in a quicker purchase.  For example: Southern Haunts 3 is about witches, the title and cover image are self-explanatory.  If the reader loves witches, they are more likely to purchase.  If that reader is not a fan of magickal themed stories, then perhaps Southern Haunts vol. 1 or 2 is more their preference.

SJ: What are the benefits of anthologies?  Any downside?

The biggest benefit for an anthology is that it presents readers with a diversity of authors who they may not have read before.  This works well for the author because it can help them gain new fans.

The downside to anthologies is that no one really makes money, as book royalties are normally split between 15 to 20 creators.

SJ: Was it different wearing the editor hat compared to being an author?

ASB: It was quite different.  After finishing Southern Haunts vol. 1, I had a new respect for editors.  To me, writing is simple and relaxing, editing is time consuming and feels like work.  Although I prefer writing more than editing, editing the Southern Haunts series has improved my writing skills.

SJ:What is the best thing about putting a book like this together?  The most difficult?

ASB: The best thing about constructing an anthology is seeing likeminded authors come together and submit their creativity.  It is a good feeling to know that other names in the profession want to work with you and contribute stories that might have been stuck in their head for quite some time.

The downside is when I have to reject stories.  I can understand how an author might think that it’s so easy for an editor to dismiss a story, and this isn’t the case.  For me, sending a rejection email, hurts me just as much as it does the author.

SJ: Any advice to authors who are interested in submitting to anthologies?

ASB: First, research the publisher before you submit.

SJ: Second, follow the guidelines.  Sometimes guidelines are overly specific with their requirements, even down to spacing, font, and letter size.  Obey all of these rules.  A lot of times, editors will use these demands as ways to see if the author payed attention, or cares about their work.

SJ: What’s next for Southern Haunts? For you as an author?

ASB: For Southern Haunts vol. 4, we are anticipating creature stories.  We haven’t decided on a title yet, but it will follow the theme of its predecessors, but with monsters.

I have a few books that are in the works.  One of which is in the final edit stage, and is being published by Pro Se Press, this will be a collection of Halloween stories called The Night the Jack O’ Lantern Went Out.  I have one story left to write before Traumatized pt 2 is complete, and The Looking Glass Creatures is currently undergoing a massive edit.

AlexanderSBrown

Alexander S. Brown is a Mississippi author who was published in 2008 with his first book Traumatized. Reviews for this short story collection were so favorable that it has been released as a special edition by Pro Se Press. Brown is currently one of the co-editors/coordinators with the Southern Haunts Anthologies published by Seventh Star Press. His horror novel Syrenthia Falls is represented by Dark Oak Press.

He is also the author of multiple young adult steampunk stories found in the Dreams of Steam Anthologies, Capes and Clockwork Anthologies, and the anthology Clockwork Spells and Magical Bells. His more extreme works can be found in the anthologies Luna’s Children published by Dark Oak Press and State of Horror: Louisiana Vol 1 published by Charon Coin Press.

Visit Smashwords.com, Amazon.com, and Barnesandnoble.com to download his monthly short stories known as Single Shots. These are represented by Pro Se Press and they are known as stories that will be featured in the upcoming book The Night the Jack O’Lantern Went Out.

 

Getting Started: Anthologies

Published April 15, 2016 by admin

This goes hand in hand with yesterday’s post, which is why I’m yammering about it here. So you want to get started writing stories, but you just have no idea what to write? You’re overwhelmed looking at magazine listings but don’t have a novel in you yet?

May I make a suggestion? Anthologies.

About half of you just knee-jerked and threw holy water at me and the other half of you fist-pumped in the air. I get it. It’s divisive territory. Here’s the thing: you probably aren’t going to make a ton of money off the antho market.

The thing is, though, is that you will reach different types of readers. Exposure isn’t a dirty word, especially if you’re making some money off it here and there. And if you’re a brand new author and need some credits, this is a great way to learn to write for a market.

Everything is an anthology these days. Seriously. I’ve seen anthologies for genres (horror, sword and sorcery, sci-fi), I’ve seen them for themes (gaming, vampires, halloween, faeries), I’ve seen them for what would happen if you went on a honey moon with a paranormal creature or had a paranormal creature as a teacher. The territory is endless. They also usually feature small word counts (anywhere from 3k to 10k, depending), and force you to be specific. They’ll also get you used to working with an editor and all the other little ins and outs of the publishing world.

