Last chance

Today is the last day I will live in my house.

We’re Moving tomorrow. I still don’t know which room I’ve got in the new place because Dad and I both want the same one, but the point is I will not be here anymore, will not belong here anymore. According to legal papers. Ugh I have to change all my contact information don’t I …

I am wondering if I will feel like I do still belong here once we move, if one day soon I’ll have a time-stopping moment where I realise that I’m never going home again. Or maybe I’ll continue to feel, as I do now, that I need this change, and maybe even finally start to feel excited that we’re in a new space. Or both at once.

I am wondering if I will finally come up with a summary of my time spent in this house and it will hit all the resonant notes of loss and gratitude, of cathartic grief and hope, that I will find the right string of words to sum up 24 years in order to close them off and start the next however many years as though they’re somehow different, a new story of my life. As somebody whose brain runs on narrative conventions, there’s this expectation that today will be a momentous narrative moment, that all the closure and catharsis and “this is goodbye” feelings will well up and spill out from inside of me, and the episode will end, and then the sequel will fall into place in order to continue the story, nice and neat and narratively satisfying. Because today is my last chance to make it happen.

I’m kinda happy it’s not happening.

I mean it’s just much more interesting that way, isn’t it? That life is not quite that predictable. That we don’t fit into all the boxes we think we’re supposed to, that we can surprise ourselves just by being ourselves. That the moment sometimes never comes, and the only sad thing about that is not being aware that The Moment is something I only know even happens because of books, movies, TV, videogames, music. Because of stories.

We just go on. We just continue. Life is not a story. It’s not even a lot of stories. It’s life.

I’m down with that.

Though I do think some housewarming novel-revision is in order …

Late-night musings on trigger warnings

They’re a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.

I dunno, there’s some people complaining about the idea that trigger warnings being added to university curricula or works of art, and that art “should be challenging” or whatever, and call me crazy but I thought art and academia were about more than fucking shock-value.

The article above uses “Lolita” as an example, and the writer’s disappointment that, after being effectively spoiled by a “trigger warning” in that the lecturer told everybody to remember that the book was about the systematic rape of a young girl, they found themselves unable to read the book. This seems to serve as the backbone of their entire argument, which is that trigger warnings ruing art by reducing them to a list of details, rather than allowing the reader/audience/whatever to find their own way through the text and make up their own mind.

Which is fine, if you don’t have PSTD and have no need of trigger warnings for your basic mental health. If you do, however? Slightly different story.

I really can’t feel too guilty for not siding with people who seem to think that their appreciation of art being disrupted by somebody telling them – and anybody else who might need to be warned – that said art contains themes that may literally cause somebody to have a panic attack is more important than the possibility that somebody will, y’know, have a panic attack. I believe the phrase “check your privilege” works quite well here. In fact I kinda have to think that that if your ability to enjoy a work of art relies on it not being “spoiled” for you, if you are unable to work around the label that somebody else puts on it for whatever reason they applied that label, then your appreciation of art is pretty shallow to begin with. Novelty is a wonderful thing – I certainly remembering being really anxious about having The Deathly Hallows spoiled for me, back in the day – but thinking of other people’s personal safety is just a teensy bit higher up in terms of moral priorities.

Or it should be anyway. I unfollowed somebody today because that didn’t seem to be their MO and, as somebody with a history of depression and social anxiety who does not deal well with confrontation, I figured I could stand to take myself out of that situation rather than sticking around to duke it out with someone who probably won’t read my comment anyway.

We already have “trigger warnings” on art. If you’ve ever bought/hired a movie, TV show, music album or videogame, you’ve seen them yourself. It’s just that they’re called “ratings” rather than “trigger warnings”, and nobody who complains about those is taken particularly seriously, because the rationale is clearly there. And it’s the same thing here. The only difference is that we’re talking about “trigger warnings” rather than “ratings”. When we see the red R (or black R in a red circle) on a DVD, even if it doesn’t specify what the R is there for, there’s a list that pops up anyway – violence, obscenities, rape. It’s because it’s so ubiquitous. If the same censorship rules already applied to paintings and books – and, yes, university papers – there would be no argument.

