I’m Not A Robot, I Swear

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True story – I rode the Parisian subway AND the RER train dressed like this. There and back. On a weekend.

Self-presentation has been on my mind a lot. Maybe it’s because I need to re-read Goffman for my PhD, so discussing projected personalities vs “real” personalities is A Thing That I’m Doing.

Do we only create personalities online?

What is it, really, to know a person completely and fully?

And is it really worth it? (Edward Cullen says “No,” although there are some fanfics out there that beg to differ.)

I’m mindful of my audience, as I suspect a number of people are. There are situations where such mindfulness is absolutely necessary – the workplace, for example, or when your friend gets together with a guy who jerks her around, but BY BUBBLE YOU’RE HAPPY NOW SO I’LL BE HAPPY FOR YOU!

*ahem*

Obviously, on this blog, I’m going for the wise-and-wise-cracking-older-relative-that-the-rest-of-the-teens-don’t-call-aunt-even-if-that’s-what-I-am. I make no secret of my huge, gigantic lady-crush on Captain Awkward, though I am a tiny bit embarrassed I spend more time reading Thought Catalog than I do actual writing. I mention my PhD, though not that much, because right now I’m reading myself into circles and I don’t know how to break free. I also try to be honest about the fact that I was a book blogger, and that I’m writing and hoping to get published one day. Some people might say I’m making myself vulnerable. Others might say I’m the exact opposite. Is it a question of points of view? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not going to attempt to answer that because we’ll be here until Boxing Day.

Of course, that is not the only identity I’ve worn, or just tried out for size. There are plenty of photos of me circulating online – damning, 50-pound-adding evidence of me trying to be a hip summer camp counselor, a green-haired mermaid, the kind of person who wears blue eyeshadow unironically, and, even more unironically, pairs said eyeshadow with orange hair.

I might have described your personality to a T just now. But whenever I tried to adopt it, I never felt truly at ease. Like a pair of walking boots that cannot accommodate your feet towards the end of the hike. It’s not the shoes’ fault. It’s not your fault either. You were just a bad match.

Shoes are, actually, a pretty good metaphor for identities and how we manage them. You need to try a whole lot of them until you find the ones that work best for you. Sometimes you have to wear badly fitting ones because this is your circumstance and you cannot afford others. Sometimes you need to have several ones that you change throughout the day. Sometimes you will make a snap decision and regret it later, and the way you choose to go about it might determine how you handle such things in the future.

I’ve been to events where I’ve wobbled on my high heels and looked fabulous while my toes were screaming in pain. Then, at the end of the night, I’d put on my runners and hike the hill home because there are no buses and no taxis left. I’d try to be the easy-going person some people know me as/expect, and then I’d spend the rest of the evening muttering profanities as I try to get rid of my mascara and examine the tears in my stockings.

Here’s the other thing about shoes/personalities – sometimes it’s hard to pin down your audience. Maybe you’ll decide to play it safe and end up looking far more conservative for their tastes. Maybe you’ll try to let your personality show and you overwhelm them. Bad first pick. Sometimes it gets better. Sometimes you get a second chance. Others you don’t. You say: Lesson learned, and you move on. Or you don’t.

I can’t tell how you’d do it. You’re you. I am me. Different experiences, different learning curves. Different circumstances, too.

Which brings me, finally, to the title of this post.

It has been brought to my attention that sometimes, I tend to present like a robot. Too stiff. Too formal. Not humane enough. That came as a bit of a surprise because in the past, I’d been told I’m too emotional (and there are so, so many things about self-presentation that lead back to gender expectations, which I won’t get into now). Something that made this criticism a little easier to process was adding the following modifiers to the sentence:

These people found that at this point in time I tended to present like a robot. Other people, at another point in time, found that I was being too emotional.

I am not static. My self-presentation changes. At the end of the day, I take my shoes off and my feet are either comfy, or in desperate need of a soak. I went through my day, like I did the one before, and the one before that one, too.

How do I want tomorrow to go?

I consider my feet.

Then I pick my shoes. If I can.

Dear Old Me: Yes, You Can Revise

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Printer: I’m doing you a favour. I swear!

Dear Old Me,

I know. The writing’s not going well. More precisely, the revision is not going well. You thought you had this amazing draft at the end of NaNo (well, technically, it was New Years 2012, but you started November 1st, which is what matters). You thought you got this. It wasn’t a hot mess. You even sent it to your best friend, and she said she cried because it resonated so hard with her.

And now you’re re-reading what you wrote, and you can’t even remember writing this.