I love and hate the small word counts and rigid themes, personally, but that’s my problem. I love a challenge but I don’t always like to be made to behave. Story of my life.

These tend to be more specific than a magazine market, they get you out of your comfort zone and may get you breaking bad habits or doing things that you wouldn’t naturally include in your usual bag o’ tricks. Sometimes you’ll luck into a higher paying one on a listing. As you do more and get more published, you’ll slowly get invites to these things, which is nice (though my editors may think otherwise).

I’ve had some of my more intriguing ideas come from anthology submissions, and it’s nice to be put through my paces on occasion. Plus, this seems to be where a lot of people get to know my work. I’ve had a few people tell me they’ve read me in something then started getting into my standalone work. You just never know.

 

#TBT Influences: 10th Kingdom

Published April 14, 2016 by admin

One of the things I love about fairy tales is that they’re general narratives, so a lot can be done with them. They’re easy to read into, easy to put yourself into. I hadn’t really thought a lot about the possibilities, though, until I was well into college. I was still at home and basic networks were still airing original movies on the weekends to try to up viewer interest. I don’t remember it having a lot of fanfare, but I also don’t recall it being something I just clicked onto. Doesn’t matter.

10th Kingdom changed me.

The basic story is that the fairy tale world is divided up into 9 kingdoms. When the evil queen from Snow White’s story jailbreaks, her minions bleed over into the real world (the 10th kingdom) and cause havoc. When Virginia and her father are sucked into the fairy tale world, they’re thrown into a world of adventure, quests, romance, and danger.

It’s amazing. Virginia is a fantastic character, anyway, but there’s also a lot of unique characters. Wolf starts as an antagonist and ends up as a redeemed love interest. Virginia’s dad is a greedy never do well through much of the series, but ends up standing up for himself and the greater good…kinda. An arrogant prince learns what it truly means to be a ruler. Even miniscule characters like the huntsman and the three troll siblings are intriguing. And then there’s the queen…played by the amazing Diane Wiest, that was a villain that got my attention after years of assuming anything fairy tale would be the same old same old. You see old, familiar friends reinvented and re-invigorated. There’s a sense of danger and real risk that at that point in time had been removed by Disney and others, and many fairy tales beside the old standards are referenced or expanded upon.

And it’s hilarious. Innuendo abounds, and while it has its serious moments, it doesn’t take itself that serious. It’s really like walking through a fantasy world that has this sort of past history and knows to reference it with a wink and a nudge. There are shepherdess competitions, jailbreaks, curses gone awry, misunderstandings – all turned on their heads.

Obviously this affected me. While I was careful to not base Kingdom City off 10th Kingdom, I definitely knew I wanted that blend of humor and danger, and that irreverence. The phrase ‘Bluebeard’s balls’ may be my attempt to outdo the 10th Kingdom phrase ‘Suck an elf.’ I wanted to create a world that other people would want to get lost in, though, that had that blend of familiar and unfamiliar.

Very few people seem to have heard of 10th Kingdom these days, but those who have immediately get excited about it. My friend Susan and I can still do dialogue back and forth and I haven’t seen the thing in years. It’s always like revisiting an old friend when it comes up in conversation, and I can’t help that it opened some doors when it aired. People looked at fairy tales in a certain, sanitized fashion. Now,everyone’s putting their own spin on things, gritting them up, filling in the blanks. The difference is 10th Kingdom obviously did it with love and in loving tribute to those stories, which was an important lesson, too. It wasn’t a product placement, it wasn’t a way to jam a bunch of free characters into a dark setting. It was and still is an amazing, inspiring story.

Permission Granted

Published April 6, 2016 by admin

I want to get back to talking about writing and creation specifics off and on. I get that I may not have as much credentials as Stephen King or JK Rowling, but at the same time, sometimes I think it helps to hear what people are dealing with and their take on different parts of the process. Like anything else, I hope you know that your journey is just that: Yours. It is specific to you and things will change as the world and businesses in them change. There’s no way to draw a direct map from A to B, no elusive magic that will suddenly zap you in the butt if you want it bad enough or happen onto the right place at the right time. It’s work and a little luck and paying attention.

Beyond that, though, I think there is an ingredient that we don’t talk enough about.