It seems that the people complaining about putting trigger warnings on everything don’t even know what a trigger warning actually is. It’s not there to take a black marker and blot out all the triggering content; it’s there to warn you that the triggering content is there, so that you have a choice about whether you’re exposed to it or not. Trigger warnings, when used as intended, only serve to empower people to act, not prevent them from doing anything. Trigger warnings are informative. If you can’t stand to read Lolita not because it has the systematic rape of a young girl in it, but because the surprise was ruined for you, then you may want to consider what your actual problem is.

Because trigger warnings are there for the people who need them. I mean what’s next? Are people going to complain about access ramps for those who use wheelchairs? Captions for those who are hearing-impaired? The existence of braille? Counseling and therapy? Fuck it, why even have doctors? Just don’t get hurt in the first place!

Trigger warnings are there for people who will get hurt. If your appreciation of art is the price that has to be paid to prevent that, get used to not appreciating a hell of a lot of art, I say – or, better yet, cultivate better criteria upon which you base your appreciation of art.

Because to be honest, needing to have everything non-spoiled for you in order for you to appreciate it sound a bit like … what’s the phrase? Ah yes: hand-holding.

Coddling.

Being over-sensitive.

Only instead of being “over-sensitive” about reliving your past trauma, you’re over-sensitive about a plot point.

And if that’s what you’re upset about, if you know what trigger warnings are, you need to grow the fuck up.

As for whether alternative texts should be provided in university papers for students who are triggered by these proposed trigger-warning-labeled texts? I think two things:

  1. Art is about self-expression, and academia is about engaging critically with the world (or the Arts/Humanities/Science are, anyway). In either case, it is disingenuous to leave out the ugly side of the truth. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t inform people of what, specifically, we are going to discuss before we discuss it, and there is no excuse for not giving warnings if we know there are people out there who will not just be upset by certain topics and/or stimuli, but may have a mental fucking breakdown because of them. At least not in a moral society that actually cares about the people who live in it.
  2. As a culture, we are working with a long and distinguished history of not giving a fuck about people with trauma, whether physical or emotional, and that this may just have affected the way universities select their material for students, assuming that they can “handle it” because “there’s nothing wrong with them”. It is a fairly recent phenomenon that social media has become the political platform for a whole host of disenfranchised demographics of our society to not just make themselves heard, but make their voices widely heard. That doesn’t mean they just suddenly popped up: it means they’re suddenly able to participate in the public sphere. If you can’t handle that, again, you’re the one being over-sensitive. Or just human. I mean hearing people talk, sometimes angrily, about all the messed-up shit in their lives that you’ve never considered before should make you upset, right? If you’re not a sociopath? Or an asshole?

Some people argue that trigger warnings are bad because “the world is unpredictable”, and therefore it’s unreasonable to “shelter” people. Well that’s just blatantly wrong. The world is incredibly predictable, actually. Of course some things catch all of us off-guard, but our world is structured around minimising that as much as possible, for basic reasons of, y’know, safety, and making sure that everything that needs to happen in order for society to continue functioning does in fact happen. Also: art, such as writing a book, is really predictable, because you choose what you do or don’t include in it. The same with organising a university paper. We don’t live in the wild west, and if we did, that wouldn’t be a good thing. So the “unpredictable” excuse does not hold up.

TL;DR: trigger warnings are there for people who need them. If you don’t need them, actually try to understand why some people do, and appreciate what a privilege it is to not be one of them, instead of throwing a hissy-fit over somebody spoiling the Red Wedding for you.

And now it’s 2:06 a.m. and I need to write 5 assignments in the next two weeks while also spending the next three days moving house. I will say one thing about packing: it helps you sleep. Here’s hoping that holds true tonight.

