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Open Doors: #HoldOnToTheLight

Published October 5, 2017 by admin

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Sometimes I have bits of stories that come out of nowhere, and I’m not quite sure what to do with them. Usually it’s a premise, sometimes an ending punchline, other times it’s a character or just a snippet of a setting or time period. Sometimes I’ll get a few paragraphs that don’t have anything to do with anything, so I write it down, file it away, and go on with life. It’s much more stream of conscious than how I usually work, but I’ve learned to go with it in those moments.

A piece of dialogue has followed me around for years, and I could never figure out where it fit. I thought I knew which idea it went with, but then I’d start to doubt, or things would shift, or not quite match up. It’s something, more or less, to the effect of:

“You can wait and hope, scream and beg til your voice gives out, but at the end of the day, sometimes no one’s coming to rescue you. Maybe they don’t hear. Maybe they ignore you. That’s just the way it is. Being rescued, happily ever after – that’s a little girl’s dream, not reality. So you can give up, or go through it, fight through it, and hope to God you come out on the other side and be better. And some days I’m not sure if I have.”

They’re words that resonate with me personally, and they could fit with a few things I’m developing, so it’s not a question of them not getting used, but who they belong to. Recently, working on a pitch involving the expansion of some reprints, I suddenly discovered who it belongs to, or I’m at least 95% sure. And it shook me to my core, because I never would have guessed it would have been that character. I full well know that I’m putting her through some things, but I also hadn’t quite expected that to come out of her. And it makes me a little sad that I didn’t catch that about her before now, because in her earlier appearances, she’s strong and capable, and obnoxiously flippant to a certain extent. Looks can be deceiving, in fiction as well as real life.

Now, more than ever, it’s extremely easy to lock yourself in your own world, insulate yourself in your friends groups, secure your walls and lock things down for your own sanity. Sometimes you have to, and there’s no shame in that. Sometimes, though, it’s worth leaving a little crack for the light to get in, as Leonard Cohen would say.

As Clarissa Pinkola Estes would say in her poem Abre La Puerta, a wound is a door. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to go looking for them, as well as leave them open. And it’s terrifying to do either, especially when you’ve been hurt, yourself.

I worry these days that in our world of cultivated social media and algorithms, it’s all too easy to put out a blanket “hey I’m here for you!” and feel like that does the job, especially when it gets likes or retweets or whatever. Yes, sometimes that’s important – you never know who’s scrolling by and may see it. But is that seriously enough, or is that emotional marketing that makes the poster and their friend group feel good, but not much beyond that? I don’t know. Admittedly I have a thing about pretty words with no real attempt to back them up, where the person offering pretty words and platitudes is somehow the only one gaining anything from them.

Besides, what about the people who aren’t in your direct circle that you don’t always talk to? What about the person standing next to you on a corner or that acquaintence at work or that you pass by every now and then at the store that doesn’t see those posts? Sure, there are a ton of resources out there, but what about those people that are in a place where they can’t comprehend that it’s there for them, that they’re worth those resources and time, too? You just never know. The person next to you could disappear at any time, that is a definite reality. And I get it’s a little idealistic to think that someone can be saved with a smile or an enquirey or a kind gesture, especially if they need real, in-depth help.

Couldn’t hurt, though.

I’m not saying overextend yourself or put yourself in danger or put huge mental pressure or stress on yourself. Be mindful, because you just never know what people are going through. Now, more than ever, I will continue to try to advocate empathy, because it’s something we all need to feel human and to be better humans. It’s a private thought of mine that one of the blanket meanings of life, one of the only reasons for bad things happening (privately or publicly, small or mass scale) that I can come up with, is to cultivate empathy. That may not be the case, but it’s the only thing that makes sense to me in the scheme of things.

We’re conditioned to be incredibly guarded in this modern world. To be tough, to keep rolling with the punches, to suck it up, buttercup, to deal, that other people have it worse. It’s incredibly hard to be vulnerable in this day and age, even a little. If things aren’t on the catastrophic scale, especially now, how can one complain?

It doesn’t make some things any easier.

Admittedly, I can be an extremely guarded person. There are reasons for this, and it’s my choice who to share those reasons with. No matter the case, I joke sometimes about hiding out in my tower, or the Great Wall of Selah, or just pushing my personal feelings aside until I get through a situation and deal with it later. Through the years I’ve had many lessons fall in my lap (though they didn’t feel like it at the time), as to why those are not great ways to live your life. It also goes to show that we can’t just talk about the reason for people being the way they are, whether it’s trauma, addiction, diagnosis, whatever. There’s also the carrying on, the journeying from that point, the recovery, the coping. We love a hero story and a redemption arc, but we tend to forget how hard it probably is for the person in question to get from point A to point B, even in the most tell-all of memoirs. And sometimes it’s the moving on that brings whole other painful moments that you just don’t see coming.

Some of my hardest personal times were feeling like a failure and going through the day to day, still having to show up, feeling like people were brushing things off or that I couldn’t open up to them. I still on occasion get flustered or anxious during conversation and feel like the biggest idiot in the world, because there are days it still feels like I’m rebounding and relearning how to connect with people and trust them with actual conversation and not be “on.”

One of the hardest things to experience is talking to someone you love dearly, step off the cliff and open up, and the door in their eyes slamming shut and locking tight because you’re saying things they may not want to hear. There’s the being brushed off because people around me figured I’d eventually just over things like I always do, as long as I’m keeping up with whatever’s on my plate. In reality, I’d push them off to deal with them later, until I couldn’t, then not know what to do and felt completely at a loss. Some of the hardest days I had years ago were when I couldn’t find the words to express what I thought might be going on at the time and show up every day and play pretend with my life anyway until things resolved themselves. I’ve bided my time to hang out with and open up to people, anxiety about stuff be damned, and find out they’ve changed their mind and gone off and left me because there were other things going on and other people needed them, and what could they really do? I’ve spent evenings with people wondering if I could talk to them, let it go, then found out years later if they wondered if I was doing okay.