Ten million years ago, I was writing original fiction in secret while still keeping an eye on fanfic lists. This will probably forever be a guilty pleasure of mine off and on, but at the time it was a way to have friends with similar interests when being a girl with geek interests wasn’t a great thing. It still isn’t looked at as a great thing to be, but that’s another post, entirely.

A long-time friend was a sounding board to a lot of off the wall ideas I was flinging at her, a lot of which involved a lot of intricate mythos and legends that I’d either need to warp or reinvent or whatever. These days, that’s my life, but back then? It felt like I was staring up at a million foot cliff with no rope. She was able to help me fill in a lot of the blanks with obscure Celtic legends, but suggested I hit up a friend of hers who was doing some amazeballs work at the time. Not only was he behind some of fandom’s up and coming events, but he was working at a graphic novel company, as well. I knew better than to outright hit anyone up for an opportunity, and this was long before I even had enough of a concept to pitch anything or would dare to do that anyway. These days, that’s a lunch conversation. I emailed him explaining how I got his address,  our mutual friend, and the big fat impossible wall I was facing.

I don’t have the email anymore, but the sentiment still very much rings true. His reply was incredibly nice and he said it sounded like an intriguing idea, an intriguing world, and he agreed I still had some work to go.

I don’t know what I had been asking for or what I was expecting, but the womp-womp sound effect would perfectly describe my mood upon reading that.

He went on, though. He said something like I obviously knew where I wanted things to go and had a huge drive to do it, and it actually seemed to him that the problem was that I hadn’t given myself permission to do that…just do it. He went onto say something that I’ll never forget: that if I couldn’t give myself that permission, he would give it to me, right here, right now. I had his permission to go work on this project or whatever else I wanted to write.

Huh.

That still can be a hang-up of mine. I put the cart twenty miles before where the horse is stabled, I’m worried about things that don’t need to be addressed immediately. Now I recognize it, because it definitely gets in the way of what I want to be doing at any given time. Then, his reply was a distinct revelation, and it’s one I go back to in my mind when I get ideas but immediate jump the gun and start getting anxious about everything except actually just getting started.

A lot of people I talk to talk of someday: someday they’ll write the book or make that outfit or take that class. Or, a lot of people use the c-word. ‘Oh, I can’t do that, I’m no good at this, I don’t know how…’

I hate that mindset. I  hate it about myself and I hate that the world in general cultivates it. That is one of my biggest pet peeves and if I ever meet you at a convention and you say something akin to that and I vault a table to yell at you, I’m sorry. I do it out of love, I swear. Here’s the thing:

1. You are alive, right?

2. Then there is time because you aren’t dead.

3. Learn. or try. or do. If it makes you happy, do it.

4. Didn’t work and you still want to? Repeat.

That’s all it is, folks. Seriously, whether you’re wanting to do something for a hobby or a profession, there you go. I think we scare ourselves into thinking we can’t write a book unless it’s a best seller. We can’t make an outfit unless it’s on a runway. We can’t act unless Joss Whedon is going to be directing us or Oscars are involved.

If you want to do something, please take away the end result and just do it. Give yourself that permission. It may lead to nothing it may lead to material results it may lead to soul results. But if you feel like you have that hot fire under foot feeling and are staring up at the wall and freaking out, then ask yourself what you need, why are you freaking out? Do you not know something and are scared to go look for those elements? Are you just feeling intimidated? Are you afraid of what people say? Are you scared of putting in that work and having nothing come of it?

Now, more than ever, it’s easy to find information and missing pieces of puzzles. It is very easy to feel intimidated, but think of what you’re starving your soul out of by not at least trying. People say a lot of things and they usually don’t remember them a month down the road. I’ve had a lot of projects happen that came into nothing. You’ll live, trust me. Beyond that, though, I still care about them, and as long as I care, they can always be reborn, transformed, or reused. There’s life after death for ideas, I swear.

And if you’re just flat-out in denial of your gifts or scared, I am telling you it’s going to be okay. Okay comes in many forms. It will be fine. Please, please, give yourself permission to do that thing that you really, really want to try.

And if you can’t do that? Then I’ll do it for you. I give you permission to go create. Go write. Go make something. Go paint. Do it for you, do it because you have to, do it to see what other people say, do it for whatever reason, but do it. Slam out those words and ideas, sing that song, put your spark into the mass bonfire and watch it catch and sparkle.