The myth of us

It’s done the essays are done they are finished I don’t have to do them anymore and then I have FIVE MORE ASSIGNMENTS TO DO IN THE NEXT TWO AND A HALF WEEKS AAAAAARGH

But at least I’m not behind on any of them.

YET.

I would say I’m angry except that I don’t actually feel the emotional component necessary to warrant such a description. I’m just kinda beige. This situation is very beige-inducing.

Anyway: writing.

Writing is not just about putting words on paper. That’s the material side of things, the corporeal element of the wider entity that is writing. It’s also about thinking and learning, and relying on the science of storytelling to enrichen our perspectives.

Mythology is something I’ve been thinking of for a little while – when the word comes up, I instantly conjure up images of the Greek pantheon, and if I consciously push myself to diversify I’ll think of the Norse and Egyptian gods, the Irish deities and heroes, the Maori and Chinese legends – or what little I know of them anyway – and that’s about it. I don’t think about, for instance, World War 2. I don’t think about 9/11. Or the American Civil War, or the French Revolution, or Tianmen Square. I don’t think about how I had a crush on Sailor Moon when I was 7 years old, or how the triad of Pokemon, Dragonball Z and Harry Potter more or less had the monopoly over my personal development between the ages of 12-16. I don’t think about how Disney, Sesame Street, David Attenborough and not even having a television for a very long time had the monopoly prior to that. I think about the word in its “official” framing, because that’s what the word is for.

But personal mythology is where mythology comes from. Intuition tells me that anyway; where else would these stories come from if not from the life experiences of those who told them, and those who passed them on? And what are these stories if not the first scientific theses? Creation myths outline a systematic process of how things came into being as they are now, and as time goes on these theses are replaced and modified by others – Christianity appropriated Irish mythology by turning the Tuatha De Danan into Leprechauns; Buddhism adopted Chinese mythology by turning Sun Wukong into a bodyguard for Xuangzang as he traveled to collect sacred Buddhist scriptures. Myths change to fit current knowledge; stories change according to who’s reading them, and what they see them for. What propels them to the heights of culture-defining prominence is contingent on who agrees with it, or agrees that this is the version of events that ought to be perpetuated throughout society. And when they’re criticised and/or disproven, there can be a lot of controversy.

Mythology is not just gods and heroes and monsters, is what I’m saying. Mythology is making sense of the world, a process of heuristic reasoning that sounds utterly un-scientific, but serves the exact same function. Mythology is the 12 labours of Herakles, yes, but it’s also how all women are attracted to assholes and bisexual, how all the good men are either taken or gay, the poor are lazy, the rich are amoral and both are greedy, how if you just work hard enough and believe passionately enough you can achieve whatever you want and there is absolutely nothing else to it.

Mythology is the explanation of how things came to be, and it is the thesis that tells us how things will continue to be, including ourselves.

Personal mythology is something that came up over lunch with my good buddy Viola the other day: we started talking about our teenage years and how hard it is to pull yourself out of that old mode of thinking and feeling when you go back and read, for instance, blog or journal entries that you made during that period. For me, my creation myth has been the story of my adolescence, specifically between the ages of 15 and 20. I chose that period to fixate on and make official, to disseminate throughout the civilisation of my brain, despite the fact that I’d had 15 years of life prior to that to draw on. There was also an appropriation of my life between the ages of 11 and 13, and then a dark period when I was 14. The only thing I remember about being 14 years old is that it was the first time in my life, I think, that I lay in a bed and stared at a ceiling and felt like my life was over. Neither the bed nor the ceiling were actually mine; we were having a family holiday at one of my mum’s co-worker’s holiday house. It’s a really nice house. I didn’t take advantage of it because I was too busy angsting.