I’ve felt that horrific feeling of being alone in a room of people and wondering if it even mattered I was there.

So yeah, I know how hard it is, and I know the inner workings of my tower, my fort, my wall very well.

If you’ve ever had a nightmare of running through a hall with something after you and every door of escape, of help being locked tight, leaving you nowhere to go, you’ll know the general feeling.

And realitistically, especially as I’ve gotten older, I do get it. Sometimes things happen, and I doubt all those incidents were meant personally. I’ve resolved a few of them with the people involved, forgiven and moved on. Besides, life gets in the way, it’s easy to judge, to choose self-preservation, especially now.

And yet..I also wonder during all those times, who was I walking by? Who was I passing up that could have used a smile or a conversation or some recognition that yes, you are human, I see you, I’ve got you, hang in there.

Because as hard as it was to write the above, I’ve also had some amazing people in my life and beautiful, wonderful little moments that have kept me going.

I’ve had people that started out on my periphery make a choice to come ask how I was in my day to day, and if I was too cynical they took me aside and gently called me out on it.

I’ve had people text me out of the blue with things they’ve kept that I’ve made for them, or things that we’d laughed about years ago, or just to say that they thought of me.

I’ve had people send me cat pictures, or ridiculous gifs, or ask me how a project is going, even if it’s stalling out. And then genuinely bug me to hear about it. Sometimes I get random cards in the mail, and I try to reciprocate those, because they’re fantastic to come home to. I’ve had friends share moments of their kids living up to my bad influence, and just all sorts of silly, fun things that end up mattering. As someone who feels like I’m always the first person reaching out, the one reminding people I’m alive, the one putting out the effort, those who know to keep after me have been godsends at proving that there are amazing people out there and that I’m someone worth looking after.

I’ve had people that I never thought in a million years would remember I existed remember me after not seeing them for a few years, and get genuinely excited about things I’m working on – so much so that I can’t even begin to put a clarifying or cynical spin on it.

I’ve had a close friend on his deathbed ask how I was doing and make me promise to keep creating things and be happy. I still wear the necklace he gave me as a reminder of how much my ideas can influence things at cons and other times when I’m feeling nervous.

I’ve had people call me on the pretense of checking up on a project but really check to make sure things are going okay.

I’ve had library friends, who I never see anywhere else, who would talk about anything and nothing for handfuls of minutes just because.

I’ve had friends and acquaintences who would bring up things like meditation and yoga and transcendentalism, and then pivot the conversation to Prince, and cats, and who knows what else – and it always gives me a laugh and brings me back to present.

I’ve had friends text me just because, and those tint moments have made my day.

I’ve had friends just encourage the dumbest, insane ideas and keep the conversation going until I’m sitting there laughing with tears streaming down my face and it doesn’t even matter if the thing we’ve talked about ever happens, it just feels amazing to be silly and riff like that.

I never realized how much little gestures meant until I went out to dinner with some friends I hadn’t seen in years, and in coordinating the details I began to feel the ol’ virgo detail anxiety creeping up, until I was easily told ‘Hey, no worries, you don’t have to worry about that here. We got ya.’ The fact that I could spend an evening not having to figure everything out was like a vacation.

I’ve had people remind me to come to them with questions, for advice, for venting, because (strangely enough) we’re all in this life thing together and I don’t have to do it all alone (contrary to what past moments and anxieties say, because those definitely lie).

I still have friends willing to come with me to conventions or events I do, just so I’m not driving myself bonkers with preparation. They’re right there pointing out the fun, quirky moments (or instigate them when my back is turned if a giant troll costume is involved), making sure I don’t run myself into the ground.

I’ve had people keep after me and be willing to call me out when I needed it. People who drag me outside, or remind me to put on music, all sorts of little things that are so much better than a general “hey, glad you’re still here!” posted on social media…because I definitely know I’m a part of their life. I know they know that I exist.

And I honestly think at the end of the day that’s what we’re all really after. People to know and remember we’re here.

And it’s not just the direct benefits that I’m talking about in these instances. These incredible, awesome people have taught me how to take a breath, notice those around me, and in turn pass it on. These are the things that make a day better, but in my darkest moments through the years and my not dark but plain tired moments now, they remind me how good people can be and are. If anything has kept me around and encouraged me to tentatively step foot out of the tower and reach out to others, it’s the private gestures from kind people. They’ve turned me into a much better human.

I’m grateful – both for all these wonderful little moments, and the things that brought me to them, because you wouldn’t have one without the other. They’re all teachers in their way, all things to think on. True, you lose a little protection when you open space in your wall or whatever, but you can’t reach out to others until you let some light in.

In my own way, I’m probably a little too prone to emotional vomiting on people, but I want people to know that they matter. I have no shame in thanking people who influence me, or who have put up with me through the years, or randomly texting people to say I’m thinking of them. It may be a little awkward, but it’s become part of who I am. I try to notice people around me most days and it probably creeps some out. Deep down I know that little gestures probably aren’t the be all and end all. But still. If you don’t keep your door open, you can’t reach out through it to others, and they also can’t get through to see you. Besides, there’s the old tradition in fairy tales – you never ignore the stranger or weirdo when you’re lost in the woods or at your wits’ end. How you treat them determines how you’re treated, and that figure is usually the one who teaches the best lessons and distributes the most influential gifts. If you’re closed off and hidden away in all but words only you don’t get them, and you also close off any opportunity to help someone else, in return.