The critique you got from you less-invested friend seems too kind in comparison. Nothing is right. You try to backtrack, you crack out the sticky notes and the coloured pens, and you try, and you try, and you try, all throughout the summer and into the Parisian autumn, until it’s NaNo again and you throw yourself into a new project to soothe your aching pride.

I’ve got bad news for you, my love. You’ll be revising this story for another 3 years. (You’ll also go on a bunch of first dates, get crushes, get depressed, claw your way out, start doing Jiu Jitsu and Argentine tango, run a half marathon, and, oh, by the way, you will finish your degree. Then you’ll get another one. Then you’ll start another one. Because Uni will redeem itself big time.)

Though I did not keep an accurate record of that time, I can remember very clearly what it was to be you, Old Me. You were lonely, and you were very aggressive about it. (You won’t lose the anger, by the way. But it comes handy. I swear.) You had very big expectations of yourself, and not one ounce of the tools you needed to cope with it. You could not see life beyond the next exam, or getting your placement.

I’m sorry to say it won’t get any easier. You won’t make it easy for yourself either.

I cannot promise you that the future will be all butterflies and rainbows. Your pride, in particular, will take a severe beating. You’ll choose jobs that will make you look at the sadness of the world, and you will keep coming back to them, because they are what you are good at and what makes you feel good. Whether you find love is still questionable.

But I can tell you this – yes, you can revise.

The writing is hard. Making changes is hard. Accepting that your manuscript isn’t perfect is hard. But you know what? You’re not the kind of person that gives up because things are hard. You are the jitsuka who seeks out the guy twice her size to train with. You are the girl who goes for extra classes in her Master’s degree and does the work like it’s going to count. You take ages to work up the guts to confess liking somebody, but my God, you go for it.

So please, don’t put away your manuscript. Don’t chase the new, shiny ideas indefinitely. Sit down with the story you wrote and read it honestly. If it needs a complete re-write (and yes, it does) you’ll do it. Then you’ll re-read it again. Then you’ll re-write it again. Then you’ll re-read it and edit it, and edit it again, and when you can’t edit it anymore, you will sit back and you’ll smile.

It’s much like meeting an old friend. Or the soreness after a really intense training session. It hurts sometimes, but it was so worth it.

Cheer up. You’re not a literary genius. You’re better off that way.

Love and kisses,

The Future

 

Not With A Bang, Nor With A Whimper

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Source: Death to the Stock Photo

As with all epic tales, the ending is always a little underwhelming. (Rule of thumb: nothing lives up to the hype. NOTHING.)

I meant to write something deep and profound (or, depending on where you are looking at it from, cliched) on the things I found out, but that would be lending social media more credit than it’s worth, so here is the simple truth:

  • Whether I like social media or not, whether I agree with FB’s business model or not, the fact is that the people in my social circles use it exclusively to communicate with one another, and I cannot really justify being the special case of The One We Have To Call. (Even if it would be nice to hear someone else’s voice once in a while.)
  • People are not going to make an effort to contact you if they cannot get a hold of you the way they’re used to.
  • So far, I’ve noticed no special deepening in my connections to others.

That said, the experiment was not a personal failure. Indeed, I have several posts documenting this exact thing – all the  things I’m not missing, all the things I’m glad I’m not doing. (Social media stalking, for one thing. It’s so easy, we don’t even notice we’re doing it. Luckily, once I was no longer there, I wasn’t missing it either.)

I think the biggest change I’ve noticed, since this all first started, is this: I feel okay.

A sample of one does not warrant generaliseable findings, and I would never dare to argue it. I still feel okay. When you’re on sites like Facebook (or, heck, I remember doing this constantly on Goodreads) the constant barrage of information makes it seem like you simply cannot look away. Like you constantly have to absorb everyone else’s sentiments, like you have to have an opinion, like you have to keep posting, all the time, to keep on top of your game. (Or… what? Just me? Okay, then.)

Doing this felt good to me. It meant that I could say “no” to this. I didn’t like the game – I could afford not to play it, at least for a little bit, at least until I felt better about it. That’s something. I’m cautiously optimistic.

Maybe next time, I can go for the full 6 months.

On my own

Eponine is the muse and the writer and the curse all rolled up in one. source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/361484307561854827/

To write is to be alone, in your head, forever and ever, until the end of time, and there is nothing you can do about it. That’s what nearly every memoir of the craft says, and from what I’m experiencing, I agree. Like many young a thing that uses the Internet to connect to others, I too have heard of the critique partner, the beta reader, the Team You of wordsmanship. Unfortunately, what nobody tells you is that having one is a lucky occurrence, not a given.