Prior to that, I think everything was just too … different to be included in the official mythology. It’s kind of like what I hear about the really big, glaring divide between the Old and New Testament sections of the Bible, only in my case the Old Testament is a history defined by adventure, joy and togetherness, and the New Testament is a suppurating abscess of hysterical introspection and second-guessing every single thing I thought or felt, or thought I was going to think or feel. I think, looking back, that my current procrastination skills were most likely developed during the New Testament period.

The main reason that my adolescence became my creation mythology is because I continued being anxious and miserable, rather than reverting back to the more confident and unabashed person I was before I turned 11. But the division between childhood and adolescence, especially where childhood is a magic carpet ride and adolescence is a bag of rotting dicks, makes it so seductive to draw a line between those two states of yourself and say that one was better and then suddenly everything changed and it’s like you became an entirely different person.

It’s not that that’s not true, but it oversimplifies things. I find it hard to reconcile just how taken in I’ve been with exactly that romantic idea for the past … decade? About that long anyway; thinking that there was some ideal version of myself in the far past and entering into the whole Childhood Renaissance phase that so many jaded adults go through, when if I’m being honest I actually haven’t changed very much at my core. I was always vulnerable to anxiety as a child, and I was always acutely aware of how much more anxious I was than any of my friends: I wouldn’t go to sleepovers at my best friend’s house until I was about 8 years old; I was afraid of dancing with one of my girl friends at primary school at the Halloween ball when I was 5 or 6, to the point where I think I literally leapt into my father’s arms and he had to assure her that I didn’t hate her all of a sudden. And yet I was also completely down with running around naked except for full-body tiger face-paint at the same age, and writing the school play, which I am only now starting to remember being a thing that I did, which I guess translated into how my friends have told me, repeatedly, that I’m a completely different person when I’m on stage – and the fact that I’ll do pretty much anything on stage. I cleaved to my dad and a very select group of other people growing up, letting everyone else pretty much just drift in and out of my life without much of a care, and now I’m a hermit who inexplicably has something resembling a very frail social life.

My point is that mythology is misleading, and when it serves the same purpose as science in terms of how we justify things to ourselves, that’s worrying. But it’s also a testament to just how powerful storytelling is, and why it’s important: it creates the world we know, and it includes our blind spots, tells us that they don’t exist by virtue of excluding them altogether, and when something that doesn’t fit out mythology rattles us and reminds us that we don’t actually have the definitive version of events – it’s really quite unsettling. Not always in a bad way, but unsettling nonetheless.

Telling stories is not even second nature to people: telling stories is the foundation for every goddamn thing we ever do. We have a mythology for who we are, for what the world is and how it works and the moral judgment on that state of affairs, whether it’s fair or not, whether it should or even could be better.

And it changes. The fear of “getting sucked back in” with regards to old journal entries, of being transformed into the “old me” that, as mythology dictates, has been cut off somehow and relegated to the Old Testament, pretty much tells you all you need to know about how and why storytelling is so important in people’s personal development – if I can get “sucked back in”, then that tells me that I was never “out” to begin with. It’s the same underlying issue of choosing – or, perhaps more accurately, identifying – a cut-off point for what “counts” in the mythology of your life, of the world, that explains why things are they way they are now – if it doesn’t fit the story you’re trying to tell to the world, it’s easy to leave it out, but you can never get rid of it. It threatens to overwhelm your edited version of events and reveal The Truth, which is that there is no cut-off point, there is no point at which Everything Changed. It’s just a straight line, the trajectory of your existence – the story of your life. All of it.

Storytelling is just taking that process and actively manipulating its mechanics. I think something like The Lord of the Rings is a perfect example of this because of the vast appendices that Tolkien wrote to back up the mythology that he wanted people to recognise as official: he even changed The Hobbit to fit his official version of the story of Middle-Earth. The Necromancer in Mirkwood wasn’t Sauron originally; he was just a Necromancer. And yet there’s not a lot of outcry about this executive meddling, because the creator is the one who’s doing the meddling. And if the creator says X is true, even if Y was true before, then surely that’s Word of God and, well, there’s nothing we can do about it?