Life can be dark, but it’s also dotted with stars. You have to open the door to see them, though, and sometimes you have to dare to peer through, to reach through other doors to see things further.

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 to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight

 

 

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On What Ifs and Horror Writing

Published October 4, 2017 by admin

Oh, October. I love you. Somehow, even when I was a scaredy cat growing up, I still wanted to live in a haunted house and played pretend that I was some sort of ghoul/ghost princess in a graveyard or ran around wanting to be a ghostbuster getting sucked into an alternate dimension…you know, normal kids stuff.

It probably had to do with the sheer amount of different things I was around to as a kid, so I can actually totally, completely, mostly blame my parents, family, friends, and the 1980s on me turning out this way. It’s a relief, let me tell you.

I think I’ve always been in awe of the what if in horror. Obviously, this is a thing in other genres, but it’s especially powerful when coupled with the fear, pessimism, anxiety, or whatever outlook you’re shaping it with in horror. What if there’s someone calling from inside the house? What if vampires are real? What if one typical day turns into your worst nightmare?

There’s something empowering about exploring it, as well as something chilling about reading it. In some ways I think I like writing horror for a sense of control, in others I think I like it because there’s still this weird viewpoint that as a gal I’m somehow not supposed to think like this or whatever (obviously those with that pov haven’t hung out with a ton of women, just sayin’).

A lot of my short horror has started from the what if concept: What if all your inanimate objects were conscious and secretly hated you? What if vampires existed in the untamed woods in the 1800s? What if on one of the happiest nights of the year, the world was ending? What if this little incident that you think is so mundane is far from innocent?

I kind of blame this on the ’80s, too. Growing up in the time of stranger danger, just say no, razorbladed halloween candy, people trying to get you in a van, combined with just how bizarre Saturday morning television was, well, I mean we really didn’t have a chance. Something was always on our minds, even on the playground. Seriously, don’t kid yourself. Kids are way savvier than you think, they pick up on stuff, but they also misstranslate it and get it all turned around. To this day I still remember odd convos in the cafeteria about like what a friend of mine thought communism was and how we’d all die at any minute, along with urban-legend type stuff, like a spot on the ceiling of a dining room that grew as a family ate and took them straight to hell.

I think I was seven or eight for those, by the way, so yeah, talk to your children, because they’re probably walking around with some amazing irrational fears.

Combine THAT with things on the news like the Challenger, the economy fluctuating, and THAT with episodes of Punky Brewster showing the kids getting eaten by a demon and Care Bears going borderline possession in a Dark Heart storyline, Ponyland getting eaten by ooze, and characters getting their souls sucked out every other week, Freddy Krueger might come get you, spiders could take over a whole town, and who knows what else – and put all of that in a blender…in a world full of what if’s, Halloween felt like a relief, a constant: you always cut jack-o-lanterns, you always dress up, you always go out and come home with candy. Heck, you alwsays come home, as long as you’re careful and wear reflectors and obey the rules. These days, I realize how naive that sounds, but back then it was comforting. Witches and monsters and vampires can’t really hurt you, the masks in the store are always going to smell weird, the same houses are always going to give big candy bars. Those constants gave way to fun what ifs – what if a house could really be haunted, what you actually went to one of those haunted houses no one has ever gone all the way through, what if…whatever.

It was almost a balance as a kid – accepting some things with belief while still being rational enough to be wary. I suppose writing horror as an adult is a little like that, too. It takes some suspension of belief to write some of the concepts I do and have them be effective. It takes a balance of fear and technique, of keeping one foot out and one foot in.

It was fun to just drop everything and embrace what I considered scary. It’s fun these days to drop everything and embrace things that lurk at the edges of my thoughts and freak me out. And if those what if’s freak out other people, hey, so much the better.

So what’s a what if that gets under your skin…what are the things that get to you?

***

If you want to explore some creepy what ifs (and some that aren’t so creepy), feel free to check out my books!

Or, if you just want a taste, there are a lot of quick flash horror fics in the free read section!

2nd Look: Dropping the Mask and Exposing the Spirit

Published September 15, 2017 by admin

What can I say – I’m back from vacation this week and the wireless has been cutting out on me. At any rate, I wanted to do a second look at this post, because I think it warrants it. It’s probably the only serious post I’ll ever do under the Lost Manuscripts tag (usually reserved for horribly illustrated stuff I did as a kid, hilarious school projects, and pages of my angst journals). I’m also getting back into Jung, and everything seems to point to that sort of undercurrent lately: Clarissa Pinkola Estes keeps showing up in my social media, The Unwritten series with the whole Leviathan symbolism, and I was given a copy of the reader’s edition of The Red Book last Christmas (still working through that beast). My fascination with this kind of thing is fairly personal and probably goes back to my teen years. It may even go back to this very project.

So, without further adieu, click here to read all about that time I did a gigantic 2 volume school project on my personal interpretation of the masks people wear in society. And my parents wondered why it was hard for me to date as a teen…

 

Influences: Billy Wirth and the Best Advice I’ve Ever Gotten

Published September 3, 2017 by admin

So the other day I talked about the oddly profound effect The Lost Boys has had on my creative life, so we’ll just piggy back on that theme today because it’s the weekend and thinking, ugh.

I’ve mentioned this story before on podcasts and in interviews when talking about influences and advice for authors/creatives in general. I wanted to share it here because not only does it fit the theme and fill up an entry, but it’s a great example of how simple sentiment and advice can have a profound real-world effect. It’s also evidence of my giant dorkiness, so there’s entertainment value for ya, too.

I also feel bad, because I had promised Billy’s fan club gal, the amazing Max, a write up when I first met him and that may have been back in 2009. I would just like every editor that I have worked with to feel better about themselves and recount this time lapse any time they’re tapping their foot at me. It could always be worse. Seriously, at the time I kept getting massive costume workloads dumped on me, a lot of life stuff happened, and then through the years, I discovered a horrible, awful truth.