I started writing when I was 10 years old. My audience were my mother and my grandparents, and my cousin, who I strong-armed into writing a story with me. I had no idea that beta readers were a thing, let alone that I would be looking for one so desperately years later. (In my defense, I was 10. I thought growing up would take forever.)

When I joined online message boards, when I set out to turning my occasional scribbles into something I would be proud to show a professional, I did find a group of people to swap manuscripts with. In those halcyon days, words flowed freely and ideas did too, the forums were respectful and creative, and we thought it would last until the end of time.

It did not. The group dissipated, and, try as I might, I could not find the “right fit” for myself afterward. I spent a lot of time, nursing bitter disappointment and wondering why the world conspired against me. Then I realized what a privileged brat I was being, and called a ceasefire.

The novel I’m editing now was first written in 2011. We are well into 2015 now. In the interim, I moved 5 or 6 times, went to a whole different country, worked, finished a Bachelor’s, got a Master’s, started a PhD, broke my own heart, and dealt with a lotta personal problems that have no place being written about here. All throughout, I wrote, in bits and bursts, pulling fragments out of the ground and occasionally arranging them into a coherent picture. The day when I finished a whole re-write, and whole draft, was the happiest I’d been in a long time, but it would not be for another year that I went back to the story again, and knuckled down on the revisions.

Do you know what also happened to my groups, my connections, all these people I was friends with and who were as excited as I was about the story? They went on to do their own thing, of course. Just like I did. Life doesn’t stop for a story, even though it feels that way sometimes.

Is it hard to write without a beta/critique partner? Oh, yes. It was especially hard for me, because I had grown used to having people to turn to at any moment, be it to complain (all too often) when something didn’t go well, or to share the (precious few) moments of triumph. Sometimes, I thought I would never make it. (It’s a surprisingly hard habit to break, even now.)

But it isn’t impossible. Having beta/critique partner is like living with someone – they’re good company, and you may think it’s too quiet without them sometimes, but at the end of the day, they’re not the ones doing the work.

So I crank up Joni Mitchell, turn on Freedom, and go back to the manuscript.

After all, at the end of the day, this is the best thing you can do.

Putting my money where my mouth is: Week 5

So, a month has passed since I’m off social media.

Good news: no withdrawal symptoms, belated or otherwise.

Bad news: if your friend isn’t answering you texts, you can’t just go worry-stalk them to make sure they’re okay.

Social media stalking, by the way, is definitely on top of the list of things I am not missing right now.

Essena O’Neill is the talk of the Internet right now, because she deleted her Instagram and YouTube channels. As someone who also got off certain social media, you’d think I’d have an opinion on the topic, except due to my being off social media in general, news of this storm in a teacup reached me about a week later. (So, no differently if we still relied on letters to get our news.) Plus, the entire world has had an opinion about it already, so my adding to it will just make things worse. I figure the girl is having it hard enough as is, so let’s just leave her to figure things out in peace, yeah? And if you really want a think-piece worth reading, check out Emma Gannon. 

So instead of focusing on this one Instagrammer doing what they need to do to take care of themselves, let’s talk about the validation game on social media, because I for one am glad not to be playing it.

(And if the Irony Gods are listening, please, oh please, make it so that the reason I rejoin social media is because there’s a publisher twisting my hand. Thank you very much.)

It’s November, which in previous years was about NaNo, and frowning at the grey skies, and realizing that I only have six weeks to an essay deadline and I haven’t even picked my topic. Ah, memories. This year, someone has clued me into the fact that the retail machine is working hard to bring the Christmas cheer on early, which in turn means any or all of the following things:

  • Glitter. Glitter everywhere.
  • Shopping on a weekend is about as fun as getting your teeth drilled.
  • The rugby crowds have been replaced by people with huge bags from Selfridges.
  • There are too many Christmas campaigns going on and not enough snow. (Seriously, weather, what is this? Slush? Drizzle? My bike slipped today and I nearly fell into the canal, and there wasn’t even enough mud to soften my fall!)
  • Bloggers (the ones I check out when I’m bored) are falling over themselves to show us the latest gift collections, which is both awesome and really frustrating.

I’ve recently unfollowed a ton of people on YouTube and Bloglovin’, but my main hope is that, come December 25th, there won’t be a deluge of “What I got for Christmas” videos, because those are some of the most depressing things I have ever seen.

Not because of what the vloggers are showing, mind you – they are always so thrilled, their enthusiasm is infectious, and you smile along for the 10-15-20 minutes it takes them to go through everything they got from their friends and family. What’s depressing is thinking about the fact that it takes my family all of 5 minutes to open our presents on December 25th and the rest of the day is spent with us sitting aound and being like: “Aren’t we supposed to be doing something fun?” It’s a let down, but it’s a let down because nothing can live up to the hype that two months+ of marketing campaigns create.