The thing is, then you have stuff like J.K. Rowling saying that she wishes she hadn’t made Ron and Hermione end up together and the massive fan backlash, and the tension between canon and “fanon” mythologies, and the issue of the degree to which the creator actually owns their own story when it also “belongs” to their fans. Never mind the vast millions of Potterheads around the world; even if the series only ever reached a few thousand people that tension would still be there, and perhaps just as intensely because of the smaller group of fans who might feel more intimate and directly involved with the story, because they’re the proud few who have stuck by it. It’s like building an identity for yourself when you’re growing up and then running into a childhood friend who knows you from back in the day and kind of kicks down your tower of Babel, probably unwittingly while trying to re-establish some familiarity with you so that things won’t be totally awkward. Ironic. Also like having parents or other older relatives treating you like you’re still X years old when you’re trying so hard to identify as Y years old instead.

And the thing is that it’s still a part of you, whether you want to acknowledge it or not. That’s not to say that I agree with people imposing their reading of you onto you or that it’s your obligation to indulge them; who you are is your business, end of story. But it is a messy business, or it can get that way, and it’s important to be aware of that so that you can do it healthily. Viola and I both did the typical teenage thing of thinking we had to be a certain way, and deciding that we just were a certain way, that we were going to be a certain type of person because that’s who we really were, or should have been, to the point where even nowadays I’ll sometimes feel upset about not feeling upset about something, because I’ll think that feeling upset is the correct response and I’m about to be found out as a fraud. That’s also mythology, the “should”, the “there’s something wrong with me because I’m not like blah”, the “no the Necromancer was totally Sauron I fully planned that all out from the very beginning DON’T QUESTION ME I AM IN CONTROL THIS IS MY STORY ANYWAY”.

And it is. It is your story and you can tell it however you want. But, as with The Curious Incident of the Dog and the Night Time, as with sectioning off entire years of your own life because they don’t fit the current story of it you believe in, it pays to be aware. To be honest. I think it’s healthy to shut things out sometimes, simply because a lot of the time there is no other tenable option. I still think it’s healthier to get it out in the open though, if you get the chance.

And with storytelling, in the conventional sense of the term, we get that chance. With fiction, we get to tell a whole, honest story without leaving anything out. To draft and revise and say “that doesn’t count” and not have to worry that it’ll come back to bite us for denying its existence later on when that pesky childhood friend pops up, because this is something that everybody knows we made up. Because it doesn’t count, not until we say it does. It’s frustrating and it’s blissful and, above all, it’s always right.

(That’s part of why it’s so frustrating. Which right choice is the right choice? Ugh.)

There are the stories we grow out of as well, the ones that we don’t think we can write anymore because we’re not the same person anymore. The same mythology doesn’t apply to us anymore; we’re not the story of Athena and the golden apples anymore, but the story of Hua Mulan pretending to be a man so she could join the army in her old father’s stead. It’s all a matter of what we’re willing to cast off and what we’re willing to keep carrying, and sometimes what we’re willing to pick back up.

I think there’s this big myth around “reverting” or “regressing” by poking around in our past, a myth that we can somehow undo all of this progress we’ve made by daring to remember a fuller version of our story. Sometimes it’s just not safe. Sometimes we do have to make up a new story, just for our own survival. There can’t be any moral shame in that. But sometimes it is safe, or it becomes safe, and we can look back and realise that not only are we still moving forward, but there was nothing that could have stopped it in the first place, and our past never went anywhere, and it’s ours. And nothing can, or could, ever take it away from us.

And that it is now currently 2:14 a.m. and it’s raining outside, and I should probably go to bed.

Good talk.

Getting there, take [insert relevant number here]

I am ridiculous.

Either that or I really need to talk to a counselor, and I’m gonna do that I think, just to be safe.