You guys, I’m so bad at being a fangirl. For real. I know I geek out about a lot and I’ve regularly moderated fandom panels at different cons (though I still think it’s because I helped diffuse a brawl at one), you’d think this would be cake. I love what I love, I appreciate the people who have made those things to a huge degree, but I can’t really separate the part of me that likes to analyze and wants to know how things work and is used to looking at things/critiquing from different angles. At the end of the day, I’d rather just talk to people as people then try to put a fandom spin on it or jump around because they’ve been in something I love (and there is nothing wrong with that, if that’s your deal, you do you).

I tried. I tried so hard, and I am just so bad at writing the ‘hey I met this person this is what they’re like’ kind of post without having a theme or a guiding moment to base it around. I end up feeling like a creeper. Case in point: I actually had the idea for this post in the spring, knowing the 30 year anniversary of Lost Boys was coming up. I started jotting down what I remembered from that first convention meeting…

And I may have turned it into the intro for a horror story. I tried again. And turned it into an outline for a novel about the symbiotic nature of fandom and the dynamic of fans and celebs involving ancient gods and soul sucking.

I swear I’m not a bad person.

So, I’m going back to the anecdote that I know will work and, so help me, I am going to do this. I won’t be able to be overly descriptive or starry-eyed, but there are plenty of posts telling you what the Lost Boys convention experience is like. Apologies in advance for tangents and background info – my blog, my rules, yo.

Winter of 2009 was a weird, turning-point time for me. I was slowly getting freelance work and doing more side gigs along with seasonal creative day job, but before I really got a sense of confidence in myself. It was directly after the death of my grandfather, and the family had recently gone through a tumultuous time. While on break from seasonal job, the holiday gigs stretched out much longer than usual, with some extra opportunities coming up, plus some business and other curve balls.  It was a lot all at once during a time when I should have been hibernating, and I was exhausted and emotionally burnt out.

I tell you this to really give context to the fact that when someone sent me a link about a Lost Boys reunion at Horror Hound Indianapolis, I thought it was a great idea to go. Because I am a genius like that. At the time I just needed to get away, and what harm would a weekend be? Yeah, then I was suddenly told I had to get my tail back to the day job the day after the convention or else. And everything I had known there was being shifted around with the workload doubling and tripling up. And with everything going on and coming to a head, I kinda sorta didn’t really sleep for five days leading up to the con. In retrospect, this was probably a vague foreshadowing of the medical mystery tour, but in the absence of mind-numbing pain or any real symptoms, my doc figured I was grieving and said to go live it up as long as I didn’t drive myself there.

Thank god for friends who are eternally patient and understanding, and I’m forever grateful to my friend Laurean for going with me. This was also the first time I had set foot in a con, so it was a total learning experience (though I’d been working on haunted events for like five years anyway, so it wasn’t like I didn’t feel fine at a horror convention). At that point, I kept half an eye on the fandom and had been talked into joining Billy Wirth’s fan club mailing list. I mention I’m going, get encouraged to say hi and all that great stuff, maybe take some pictures and do a write up for the web page (and you can see how well that went).

Another curveball: I’m so shy, guys. Even my best friends refuse to believe it, and yeah, give me a sewing machine, give me a script, put me in a panel or production meeting and watch me go, point me to an editor at a bar to talk to about an idea, fine, but just to like show up somewhere and make small talk with people? You have no idea the amount of psyching myself up that I have to do. Now, after more experience, it’s not as bad, but back then, especially on top of everything else, yeah, but I was going to try my best to fake it and fall on that sword a million times before chickening out. We finally arrive, check in, get our wristbands, start looking around. My friend suddenly yanks on my sleeve “Oh hey, there he is and there’s no one at the table. Let’s go!”

Now, despite my twitchy feelings on fandom, if you go back a post, you know how deeply I feel about The Lost Boys. I love that movie and I probably owe it a lot. Billy’s also an actor that I half was aware of through the nineties, but this was before wiki and Google and so it took me a long time to realize that a lot of the performances in stuff that I liked or that intrigued me were actually the same guy. And the cast hadn’t really don’t much in the Midwest, so now, here, was an awesome opportunity. And okay I was nervous and emotionally exhausted, but I had read up on stuff and I’d just try acting like what a fan was supposed to act like and yes I know that was the dumbest idea ever.

Needless to say, Laurean, who thought she knew me completely, was somewhat startled when I looked over at her declaration, had a sudden flood of panic, and decided “You know what, yeah, I’m just gonna go back to the room, laterz.”

Though she wasn’t as startled as I was when she glowered at me, physically lifted me off my feet, and dragged me over to the Lost Boys tables, where Billy was on his own and setting up. I really don’t know which of the three of us was more surprised. Tact and grace, that’s what I’m all about.

So yeah, this is the bit you came for, I know. Intros are made, and I’ve said before how awesome all the Lost Boys dudes are, but seriously, I can’t stress this enough. It was probably the best first con experience I could have had, in all honesty. Billy, himself, is super sweet, though I think the thing that always strikes me when I’ve been around him is how present he is. It’s something you don’t see very often, and I’m always struck by how much he listens to people and takes things in. It’s an enviable trait. Truly, watching him and the others interact with people prepared me for when I finally got on the other side of the table in a way I could never have predicted, and for that alone I’m grateful.

Standard fan interaction and transactions commence, there’s not a crowd so we start talking about stuff. I’m exhausted and my brain isn’t functioning great for small talk, but he’s very kind and doesn’t flip a table on me or anything. I mention vaguely that I’ve done entertainment work (in that delightfully dismissive way I’ve had to make myself stop doing).  He asks the sort of thing I do.