Perhaps I’m biased. My family is split down the middle – with half of us living and working in a different country, continent, time zone, there are certain expectation that we have of the holidays. Our time together is precious little, so of course, there is pressure for us to make the most of it. Unfortunately, illness or depression or just regular bad weather doesn’t care that we only have a week together, and life is life regardless of what random people have designated as “holiday time.” Sometimes the best you can do is… well, your best.

Social media is not helpful. Even at regular times, people take care to show their best face – and then there is someone who always feels low because everyone else seems to be having it better than they. How much worse is it going to get when we start decking the halls and wrapping presents?

This week isn’t any special, but I feel glad nonetheless that I don’t have social media to worry about. Some things are just better left on their own.

Seasonal Reminder

It’s November, which means two things in my house:

  1. It’s NaNoWriMo, meaning that the clock is ticking on finishing my weekend project and submitting before the December deluge.
  2. Christmas campaigns have officially started, which is probably more anticipation for the birth of Jesus than there was on the event itself. Yay capitalism!

(That is alongside the usual fears of getting my reading done and training for the half marathon, of course. Those go all year round.)

Since brands have seen fit to launch their Advent Calendars a whole month ahead of schedule, I see no reason why I shouldn’t put this seasonal disclaimer out:

Be nice to retail workers. 

Yes, I know – they can be rude sometimes. Yes, they can also push the hard sell on you a little too hard. Yes, shopping around this time can be a nightmare and you are right, you are the customer and you shouldn’t pay anyone for the privilege of making you feel bad.

That said:

Shops are swamped this time of year and can be understaffed. The retail workers can be very experienced, or they can be a seasonal hire to help. They get minimum wage, they get paid by commission, and they were most likely on their feet all day dealing with all sorts of customers. Maybe their manager is really chilled, or is pressuring them to meet a certain quota. Nobody is perfect.

“The customer is always right,” is the adage of customer service, but it means a little something for you, the customer, as well:

You have the power.

You can say yes or no to a sell.

You can be nice to a retail worker, or you can make their life an absolute hell.

When you are the customer, and the other person is a (most likely) minimum-wage seasonal worker, being a jerk to them isn’t righteous. It’s jerkish.

I get it, okay? We’ve all had an episode (mine was at a makeup counter in Selfridges) where we were made to feel like Julia Roberts in that first shop scene in Pretty Woman, and we all love the follow-up where she goes back in the store and rubs it in the assistant’s faces, but there is something incredibly sad about it, too. Vivian, who knows better than anyone what is like to rely on your customers for sustenance, says to the shop assistants: “You get paid by commission, right? Big mistake. Big.”

Girl, come on. We root for you, but you could have been more graceful about it.

(Do not ask me how many times I’ve seen that movie. And do not ask me to analyse it for how business is portrayed there, because we will be here until the New Year.)

You will lose nothing by being civil, if not nice to shop assistants. Even if they are rude to you, that’s no carte blanche to lose your temper. Inform the manager if you want, or write a letter of complaint, or blog about it, but don’t be a jerk. Walk away and remind yourself you did the right thing.

Be polite and specific when you’re asking for help.

Tip your baristas. Seriously. Tip your baristas.

And tip your waitress, especially if you sat down at Las Iguanas or some other restaurant with a “you have to pay us to work here” policy.

Remember folks: Christmas is supposed to be a time to be a time for love and goodwill towards everyone. Not just the people who are not behind the counter.

Morning pages and research diaries

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Expression translation: Thass heavy, y’all!

Though I’ve been keeping journals (or carnets de voyage, as my younger self called them) (because she went to French school) for pretty much all my life, November 2013 is when I began the practice of morning pages, one of Julia Cameron’s tools in the Artist’s Way (reviewed here). Prior to that, my journalling had been sporadic and spotty, very much dependent on my mood and what I was doing on any given day. These past two years, with a few notable exceptions, I’ve managed to journal consistently, nearly every day.

And yes, in case you are wondering – taking a selfie while holding all these notebooks with one hand took a few tries.

True fact – for a very long time I thought fiction writing and university writing had no intersections. In fact, it took 3 years before it occurred to me that an essay should involve some reflection, and not just paraphrasing of the reading. Until I was in my second year, I didn’t even know that “critical thinking” is something people actually want to see in your writing (thank you, Dr. Schwartz).