I’ve been really struggling with assignments for the past … well, three weeks now. Currently I have two essays to write, one of which I haven’t even started, and both of them are at least 2 days late. I felt physically ill yesterday at the mere thought of writing them, and as time goes on I just feel more and more hopeless. I don’t want to turn in a half-assed attempt, but I don’t have the focus or desire to actually do any work. Which I assume is good old depression and/or social anxiety reminding me that they’re not quite done with me yet, yippie.

So what better way to cope than sink into a hammock of self-pity and prolong the process even further?

The one good thing that’s come out of it is that I’ve been reading. I’ve finished the Curse Workers trilogy by Holly Black and … I have thoughts about it. I like it, but it could – and should – have been better in following through with some of the ideas it presented. Although to be fair it would be very hard to have done that without taking it firmly out of the YA category – but that’s a topic for another day.

However, the book I’m currently reading, Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins, is perhaps the most unnameable-longing-inducing book I’ve read since The Magicians. It feels more … disposable, I want to say; a lot of YA stuff I’ve been reading has felt that way – spend a few (hopefully) entertaining hours with it and then never think about it again – but Rebel Belle has a certain vibe to it that really makes my sehnsucht flare up. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but it’s possibly something to do with the whole “a simpler time” feel, being that it’s set in the South and everything’s a little more traditional and small-town community-feeling and no there has not been any horrible unintentional racism unlike a certain other YA paranormal novel set in the South that I still can’t quite find the right words to talk about (a large part of the reason I haven’t posted anything for coming up on three weeks is due to that particular problem) – not yet anyway. Just the good old-fashioned “everybody in the world is white” kind of racism by exclusion. Which is still bad.

I think there might have been an Asian girl at one point? No wait that was Curse Workers … (which also has a brown-skinned lead protagonist, which I didn’t know until the third and final book … guess it just goes to show how much whiteness most definitely is assumed to be the default …)

And it’s not just set in the South; it’s freaking Alabama, and before the end of the first chapter we get to hear Alamaba’s national anthem playing at the high school prom. So I’m not saying this book doesn’t have its share of issues. It most certainly does. But something about it really resonates with me. It’s also quite funny and smart, and addresses a lot of questions I’ve wrestled with in my WIP novel regarding how the discovery of supernatural powers is handled – I wouldn’t say it’s given me The Answer; it actually gives me an example of precisely what I don’t want to do, but it does show me how it could work if I went down that route, because it works in this book.

And the most impressive, surprising thing about Rebel Belle is that after eight months of reading plodding, meandering, directionless self-insert erotic fantasies in the YA world, I’ve finally found a story that actually tells a goddamn story. It has a plot, and that plot progresses, and the characters develop along the way. It’s fucking astounding. I’d forgotten for a little while that stories were actually real things that could happen in the world, that narrative progression was supposed to be the norm. I’m all for non-linear narratives and even stories that aren’t really “about” anything, or at least aren’t plot-driven, but dear jasmine tea it’s nice to have a return to the good old-fashioned Hero’s Journey once in a while. This book has restored my faith in YA paranormal stuff, and the only downside to that is now I’m waiting for it to go bad, but it keeps being good, and it’s torture.

Speaking of torture: I really need to go and finish one of these goddamn essays so that I can stop freaking out about them. Because I have four more essays to freak out about after them. I was supposed to revise my novel tonight – and the past two nights – but didn’t because I was freaking out about not writing my essays while stubbornly continuing to not write them and just …

I have a problem. That much is clear. I just don’t know what it is.

But I think part of it is that I haven’t finished these freaking essays yet, and I was doing so well with the whole “just hand in something” approach for a while there.

And I can get back on the horse. I can hand in something. And then forget about it, and move on to the next thing. This has been my most psychologically unpleasant semester ever, but I’ve also had some of my best grades ever this semester, so … I dunno. There’s something in that.

Just hand in something. Hand in a list of bulletpoints. Hand in a sandwich. Get it over and done with.

Fine