Ugh.

I’m still kind of amazed I stayed put, at the time. I’ve never been great about walking around with my resume stapled to my head. These days, I’m better about it, but at the time I was keenly aware of all the things I hadn’t done. It tended to slip my mind that I’d worked with a lot of great theatres and opera and amusement parks, licensed properties and other stuff. And so much was just so weird, and how do you even throw that into a conversation? I mean I’ve wrecked dinner parties and gotten out of bad dates with work conversation, that’s the level of weird I’ve been at. And damn it, every time I tried to be dismissive he kept asking follow up questions, and I really wasn’t used to that. He was patient and I think I sort of vaguely fumbled through an explanation and mentioned how I was frustrated with where I was at and really wanted to do more design type work, I was still trying to find my exact niche, insert standard artistic angst here.

Since then, having been on the other side of the table, I get that there are certain conversations that you’re going to have at these things, and I get that he was likely being nice and trying to be supportive while determining if I was a vague threat to his personage. Still, what he said next has stayed with me to this day:

“Well, you know, you just have to keep at it, just keep working.”

In a story, this would be the turning point in which the protagonist realized this wisdom and begins reapplying herself, cue montage of projects toward the next plot development. In reality, it was all I could do to not lean across the table and smack him (That is a joke.  Also, he’s like three feet taller than me and could’ve easily blocked that).

Beyond the whole frazzled bit, you’ve got to understand that at that point I’d been working professionally for about a decade. That’s not a lot in the scheme of things, but it felt like I was going nowhere and wasn’t figuring things out. Plus, I don’t really see it, but I’ve been told by more than a few people that my will power is apparently off the human scale. Brooke was fond of referring to that part of me as a pit bull because when I apply myself to something, that’s it. My will is iron until I know for a fact that things won’t come together. So, my immediate thought to being told to just keep working was something like What the hell do you think I’ve been doing why are you giving me this motivational la de da you don’t know my life, what the what?!?! Quitting is not an option!!!

I didn’t say that out loud because that would have been dumb, and it was obvious he meant well and didn’t say it to brush me off. I have no idea how much of a poker face I actually kept, but I’m sure the entertainment value of that whole conversation was amazing. And if I didn’t let on, then awesome, all the acting classes worked out!

We also had some great conversations about the clothes in the movie, I met Brooke, Chance, and G the next day, and all in all it was a great weekend. I went back to my life, hit the ground running, and although I didn’t want to admit it, at times Billy’s words were in the back of my mind. Where they ticked me off again. So, I went back to what I was doing.

The thing is…I inadvertently, instinctively followed his advice. In the following years, I made the decision to embrace the experiences offered to me to see what would happen. While this hasn’t bagged me Hollywood gigs, it did flesh out my resume a lot and provided a lot of material that no one would believe if I wrote my autobiography. I was a goth mascot for a roller derby team for a while, I did more freelance design work, puppeteered with a fairly known company on their holiday show for a couple years.

Costume-wise, I really started putting myself out there and ended up working on all sorts of stage shows: kid shows, character shows, ice shows, magic shows, Cirque-style stuff, musical review, indoor, outdoor, did tailoring and rigging for people, a logistics manual on some stuff for a place in Canada…I made all sorts of haunted attraction characters and started getting invited to production meetings I hadn’t been part of in the past. And I got comfortable with my weird and in meeting challenges like making a Dracula costume for a 20 foot T Rex statue, a pirate costume for an animatronic dinosaur, a grim reaper jumping out of a giant birthday cake, and things like a goth rocker fairy tale werewolf. On stilts. With the only budget going to the stilts and safety gear. I warned you: so weird. 

Billy’s words didn’t really come back to me until a couple of years later, when I was fully in the grasp of the medical mystery tour, on my seasonal break, and waiting to figure out what the hell was wrong with me. I was in pain, I was getting a few hours of sleep every four days or so, and my full attention was on trying to keep healthy, juggling doctor appointments and calls, and distracting myself from falling apart. After exhausting youtube videos and meditation, I decided that I really, really wanted to take up writing again. I’d never given it a fair shot, and after being mistold at the time that I might have cancer, it occurred to me that I didn’t want to not try something that could make me really happy. The mountain was overwhelming, but his words came back to me all of a sudden, out of nowhere.

Just keep working.

This time, I consciously kept them in the front of my mind, even clung to them, because everything was a fight at that point. So I would make myself get up (or sit up if it was a bed day), pull up a document, and get to it until I sent out a submission, then start a new one. If it got rejected, edit and repeat. I kept it up through the surgery that made me feel human again, through starting the day job back up, and slowly, things began to happen.

Whether it was a platitude or not (and I truly don’t think it was), the brilliance of advice like that is it’s so simple and applicable in different ways. You don’t get anywhere unless you work at it. There’s no networking, no improving skills, no figuring things out if you aren’t doing it. Sure, it’s not guaranteed where you’ll end up, but if you don’t keep at it, you won’t get there, anyway. You also won’t learn to enjoy the journey if you don’t keep taking it. You won’t learn about yourself and how to deal with all the irritations and other emotions that all these experiences bring if you don’t go through them. Frustration is part of the game, and I’ve had a lot of it, but I’ve kept that advice with me for years. I’ve given it on panels about writing and creating and gotten the same irritable look I tried to cover up when it was given to me. Circle of life, yo.

Although I wasn’t thankful for the words at the time, they’re a good reminder these days, and I’m so glad I got to meet Billy and have that conversation with him. Hell, even his good intentions were so far beyond what I was used to at that point, it was a definite wake-up call to start searching out people who would actually be interested and invested in what I was doing and not waste personal energy with those who were there to play games or drag others down.