As a result of that, for years I kept two separate practices – fiction on one end, academic reflection on the other – having them run parallel to each other. I’m only starting to realize I should, perhaps, just maybe, let them converge, sometimes.

How does that work?

During my Masters, we were introduced to the concept of a “research diary” which is proving itself to be a very useful tool in the social sciences. As described by Christine Bold, the journal has have one page for observations and one for reflections on said observations in any given entry (although she notes that there wasn’t always a 50-50 split, lengthwise, when her students took on the project.) The idea is to differentiate between descriptive and reflective writing (and also to keep a record of the research which can then be used in the research.

This isn’t like the morning pages, which is three stream-of-consciousness pages, usually written as soon as the subject has woken up. But if there is something that the morning pages cultivate which I find helpful, it is habit.

When I was journalling according to my mood, I fell into a trap which creative writing coaches describe as: I have to do this perfectly, I need to lay down thoughts of substance. I was (and still am) a classic case, buying pretty stationary in a bid to motivate myself, and then just stare at the notebook, too afraid to mar the pristine pages with anything short of brilliant. Needless to say, I didn’t journal often.

The thing about the morning pages is – they don’t have to be perfect. They don’t even have to be coherent. The only thing they need to be is done, and the way to do that is to put pen on paper (or fingers to keyboard) and produce them. Cameron offers all sorts of ideas as to how you can fill them, from answering the question “How do I feel right now?” to writing “I will do my best today” over and over again, until you get bored.

No, you don’t show them to anyone.

No, it won’t win you any awards.

But you do it.

When keeping a research diary, especially during fieldwork, timing is of the essence because the longer you wait to record something, the harder it will be to recall once you do. Furthermore, a research diary that only has a few standout occurrences recorded in it isn’t of much use. As the chapter in Bold’s book shows, the real value of the diary is that it allows the researcher to look back and chart their own progress as they go along. This is a feature of the morning pages too – if you re-read them (and I recommend you do, even if some of it is truly cringe-worthy) you notice patterns and progressions that you didn’t at the time. Things that are extremely valuable in research are also valuable for fiction writing as well – after all, how can you go around analyzing and assessing other people and not extend the reflection to yourself?

Whatever your personal stance is on the involvement of the researcher and how much reflexivity they should incorporate in their writing, maintaining an accurate, consistent record of one’s research and fieldwork is important. Morning pages may or may not be the thing for you, but they are a useful starting tool in my opinion as a long-time user.

Not to mention, they usually put me in the right working mood.

They’re almost as helpful as coffee in that regard.

Patience and profanities

My “weekend project” is almost at its final stage. I’ve entered the phase which Dani Shapiro describes as the work guiding you – pulling you forward like a gentle giant – except mine is more shoving me forward, spilling coffee down my shirt, and telling me to just eat peanut butter straight out of the jar. (No time to make an actual sandwich, you see. It’s too much work.)

I’m always a little bit hyper around this time, but since this is round 4 or 5 of revisions (O.o) there’s also a little bit of “when will it end?!” kind of thinking involved. That said, I know there will be at least one read-through that I’ll have to do, for the specific purpose of weeding out the curse words.

It’s something an old critique partner flagged to me, way back in 2012 (o.O): I have the same approach to profanities as I do to cheese in quesadillas. (Sin now, repent at leisure.)

A necessary caveat: the curse-per-page ratio varies according to every single book. Some audiences don’t mind curses. Others do. Some characters curse more than others. Some readers view cursing as gratuitous, while others don’t notice it at all. Obviously, there is more likely to be profanity in fiction than in non-fiction, but that’s a stylistic/genre thing. Everyone, decide for yourselves.

BUT!

HOWEVER!

IN MY CASE!

There is a reason why a draft is called a draft, and not a finished story. It boils down to the question of: Can you stand behind your work? Can you justify every character decision, plot twist, and, in this case, every single word choice? Is every f-bomb necessary, or is there a word that fits the character and situation better? There is? Why didn’t you use it then?

Covering those bases is what edits are for. At work, I don’t think I’ve ever had a first draft of anything accepted, straight up, with no edits or suggestions made for edits. When I was just starting out, that used to frustrate me, which wasn’t fair: there’s a reason why I am the intern. Or the student. Or, when the sensei is sweeping the floor with me to demonstrate a technique, the uke. I’m here to learn.

Obviously, such edits, especially over 70,000 words, can be frustrating. They are extra-frustrating when the work is constantly on your mind, and you feel torn in all different directions, and you just want to get it done. I guess I’m writing this as a reminder to myself more than anything else – slow down.  Enjoy the ride. Have patience.

Learn.

Everyone else can wait.