It will be okay.

Permission granted.

 

Prose: Thoughts of a Girl with Mousy Hair

Published March 26, 2016 by admin

I don’t journal like a normal person. I’ll do a few entries in a book, but a lot is on random sheets of paper, random thoughts on random things, nothing that really provides a decent, day-by-day narrative of my life, because who needs that. Consequentially, there are sheaths of paper in my files that would probably paint me as a crazy person if someone didn’t know the circumstances or if it was some sort of exercise or automatic writing or something.

Case in point, I have no idea why I wrote this or when, other than it was pre-2011, most likely. I go through my files every now and again, and this one has special meaning for me lately. Not only does it obviously speak to my Bowie fixation, but I’ve got to work on a piece that let’s just say takes inspiration from a certain song. So yeah, these are the things that ramble through my head at two am sometimes.

Lord, I talk way more formally in my ramblings than I do in daily life. Just sayin’, never expect me to be this insightful in real time in real life.

***

           Is there life on Mars? It’s something I’ve randomly discussed with everyone from my best friends to my grandmother. It’s fun to think about, or it was for a long time. Maybe that’s why the song first appealed to me.

The first time I heard ‘Life on Mars?’ was when I was a freshman in college and no more than a baby in the scheme of life. It was on a reissue of David Bowie’s hits, and being the new fan I was it seemed reasonable to run into Wal-Mart at six in the morning before my first class of the day. I still have the CD somewhere, still remember the blue and purple coolness of the Ziggy-era face that graced the icy cream cover. I had no motive other than to learn what I was missing, to add to my growing collection.

I have absolutely no idea what drew me to that song. My guesses were endless. It was by my favorite artist, an artist I wanted to imagine I could grow up to be in a female form. It was a ballad of extraordinary depth and skill, which appealed to my classically- trained elitist nature that was yet to be stomped on by my growing love of rock. Every note from the intro on coalesced with the imagery of the lyrics to provide a certain, elusive something that I couldn’t quite catch no matter how many times I hit the repeat button on my stereo. I went for years falling in and out of love with it, hearing it on soundtracks, comparing the original to cover versions that ranged from decent to atrocious. When I finally saw Bowie perform live I nearly lost my mind when he opened with that song. He somehow put life back into  a song that I almost had shoved away with the equally elitist thought that it was something everyone liked but wasn’t up to par with the Berlin-era songs, every stupid excuse that kept me from simply enjoying the music.

It was only after years of triumphs that were really small little victories that got me no closer to my grandiose dreams than when I started, of speed bumps and tooth and nail fights for what I wanted, of time spent in and out of the abyss and then nursing myself back with what-if’s, if-only’s, and fantasies that numbed instead of nurtured, that I realized why I felt so deeply during the opening chords. I suddenly knew why I’d always felt a pang of soul-sickness in the first verse, knew too well why it was all too easy to picture the scenes in the chorus.

All those years I’d been listening to a song somehow inadvertently written about me and I hadn’t even realized it.

I don’t like to think or harp on the times in my personal life the melody conjures in my head. The association and cold realization at the time was almost too easy to ignore. My hair has been many colors over the years: red, auburn, blonde, green, but somehow it kept returning to an unassuming mousy brown. Sure there were tensions at home, but nothing worse than most middle-America families. Sure, at times the folks didn’t understand and had their own opinions about me, but that was how parents were, wasn’t it? Sure I had bouts of loneliness, trouble explaining my inner workings. I’d been accused of escapism and pop-culture referencing and association, but I’d been out in the world! I was living life. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t “there” yet, that I couldn’t rub my prowess in the face of those I went to high school with. That really didn’t bother me.

I wasn’t ashamed of myself. It wasn’t like I was hiding. It wasn’t my fault the economy made it hard. Not my fault if I kept trying to climb the ladder to no avail. Not any big deal that I had ideas but couldn’t get anyone to listen because they were so different. Not a huge issue if I was shy beyond what I liked to admit and covered it up with bravado and a cultured crassness. And besides, didn’t everyone find it easier to sit in front of a DVD and proclaim “I could do that!” instead of being kicked down repeatedly for not having the right connections, for not knowing how to get C from A plus B no matter what their schooling and experience?