If you take a look at this blog, there’s a giant series of holes. I’ve taken steps back over the past year and a half until recently, and part of that was that I just really had to look at where my writing was, where other things were, and how I want to proceed. I’m not sure that it’s another crossroads, but I’ve had to get honest with myself whether the path I’m on is working, and how to realign things to where I want them to be. It’s pretty obvious that I couldn’t stop creating stuff if I tried (and I did. It sucked), but restarting has been intimidating as hell. It’s hard not to put the cart before the horse and worry about all the ins and outs and how to play every situation or let other aspects and things I can’t control get to me. It’s all part of it, like it or not. At the end of the day, though, I’m deciding to get back to it and see what else there is to do. It’s not easy, it’s not always fun, but the only way I can ever find out just what all I can do is by keeping with it.

Or, as I’ve been told, just keep working.

 

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and seriously, every one of the lost boys crew look like walking headshots and it took me 97 hours to get to this point.

 

Things I’d Wish I’d Known: Why do you want to do it?

Published August 30, 2017 by admin

You thought I forgot about this, didn’t you?

So today’s topic in Things I’d Wish I’d Known Going Into the Arts (man I’ve got to find a shorter title) is something that I think artists need to be really honest about. It’s one of those things that you really need to do some deep soul-searching on, and be prepared to push away a lot of the soundtrack in your head and how you think life and careers are supposed to go. Go to a place where you can chill out alone, get quiet, push movie narratives and redemption fantasies out of your head and really, truly think.

Why do you want to do whatever creative thing it is you’re eyeing?

Go ahead and get the knee jerking out of your system, I’ll wait:

What do you mean??? I’m doing this because I have something to say, I really really want to do this, people say I’m good, are you trying to say I’m not good enough to pursue xyz??? You don’t know my life, you don’t know what I’m capable of, what are you even talking about? I’ll show you, I’ll do xyz and become famous and then you’ll be sorry!!!

We’ve all had those thoughts, or most of us have at some point, especially when we start growing into ourselves and stop playing at whatever creative focus and start wanting to do it for real. Usually we hear this kind of questioning from well-meaning parents, sometimes teachers and other professionals, maybe friends, who knows. Now, in a story or movie, this is the set up for a confrontation, then the protagonist goes off and learns and has some failings and eventually proves that they’re amazing and there’s resolution with whomever. Or maybe you’ve been told you’re talented your whole life and you’re completely supported and know you’re awesome so that’s why you want to do this. Got all those things firmly in focus?

Now kick it out of your head and don’t let that crap back in.

It’s fine to want to prove yourself, but if that’s the sole reason for wanting to be creative, you’re going to exhaust yourself trying. If you’re only doing it because you’re used to being complimented at something, it’s going to be a wake-up call when the compliments keep coming and you’re expected to keep getting better. Same with that chunk of italics up there – if the point is actually to become rich and famous (whether for their own benefits or to “prove” yourself to people), you’re going to become disappointed and disenchanted really fast.

Here’s the deal. This isn’t a story or a movie narrative. There’s no straight line. Your creative career, if you choose to pursue it, is going to have more twists and turns than a back hills road. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be more work than you can envision right now, whether you’re a teen who likes being in plays, a twentysomething who’s been told they could model, or the thirty or forty or fifty or whatever-something who wants to try for the career they were talked out of. It’s going to tax you, and you may actually have to take a break from time to time to either rebuild your energy or gather funds or for personal reasons or something else.

What I’m talking about is very different from doing the occasional thing and putting it online, or hoping to turn a secret passion into a quick moneymaker. We’re talking art as the main focus and earning method in your life.

It’s really easy to see the progression in someone else’s story, especially someone famous. It’s not as easy to see it in your own life. The passion and love (that sometimes borders on insanity) has to be there. Or, (and I kind of hesitate to say this), there has to be a mercenary desire to try to figure out a system and play it hard until you get the desired result. Even then, though, markets change fast, audience expectations change, a whole lot of things change. You can only game the system for so long, and if you’re not prepared beyond that (or if you’ve exhausted yourself getting to that point), you’re going to be in trouble.

If you’re looking for a specific end result (money, fame, adulation, proving to parents or teachers that you’re amazing), keep your creative passion as your hobby and do something else that will give you security or bank or whatever. There’s nothing wrong with that. And, truth be told, I’m cynical enough to believe that no career is really “safe” anymore, but I do think the creative ones require a special sort of dedication. It’s not that you can’t necessarily have security and passion, but you will work a freakin’ ton to get to that point. While nothing is guaranteed, it’s somewhat more fast and loose with creative pursuits.

Does this sound pessimistic? Would you believe I’ve told a version of this to kids and parents who want to pick my brain? I lay out exactly where I’m at, what I’ve done to get to that point, and other avenues, because I feel that if you really, truly want something, you need to know what’s ahead. I wish that someone would have been more specific with me as a teen.  I don’t think it would have changed my mind, but I would have appreciated a better mental road map than “oh well it’s hard, the odds are against you, blah blah blah standard concerned speech.”

Growing up, I really wanted to be in theatre. I wanted to act, man. Part of that was a genuine love of the art, and part of it was that I was a daydreamer, so of course I had expectations (and I was like somewhere between 12-14 and so hard work to me met getting a degree then instantly going to Broadway, because that’s how kids’ thoughts work). Through various levels of growing up I realized that I love acting (and I still do some), but doing costume work appeals to a lot of my various sides, and in some ways not only is it easier to keep consistently in work, but the admin side is easier for me. And I like being able to play around with different materials and messy products in torn up jeans.