Then why was I so scared? Why so dejected? Why couldn’t I ease up on myself even when making progress? Why, despite compliments and sincere good intentions did I feel so completely tired of it all, a burned-up match stick of creative fire, mousy inside and out?

Oh, God, it was about me. It didn’t matter if it was more archetype than exact, didn’t matter if it was written before I was born.  Didn’t matter at all.  The lyrics were my entire life being belt out in time to a piano that seemed to display everything I felt but couldn’t express.

So then what? How does one convince the lawman he’s got the wrong guy? How do you stop the sailors from wrecking the dance hall or put the cavemen back into their proper times? Is it a matter of something drastic? Should I go to another country, secede from the shouting? Should I do the reverse, admit defeat and cram everything back within the confines of myself? Could I even do that?

No. As suddenly as I recognized myself and was horrified at the recognition, the solution hit and hit was much, much more difficult in the scheme of things — for my personality, anyway.

There would be no spitting in fool’s eyes or even the foolishly well-meaning, no waiting around for those that won’t show, and no sticking around hypnotized by the flashing colors on the silver screen until the end credits. I had to wipe away the tears, the frustration, everything that gained me only perverse sympathy that was well-meant but not useful.  I had to sit up, get up, and walk a step at time out of the cinema to untangle myself from the enchanting what-ifs and start  to discover the magic in the is, the unpredictable, the real.

It’s not easy, especially when the whole world seems to be fixated on the Mouse selling out and Lennon is for sale everywhere there’s a Wal-Mart. A step at a time. A word at a time. I don’t pretend like I won’t find myself back there at times; it’s bound to be writ again and again and again.

But it helps to know that that fear isn’t all I am. I can leave the dark cinema of frozen, bewitching dreams at any time and go see what’s hidden in the street, the sun, the dirt, and other people.

And I’ve also realized that if I look close enough, my hair’s not mousy at all, but a plethora of little colors making up the whole. Life is far more complex than a bold assumption or a lofty statement. Is there life on Mars? Who knows?  All I know is that mine is right here and right now, wherever I’m at.

 

SJ Reads: Creative Edition

Published March 22, 2016 by admin

So I’ve been reading a ton lately, and figured that it would be good to go back to these posts. I’m trying to group by theme, and feature the ones that I think are the most beneficial/best examples of the genre – or if I’m not all about them, then use them as an example of their high and not-so-high points.

Today, we’ll be looking at books on being creative: whether that means marketing, writing, or whatever, that’s up to whatever I’m connecting with at the moment.

Steal like an Artist by Austin Kleon – I love this book. This makes me excited to do things, and it’s a really fast read. It will get you motivated, whether through his advice or unique poetry. There’s a lot of practical advice, and although it’s a short, fast read, the author isn’t just giving out sound bites. I felt altogether better after I read it, which is a big plus.

Show your Work by Austin Kleon – I bought this after I had done a store signing,and I’m actually still reading it. Maybe it’s because this is where I have a harder time, but it’s a more slow-going book for me. However, I still love his positive vibe and that this book reads more like talking to an actual person than someone touting around a bunch of titles or whatever. I value the words in the book because the author comes across as so normal and group-oriented.

The Author’s Guide to Marketing With Teeth edited by Michael Knost – This is a Stoker nominee for a reason. The draw is that it combines a lot of essays and interviews by famous/well-to-do authors about promotion, but don’t ignore Michael’s intros and interludes, because not only does he know his stuff, but he’s articulate and puts it in an approachable form. This goes over a lot of basic things that people tend to forget about, and it’s great to have in one volume.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert – I love Liz Gilbert’s stuff anyway, but this was the book I’ve been waiting for. I’m still reading it, but her upbeat, loving nature shines through every page. She uses a lot of her personal experience or experience of those around her, and addresses a lot of personal moments, like how to handle fear, what role creativity actually has in your life, and on and on. It’s one of those that I know I’m going to read repeatedly, because I can feel myself emotionally plugging in the moment I open it.

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer – Another one I’m still in process with, because a lot of it strikes a chord with me. Written after her TED talk on the same subject matter, Palmer goes through her career and talks a lot about her own artistic journey, her relationship with her fans, and leaning on others in different forms. Powerful stuff.