I studied classical voice for like a decade, at least, but by the time I could have been looking at bigger schools and programs (and I did, and got accepted to at least one private school), I was so burnt out on classical voice, and realized that 1. that kind of performance career was pretty short in the scheme of things for most people 1.5 If I really wanted to do this, my work was only just beginning. All this hard work and practice and prep was the easy part.   2. I’d end up teaching, and that really wasn’t my jam. Even with writing, I’ve had to get very honest and start asking questions about where I want to go and how to effectively pursue it, and does that match my desire to do it (spoiler alert, it does. Same with costuming. So it works out).

I can’t tell you what the exact right reason for pursuing a creative career is, just like I can’t tell you what success means to each individual person. I’d say that you have to love it and want to be in that world above all else, because like everything else it is a J-O-B. Part of my past costume work has been, at times, 15 hour days, 100 hour weeks, balancing a lot of projects when feeling like crap and looking for the next job because all I have at any given moment is seasonal, learning new skills on the fly, learning to come up with budgets and cold call vendors and other people because I need answers for something that has to be done NOW. And to get to this point I had to have panicked freakouts as a dresser and take too long on show prep when I was in my teens. I had to be pulled in by tolerant, patient supervisors who sat me down and made me get serious. Because the love of something isn’t enough if you don’t pay attention and ditch a know-it-all attitude. It’s been learning new skills and sucking at them for a while until I found my footing. I had to experience a lot of intense tech periods and production meetings and near-breakdowns to learn how to hustle and stand up for myself and meet people half-way while not driving myself crazy and somehow meet deadlines at the same time.

Part of writing has been fifty pages of rejections (we’re talking one line per rejection, by the way), learning the ever-changing art of promotion, trying to balance all that with bringing income in, deciding who to listen to, and making time to put words on the page. Part of acting is always having the next thing lined up and staying on your game to keep jobs rolling in, whatever that means, keeping yourself in current audition material, tending to your look and skill set, and on and on. Artists and photographers might mean something else, same with dancers or illustrators or any other person who makes their living creating. Add in the emotional ups and downs with how your career is going, artistic block, life happening, the envy of others in your field, and it’s a lot.

You have to love it (or be so vehemently obsessed with working the system to the point that you reach super villain levels), because if you don’t, you are going to have a rough time when things don’t go your way. And they won’t at times. A lot of the time. You have to love it enough to take a day job if you need to, to take a risk if you need to, to give up holidays if you need to, to move if you need to, to sell out if you need to, to stand your ground if you need to, to stay up finishing stuff because you might have a window of opportunity that won’t come around again. You have to love it enough to do the work and all it means, because there is going to be a lot of it.

Throughout college and afterward I went along with things because I had a driving need to prove myself (and a will power that borders on superhuman, apparently). However, that left me incredibly frustrated, until all I really had was the love to fall back on (which is how I whittled down my focus). If anything, I wish I would’ve had more details and options and known the right questions to ask in my teens and twenties, so I could’ve made things a little easier on myself. I think sometimes teachers and experts expect students to understand why they’re telling them the advice they are, and that’s just not the case, or you may actually be on a whole different page but don’t know where to aim yourself. Seriously, you have no idea how much easier life is these days with Google and being able to pick people’s brains via social media.

I’ve also realized through the years that while my teenage self wanted fame and glory, (I’d still not say no to the rich thing, tbh), what I really was searching for was appreciation and validation. And it’s perfectly fine to want that.

But I can’t do what I do because of that. I mean, let’s face it, I ain’t JK Rowling or Stephen King or Dr. Seuss at the moment. If I was basing my creative worth solely on the need for validation, I’d be in a horrible place right now. I can get those things from nurturing the different relationships in my life, from pushing myself to show off my work and taking the compliments when I get them. But if I do what I do for that validation, I’m always going to be left thirsty, no matter how much metaphorical water is being thrown at me. And if I’m thirsty, I can’t nurture the creations that I’m trying to grow or work hard enough to keep myself alive. And, you know, I kinda like doing both of those things.

The fact is, while art can sometimes be therapy, you shouldn’t necessarily do it to be all your therapy, especially if you want to make money doing it.

So if you think you’re going to write a book/make an indie film/do something quick and have it immediately pay off – that’s super rare, guys. And that’s not really how those things work. I don’t care what the Hollywood narratives are, so often there’s so much work behind the scenes leading up to stuff that comes out of nowhere. Just forget that, put that right out of your minds. And when I say work, I mean can you work a forty hour regular work week then work even more on your own projects that are perpetually on the back burner. Can you put off that purchase or trip you really want to pay for a class that might help you out, a networking opportunity, promotion stuff, media help, or something else that will hopefully pay off long term (or not, nothing’s guaranteed). Can you divest yourself from being “the artiste” to take work that you may not want to take, to take criticism that you may not want to hear, to take the time needed to push yourself to the next step, then the next, then the next with no definite guarantee that you’ll ever really “make it (whatever that means).”

The other thing to consider is this: It’s not a bad thing if you decide a creative career isn’t for you. I know a lot of super-talented people that do things on the weekend or on the side or as an off and on hobby. There’s nothing wrong with that, and if that’s going to make you happier, by all means, do that. There’s nothing that says that just because you’re good at something, you have to do it as a job. That’s not a personal failure. If anything, it’s empowering because you’re making the choice that’s best for you.

At the end of the day, I almost physically recoil at the thought of not telling stories (which has made the past year or so super hard). My stomach knots at the idea of not making stuff. It’s impossible for me to consider, but I’m also pretty eyes-wide-open about what I’m pursuing and what it means. Could this change in the future? Possibly, sure, and I’ll renegotiate with myself if that point comes. Does this mean I have to be conscious about how I feed my need for emotional validation/appreciation? You betcha. If anything, it’s making me more aware about tending to that part of myself and being gentler with that part of me.

It’s all really multi-faceted, I know. No one said this would be easy. Or stay constant throughout your whole life. Or any of the cliches you’re used to hearing.

So, first assignment (hey, it’s back to school time!). If you’re even remotely thinking about approaching some sort of artistic career (or wondering whether to continue, or any variation thereof), I want you to go somewhere on your own, whether that’s in a room or in nature or whatever. Someplace you feel comfortable and safe and happy. And I want you to get really quiet and think about why you want this. Not just the obvious, not just that you love it. Why do you love it? Why is it important to you? What specifically about this thing could you see yourself doing? Could you do anything else? Explore all those reasons, follow them where they lead, see if you can figure out how to feed any emotional hunger without it being the be all end all to your life path. Put the nay sayers out of your head, kick out all those who make you feel like you need to prove something, kick out all those who compliment you and tell you that you should do this because you’re talented. This is a one person conversation involving only you.

Then, hit the Google. Really find out what all’s involved in what you want to do. Talk to those who are already in it. Ask the rough questions. Dig in. Really figure out what it’s going to take, if there are various levels achievable, find out all the gory details you can – and not just from those at the top of the field, but those who also are doing the same thing in the day to day (because it’s likely that’s where you’ll be). Talk to more than one person, and make sure they really know what they’re doing. There are so many spin artists these days, you have to really be careful. Don’t just listen to what they’re saying, but really examine what they’ve done and if it’s actually something to emulate or a bunch of hot air. Then get quiet and asking yourself why you want to do it again, and if it’s something you really, really have to do.

Then get quiet and asking yourself why you want to do it again, and if it’s something you really, really have to do.

Only you can answer that, and only you can be comfortable with it (Hint: there are no wrong answers, just answers you push to the side in favor of what may sound better).

No matter what you decide, you’re awesome, dude. I’m proud of you. This is not an easy conversation to have, but it’s a necessary one, no matter where you’re at. You’ll probably have it more than once throughout your life. Hell, I’ve had it a few times in my life. I haven’t really talked about it, but part of the past year of being so quiet has been that extended conversation – I honestly, curiously wanted to know if I could divest myself and do something else, and feel good about not having something creative as my focus. Honestly, I can’t. I’m miserable and don’t function well without it. I just don’t think it’s possible, so here I am back again, and there’s a lot of other refocusing and planning in the background that you won’t see (other spoiler alert: even creative careers have constant planning in the background. Don’t believe anyone who wants to push a ‘let’s put on a show!’ mentality, even if they sound somewhat professional).

I rarely tell people don’t do it. But, do it because you love it, do it because you have to, do it because you’re prepared to put in the effort, do it because you’re curious to see where it will take you, do it because you’re willing to learn and change to grow and be better. Forget about the construed narrative that we so love to tell ourselves and follow because it’s the trope that won’t die. Do it (or don’t do it) for your own right reasons. I can’t say it’ll be any easier or you’ll be definitely happier, but you’ll be going forward with the potential to be more satisfied.

Things I’d Wish I’d known Going into the Arts

Published August 12, 2017 by admin

One of the things I want to explore in this blog is all the things that make up being any sort of artist, things that you may not think about when considering it as a career, side career, or even a long-term hobby. Even if you’ve studied a particular discipline, there are all sorts of things that can creep up, especially since the world is ever-changing. This will probably be kind of a catch-all, but I also want to eventually invite other authors/artists/performers/designers/whatever in to give their thoughts as well, because I can guarantee we all have at least one thing that we’d wish we’d known before taking the plunge.

A brief cliffnotes bit of background, so you can maybe feel a little bit better about me ranting about stuff. I’ve been involved in various artsy type stuff my whole life, it feels like. With one parent and a few other relatives as art majors, it really wasn’t that much of a stretch that I would go into theater. Sometimes it feels like my whole life has been filled with stories, art projects, paints and glue, fabric, the works. I fell in love with musical theater in Jr. High, and I studied classical voice from about age 13 to my early twenties, doing some competitions, but ultimately following the pull of the stage where I could be anyone and anything. Although I went in with the purpose of being an actor (and I have taking many, many acting, improv, and directing  classes), I ultimately fell into costuming. Partially I love creating stuff, partially it started out as a way to supplement my income when I wasn’t on the stage and slowly evolved into my main focus, though that took some years.

I’ve done everything from theater admin work to wardrobe/dressing to stitching to design. I’ve worked with puppets, mascots, licensed stuff, magic shows, ice shows, cirque style shows, song and dance shows, opera, historical amphitheater, traditional musical theater, haunted mazes, and event work. I’ve done suit work, done puppeteering, been on the stage, myself, done some very small film stuff that went nowhere, have done improve, given workshops aimed at kids trying to harness their creativity and set goals. All in all, I’ve worked in theater and entertainment of some sort for nearly twenty years. I’ve done a little bit of everything and still feel like I’m trying to get a handle on things some days. Plus there’s all the writing, from short stories to books to guest posts to reviews to being a panelist or modding panels.

I’m not laying all this out to brag or to claim I’m the end-all-be-all. Let’s face it, I’m hardly a household name in any capacity, but most of the world’s artists are like me: working hard to make a living in our fields. I think we get so focused on what it means to “make it” that we aren’t paying attention to what’s going on in the actual journey, and some of those things could help others along the way. So, I want to really explore some of the challenges that I’ve faced in my personal journey, some of the things I’ve learned, and hopefully, let other people do the same.

I’ve got a preliminary list of topics, but first I’d love to hear from you. What are some things that you’d like to know about artistic work, be it professional or hobby or whatever? Is there something that’s bothering you or worrying you about your own path? Let’s talk it out, because trust me, you’re not alone in your journey.

 

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